Tess, the musical: The Other Place, Stratford
Tess feels like my adopted daughter, my god-daughter perhaps. I’ve been watching her progress since the inception, the conception, of this new musical by Michael Blore and lyricist Michael Davies when they first asked if I’d review the first songs.
Then came the baptism of the concept album, an ambitious production featuring stars such as Tam Mutu, Simon Bailey and Siobhan Dillon. This is how Lloyd Webber went about it, so why not?
And now, still in her infancy, we see Tess on the stage for the first time, in a workshop production at the RSC’s studio theatre, The Other Place in Stratford. She’s still a mere slip of a lass, a work in development, but this has been such a labour of love for Blore and Davies, and they deserve every success.
Presented here by Night Project Theatre, it’s Thomas Hardy’s doomed Tess of the D’Urbervilles, she the daughter of a poor ..and usually drunk… Wessex villager who fatefully discovers she might be related to an aristocratic family.
Tess goes to seek respectability with her new-found relatives, and embarks on an emotional and dramatic journey through love, loss of reputation and tragedy. Along the way she marries a man called Angel and murders the one who seduced her.
Hardy’s story is matched with a score of both substance and style, and an evocative libretto, with the divinely-voiced Jessie Mae Thomas in the lead role. She’s supported – loved, seduced, betrayed – by Phil John as Alec D’Urberville, and Hugo Montgomery as Angel Clare, and an ensemble among whose voices Sally Jolliffe is outstanding.
It’s firmly in the traditional school of musical theatre with distant echoes of the best of British creation since the 1970s, though distinctly holding its own identity.
Night Project Theatre was founded in 2014 to bring together performers, directors and industry creatives to present musical theatre in intimate venues, from new portfolios or undiscovered gems deserving a wider audience. They’ve produced some acclaimed pieces of theatre including The Hired Man, Dracula, Sweeney Todd, and Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and Songs for a New World.
So for just two nights at the RSC the infant Tess knows what it’s like to be growing up in the real world of musical theatre. Let’s hope we see her on the big stage before too long.
Tess is on again tonight, Feb 9, at The Other Place, Stratford upon Avon. http://www.tessthemusical.com/