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The Gathering James Terry Photography 8548 Web

ArtsHub review of The Gathering

Deborah Stone, 1 December 2016

The Gathering of Millenial talent

A surprisingly polished new musical bursting with fresh talent shows the value of going ‘off-Broadway’.

The morning after I attended the opening of this youthful new musical at 45 Downstairs I happened to interview Michael Cassel, the producer behind some of the glitziest musicals shown around the corner in the big theatres of Spring and Exhibition Streets. He spoke about the depth of talent in Australia.

I hope he manages to see this more modest but remarkably polished show, the Melbourne equivalent of ‘off Broadway’. It’s a testament to the depth of talent just coming out.The Gathering is a new musical by Will Hannagan and Belinda Jenkin, both of whom are clearly names to remember. It’s based on a familiar and potent conceit, a reunion of characters with a secret (or secrets) hanging between them. The plot spins around Tom, played by Joel Granger, who disappeared suddenly from his family and friends five years ago and has returned equally unexpectedly, setting up in an derelict house on the outskirts of town and inviting his old friends to a gathering where the truths of the past demand revelation.

The old friends are not terribly old – in fact no one is and one reason this musical is so effective is that it is self-aware enough to acknowledge the pretensions to adulthood of those just inside its clutches. ‘No one prepared me for life,’ they moan, but in the next breath, acknowledge the irony. ‘We are six inches deep and already we are out of our depth.’

The characters are out of their depth but the cast, patently, is not. Crisply directed by Chris Parker, the six young players – most only a year or two out of drama school – offer thoroughly accomplished performances, delivered with a well-modulated energy level that is always sparky but never hysterical.

The Gathering is a new musical by Will Hannagan and Belinda Jenkin, both of whom are clearly names to remember.

Musically, The Gathering is a thoroughly mature work which reminded me of a little of Next to Normal, able to tell a deeply human story that feels authentic despite the strictures of the genre. The performers move fluently from narrative to song and back, with beautiful voices and unaffected staging. There is enormous talent here.  The crisp diction is a joy – we miss none of the wit and irony of the lyrics – though I’m not sure the sound system is necessary in that intense space. It certainly could be turned down a notch.

There is still a little work to do on the narrative structure of The Gathering and it deserves the opportunity to be remounted and developed. The broad architecture is in place but the plot points come out in uneven dollops which mean the narrative tension is not as even as the energy.

A little more attention to staging would be welcome too. It doesn’t require expensive special effects but a creative lighting effect or some clever use of fabric would have enhanced the artistic impact of the climax. Its absence feels almost jarring.

I highly recommend making the effort to get to this show. For a fraction of the price you will pay around the corner you will see and hear fresh talent with great voices and fabulous energy. One member of the cast, Daniel Assetta is currently in rehearsal for The Book of Mormon opening in January at The Princess Theatre. Expect to see the others – Joel Granger, Shannen Alyce Quan, Olivia Charalambous, Daniel Cosgrove and Hannah Sullivan McInerney – cast on big stages soon.

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