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Coram Boy | The Lowry

While visually striking and atmospheric, Coram Boy goes too far in recreating the drab and dreary lives of its characters, creating a play that is too long and devoid of emotional resonance.


Somewhat Dickensian in its storytelling, Coram Boy presents a sprawling tale of relationships, intertwining lives and class division across its daunting running time. Yet, where Dickens provides insightful social commentary and satisfaction in his clever narratives, Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Jamila Gavin's celebrated novel offers neither. Despite its length - which more than overstays its welcome - very little is actually said beyond superfluous narrative that merely exists to propel the characters from one poorly paced scene to the next. Anna Ledwich has crafted a very pretty production, but for all its overcomplicated melodrama and twists, the play has no thematic voice whatsoever.


If it wasn't for the awkwardly stoic prose in which all but one character speaks in, the cast could be celebrated for strong performances; Louisa Binder brings charm to her multi-roled lead roles, and Rhianna Dorris brings a great deal of heartbreak to her portrayal of Melissa Milcote. Sadly, much of the performances, however, are lost to bland characterisations in the text. Attempts at humour and lightheartedness are misguidedly attempted on occasion, yet with a more balanced tone of moments of joy within this bleak tale one can imagine this being a far more emotionally investing tale.



What can be praised greatly is the design of this production: the set by designer Simon Higlett is greatly effective, capturing both the gothic glamour of the Ashbrook mansion, the gritty docks of London and Bristol and constantly shrouded in the shadow of intimidating organ pipes. While rarely changing save for several chandeliers and furniture, the level of detail is enough to please the eyes as distraction from the poorly paced scenes. Equally the costumes and wigs and makeup by Susanna Peretz exhibit a great deal of attention to detail and period accuracy. The same can be said for the excellent lighting by Emma Chapman, casting shadows, heavenly shimmers and great deal of impact to more emotional and shocking moments of the play. In a stunning moment of stagecraft, haze, lighting and brilliantly immersive sound design by Max Pappenheim come together to create the illusion of being underwater. The sheer artistry of the design helps the play float above its lacklustre script.


Max Papenheim also delivers a gorgeous score, played sensitively by a baroque chamber orchestra of four - harpsichord, violin, cello and clarinet - that breathes life, energy and tension into the piece. The compositions feel both period accurate and cinematic in their ability to capture diegetic music and atmospheric underscoring.


Unfortunately, while the play impresses aesthetically, one can only appreciate beauty for so long; as the scenes drag on, one is left realising the shallowness of the writing that merely pushes weak characters through plot beats with little examination of their emotions and motivations.


⭐️⭐️ (2*)


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Manuel Harlan

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