The Addams Family is a relatively new addition to the world of large scale theatrical musicals having been first performed in Chicago in 2009. Although considerably modified along the way the show has been staged around the world every year since its creation. It has played in theatres from Sydney to Buenos Aires, Tokyo to Tirana, and now has landed in Sprowston!
This production is in the capable hands of the drama department of Sprowston Community Academy, or for older readers, what was Sprowston High School. This show was keenly anticipated on its original launch date of 28th February, but meteorologists and others will recall that this was the start of a week of severe snowfall and subsequent disruption in the Norwich area, and with great reluctance the original show dates were all cancelled. The enthusiastic cast had to go and console themselves with trifling diversions such as A-level exams before returning to the stage this week for the delayed first night.
Director Anna Lawrence has an impressive record of coaxing professional grade performances from her school student casts, while choosing productions that allow the diminutive Sprowston stage to be filled to the edges with a cast of dozens so that younger pupils have a chance to learn the thrill of live performance and foster dreams of a leading role in years ahead. She confidently repeats this success with The Addams Family.
This Addams Family tale is derived strictly from Charles Addams’ original cartoon characters, not the previous TV and film versions. The drama starts as the Addams Family gather at the family crypt for an annual meeting of the ‘live, dead and undecided’ family members. The small group of principals is augmented by hordes of Addams ‘Ancestors’ who are prevented from returning to their crypt by Uncle Fester (Rhys Corder) when he learns that his niece Wednesday (Emma Smith) is in love with a ‘normal’ boy, Lucas (Sam Carpenter). The pale wraith-like Ancestors appear throughout the show (and throughout the auditorium) to help Fester ensure that the course of true love runs smoothly.
At the heart of this strange family are Wednesday’s father Gomez (Sam Rowlands) and his wife Morticia (Eloise Sladden). The Addams are completed by Wednesday’s kid brother Pugsley (Finn Richardson-Gunn), butler Lurch (Seth Clarke) and somebody’s Grandma (Molly Bishop) – nobody is quite sure whose mother she might be. We also meet Lucas’s Ma and Pa Mal and Alice, played by Megan Richardson-Gunn and Callum Barnett.
This is a very American show with many topical references that might not be immediately apparent to some audiences, and some theatrical ‘in’ jokes, such as the song lyric ‘I feel trapped – like when I do theatre in the round’ – but there is sufficient universal humour to make this an enjoyable romp of a show. The plot is simple enough – Wednesday the Addams teenage daughter, who always carries a crossbow, has fallen in love with a boy who comes from a normal family (from Ohio) who do not really understand the morbid delights of the Addams clan. The potential in-laws have been invited to dinner at the Addams New York Central Park mansion, with the spirits of the dead Addams ever present to help things along. The dinner is to be followed by ‘The Game’ – a truth or dare bit of Americana also called Full Disclosure, where guests must reveal an hitherto unknown truth about themselves. What could possibly go wrong?
It would be understandable if the cast were a little discombobulated by the long gap between rehearsals and stage debut, but if they were they did not show it at all. The principals all gave convincing renditions of their characters. Sam Rowlands as Gomez opens the show with confident assurance, while Eloise Sladden is wonderful as his glamorous vamp wife Morticia. Their relationship is strained by Wednesday’s news and her decision to confide in just her father, rousing Morticia’s suspicions about her husband. Will they ever get to dance the tango again? This device constitutes a large part of the plot.
Emma Smith looks just right as Wednesday and gives this big role a splendid performance engaging the audience throughout. Rhys Corder gives a joyfully metrosexual life to Uncle Fester, who attempts to resolve his own bizarre relationship issues as the show progresses. Molly Bishop plays the disgusting old Grandma with great relish. If you are a gentleman in your 90s (or look like one) you might be well advised to take some protection when Grandma spots you.
Finn Richardson-Gunn tackles the difficult role of the fat young brother Pugsley who likes nothing more than being tortured by his sister Wednesday and resents her imminent departure. He convincingly contrives to interfere with her engagement to Lucas by means fair and foul, while Seth Clarke as Lurch grunts his way through the show until a surprising burst of song at the end.
The Beineke family meanwhile have problems of their own as Mal and Alice are prompted by their son Lucas’s infatuation to look at how their own romance has shrivelled away. Megan Richardson-Gunn is very good as the middle class Mom yearning to rediscover the wild passions of young love with her office-obsessed husband Mal. Sam Carpenter bounces around the stage as young Lucas showing all the maturity (or lack of it) that we might expect from a teenage boy smitten with his first love.
This production is great fun, and will have you laughing and singing along throughout the show. As we have come to expect from a Sprowston production the pace and timing are just right, and the skills of moving lots of people round a tiny stage are evident. The singing is generally good, with a few flat notes perhaps in character for this dysfunctional family. Eloise Sladden as Morticia is very impressive in her song and dance numbers in this great female role. The show teeters on the edge of being raunchy while staying firmly within what the good burghers of Sprowston can cope with!
This is a great show to go and enjoy whether or not you have a connection with the school or the cast and crew. Once again they offer an evening of entertainment as polished and enjoyable as any Norwich theatre. The original Addams Family cartoons suggested a particularly perverse set of values, but like many American musicals this is really all about very traditional family values with just a few hints from the wonderful Uncle Fester that maybe there is a wider world of fun and diversity out there if you start looking. The show is also a potent reminder to those of us who are parents that whatever you think of what your kids are up to the chances are you did the same or worse at their age!
This show is on every night until Saturday, with Saturday matinee. Don’t miss it!
© Julian Swainson 2018