This will not be a full review as a staged reading cannot be evaluated in the same way as a full show, but I was interested enough to go along to The Other Palace this weekend to see the first performance of the musical Terror at the Sweet Shop, composed by Gavin Brock, written by Nichola Rivers, and directed by Andrew Keanes.
It was said to be a funny, edgy, family musical, based on the much-loved book by Lawrence Prestidge, and this was the first time the full libretto was to be performed. I was in!
The staging is simple – the cast (seven adults, five children) on chairs with script folders in hand, a handful of props and movements giving a sense of sets including the titular sweet shop, the homes of two of the children, the school, and so on. There’s a pianist (MD Rebecca Grant) and a speaker which amplifies the music.
Oscar (an impish and lively Jack Meredith) is being followed by a mysterious cat (a slinky Paul Keating, last seen in Little Miss Sunshine) who acts as a sometime narrator for the action. With a mother who is too wrapped up in yoga and well-being to notice him (Claire-Marie Hall), Oscar finds his fun and sugar fix every day at three at the sweet shop.
Together with his friends – Emma, Reece (Josiah Choto), Ishy (Etienne Ragoo, who has a fun song about being a nerd), and the flatulent Mikey – Oscar is determinded to solve the puzzle of where Mr McNulty from the shop has gone, and to get rid of the cackling witch Miss Primrose (Eva Polycarpou, note perfect, and in role contrast with the last time I saw her in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin).
Shakil Hussain portrays both Ishy’s workaholic father and the Elvis-like headteacher, who wears leathers and reaches for his guitar in school breaks. He’s a lot of fun. Steve Furst is touching as Emma’s distracted dad, and there’s a nice duet for him and Claire-Marie Hall as Oscar’s ditzy mum which lifts the musical from a run of (admittently funny) fart jokes. To wrap up the adult cast, Reece’s lovey-dovey parents are played by Newton Matthews and Tanisha Spring, who do well in the dance numbers and get an in-joke towards the end.
Terror at the Sweet Shop proves to be a lot of fun, with the talented children in the cast easily matching the adults in the cast. All have their chance to shine: but I must mention Jasmine Sakyiama, who portrays the confusion of Emma, a child dealing with the loss of one parent and the crippling grief of another very well; and Aaron Gelkoff, who I saw earlier in the year in Caroline or Change, who hits the comedy head-on as Mikey. As for Meredith, his Oscar was the perfect pivot point for the story and the camaderie between him and the other young cast members was obvious.
I look forward to seeing where Brock, Keates and team take this show next. Given we saw the results of just a week of development, it was witty, sharp, complex and well-performed. A success, I’d say.