Alain Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes is the inspiration for this in-house created musical which sees the return of Shrewsbury and Severn Opera group to the Edinburgh Fringe. With most of the performers only just having completed their A-levels, this is a young cast and yet their blurb promises "a tale of youth, adventure and young love lost and won".
For such a young group, they have created something really professional.
The story centres around the tale of Augustin Meaulnes, a young boy who has been sent to attend and stay at a school run by the schoolmaster Monsieur Seurel and his wife. Their son, Henri, quickly becomes friends with Augustin and seems excited by his adventurous spirit. A short while after meeting, Augustin tells Henri of the "lost domain", a huge mansion somewhere out in the snow, where he witnessed a masked ball and fell in love with a beautiful girl. As the story unravels, war falls upon France and the boys and their classmates are being enlisted to fight. Both Augustin and Henri swear that when called upon they will join and battle. However Augustin follows his love to Paris and has a brief dalliance with a street worker, as Henri back at home tries to locate the lost domain. The story ends in tragedy, however, as all the men must leave their adventures behind and go to war.
The ensemble singing in this piece of musical theatre is fantastic. The cast start off really strong and create a wonderfully full sound, with rich harmonies. The accompanying band are also excellent, helping to create a professional and slick performance. The boys in this show are a massive part of its success, with strong voices and some good acting. Special praise has to go to George Fowler, playing Augustin, as for a demanding role he copes very well and has a lovely tone developing.
The girls, for me, let the show down slightly. An operatic tone is something that most girls of 17 or 18 are going to struggle with and I think that's clear here. Their voices come off slightly wispy and impassive and even facial expressions at times verge on insipid. This is saved slightly however by Awen Blandford playing Valentine who, despite struggling a little with her top notes, gives a much gutsier and and more skilled performance than others.
This show is a little mixed with what it's trying to achieve. Some songs seem to fixate on tiny and insignificant details of the plot and others are so wordy that it is impossible for the cast to spit them out and still be understood. Harmonies throughout are beautiful and really bring out the best in the cast- although I know that with a couple of stronger sopranos this score would have really come to life. I do feel that lots of elements are very familiar and the writers certainly seem to have taken inspiration from lots of other musicals. At this level of theatre though, that's not a massive problem. Overall though, for such a young group, they have created something really professional. Audiences might not be on their feet but they won't be disappointed either.