Album Review: Imaginary

Released by SimG Records, the cast recording for the National Youth Music Theatre’s Imaginary is just a lovely thing indeed 

“You have to grow older…but you don’t have to grow up”

Commissioned, produced and performed by the National Youth Music Theatre, new musical Imaginary had a short run at The Other Palace last summer, during which this live recording was made. Proceeds from this record release will be ploughed back into NYMT as they are a charity with no core funding, despite the exceptional work they do with so many.

With book & lyrics by Timothy Knapman and music & lyrics by Stuart Matthew Price, Imaginary’s concept is a beautifully simple one and hidden in plain sight, as Sam struggles to deal with starting secondary school and what that means for his only real friend Milo and the truth about their connection. And in the fashion of all the best kids’ shows, there’s much for the grown-up kids as well (and I’d wager they’ll be the ones wiping more tears away). 

Price’s score has touches of the playfulness of Matilda, particularly with its school focus, and the gentle emotion of Finding Neverland too. Unexpectedly there’s also hints of the dark folk style of The Grinning Man but best of all is the establishment of its own identity and the way that this thematic cohesiveness carries across the whole show. Charlie Ingles’ dreamily lush orchestrations certainly help in this respect. 

Robin Franklin’s (demonic) Headmaster is a marvellous presence (‘Upgrade Time’ is definitely one of the best tracks on here) as is Toby Turpin’s Big Brenda, the confidence of his delivery marking him as one to watch. And Josh Gottlieb and Tom Price both impress as Sam and Milo, the rough edges of the live recording actually suiting the ragged emotions they have to go through.

Jade Oswald is someone else to keep an eye out for, the tender maternal warmth of her Beth perfect for guiding her son, and us, along this journey of learning to hold onto what’s important. I could listen to the swooning melody of ‘All The Fun You Had’ forever and never tire of its beautiful lyric. And the bittersweetness of the ending is just perfect, pragmatically British rather than devolving into schmaltz and yes, it will make you cry no matter how old you are.

Imaginary is available to buy now and will be available digitally later in the year

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