The Water Babies

Music & Lyrics by Jason Carr

Chichester Festival Theatre


Reviewed by Emma Shane

© Summer 2003


Witnessing a production of a brand new musical can be quite an experience for an audience, wondering, are we witnessing history in the making? In the case of this show, I think there is a good chance we might well be. The Water-Babies, by Charles Kingsley is a classic story, so to turn it into a good musical requires something more than plain adaptation. Apparently what songwriter Jason Carr, and librettist Gary Yershon have done is throw the book up in the air, and see where the pieces land. What they have actually done is turn it into a star vehicle, focusing on the role of: The Irishwoman, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid & Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby; In a similar vain perhaps to Gypsy focusing on the character of Gypsy Rose Lee’s Mother. Now when originating a star vehicle, one needs a performer with star quality for the leading role, and this show has literally found Gold; For it’s leading lady is that versatile, and all to often underrated performer Louise Gold.

                This is one of those occasions where I think it is fair to say, that mere words cannot really do justice to the show, for one really needs to witness it for oneself, but I hope that if you are not able to see it, this description may provide a flavour historical account of a small piece of musical theatre history in the making, and if you are lucky enough to see it, it will help you remember the details of it.


The show opens with the Prologue music and the story’s other two major characters, Chimney Sweep Thomas Grimes and his ill-treated climbing boy Tom, whom he got from the workhouse (one might note a passing similarity to the story of Oliver Twist here - well both were workhouse boys sold into trade, and both are dressed in Victorian rags). Tom, played by Neil McDermott is alone on the stage, Grimes is calling for him. The stage is full of boxes and such like, covered in drapes. Soon Joe McGann, as Grimes, strides down the middle stage-left aisle, dressed as a Victorian tradesman, with a brush over his shoulder, and in song, Take That! continues to berate and punish Tom for running on ahead. Gazing down at the clean water, Tom wishes he was clean too, though that does not stop him from mis-treating a dragonfly. Suddenly our eyes are alerted to stage-right, where one of the drapes is thrown up and a large female figure crawls out from underneath it. (In fact a close look at the set when the stage lights went up, show that just at this position there is a hump in the drapes that might be that person’s head - so presumably she’s been sitting there all along). To anyone who even vaguely remembers the story it is at once obvious who she is, the Irishwoman, but in fact, such is our Leading Lady’s command of the stage, I’m sure anyone who didn’t remember would have realised this is our Leading Lady. She is wearing a raggedly dress with quite a full skirt, and a hooded cloak, so we can’t see her hair at all, but we can see her face, and from under the hood, a pair of sparkling brown eyes stare out, when she speaks it is in a near-perfect Irish accent. One of Louise Gold’s many gifts is a marvellous ability for accents. She tells Grimes and Tom “Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; those that wish to be foul, foul they will be.” And then, after informing Tom that they will meet again soon, gathers up her skirts and runs of stage (revealing the fact that on her feet she is wearing black flat-heeled, possibly gym shoes or jazz, shoes). Grimes and Tom continue on their way to Harthover Hall, where Grimes wants Tom to steal the master’s late wife’s pearls.


The scene now alters (by means of removing some of the drapes) to Harthover Hall, where: the servants are rushing around madly trying to get everything ready, because Miss Ellie, the master’s invalid daughter is coming home from Switzerland, What A Day. Just to complicate matters the cook is trying to complain she hasn’t got enough ingredients, and (a phrase repeated several times) “The sweep’s at the gates”. There are good ensemble performances from Natasha Bain as the cook, Trevor Conner and Adam Tedder as George and Garth the footmen and Paul Leonard as Maurice the butler. Two of the most noticeable performances in this scene come from Alicia Davies as Mary Jane the maid and Nicola Sloane as Mrs Drew the Housekeeper. Both ladies are quite distinctive individual actresses (who stood out in The Gondoliers). Miss Ellie, played by Katherine O’Shea, is wheeled on in her wheelchair, and complemented on looking better, she in turn complements the Swiss Doctors. Meanwhile Miss Dennis, the governess, played by Fiona Dunn (whom I didn’t recognise although she was a principle in The Gondoliers) calls for some help with the luggage. Having been welcomed home, Miss Ellie is then taken to her room and bed, we learn that like her late mother she has TB. Much of this scene has been sung through, with the number What A Day, interspersed with a little dialogue, like an operetta. But in the next scene we get a more song-like song.

