Nathan and I are currently driving through the empty streets of South West London, having just seen a brilliant production of The Battle of the Boat, which is this year's NYMT new commission. And what a show it is! Ethan Maltby and Jenna Donnelly have written a dark and brooding, deeply heartwarming piece which features some of the most beautiful sequences of music I've ever heard in musical theatre. It's such a treat to hear an orchestral score, particularly one performed by such an enormous band. I sometimes think that people should stop looking to the West End for new musical theatre, and turn their attention instead to the National Youth Music Theatre. That's where you're going to hear the good stuff. The stuff which breaks new ground.
The cast was sensational. All nine of the show's leads were brilliant performers. All brought something special and unique to their well-drawn characters.
Maltby's music washes over his listeners like a thousand gentle waves. It's engulfing, filmic, folk-inspired. The story of the show is really very lovely. It tells the tale of a group of young kids during the First World War, who watch a propaganda film about the Battle of the Somme and become determined to find a way of getting to France to help the war effort. In the end they build a boat and decide to sail across the Channel...
It's been dubbed "mini-Brass" because the age group of the cast is one below that of our show. Both shows are about the First World War, and there are similarities in the timbre of the music, but actually, after seeing the piece, I genuinely welcome any comparisons! There's a musical storm sequence which actually took my breath away, and Maltby's writing for percussion instruments is in a different league to mine.
I'm actually rather proud to say that Ethan and I actually played in the same youth orchestra as young lads. We toured Canada and played on Blue Peter. I still have the video! Perhaps there's something in the water in Northamptonshire which breeds this folk-inspired orchestral theatre music.
So if you're reading this, and you can get yourself to the Rose Theatre, Kingston before the show's run ends on Saturday, I urge you to go. Go. Just go. Go and support British writing talent. I'm bored of people trying to justify ghastly juke box musicals, or, worse still, saying that we need to innovate musical theatre by engaging non musical theatre writers to write new shows. The talent is out there. It just needs to be nurtured. If you genuinely like musicals. And you genuinely care about the future of the art form, get off your harrises and see this marvellous show!