Review: Ghost Quartet

A supernatural display of musical talent

Effortlessly weaving stories and songs spanning as many generations as genres, ‘Ghost Quartet’, the song cycle musical originally written by Dave Malloy, is intimately bought to life by the Fletcher Players.

The show is built on feeling. From the warmth of the set (think mysterious paintings, travel trunks and mahogany) to the soft jazz that frames the production, it seems that the aim is not necessarily to understand, but to appreciate. And indeed, particular appreciation must go to Lily Blundell – Musical Director and pianist, and Elizabeth Vogel on the cello for their mastery of range and style. However, it seemed that each member of the four-person cast – Emilia Grace, Tom Hayes, Gregory Miller and Maddie Smith, could have acted as a one-man band themselves!

From left to right: Maddie Smith, Gregory Miller and Tom Hayes via Facebook

In a seemingly effortless voyage of genre, from the jazz of Thelonious Monk to gospel and folk ballads, they succeed in not only delivering spectacular vocal performances, but in somersaulting between instruments with remarkable flexibility. From the crooning jazz of the piano, to the soft drawl of the accordion, a flute solo from Tom Hayes and even an autoharp feature, the show is expertly seasoned with musical variety that does not fail to impress. All four actors excelled, dealing with the occasional first night hitch with good humour and giving performances that were bold, intense and interspersed with a comic touch to provide the light and shade which made the show so compelling.

Highlights included Maddie Smith’s performances of the ballads “Star Child” and “Hero” – a guaranteed hit for the musical theatre purists out there, and the feel-good ensemble number, led by Tom Hayes to end ‘Side One’ – “Any Kind of Dead Person”. Emilia Grace impressed with her raw and evocative portrayal of Lady Usher, armed with an impressive vocal range and Gregory Miller embodied the Astronomer with a practised sensitivity to character.

Lily Blundell via Facebook

The story seems to fall around you as snowflakes on a warm day, perhaps disappearing a little too quickly at times to be fully appreciated as the fast-paced nature of the production sometimes meant that the nuance was lost in translation. There are ghosts, broken cameras, quests from mysterious bears, astronomers and family grudges that reach through time, and although there are some moments where the fog lifts and the narrative notes do shine through, it becomes increasingly clear that perhaps this is not the point. The threads of the stories are woven together with the music, costume and set to create a feeling equally warming as eerie, akin to sitting around a campfire on cool summer’s evening.

The show drew to a close as softly and and unassumingly as it had begun, as the music was given to the audience through a collection of percussion instruments, with one member even being invited up to play the piano. We became a part of the mystical world through which we had journeyed as we were left to continue the magic as the ‘Ghost Quartet’ slowly faded away – as all good ghosts tend to do.

It is a collection of moments, an unapologetic scrapbook of styles and genres, which, once you give in to it and appreciate it for what it is, will leave you with a lasting sense of warmth. 

4/5 stars

Feature image credits: Kit Burley

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