                Grimes and Tom set to work, and Tom climbs up the chimney, this part is symbolized by having him climb up a large step-ladder that is on the stage. Suddenly another figure makes her presence noticed, in the chimneys with Tom, it’s the Irishwoman! At one point she actually stands on the stepladder too. This time she sings, Down By The Sea, and her big glorious voices rolls out delightfully, much like a good wine (such as W S Gilbert’s beloved full-bodied burgundy would roll down). The song is a very pleasant one, Jason Carr has done Louise Gold proud with just the right kind of song for her big plummy yet sweet voice. However, not only is her singing delightful, Louise Gold is also very accomplished at maintaining her accent while singing, and singing quite powerfully into the bargain. There aren’t so many performers who can do that! 

                Tom is just as bewitched by her singing, as the audience is, and soon he finds himself falling down one of the flues and finds himself in Ellie’s bedroom. Ellie, by this time, is asleep in bed. Tom wanders round the room, I wonder Where I Am. He is surprised at the soft clean material, and even more by Ellie’s washing kit, how could a girl like her get dirty enough to need so much washing. He expresses his bewilderment very nicely in song. He tries to wash off some of his soot, but to no avail, and unfortunately Ellie awakens and screams with fright. This of course summons Miss Dennis, and soon there is quite a commotion going on. A doctor must be sent for, as Ellie has started haemorrhaging, and they must catch that boy, surely a thief. Tom meanwhile is running for his life, towards the river, with Grimes in hot pursuit, I’ll Never Be Clean. Grimes is convinced Tom has got the pearls, which he hasn’t, and won’t hand them over. They part sing, part speak their argument over the river, and eventually both fall in and drown. Meanwhile it’s too late for Ellie, she is dying, but with her dying breath she says the boy is not a thief.


The action now goes Under The Water. Naturally it would be impossible to really be underwater, so this is done symbolically, with the help of a few water-coloured balloons. Tom’s costume changes too, he is now strangely clad in long blue shorts, and a blue top, and is quite bewildered with his new surroundings, apparently he is now a Water Baby, although he doesn’t believe it, and doesn’t know what that is anyway. And now it is time to meet a strange variety of creatures who live under the water. First up a snail, played by Christian Patterson. He is peddling on a small tricycle, and carrying a black rubbish sack on his back, the tail of his costume is a semi-transparent trail. Next hobbling along with a stick comes a nervous Caddis Larva, played by Steven Fawell. It turns out that his nerves have a lot to do with a frog, played by Steve Elias who ate his brothers and sisters as soon as they split to turn into Caddis Fly, Catching Flies. Presently the Caddis Larvae splits into a Caddis Fly, Prince Of Flies - a role which finds Steven Fawell parading around clad in swimming trunks and a lot of glitter. A little later he adds a sort of jacket of wings to his costume. We also meet two rather beautiful looking ladies, a Trout played by Natasha Bain, who keeps being annoyed by being called an old trout, and a Yellow Eel played by Fiona Dunn, and finally we meet another, quite commanding lady, Catching Fish, an otter, played by Sasha Oakley. The songs for all these underwater beings are quite excellently conceived, and performed by their individual performers with conviction. All of them find Tom rather rude, most unlike a Water Baby, for Water Babies are always polite and helpful. They keep trying to tell him that Mrs  Bedonebyasyoudid is watching or listening and won’t like it.

