“One Georgie Orwell”, Greenwich Theatre, London, 26-04-12 to 29-04-12
Reviewed by Dione Venables
Attending a first night of a new musical play is exciting enough, but being there for the last night has more poignancy because it has either been a success or a failure. It was, on the particular last evening of our visit, immediately apparent from both the cast and the audience at the Greenwich Theatre that this three-night musical production has been an unqualified success – and will be travelling onwards.
Written by an Orwell Society member whose devotion to George Orwell caused him tread a completely unknown road, journalist Peter Cordwell might have discovered just how painful life can be when you stick your neck out and attempt to go public without a jot of previous experience. Pete is a scrivener, not a playwright. He pens articles and news for a living, so it was a pretty dangerous exercise for him to put Orwell to music, and the great man’s words into the mouths of mainly inexperienced but enthusiastic performers. But it worked beautifully.
With the support and belief of musician Carl Picton, who wrote and sang the music, and James Haddrell who is the artistic director of Greenwich Theatre, Pete wrote the lyrics as well as the book for this melodious, thoughtful and humorous two-Act mini-revue. It flows with the edge and sometimes dark humour of a typical Footlights Revue which would make it a perfect vehicle for the Edinburgh Festival.
The play explores Orwell’s life (Southwold Walk) and his concerns for the world that he lived in, for the Britain that he loved. It touches on Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, of course, but also P.G. Wodehouse, whose humour is deliciously reflected alongside the Marx brothers, and Coming Up for Air, the novel which best describes the Henley area where Orwell grew up.
The four main actors, all quite seasoned, Hugh Barnett, Bill Crow, Christopher Knott and Alex Mugnaioni – apart from gifted actor/musician Carl Picton, responsible for all the spirited and sometimes poignant music – had musical skills of their own and made zestful contributions with harmonica as well as guitar and wind instruments. The rest of the enchanting cast were drawn from a local sixth-form college and obviously enjoyed the experience as much as did their audience. There is more than a hint that this delightful musical pastiche might next be seen as far afield as Brighton, Dublin and even New York.