Review: Leaves on the Line

By

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The quality of student theatre productions has astonished me throughout this year, and never the more so than when watching DULOG’s new original, student-written musical Leaves on the Line. The lockdown project to put all others to shame, written and composed by Constance Froment, Evie Press, and Imogen Usherwood, this musical provides snapshot stories of the extraordinary lives of six ordinary people lives on the train from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley, complete with unexpected delays, irritating announcements, and embarrassing moments.

Awash in a warm pink and yellow glow, the minimal set of chairs and luminous lettered suitcases, are used inventively as they configure train carriages and signpost the stations, reminiscent of Matilda the Musical and a real credit to the efforts of the technical and production team made up of Alexandra Hart, Jennifer Leigh, Joyanne Chan, Harry Clipston, and Amy Rettke-Grover. 

The opening number brings the medley ensemble into a bustling start, rushing suitcases around the stage in simple and effective choreography

The audience is brought to attention by the clever use of train announcements, which punctuate the play at the various stations on the journey up North that many of us know so well. The music swells in a typical musical theatre style that presents us with each individual who we can readily recognise from our own train station interactions: the jaded commuter, the noisy phone caller, a furtive teen, as well as a persevering actor, chatty backpacker, and of course the long-suffering train conductor. The opening number brings the medley ensemble into a bustling start, rushing suitcases around the stage in simple and effective choreography that was dynamic to watch if at times causing difficulty for clearly hearing the lyrics being sung. 

The lyrics, written by Constance Froment and must be applauded for their equally romanticised and realistic observations of British transport, perfectly capturing the chewing gum red carpets and tight-packed elbows with a mischievous warmth that avoids being either saccharine or cynical. The musical composition is equally a delight as it provides a voice for each character that smoothly flows from jazzy musical theatre numbers to soft outpouring ballads. Cohesive and layered, the music weaves through recurring character themes, flawlessly orchestrated by Ollie Fabb on piano, alongside James Woodward on guitar and Tilly Pitt on Violin. 

The depiction of strangers’ overlapping lives just shows us the power of a confined space and a lengthy train journey can bring together such precious moments of shared humanity

Bringing the music and dialogue to life, the cast is a total joy to watch, each convincing in their own right, and altogether a beautiful mix of diverse voices. The casting for each role is impeccable to the point of becoming convinced that the roles must have been written specifically for each actor in mind. Remarkably well observed in mannerisms, body language and interpersonal relations, the depiction of strangers’ overlapping lives just shows us the power of a confined space and a lengthy train journey can bring together such precious moments of shared humanity. 

The familiar figure of a fatigued commuter is rendered with real heart and empathy by Issey Dodd as she sings of her promising academic potential that pushes her into a respectable job that has left her wistful of a childhood love for writing. At times a little shaky in the big ballad projections, nonetheless she observed the character with a real honesty of the fears of being stuck in comfortable respectability that I am sure rang true for much of the audience. is absolute dynamite as a woman on the phone with an engaged friend while desperately trying to find a decent man for herself. Not only does Evie’s face radiate with expressive bawdiness she fully embodies the character that many of us see in friends, or perhaps even ourselves, with a real passion that comes from being not only an actor but also co-composer, co-lyricist, and assistant director. The vibrant cast brilliantly brings to life the hilarious horrors of Tinder, as well as a posh couple off on a disaster mini-break, a grouchy old man and dear wife, an energetic child and patient mother as well as many other faces we see in train carriages. 

Each role was performed with a joyful committal that invariably brought smiles of recognition and reminiscence of real figures we’ve seen, managing to avoid lazy archetypes but distil the essence of strong personalities potently. was a wonderfully bumbling conductor, dismayed by the task of collecting tickets amongst such a raucous crowd, and yet endearingly having his moments of romance and kindness towards Matt Bourne’s teenage character who is suspiciously avoidant of revealing his reason for journeying up to Scotland. Matt Bourne’s voice carried out the heart-stirring ballad powerfully, as each woman took on the role of his mother to whom he was phoning to return home. Georgia provides great comic moments as she enthusiastically chats away about hill walking and attempts to make friends with Liv Jones’ determined actor role. A real highlight of the entire show was ’s solo on the gentle power of waiting for dreams of acting to come to fruition through hard work, performed with a range of styles and softness that leaves us rooting for her success. 

For those who are still around Durham over the summer, I cannot encourage you highly enough to go watch and support Leaves on the Line as it previews at Durham Fringe Festival from 30-31st July, and then ventures up to meet its next destination at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 14-20th August, which I’m sure will not be the last stop on its wonderful journey into a future success!

Image credit: DULOG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.