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The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair | Leicester Curve

National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) bring their production of 'The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair' to Leicester Curve Theatre. Written and composed by Jordan Li-Smith as his debut as a writer and composer, the story is adapted from Lara Williamson's hit novel of the same name. The story follows a young boy called Becket, whose life is turned upside down when he, his brother and his dad are running away from home in the middle of the night, leaving their almost-mum Pearl behind. Whilst coming to terms with the loss of his real mum, he arms himself with an armchair of stories and one thousand paper cranes, determined to bring his family back together again.

The set is beautifully designed. The use of brighter colours, lights and painted books around the massive red armchair instantly brings a sense of stepping into a warm and cosy room, oozing with childish innocence and wonder. It's a stunning first impression and continues with its constant presence, use and interaction with the characters throughout the show. With a flap at the back, the cast are able to appear and disappear through the armchair which was fun to see.

The first act of the show relies heavily on the talent and charm of the lead character Becket Ramsey (Sam Carter). At just 14, his stage presence and ability to command attention is so clear and he’s an absolute superstar. Almost constantly on stage, he performs in most of the songs in the first act and we are witness to his incredible vocal range.

The first act, whilst being much longer than the second, is unfortunately the weaker of the two. Packing the first act with 28 songs is a rather ambitious move, and unfortunately one that doesn’t really work. The songs are performed back-to-back, often with little dialogue in between to distinguish them. This leads to an unclear storyline, and a weaker narrative. Whilst the first act is wonderfully set up to introduce the incredibly talented Carter, it plays off more as a musical showcase than a musical.

The songs themselves are great but we’re overwhelmed with them, and it becomes hard to appreciate them. The actual premise is a little confusing, and the show hopes that this creates an underlying tension for the audience to be invested in characters and their relationships, even if they are barely given a chance to fully develop. The curiosity of discovering past relationships does work to an extent, but this is then also overshadowed by the sheer number of songs in the first act. The conflict that the show brings revolves primarily around the dad’s character, but we explore this through the perspective of Becket. This helps us follow the narrative to an extent, but often takes a back step when the show explores Becket’s world further. This being said, my favourite moment is a song from act one is when Becket learns to make paper cranes, a strong imagery throughout the show, and this was amplified by the song.

The second act is much stronger with regards to the storytelling. However, this leads to a heavier second act as each song creates a more emotional storyline. It makes sense in bringing the story together but it’s a little jarring, especially in comparison with how much more light-hearted the first act is.

I do want to talk about the reveal in act two. Bearing in mind that the cast is made up almost entirely of children, the topic of domestic abuse is handled in a rather thoughtful way and is tastefully depicted with a small observation. However, with only a couple of mentions and their implications, this point could potentially go over a few of the audience’s heads. I’d known it was coming due to studying the character’s body languages (Oliver Futcher) and the show’s trigger warnings. I do agree with this decision though, as it works well, and is just a very subtle way of doing it. It did however bring a rather unexpected darkness and depth to an already heavy play.

Other cast stand outs were Pearl (Lily Copland-Jones) who gives a mature performance with beautiful vocals and acting throughout.

Nevea (Isabelle Larrey) perfectly captures the essence of childhood innocence amongst a harsh world. Mimi (Eva Guilfoyle) is a fun character, and nailed her role as a snarky mean girl, and unsurprisingly, was one of my favourite characters. Her ability for line delivery was flawless, but it’s when she’s given a more sympathetic solo in the second act, that she really shines. Nana (Alex Absalam-Sanchez) is another strong character that brings comedic relief to the show and her solo 'Oh, you know me' was fun to watch. Cat (Olivia Spillane) shines in her role, yet the musical doesn’t provide her with songs to really showcase her voice. However, her song about her mother provides a rather touching moment in the show, and she is often used as a catalyst for the more emotional scenes in the show.

Dad (Oliver Futcher) does really well, and the character’s baldness as a running gag was brilliant. Unfortunately we don’t see a lot of him in act one, but he comes into the role in act two. 'Mum' with him and Becket is a sweet song, with some of the musicals most profound lyrics. Brian (Bill Stanley) was a riot to watch, and having him appear as an invisible talking snail is the epitome of a child’s imagination. His dance break with the young Billy and ensemble is one of the show’s most impressive choreographed moments. The tap line in particular needs a mention as it was done so well.

Billy Rumsey (James Breen) is a commendable character. With a fair amount of stage time, we are able to see the character grow from just an annoying younger brother, into a sensitive child. Breen plays him passionately, and it is rather sweet to see the character come alive with such energy. It’s in his solos and duets with Brian, that he’s really given an opportunity to showcase his singing and dance talents.

His relationship with Becket is such an accurate representation of sibling relationships, from the petty insults, to protectiveness, and this made it so much harder to watch when Becket steps up as a parental figure and push his own fears aside. The two brothers are such beloved characters, and it’s always so heart-warming to watch the way they never give up on one another.

Mum (Charley Lawrenson) is given the show’s most famous song “Better Days” and smashes it. This song better showcases her singing as well, and it becomes the soul of the musical. This is paired with seeing each of the characters follow happier paths, makes for a powerful and positive ending. She’s incredibly talented and it’s great that this song was given to her. Mr. Beagle (Andre Buhagiar) was sadly underused. He has an incredibly strong and distinctive voice, and I wished that we could have seen more of him.

Overall the musical was rather impressive with an insanely talented cast, strong songs and stunning choreography. The story at its core is beautiful and the final message is heartwarming.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Robert Day


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