                Presently, however, trouble breaks out, the Otter, decides she wants to eat one of the fish. What is to be done? the cry goes up “Send for the Water Babies!” From the far left and far right corners of the stage they come, scootering along. Yes all are riding those scooters that were all the rage on the streets a few years ago. Possibly the best scooterer, or at least one of the most distinctive on her scooter, is Izzy played by Nicola Sloane. All the Water Babies have names, they are: Freddie, Laura, Poppy, Camila, Gryff, Johnny, Daisy, Charlie, Bertie, Izzy and Tim, and are played by: Trevor Conner, Deborah Crowe, Alicia Davies, Fiona Dunn, Steve Elias, Kieran Hill, Jo Nesbitt, Benedict Quirke, Joe Shovelton, Nicola Sloane, and, Adam Tedder respectively. One of them, probably Fiona Dunn’s Camila, wears a whistle and a little red notebook on a ribbon around her neck, and therefore seems to lead the others, a bit like a scout master. Thwarted in her desires, the otter goes into a sulk. Meanwhile The Water Babies, proceed to greet their new member, Tom, You’re A Water Baby Now. Tom is soon wearing a tail and cap just like them. He also receives his own scooter (this is dropped down on a wire from the roof), and Neil McDermott promptly scoots around the stage on it. Tom begins to realise that is might be quite nice to be one of them. He is rather less keen to discover that being a Water Baby involves a certain amount of schooling. They sing about how their mission is to maintain A Balancing Act in nature. This is probably one of the catchiest songs in the entire show. The Water Babies sing it well as an ensemble piece, though two individuals do stand out (for their dancing and general stage presonce) namely Izzy and Poppy. Just as Tom is beginning to come round to their ideals, and help them untangle some weeds, their current task in hand, who should appear to complicate things, but a Lobster, played by Paul Leonard. His right hand ends in a clue-like glove, which opens and shuts a bit like the mouth of a puppet might. He is very capitalist kind of creature, who seems to think everyone has to look out for themselves, because no one else will do it for them, Help Yourself. He soon gets his comeuppance, by getting stuck in a lobster pot. Two of the Water Babies try to help in, but unfortunately Tom, rather carried away with the lobster’s rhetoric, shuts them in. The Water Babies, try to warn him that Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid won’t like it. To which Tom retorts that “she should keep her trap shut”, and just before he said that (though Tom does not notice until afterwards), who should enter but Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, the ugliest fairy in the world, herself. This time our leading lady sweeps onto the stage in the magnificent manner one might expect from a Leading Lady. Louise Gold is wearing a long dress with a very full skirt, that sweeps so far down to the ground, one can never see her shoes (the way she moves in this costume adds to that effect). She is wearing a ginger-red wig, of hair rather more gingery than her own chestnut locks. Her wig is made all the more remarkable, by it coming up into a long pointed tail (like a unicorn’s horn) a foot or two above her head. The whole “ugly” effect is topped off by hiding her sparkling brown eyes behind a pair of lorgnettes. All in all she looks very severe and dignified. She does not have a wand, but instead, with a simple flick of her hand, usually her powerful left, she makes magic: sticking Tom to the rock on which he is standing, and depriving him of speech. She uses much the same effect to reverse these devices. It’s very effective and extremely appropriate given the actress playing her, that her magical powers are in her hands like that, Louise Gold after all does have rather clever hands. Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid is carrying a large red book. As she explains There’s Always A Choice, the book contains, for each ‘person’ a series of ticks and crosses. A tick is for every time they do something right, and a cross every time they do something wrong. Each time they earn a tick it cancels out a cross. There’s Always A Choice is a fine song, and really quite funny. The lyrics are brilliant, and thankfully have both a tune and arrangement that brings them out very clearly. It’s the sort of piece that in some Music Theatre shows, such as Gilbert And Sullivan, might have been done as a patter song. But thankfully this is not actually a patter song, it is just as simple, clever and witty, but without the fast tempo. Which is just as well, because it makes it much better suited to Louise Gold’s abilities.

                At first Tom objects to all the crosses he has, saying they are not his fault, but gradually, he begins to understand. The Lobster also begins to understand and even apologies for rejecting a proffered had, which mitigates one of his crosses. Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid even admits it is quite reasonable of anyone to want to say she is the ugliest fairy in the world, and ugly she will remain, until ‘people’ learn to behave, then she will become as beautiful as her sister Mrs Doasyououldbedoneby. Just as Tom is beginning to understand, and settle down with the other Water Babies. Another diversion arrives, in the form of Ellie, now wearing a simple blue dress. Ellie is bearing a message saying that Tom’s presence is required at The Other End Of Nowhere, where someone needs his help. Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, informs Tom that he must set off at once, it is a journey that all Water Babies must make eventually, when their time comes. She also says that Ellie may accompany him most of the way “as far as the Kitchen Door” (at this point we, the audience, don’t know what on earth she means by that). Tom is aghast at leaving his new friends. But Mrs Bedonebyeasyoudid, kindly says, or rather she and the Water Babies sing (in a style reminiscent of G&S), the first verse of The Other End Of Nowhere that there is no injunction that she’s aware of why they should not accompany him on the first part of his journey, as far as they are able. Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, slips a grey satchel (conveniently dropped from the roof the first time I saw this, though in a subsequent performance Louise fetched it from elsewhere on the stage) and a medallion around Ellie, and with Ellie leading the way, closely followed by Tom, all the Water Babies set off up the central left aisle of the stage.  As they go they sing the main part of the song The Other End Of Nowhere, which has now become a patter song, almost the only time a patter song was used in the entire production (and it’s noticeable that it’s been carefully constructed such that our leading lady’s involvement isn’t needed in the singing of it, although she’s still around on the stage).

