REVIEW: Coram Boy

Mark Danciger enjoyed a professional, but inconsistent, freshers show.

ADC ADC theatre coram boy Corpus Playroom Freshers Freshers' Play student theatre Theatre

There are no excuses for performing Coram Boy badly.

Anyone who saw the original National Theatre production, or even who has read the script, understands the dramatic potential of the play and its rich intertwining themes of music, family and child cruelty. Although this production, performed by a talented group of freshers, doesn’t quite live up to the full potential of the script, it is well worth a watch, and showcases some of the very talented students who have recently joined Cambridge.

Coram Boy is very much a show of two halves. The first half documents musical prodigy Alexander Ashbrook (Ciaran Green) as he attempts to pursue a life of music, against the wishes of his father, Lord Asbrook, who wants him to remain in his place as heir of the family estate. This is set against the background of several interweaving storylines- there’s his romantic relationship between Alexander and his sister’s friend Melissa (Emily Mahon), his friendship with fellow student Thomas (Stanley Thomas) and a grim scheme by the unscrupulous Otis Gardiner (Myles O’Gorman) to murder and profit from unwanted babies.

Ciarán Green as Alexander Ashbrook, Joe Sefton as Mish Gardender and Arqum Anwar as Toby Gaddarn

In this first half, the show really shines. Green is particularly impressive as the arrogant genius Alexander, and his relationships with Melissa and Thomas feel honest and sincere. Otis (Myles O’Gorman) is also excellent here, with one dark scene in the words standing out as genuinely unsettling, aided by an enormous amount of haze that was pumped into the auditorium.

Particularly impressive was the use of music in the show. The large ensemble cast, for the most part, could sing well, and did an excellent job of setting the mood throughout the play. There was also the excellent decision by the director (Hannah Moss) to have a live band offstage, playing the notes that cast members mimed on various instruments on stage. This worked surprisingly well, and was a good way of getting the best performers in the show, even if they couldn’t play instruments.

Xanthe Burdett as Isobel Ashbrook, Emily Mahon as Melissa Milcote and Felix Koninx as Edward Ashbrook

There were also some very impressive technical feats in the first half- the use of projection in particular was eerie and powerful, and the set, although minimalistic and abstract, was effective. There were also some great lighting decisions throughout.

However, the show lost its way in the second half, which continues the story 8 years later, focusing around Alexander’s illegitimate son. Many of the things that made the first act so great, such as the projection, were abandoned, and the show began to feel like more of a school play. Many of the actors who had been so powerful in the first half became more pantomimic, and line slips, sloppy bits of staging and technical errors crept into the play. Ciaran Green was again chosen to play Alexander’s son Aaron, but was less effective in this role. Further, Benedict Flett, who was cast as an older Alexander, couldn’t quite nail the role as well as Green.

Helen Vella Taylor as Mrs Milcote, Emily Mahon as Melissa Milcote, Xanthe Burdett as Isobel Asbrook and Eva Delaney as Mrs Lynch

The problems of the second half were summed up in the final scene, which should have been the dramatic climax of the play, but instead felt underused, both by the performers and technicians, and resulted in giggles from the audience, rather than gasps.

Nevertheless, these minor issues should not detract from the incredible achievement of the first half. For a freshers show, there was some very impressive stuff here, both from the performers and the crew.

I expect to see them all in many more shows very soon.