'She' in Cheltenham 2015: A Review by Simon Lewis (The Echo)
It is a measure of the musical talent and pulling power of a musician of the stature of Clive Nolan that his Fire and Quest event at Cheltenham Playhouse was sold out long before opening night. Such a feat is all the more remarkable when you consider that a substantial proportion of the audience had flown in from as far afield as The Netherlands, Poland and even Brazil. Native English speakers became almost an ethnic minority, keeping a low profile in the front stalls, as the shows opening, doom-laden chords re-echoed round the packed auditorium.
Back in town to celebrate Gloucestershire-born Nolans success in the sphere of musical theatre, Caamora Theatre Company presented their reworked production of She, a musical based on the late 19th century novel by H. Rider Haggard that received its European première at the Playhouse in 2012. Under new director Ian Baldwin, the second act had undergone some substantial alterations, and from a logistical point of view, this was a step-up from the crowded house presentation of three years ago. Most importantly, the band had vacated the stage, giving it all a lot more room to breathe, and creating space for a set comprising two cleverly adaptable screens functioning as temples, tombs and the jungle-infested tropics. In truth, there was no band at all; the complete music score came courtesy of a backing track, to which the cast sang spiritedly and, I am delighted to report, far more audibly this time round, thanks to some judicious modifications to the sound system. Back projections displaying all sorts of exotic locations and visual effects enabled everyone to keep track of the storyline, a strategy which worked admirably for Caamoras West End production of Alchemy, due to be performed the following evening, but which I was sadly unable to attend.
No matter. There is an old adage Seek, and ye shall find, and over the course of two absorbing hours, I did precisely that, for this opening leg of The Quest had plenty of fire in its belly. The whole was very definitely greater than the sum of its parts, a blazing pageant spearheaded by Victoria Bolley who simply dazzled in the title role, and quite literally, too, given the quantity of facial glitter and gilded gowns. Robbie Gardner afforded proceedings substantial backbone in an assured portrayal of adventurer Leo Vincey, Chris Lewis invested the role of fellow explorer Horace Holly with plenty of clout, while Gemma Louise Edwards carried off the role of the tragic Ustane with consummate ease. Wardrobe mistresses Natalie Barnett and Caron Morgan had clearly been working overtime to create a vast array of exquisite period costumes, and Alec Morris frequently atmospheric lighting added the final gloss to an evening of masterful music, mystique and magnificence.