                It is really apparent throughout the whole of this underwater scene, that Jason Carr has made a fine job of writing individual songs for all of these weird and wonderful creatures: Caddis Larvae, Frog, Otter, Water Babies, Lobster, and The Ugliest Fairy In The World. One wonders if the composer’s excellent taste in television comedy influenced him here (apparently he is rather fond of The Muppets), though I note with some amusement, that this production’s resident Muppeteer, had the most comparatively normal role of anyone in the scene (in as far anything that particular performer does can be called normal).


Act 2 opens on dry land, with a Funeral Quartet. It is Grimes’s funeral. The only people in attendance are A Vicar, played by Kieran Hall, Mother Grimes excellently played by the redoubtable Nicola Sloane, and Gilbert ‘Grimes’s old master played by Paul Leonard, along with Gilbert’s son and the pallbearers. Mother Grimes is sad about her son, but admits he was a bad lot, and quite stoical about seeing herself home. From auditorium Door 1 (which is by the audience right, stage left, centre gangway) enters a familiar figure, the Irishwoman, with her skirts gathered round her, she scampers up the steps onto the stage. Raising one of her powerful clever hands (her right on this occasion) she whips up a storm. Suddenly Grimes’s soul rises from the ground, he is rather surprised to see the Irishwoman again. Grimes doesn’t realise yet that he’s dead, and tries to join in the conversation with his mother and the vicar. “They can’t hear you” laughs the Irishwoman playfully, and scampers off (through a door near stage left). Grimes is still trying to talk to his mother and the vicar, while the exit, in song. This non-communicative duet is positively Sondheim in style, and it continues with the entrance of the next character from the back of the stage, behind some scenery, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. Picking up the song, she informs Grimes that he is dead and must answer for his deeds. With that she begins to read out in song about his case from her red book, Be Done By As You Did. However, Grimes doesn’t believe in life-after-death and exasperates her, so much that she begins to inflict various punishments on him (of the type he used to inflict on both his mother and Tom). She does this with magic, by means of some deft subtle flicks of that clever left hand of hers. Our eyes were drawn to focus on her hand, perhaps a legacy of her puppeteering skills. Eventually Grimes angers the ugly fairy so much that with the movement of her left arm, she sends him to The Other End Of Nowhere, The Storm.

                The storm seems to be getting worse, up on a balcony in the middle of the back of the stage (the orchestra were on a much larger balcony at the very back of the stage) Mother Grimes appears, with a lantern and sings Children In The Storm. Presently down on the stage floor, Ellie and Tom appear. Soon The Irish Woman enters stage right, also with a lantern, and from far stage right The Water Babies also with lanterns come on stage join in. The Water Babies carry their lanterns on poles in both hands in a uniform manner. Katherine and Nicola have their lanterns in their right hands, and Louise of course has hers in her left.  Up until The Irish Woman’s appearance, Nicola Sloane had carried the song along very well, but once Louise Gold entered, our attention was drawn away from Nicola to become fairly firmly fixed on our leading lady, such is the magnetism of her personality, though the audience still managed to pay Nicola some attention, especially as Louise departed towards the end of the prayer.

                The Storm, continues, and now we actually meet some of the children who are caught in it, Tom, Ellie, and the Water Babies. Looking at her map, Ellie tells us that the storm has blown them off-course, they were going down, they are now going up, the best course of action will be for them to head North, but the Water Babies can’t go further North, it’s too cold for them, only Ice Babies can survive there. So they head back for home, but promise to look out for Tom when it’s their turn to go to The Other End Of Nowhere. Tom and Ellie carry on alone on the ice. Ellie doesn’t feel the cold, and can’t understand why Tom does, seeing as they are both dead. She tries to cheer him up by telling him about Paradise Gardens, where it’s warm and sunny, and one day they will walk there together, but Tom says Gardens like that are not for the likes of him, and sits down getting colder. Ellie carries a pointed stick with which she taps the ground, trying to find a portal that will lead them to The Other End Of Nowhere, but they seem to be lost, and as she says “there’s no one to ask”.

