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42 Balloons | The Lowry

42 Balloons makes its world premiere at The Lowry in Salford, and it's evidently clear that this new musical, which is written by Jack Godfrey and directed by Ellie Coote, will join the successful roster of new British musicals which kickstarted its journey at this incredible theatre. Based on a true story, we follow the ambitious, if not slightly insane, dream of Larry Walters as he attempts to use approximately 42 helium filled balloons to fly a lawn chair sixteen thousand feet in the air.

After previous successes with his other new musical Babies, writer Jack Godfrey has once again proved why he is a creative to watch out for in the theatre industry. Written as a sing-through musical, Godfrey has a natural flair for making each song serve a purpose and stand out, inspired by the 80s with a mix of anthemic choruses and synth pop sounds, reminiscent of some of the time's greatest hits. These songs have been infused with an array of musical theatre influences and are expertly orchestrated by Joe Beighton, and played by the incredibly tight band with musical direction from Flynn Sturgeon. Godfrey has found a perfect balance of catchy and upbeat tunes, laced with clever lyrics and humour, and emotional and heartfelt ballads that work flawlessly to propel the story forward.

One of the many driving forces which makes this production so successful is the sheer talent of the whole cast, led by the remarkable Charlie McCullagh (Larry) and Evelyn Hoskins (Carol) who have undeniable chemistry that feels effortless. McCullagh gives a devastating performance as we watch the slow decline of a carefree dreamer having his hopes and dreams stripped away. McCullagh is utterly charming and personable in his dorky nature and has a natural ability to convince the audience to root for him. Hoskins is equally impressive as Carol, and while it's clear throughout that she's not overly sold on Larry's dream, Hoskins gives a performance which captures the pure love and devotion that Carol has for Larry and the depths she goes to, to allow Larry to achieve his dreams, particularly in a stand out moment with a song called Helium.

Gillian Hardie gives a masterclass in acting through song as Carol's mom, and has the audience in the palm of her hands with her impeccable comedic timing. Lejaun Sheppard is a joy to watch on stage, eager to support Larry in his dream as he relates to his own dream of becoming a videographer.

However incredible the leads are, you cannot help but feel yourself being drawn in by the ensemble which consists of Simon Anthony, Jordan Broatch, Athena Collins, Morgan Gregory, Luke Latchman, Laura Dawn Pyatt, Natasha Wilde and Tinovimbanashe Sibanda (who also played the role of The Kid in this performance). The ensemble act as storytellers and their energy is palpable throughout. Breaking the fourth wall to connect with the audiences, you truly feel part of Larry's story. Alexzandra Sarmiento's choreography is incredibly slick and exciting, but it is in the more subtle moments in which it's most striking. The ensemble are incredibly tight-knit throughout, and their impressive and powerful group harmonies, tight choreography, and their small moments in the spotlight are what elevates this production to another level.

Milla Clarke's set design is flawless, turning the stage into the inside of a big balloon. Whilst initially seeming quite intimate and claustrophobic, almost representing Larry's sitution in which he feels trapped and desperate to fly, the flexible set is cleverly designed to open up to introduce different layers and dynamics to the production. Andrzej Goulding's 80s inspired video design and animations and Bruno Poet's lighting design are incredibly striking and bring the blank curved stage to life.

If you could fill a helium balloon with the sheer amount of talent and creativity that comes from this new musical, then it would be more than enough to fly a lawn chair around the world. Ultimately a story full of heart, hope and dreams, 42 Balloons perfectly places the incredible legacy of Larry Walters and Carol Van Deusen at the forefront, but gives a gentle reminder of the consequences that often come from big dreams and sacrifices made.

42 Balloons runs at The Lowry until 19th May. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Pamela Raith


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