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Coram Boy (York Theatre Royal)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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In 1793 Captain Thomas Coram established a hospital ‘for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children’ when he was appalled at the plight and neglect of children left to die on the streets. Adapted from Jamila Gavin’s award-winning novel, Coram Boy follows the story of the abandoned heir to a great estate who grows up within the safety of this famous institution.

However, this is not an easy tale. It portrays the harsh realities of eighteenth century Britain; desperate women, pregnant out of wedlock, and a system open to abuse by the unscrupulous ‘Coram Men’ who would take a fee to deliver unwanted children to the hospital.

York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre has joined forces with the National Centre for Early Music to bring this production to life. George Frederic Handel was a benefactor of the Coram hospital and the gift of music is a dominant theme so a large proportion of the production features music, including Handel’s Messiah. Musical director Christopher Madin ensures that trilling harpsichords and a full choir authentically set the scene, and the stunning ethereal vocals from Alexandra Mckenzie Wilcox fill the theatre with the perfect atmosphere for this dark and epic piece. The actor musicians who perform live are also worthy of note for their confident performances.

The thirty-five-strong cast feature collectively in several charming ensemble scenes, including bustling London markets and decadent stately home parties, as well as chilling nightmarish dream sequences. These are enthusiastically executed by the cast, skilfully choreographed by director Kate Plumb and visually delightful thanks to the imaginative design skills of Catherine Chapman and Lydia Denno.

There are numerous prominent performances including Luke James, who demonstrates a command of the stage as suitably villainous Otis Gardiner and David Philips, whose strong classical acting ability is evident in his performance as Alexander Ashbrook. Elea Inneson’s stage presence as Lady Ashbrook is nicely balanced by her counterpart John Holt Roberts with his high status Lord. Eleanor Taylor shows real talent, not least for communicating the unspoken as she carries the weight and responsibility of too many secrets, and Joe Hopper is appealingly awkward as Meshak with an engaging energy and physicality that I’d like to see more of.

On balance, the transitions from scene to scene are a little slow which adds to the already lengthy duration of this play, but it is hard to criticise an ambitious production which succeeds on so many levels.

- Joanne Hartley


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