                As if in answer to her prayers from the back of the stage a tall figure enters, wearing a white fur cape and a blond wig. At first Ellie does not notice her, and when she does, she is surprised to see her, it is Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, the most beautiful fairy in the world, with whom she has walked in The Paradise Gardens. Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby explains that she often strays over this way, to dispense love. Ellie introduces her to Tom. Mrs Doasyouwouldbydoneby promptly drops down to touch his cheek, and realises he’s freezing cold. Hastily she slips off her cloak, and wraps it around him, as she does so she calls out quite loudly “Ice Babies! gather round, we’ve an emergency” . She is now wearing a pink ballgown, with a fairly large skirt, and plain white high heeled shoes. (which make this 5ft9” leading lady even taller than she already is). The Ice-Babies soon come running on, they are all clad like Eskimos in which fur hooded jackets and white trousers. One of them is wearing round his neck a keg of Brandy, and enquires if it’s needed. But Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby says no, all Tom “needs is love and affection in abundance”. She kneels down on the stage beside him and proceeds to cuddle him. “Mum” mutters the rather befuddled Tom. Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby finds it rather sweet he thinks she’s his mother, whom he never knew. Finally waking up a little Tom realises what he’s said, and changes it to M’am, but Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby likes being called Mum. She launches into song, A Little Love. This is a lovely song. It has gorgeous lyrics and a tune and orchestration which does them full justice. It is one of the few songs in the show which I think truly has the potential to have quite a life outside of the show, for example on solo albums and in cabaret acts (and I can think of one cabaret show where that song might fit in very nicely). Yes it’s a great fun and fine song, rather like Cole Porter in style. But what really makes it memorable is having it sung by such a lovely artiste as Louise Gold (who incidentally is also a dab hand at singing Cole Porter). Although Louise Gold always sings every song she sings as though she means it, just occasionally she gets hold of a song that is so her she actually becomes the song, or it becomes her, and I have rarely seen that occur quite so absolutely as it does here. Both in terms of style and message this song fits Louise Gold so well it could have been written just for her, and who knows, as this is a new show....?

                While singing, Louise also dances a bit, giving us just the merest hint of her wonderful dancing skills (surely a legacy of her Arts Educational training). Most notably she spins round (rather like in the film The Pirates Of Penzance) so much so that it’s a wonder she didn’t get dizzy! She is not the only person singing, for some verse and of course refrains are handled by Tom, Ellie, and a chorus of Ice-Babies (namely: Steve Elias, Steven Fawell, Trevor Conner, Kieran Hill, Deborah Crowe, Jo Nesbitt, Natasha Bain, and, Fiona Dunn). Tom’s a bit warmer now, so doesn’t need the cloak, which the Ice Babies now spread over a useful box in the centre of the stage, Tom and Ellie both clamber up onto it, and presently, using the shoulder’s of two of the Ice Babies as a springboard, our leading lady jumps up backwards to join them (she remains facing the audience all the time). And of course she gives the two children a few loving hugs. Some critics have likened her appearance in this scene to a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Celia Johnson, but I would say that with her big powerful voice she is rather more comparable to Dolores Gray, if indeed she can be compared to anyone; as ultimately Louise Gold is so unique she can’t really be compared to anyone else, and this terrific number gives her a great opportunity to demonstrate that. However, all good things must come to an end sooner of later, and warmed up, it’s time for Tom to continue on his journey. Ironically it is Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby who breaks to bad news to Tom that the person he has to help is his old master Grimes. Tom is appalled, Not This; Grimes who treated him so badly. Why should Grimes be given a chance to walk in the paradise gardens? But gradually if out of a sense of a Water Baby’s duty if nothing else, Tom agrees to carry on, for only he can help Grimes, even though his heart is not in it.


