Smashing Cabinets Theatre’s adaptation of Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet is ghost-like and haunting, confusing at times, but generally falls somewhere between the mysteriousness of the occult and the comfort of the rustic, which affects the musical's atmosphere and action. This show has a very difficult score, so it is impressive how the four students of Warwick University handle and excel at the challenges it presents.
The four storytellers create a show where there is magic in the ordinary, and ordinary in the magic
Ghost Quartet is more enjoyable when you let the songs wash over you instead of trying to unpick the connections and non-linear structure of the story. There is as much beauty in the discordance as in the harmonies, something which takes a lot of confidence to bring to the stage convincingly, which the four actors have been able to do.
The musical is broken up by the cast who tell us each song’s name before performing it, but that just helps to signpost the different stages of the show itself, as due to the nature of the plot, there are several stories that are all happening at the same time and that weave in and out of each other (luckily, Smashings Cabinets Theatre has a handy graphic to help us untangle it all). It’s a disjointed narrative where the symbols of stars, the bonds of family and trains are repeated over and over, their significance emanating throughout the entire musical.
Accompanied by a live band onstage, the four storytellers create a show where there is magic in the ordinary, and ordinary in the magic. Hauntingly beautiful with an underlying menace throughout, it is amazing to see this adaptation unfold as it does.
The cast support each other melodically throughout, apart from when Isaac Frost sings Hero, which stands out all its own, and is a culmination of everything that came before. Considering the overwhelming tension and overwhelming sense of unease that hangs over the action, Frost’s Any Kind of Dead Person is such an upbeat and crazy break, with dancing ghosts and audience participation, to the point where it becomes incredibly frenzied. Probably the hardest song in the musical to sing well, Frost’s rendition is incredibly impressive considering the way that they fly around the stage.
Malloy is a musical genius. His music is very different and stands apart from other musical theatre scores, which makes Smashing Cabinets Theatre's professional performance all the more admirable. A talented quartet, hopefully we’ll see more of their work.