This musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s short story Destiny and a Blue Coat is a sweet little tale, focusing on miller’s daughter Abbie Pollin (Lauren Potter) and her snaring of the “new gentleman” Mr Winwood (Patrick O’Sullivan) in a case of mistaken identity - she has the same blue coat as local knock-out Frances Lovill (Georgia Thomas). The romantic plot however has as many twists & turns as Austen, and things look set to fall apart for Abbie for most of the show.
Overall it’s not an unpleasant way to spend an evening, but there’s a real lack of emotional engagement.
The adaptation, by Fiona Ho, who also composed and directs, is fine, but there’s a patchiness to the language which sees the 1840s characters using jarringly modern turns of phrase, and the political context of the struggle for Corn Law repeal, while crucial to the plot, is communicated poorly and feels like a burden to the script. Meanwhile, the score is largely unmemorable and very derivative (although credit to them they do name-check their ‘inspirations’ in the programme). The plot licks along pacily, and the songs are perfectly nice in situ, but the whole show feels somehow old-fashioned - not enough energy has been put into making the piece work in the space and attempts at traditional choreography are hampered. Throughout it feels like The Girl in the Blue Coat wants to be a My Fair Lady or Oliver, but just doesn’t have the budget, or the songs.
There’s lovely work though from Emily Calderwood and James Wordsworth as the miller’s second daughter and working-class lover respectively, and from Georgia Thomas as the arrogant and scheming Lovill - whose thinly veiled bitchiness and obvious disdain for the other characters raises lots of laughs. She can also sing, and along with Calderwood and Potter, carries the songs and harmonies well - a quality lacking in some of the other performers. The onstage three-piece band is a lovely touch however, and the cello adds atmospheric tenderness to the one stand-out song ‘Too Many Worlds Apart’.
Overall it’s not an unpleasant way to spend an evening, but there’s a real lack of emotional engagement. Perhaps Ho might have fared better by trimming down the complex plot, not having a song for every scene, and allowing the parts of this piece that do work to flourish.