It’s time for another change of scene (the removal of most of the drapes). The Other End Of Nowhere, is a large kitchen, where the tormented souls of the wicked are cooked, by three cooks played by Steve Elias, Joe Shovelton and Christan Patterson, assisted by the tormentors, Stew In Your Own Juice. Lyrically this song is extraordinarily daring (for a musical aimed at children), although in his role as orchestrator, the lyricist has managed to hide his clever lyrics under one of his weirder arrangements, which may be to their advantage, as it means presumably that parents and censors might not notice them. The cooks are dressed like in a pantomime, except their costumes are rather blood-spattered. The tormented souls, with the exception of Grimes (in his customary Victorian garb) are wrapped in white bandages, the tormentors wear white cat-suits, and run around with toast forks and such like. The whole scene is quite grotesque, as the cooks cut off bits of the tormented souls and such like. Certainly this is one scene that is a bit controversial. However, I felt there was one saving grace midway through the scene, namely the surprise appearance of the Head Cook, who is none other than the Irishwoman! Her performance in this scene really adds something to the development of her character, and for that reason particularly I think the scene should be retained, although given how much it’s been criticised, perhaps it could be a little toned down). Another reason I think the scene should be retained is for its very funny (when you can actually hear them) lyrics. One of the chimneys appears to be blocked, they need a sweep, Tom remarks that he was a climbing boy, so the Irishwoman sends him up the chimney, and with a playful cry of “Carry on cookin’” departs.

                A quick bit of scene changing, and Tom is up on the roof, where Grimes is stuck in a large Chimney. This is perhaps one of Joe McGann’s most powerful scenes in the show. He has seen that he was wrong, and singing A Better Place begs Tom’s forgiveness. Tom is reluctant at first, but as Grimes points out “If you were in my position you’d want to be forgiven too.” So Tom forgives Grimes, and the Chimney he is stuck in breaks apart (nice effect).  Then who should enter (the first time I saw it, from Auditorium Door 1, though the second time from near stage left) but Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, now wearing a simple 1950’s style frock, a close fitting dress that hugs her trim figure, and ends at her knees showing off the calves of her fine legs. She is still wearing her white stilettos. All in all she looks very much like she’s stepped out of a traditional musical comedy. Tom and Grimes can now walk in The Paradise Gardens, where Ellie is waiting for Tom, and Mother Grimes, who died an hour ago, is waiting for her son, so Grimes timed his redemption to perfection. All good creatures may walk in The Paradise Gardens.

                A bit more scene changing, with the help of the cast, in particular Trevor Conner and Adam Tedder as the footmen, a carpet of grass is rolled out and a few shrubs placed about, for Tom and Grimes to be reunited with Ellie and Mother Grimes. Tom is now dressed in a white suit, he is no longer a Water Baby, but some kind of angel. Then a door at the back of stage opens, and the four walk through into a white light. Alone on the stage (the other members of the company have all departed) it is Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby who sings a reprise (with lyrics so different I didn’t even recognise it as the same tune) of A Little Love, and then delivers the show’s moral “Do as you would be done by, and you will be done by as you did” and then, switching almost into a familiar teasing voice (shades of a classy sounding English Muppet or perhaps Spitting Image’s Queen) reminds us that this is a fairy tale, and therefore we’re not meant to believe it “even if it is true”. And with that, having had the last word, the leading lady bends her knees in a pose, the stage lights dim and the story comes to an end.


There are several occasions when I have written show reviews, where I’ve chosen to focus my review one or other of the supporting players, rather than the real star of the show, this is not one of those occasions, as the curtain calls made abundantly clear. First on most of The Water Babies themselves (with the obvious exceptions of Freddy, Tim and Izzy). Next on the footmen, and the various other water creatures: Snail, Caddis Larvae, Trout, Yellow Eel, Frog and Otter. Now it’s time for the principals, first Tom and Ellie, then Grimes and Mother Grimes, and finally as Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby the true star of the show, our leading lady herself.

