12 June 2015

The musical version of Duncton Wood at the Union Theatre was lovely, if somewhat bloody

All that I knew of Duncton Wood when I saw the musical announced was that it was a popular book with animals in it. I assumed that it was rabbits or a mix of species but that would have been something like Watership Down or The Animals of Farthing Wood. Duncton Wood was about moles.

I picked a Friday performance to be reasonably sure that I could work in London that day and so could make the gentle stroll down from Kings Cross to Southwark and still have plenty of time to eat beforehand.

I had to go to the theatre first for the opening of the box office at 6:30 were good planning got me there first and so I was able to secure one of the all-important first ten tickets which would get me into the theatre as part of the first group. It is a slightly unusual ticketing system but I think that it works very well. I wish places with awkward queueing systems, like the Bush, would it.

For food I went to one of my new favourite places, Culture Grub on The Cut close to the Young Vic, where I had my new usual Chinese style curry. One of the reasons for going there was to avoid having a beer in a pub and I went for a grapefruit and honey juice instead. The food at the restaurant was very good and came very quickly, just what I wanted before a theatre date.

I got back to the Union Theatre around 7:15pm, in good time for the play. There was a little jostling for position from the people who knew how things worked there but I am not unskilled at jostling and I was the first one in. It is always a surprise walking into the theatre there as the performance area is always laid out differently and a quick decision has to be made on where to sit. This time the seating was L-shaped, running along two sides of the stage. I chose a seat in the middle of the long leg of the L. It proved to be a good choice.

I might have been alone in the audience in not knowing what to expect; it even took me a few minutes to work out that they were all moles.

The story, in case you do not know it either, was steeped in fantasy with one group of moles seeking to return to the old ways when they worshipped seven stones and another group wanting to retain their power over the moles. These were both groups of stones moles and there were also pasture moles involved.

What followed was a tense drama with groups of moles fighting each other, individual rivalries between some of the moles and some love affairs between others. It was somewhat bloody too with one of the elders and one of the pasture moles being killed before the break. I thought that might have been it for the violence but in the second half it got worse and several children were amongst those murdered.

It was not all violence, there was a fair amount of sex too. Who knew that moles bonk face-to-face like humans do?

I liked the story because while there were some obvious bits (the goodies beat the baddies in the end) there were quite a few surprises and diversions along the way and so while the general direction was clear it was always uncertain what would happen next.

The musical side of the performance worked very well. There was a large cast with several important roles and that meant lots of loud choruses, plenty of solo ballads and several cosy duets. The music was reassuringly approachable with some of the themes repeating, as they should in a musical.

I was impressed by the singing in all its combinations though in my view the baddies had not only the best tunes they had some of the best singing too, and the one who impressed me the most was second-in-command baddie Rune, but that is just me being my usual unfair self and picking one when all were good.

The rest of the production was good too with plenty of movement, atmospheric lighting, a simple set, evocative costumes, striking make-up and good use of sound effects for rain etc. This was another example of when being in a small theatre works best as the total effect was very immersive with all of the elements of the play set out just before me. It is hard to tell what colour a mole's toenails are painted from several rows back in the stall.

Duncton Wood was my sort of musical as it had a good story touched with darkness, fine music well played and sung, and a rich production that teased all the strengths out of both.

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