THE ROMFORD ROSE
at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
for The Reviews Hub
“If it ain't got pedal steel, it ain't country!” So says Chris Bond, prolific playwright and director – wearing both stetsons for this brand new Country musical. And the superb onstage band boasts not only a pedal steel guitar (B J Cole, no less) but also a damn fine fiddle (Jennifer Douglas).
Bond is probably still best known for the Sweeney Todd that Sondheim saw and loved. This time the music – no covers here, though Dolly Parton is a strong presence – is by Jo Collins, setting Bond's lyrics to some echt-country tunes, in a show that is almost all sung-through.
The eponymous Rose is partying for her 18th – the frontier town is Romford, just down the road from Hornchurch. But it soon becomes obvious that all is not well at home. Mum Yvonne dreams of moving to Chigwell's Manor Road, her daughter hears “Cryin' On The Stair” - one of the best numbers in a rich score; Dad Frank is unhealthily possessive of his “princess”. And disapproves of the lad Jack, the squaddie who's the apple of Rose's eye. “Don't Make Me Mad,” he sings, an omen of the violence to come.
There's a kind of chorus, all drawn from the actor/musicians in the six-piece band: freeloading granny and aunty, and two menacing heavies. Much of the story is narrated in song, with composer/MD Jo Collins singing at the keyboard; it would have been helpful if the sound balance generally had favoured the lyrics a little more.
The four principals are excellent: Sam Pay the troubled Dad, Nicky Croydon as an all-too-credible Essex Mum, as well as Dolly Parton, Rose's other mother. Sarah Day is the birthday girl, singing and dancing with style and energy; Wade Lewin is her gentle hunk of a boyfriend.
The duets are the musical heart of the piece: mother and daughter nicely choreographed, a touchingly upbeat You're The One for the lovers, and a full-on rhinestone and mirror-ball number – She Went To The Well One More Time – for Rose and Ms Parton.
Lots of panto fun – a chase, a motorcar number, clapping along, chanting “There's Nothing Wrong with Romford”. There's grit in the prairie oyster, too: domestic violence, a back-story for Frank and for Jack, and a shout-out for the junior doctors in downtown A&E, warmly received by the packed opening night house.
“Is this the kind of country song that ends in tragedy?” Well, the tense dénouement has a nail-biting moment of raw emotion, but the finale leaves us optimistic for the future of the Romford Rose, her boy Jack and her rockabilly Romford folks.
production photo: Mark Sepple
Introducing the Romford Rose from Queen's Theatre Hornchurch on Vimeo.