                All in all this is a wonderful new musical. If you get a chance to go and see it down in Chichester with it’s original cast then do, and you will have something wonderful to annoy everyone with, telling them what a special experience it was. My initial impression was that few of the tunes would be immediately catchy, but none the less very enjoyable and pleasant to hear. However, a day or two later, I began to realise that actually some of the tunes do stick in my mind, so they’re really a lot more memorable than they first seemed. Indeed having seen the show a second time, I find many of the tunes becoming quite memorable. The only reason not to catch them at once is that they are so new. When one goes to see a revival of an old standard, one is quite likely to remember the tunes that much more quickly, because tunes from old standards are such a part of popular culture, one is bound to have already heard them somewhere at some point, all be it subconsciously, but with a brand new musical like this that advantage doesn’t exist. In some ways The Water Babies is a little like Stilas And Drewe’s Honk, personifying creatures. But Honk is treated lightly with an almost pantomime quality. The Water Babies is a far superior show, for both the writers and actors treat the subject matter entirely seriously. Instead of merely playing it for laughs, they get totally into what they are doing and present it as a story with a moral. That is not to say there are not lighter moments, and it is not to say it is not fun. For it is, but it is also serious. This is also much in evidence in the songs, where Jason Carr, who is clearly a real tunesmith, has lent rather more towards the legacy of the late great (and rather under-recognised Broadway songwriter) Joe Raposo than that of Stiles and Drewe. Raposo was also noted for his ability to write for all sorts of creatures (ranging from a Ragdolly in one of his stage musicals, to a famous frog in both his film and television compositions). And In fact some of the songs do stand out as musically good and lyrically excellent and really suit their performers. Jason Carr has managed at one time or another to invoke the spirits of: Joe Raposo, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter and, Gibert & Sullivan. But ultimately the score is something uniquely his. It is a real joy to hear a new score by a British composer who writes real tunes that do his witty lyrics full justice. I am sure the lyrics also benefit a lot from the songwriter’s own orchestrations. I have often wondered whether these days (when the West End seems to be so full of Popsical musicals) there even exists a contemporary songwriter who could write really good traditional musical theatre songs, such as people like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin did. Well, having seen The Water Babies I have to say that British composer Jason Carr is just such a songwriter.

                All the performances are first rate, the entire company give of their best: Joe McGann does a good as Grimes, pulling off a believable redemption at the end. Neil McDermott and Tom and Katherine O’Shea as Ellie are far more prominent and noticeable than they were in The Gondoliers. Of the rest of the company, two other remarkable performers from The Gondoliers, namely Nicola Sloane and Alicia Davies also stand out and make themselves noticed (which with such a commanding leading lady around is no mean feat). Christian Patterson, Steven Fawell and Sasha Oakley are also quite memorable in the In The Water Scene. Meanwhile: Trevor Conner, Adam Tedder, Natasha Bain, Paul Leonard, Fiona Dunn, Steve Elias, Deborah Crowe, Kieran Hill, Jo Nesbitt, Benedict Quirke, and Joe Shovelton provide good convincing supporting performances.

                The really special thing about this show being new is that the cast get to put their own mark on it, and make it all their own, for example The Water Babies naming their characters. There are no previous performances to compare them too. I’m sure many of the performers benefit from this, If they want to do the songs in their own particular style and make them their own, no critic can complain that’s not how their “supposed” to be done. One performer who particularly benefits from this is the uniquely individual Louise Gold. She truly does have a wonderful part, which she does full justice to, and best of all she gets an opportunity to do nearly all the things she’s really good at as a performer; just about the only one of her many talents that didn’t come it is her puppeteering abilities! - though she did get to use her strong left hand most effectively when punishing Grimes. She also succeeds in making all three of her characters distinctively different. To each of them perhaps she gives a part of herself. The vivacious Irishwoman has her sense of mischievous fun. She’s rather a playful creature, with a very distinctive way of grabbing any scene she’s in, and she particularly shines in the song Down By The Sea.. Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid is a powerful, imperious, commanding figure, especially when singing There’s Always A Choice, a bit of an ugly battleaxe perhaps. Although perhaps the least like the actress herself, it is the kind of character she’s played very effectively quite a few times in her career. And then there’s Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. To her Louise has given part of her own warm personality, a graceful goddess, she comes into her own with that wonderful song A Little Love. Yes she is a very talented singer, but when she’s shining up there on the stage her performances really can cheer people up and make them feel a whole lot better.

                The Water Babies moral message is about people getting their just deserts, and if there is one single thing that makes this production extra special it is that there is one performer who really does get exactly what she deserves. It is quite something to see such a nice, versatile and talented singer-actress as Louise Gold, all to often relegated to scene-stealing supporting roles, get the chance she so richly deserves to originate such an excellent leading lady’s role in such a jolly good new musical. If that’s an idea that appeals to you, then you’ve just got to see this show if you possibly can.




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 | Go to the author’s review of another Carr musical Six Pictures Of Lee Miller |