Last night, myself and the members from my graduating class that were in ‘The Water Babies’ black box performance last year, plus two honorary members (the drivers), hopped in a minibus and drove 3 and a half hours to Leicester to see the penultimate night of the show’s run at the Leicester Curve.
Having taken part in one of the initial script workshops and the first time it was put up on its feet last year, I have been eagerly anticipating this moment for nearly two years. Since day one, the creatives have had an exciting vision fuelled by so much passion that it seems there is no stopping them from making ‘The Water Babies’ the next mega musical.
The Leicester Curve is by far one of the most impressive buildings I’ve been to and it couldn’t have been a more perfect venue for this show’s premiere. With its sleek, futuristic style it reflects the aspirations of a new musical that hopes to combine technology and special effects to create a show stopping piece.
It was wonderful to hear the music truly come to life with a full band, led by the fabulous Matt Smith. Having only experienced it with a piano before, it gave me chills listening to the songs as they were meant to be heard.
Thankfully, not an awful lot has changed song-wise in the show since our workshop version, bar the lyrics, so our old favourites were still in there. Notably ‘Die Another Day’, the dazzling trio by Terrence, Jock and Claude, got all the audience dancing in their seats and kept us easily entertained for the evening.
Any time Louise Dearman walked on stage and opened her mouth we were left melting in our seats. Her vocal tone is something out of this world and every line she sang was breath taking. I only wish that I had seen her as Elphaba in ‘Wicked’ as I can only imagine how perfect she will have been as the part.
The set and costumes were fabulously designed and really brought the show to life. The Water Babies’ playground echoed the fairground in the film version of ‘The Wiz’ with its eery carnival feel. (I am only mildly jealous that we didn’t get a slide to play on when we did the show.) Eel’s Electric Theatre also stuck with the carnival inspiration and provided an electrifying start to Act 2.
On the note of the character of Eel, whilst I thought Tom Lister was brilliant as the conniving Eel, having seen the character as a girl and as a boy, I personally feel it is more interesting as a girl. When Eel was a sexy temptress to Tom it provided more of a reason for Tom to follow her instead of trusting the obvious good guy, Mrs D. Also, now that Tom and Ellie’s relationship progresses quicker and there is an obvious case of teenage sexual frustration, having Eel as the ‘snake in the Garden of Eden’ makes for more of a realistic reason that Tom may be drawn to her, posing more of a threat not just to the Water Babies but also to his relationship with Ellie. Instead, we were left wondering why it is that Tom decides to go with the male Eel when he is clearly lying and up to no good and Tom even admits he’s not trustworthy before Eel carries out his evil plan.
Having discussed the idea of the underwater world being limbo in the initial workshop stages, it was interesting to see that idea being played on in the actual show. It made the ending more bittersweet and emotional, although not quite the fairy tale ending people would assume. As I had been told in advance the ending it made it easier for me to follow as Act 2 came to an end, but I can’t help but feel that had I not known I would have been left feeling a little like the conclusion came out of the blue.
I think ‘The Water Babies’ has a promising future ahead of it. It has all the elements needed to be a successful musical – love, friendship, comedy, danger and Louise Dearman.
As it goes into its final performances at the Leicester Curve today I wish it all the best and hope that this is not the end for the show. It has too much potential to be cast aside now. Just because of a few bad reviews it shouldn’t shut up shop. We take on board criticism to make us stronger and better. Opinions are all subjective at the end of the day and whilst some critics get paid to slate, the audiences coming away talking about how much they enjoyed it says it all – they must be doing something right!
I am sure writer and director, Ed Curtis, will now go back to his writing desk and rework the script again, probably ten times in a day from past experience. The thing that I feel is now the way forward is stripping it all back again. It needs to get back some of the initial magic that was in the first script. When the show embraces the ridiculous and fantastical, such as during Terrence, Jock and Claude scenes, it is encapsulating. It is a musical set under water with talking fish, lost children and fairies. After so many rewrites it may be useful to go back to its roots and find the initial, innocent magic that inspired the whole idea of ‘The Water Babies’ working as a musical. People come to the theatre looking for an escape from mundane, normal life; everybody loves a good fairy story.
I wait in eager anticipation for the next instalment of ‘The Water Babies’ journey and I hope it is not too long before it progresses. I hear the London Palladium will be available soon?