NODA review of Cloud

by Richard Fitt

at a performance on 8th June 2017

Wow! What a night! I’m not talking about the extraordinary result of the UK general election on the same night, although of course that was indeed quite extraordinary. No, I’m talking about my visit to see the production of a brand new musical written by two Kayes, Novelist Kaye Vincent, who wrote the book and lyrics as well as directing the production and Kaye Tompkins, who wrote the music and collaborated with the other Kaye over the lyrics, as well as being the Musical Director. Between the two of them they have come up with an extraordinary piece of work, which it is my privilege to be amongst the first to review.

I’m told ‘Cloud’ has been in the pipeline for the best part of two decades, and was first written in 2001, shelved and then, I’m glad to say, revisited over the last couple of years. The basic story of this musical is not exactly new, centring as it does around the preface of colonisation of a distant planet as life on Earth dwindles.  I have been reading such stories since I first came across Frank Herbert’s excellent ‘Dune’ series back in the 1960’s. What is new however is that somebody has finally come around to the idea that the genre would make excellent material for a musical. The nearest musical that could be attributed to the same genre is of course ‘Return to The Forbidden Planet,’ but there the similarity ends, the latter really being a modern version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest.’

The basic story starts with the ‘Sand Tribe’ eking out a subsistence living as cave dwellers on the sea shore of the largely still unexplored and seemingly hostile planet of ‘Cloud,’ with wild storms from the sea and intense heat coming from the interior of the land mass. Their knowledge bank being a database provided by ‘The Screen,’ a left over communications devise from when they first colonised the planet decades previously, upon which they are heavily dependent and which they treat with almost religious intensity. In the interests of ‘preservation of life over everything else’ and even though resources are rapidly dwindling exploration outside of the immediate colony is forbidden, which is strictly policed by guards known as ‘The Enforcers.’ Needless to say, there are of course a secret group of ‘Rebels’ itching to defy this authoritarian command. The community is run by ‘The Council’ with its leader, known as ‘The Keeper’ being chosen and replaced every twenty years, from amongst ‘The Sirens,’ who is groomed for the task from an early age. As the story starts the new Keeper is due to take over when an unexpected ‘visitor’ from Earth is found on the beach by the colonies best scavenger.

The set build by Stage Manager, Ron Johnson and his team was something to behold. The whole of the rear of the stage had been converted into the side of a red cliff, complete with a centrally placed cave entrance, a high walkway, mountain top and ‘stone’ staircases.  And very effective it was too. The clever bit was by simply using part of the stone walkway as a bed or bench the same set could be turned inside out to become the interior of the cave.  It was certainly an impressive sight from when you first entered the auditorium.

Lighting by Alex McKenzie and sound effects by Michelle Reading completed the set with an excellent wash of colours and some spectacularly loud sound effects creating the atmosphere for the whole production, with a particular mention of the projection of ‘The Screen,’ which cast a superb pattern against the cave entrance, very effective indeed!

Di Weeden and her team (Sue Lander, Virginia Pope, Miriam Rose and Melanie Coleman) had certainly had a ball in the costume department, inventing a spectacular array of outfits for the huge cast. If the next Star Wars movie needs a new costume department I suggest it could do a lot worse that talk to these ladies, they do seem to have nailed the public expectation of what inter galactic explorers and settlers would wear.  With a cast of thirty-seven each with several costume changes this was some undertaking, but the final result was well worth the effort. Stunning job ladies!

The top-notch band led by MD Kaye Tompkins on Keyboards and ably assisted by the excellent Andrew Longland-Meech (Keyboards – who seems to be everywhere I visit at the moment!), Andy Stewart (Reeds), Helen Boyea (Bass) and Mike Kilsby (Drums) were hidden somewhere in the bowls of the set.

Choreographer Beth Williams really enjoyed herself with this one with some sublime, well drilled routines, which all fitted oh so well with the songs and narrative. I always think that the choreography makes or breaks a good show and with this one it was definitely the former. No easy task drilling such a large cast and with a blank canvass, but she certainly proved herself up to the task.

A cast of thirty-seven and with only seeing this once please forgive me for not reviewing all the parts individually, but to which all contributed with terrific energy and pace I confine myself to pick out some of the highlighted performances.

Kim Vaughan as the Keeper, has a wonderful operatic tone to her voice and a powerful commanding presence, which quickly set the standard for the rest to follow. Lester Cooke as Farin, the Governor and father of Zash, the leader of the Rebels covered the emotional ground of mixed feelings beautifully as he fought with his conscience over his relationships with both his rebel son and his desire for The Keeper, who was forbidden to enter into any relationship whilst holding office. David Russell as Chat, his deputy controlled the stage from what looked like a precarious platform. A lovely performance especially the change of mood when he fell from grace. Leisa Cooke as Hannah, The Visitor, brought an air of mystery and quiet confidence to the role, giving a good contrast between her and the Keeper whom she eventually succeeds. Channice Campbell as Ren, the heir apparent, was definitely a standout performance amongst the younger generation with a fantastic voice and a great display of emotions. A lady with a great future I would suggest.  She was ably supported by the rest of The Sirens: Miranda Spencer-Pearson (Dara) , Hannah Hodgson (Saya), Jasmine Harris (Juno), Izzy Slow (Nika) and Lauren Bain (Lyna). As a vocal group, they were beautifully balanced.  David Spencer as Zash, was well suited to the task of the Rebel leader bringing youthful cockiness to the role whilst showing his character’s sensitivity and vulnerability in the relationship with Ren. My absolute standout performance has to be Bougal, the cripple outcast from society with a philosophical attitude whose skill in scavenging for food is unsurpassed. Bullied by his mother, Regan played by Julie Futcher (another excellent performance), and rarely given a second glance by most of the colony. I was so pleased he finally gets his just reward. Beautifully played cameo. The enforcers, John Stevens, Colin Williams and Ronnie Stanton were very realistic, a cross between Hell’s Angels and Stormtroopers, you definitely wouldn’t want to cross them! The Council, Michael Horne, Rod Arkle, Jenny Tymon-Robins, Mark Woodham, Becky Woodham and Kathryn Rose made me smile as they bickered away over the important issues of the day.

So, did it work? In the main I would say very much so, I found myself fairly riveted from beginning to end. My critique and it is only my personal opinion, but I thought it was perhaps a little too long at three hours (including a twenty min interval).  Musicals longer than two and quarter/ two and half hours need to be cracking along to hold the audience’s attention to the three-hour mark. A lot of the songs and at twenty-nine there were a lot, were just pure narrative and have not stuck in the memory and I always think for a musical to be a commercial success it must have at least one if not more standout number(s) that transcends the theatre, for me that possible number was ‘Stand With You.’

I do hope this isn’t something I never see again and that some impresario takes this up and gives it a fighting chance in the big outside world. I have no doubt with a critical eye and a few changes here and there this could be a great commercial success. For amateur societies, it’s a very big and expensive show to put on, but some of the larger ones could do a lot worse than give this a go. I wish ‘Cloud’ and the two Kayes the best of luck. It was a wonderful evening’s entertainment! Eat your heart out Cameron Macintosh!