Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley

“All those things you saw in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”

I don’t really remember a time when theatre wasn’t in my life. I was lucky enough to have parents and aunts who took me to see shows from an early age (indeed I heard Blood Brothers from my mother’s womb!) and so I caught the bug early. And of those shows that I saw as a young’un, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is one that has recurred throughout my life whether watching Dad direct a school performance, being a part of my own primary school production, playing piano for both high school and drama group versions and of course going to see it multiple times at the theatre – I don’t actually recall if we saw Jason Donovan but I do remember Philip Schofield and Darren Day, whoop!

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat has become something of a mainstay for touring theatres, it comes and goes from the West End yet Bill Kenwright’s tour has lasted for over 20 years due to its enduring appeal with audiences of all ages across the entire nation, not least this reviewer who remembers seeing both Philip Schofield and Darren Day. Latest to take the loincloth is Keith Jack who plays the biblical Joseph, a confident young man whose favourite status with his father does not go down well with his 11 brothers, especially after he receives the gift of a marvellous coat, and once banished from his homeland, only his dream interpretation skills can save him from a life of servitude.

Jack came second to Lee Mead in the BBC show Any Dream Will Do and what felt like a tacit recognition of the correctness of that decision, he was employed on Kenwright’s touring production but as the Narrator. One assumes he has earned sufficient spurs to take top billing now but on this performance, I’m not convinced it is that successful a move. He simply doesn’t radiate the star quality needed for a leading man, his cheekiness suits the younger Joseph well but doesn’t possess the gravitas to show the growth of maturity for the later scenes, his stage presence sorely lacking. More importantly, his vocal performance was quite disappointing: vitally underpowered at key solo moments, often overwhelmed by the ensemble and orchestra in group numbers, Jack is also guilty of a criminal amount of mumbling.

He is shown up by the strength of the company around him, especially with the brothers being particularly well cast and exuding bucketfuls of personality. Their first half numbers incorporate energetic choreography, powerful vocals and a great sense of wit that is the saving grace of this production. Quite why the choice is then made to suck all the fun out of ‘These Canaan Days’ with a dour melancholy rendition, oddly led by Henry Metcalfe’s Jacob, I don’t know. But I enjoyed Ryan Gibb’s Reuben, Shaun McCourt’s Issacher and Kevin Grogan’s naïf Benjamin in a very strong grouping. Adam Jarrell makes a very appealing Pharoah whose Song of the King bops along perfectly and Jennifer Potts’ Narrator has a sweet charm matched by a tirelessly impressive voice. The choir made up from Bright Sparks Performers Theatre and Dance Academy also deserve special mention, their choral overture to Act II, is just charming.

Being so familiar with the show also has its minor downside as it is nigh on impossible not to compare productions and revivals. One ends up with preferences for certain arrangements and aspects of songs and of course not all of them remain in the show. For me, the gospel version of ‘Go Go Go Joseph’ is far inferior to the disco one (I love the clapping!), removing the Narrator’s small contribution to the final Any Dream Will Do feels like a mistake, especially with Jack’s delivery here and I just do not understand the current trend for putting an interpretative reading on ‘Close Every Door’ – the line “If my life were important I, would ask if I live or die” should rhyme not be garbled into trying to make grammatical sense! But some choices are right too: losing the recently added Pharoah song ‘King of my Heart’ is the right move and keeping the way in which the first verse of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ is directed at Jacob adds a lovely layer of unexpected emotion to this overly familiar song.

Sean Cavanagh’s design suffers from the restrictions enforced on it due to being a touring production, some moments of staging fall flat – and I’m not just talking about the inflatable sheep that did quite inflate – and props look cheap, though Egypt does look good and when the show plays to its strengths, the size of its company, one barely notices. James McCullagh’s musical direction is sprightly from the orchestra pit and if the megamix and reprises outstay their welcome just a tad at the end, the reception they garner from the highly appreciative audience makes up for it. Generally speaking you know what you’re getting when you go and see Joseph and this production ticks most of the boxes, an underwhelming central performance aside, with a great sense of fun.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval) (1 hour 50 without the encores!)
Booking until 9th October

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