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REVIEW - In The Time Of Dragons is clever, humble and feels like home


On Wednesday, we went to The Edge in Chorlton to watch In The Time Of Dragons. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about this excellent production...

Discovering new plays and musicals, particularly in local venues, holds a special kind of excitement and anticipation for me, and when they turn out to be as warm and witty as In The Time Of Dragons, then I’m laughing – quite literally – all the way home!  This new musical, written and directed by Janine Waters, with music by Alec and Simon Waters is clever, humble and feels like home.  With the ambitious idea of simultaneously setting a story in two different eras, what could have the potential to be complicated and confusing is instead infectiously easy to follow and handled with loving care.  A small cast of four bring us the story of Sheelagh and Jack, two souls, and two stories from two different decades.  Sheelagh is a cabaret singer who dreams of conquering the world.  But for now, she is resident in the Blue Angel, Manchester in 1965, where her number 1 fan is club regular Harry!  Jack is a musician floating through life in 2024, in a lost sea of teaching jobs and finds himself stuck in a high school with a bunch of teenagers who pay no attention to a word he says.

Both introduce themselves through song and set the Northern humour and tone for the evening.  But as Sheelagh leaves her cheating husband and needs to find a place of her own in 1965, Jack also moves into his new digs in 2024 after his girlfriend runs off with her new beau.  There may be nearly 60 years between these seemingly unrelated events, but unrelated they are not for both are about to make the exact same Salford flat their home, with just the small detail of time separating them.  But what if that time difference could be removed and they could somehow live in their own year, yet exist together at the same time?  One stormy night following a freak electrocution of sorts, this is the inexplicable way that Sheelagh and Jacks worlds intertwine.  As they embrace the impossibility of their situation, a unique and wonderful friendship is born where two strangers quite literally end up changing each other’s world.

The theatre space welcomes you into The Blue Angel club.  A single microphone awaits a singer centre stage, a visible dressing room area is detailed at the back, a piano nestles in the corner, and tables set out along the side await customers, aka the audience.  It immediately casts an immersive vibe to the evening, and with the venue flooded in a blue neon light via poles of strip lights and with a hanging bar sign announcing the clubs name, the illusion is complete.  Effective lighting changes (Kay Haynes) quickly establish 1965 from 2024, and a series of dramatic and dynamic flashes, blackouts and a reawakening of light once again entangles the two eras, taking away the idea of ‘now’.  The two beds that had been brought on to represent the flats of Sheelagh and Jack are pushed together, and their timelines are brought together as one.  A complicated notion is achieved so cleanly and with such intelligent simplicity that you can’t help but be wowed.  Big budget plays and musicals can be spectacular, we all know this, but In The Time Of Dragons reminds us that great material, clever storytelling, and small venue magic can hold your attention just as intensely and blind you with brilliance of an entirely different kind.  Kudos to set designer David Haworth.

Rupert Hill (Coronation Street, The Bill) and Megan Keaveny (professional stage debut) play Jack and Sheelagh.  Megan Keaveny packs a punch from the off with her brilliant vocals and bubbly character being instantly charming and likeable.  She effortlessly portrays a strong Northern woman who may be hurting but keeps calm and carries on.  That Mancunian steely fire we all know and love so well is evident throughout and her no nonsense manner of speaking, with just a hint of hidden feelings, is so instantly recognisable, you feel Sheelagh is someone you already know.  In contrast, we watch Rupert Hill take his character on a downward spiral as he is unable to compartmentalise feelings in the same way.  It is a brilliantly gentle, yet equally abrupt transition, piquing each moment at exactly the right time.  He starts out a tad fed up, stuck in a job he didn’t envision as his dreams seem to slip away.  But things only get worse and Hill not only makes Jack visually look more lost and hopeless with each appearance, but his physicality totally transforms with every movement and slur telling us of his dependence on alcohol without us having to witness his drinking at every moment.  Their scenes together are handled brilliantly and their focus on not focusing on each other is amazing.

Tom Guest and Hannah Nuttall play the nightclub owner and assistant Anne, as well as multi rolling every other part needed.  They both have stunning vocals, and when all four actors harmonise together, it is liltingly beautiful.  Tom Guest has the quick wit and authenticity of a cabaret club owner and compere and delivers some cracking lines.  Again, his authenticity of this character is so palpable, you feel you perhaps know him already.  A standout moment is when he is playing Frank, Sheelagh’s cheating husband, and sings the ironic and sarcastic song “That’s My Job.”  His comic timing to sing one thing but mean the opposite, and have that understood is superb.  Hannah Nuttall truly creates her multiple roles with fabulous distinction, and her kind hearted and loyal Anne will have you rooting for her all the way.  She takes a character that likes to be in the wings, in the dark and allow her friends to shine, and performs this with such truth, however there is nothing about her performance that hides in the wings, and I absolutely love this concept.  This takes a stand out performer to take a hidden shy character and make them shine.

The music by Alec and Simon Waters is catchy and what really hooked me was its story telling.  It is used to deliver inner thoughts of the characters, but whilst they are supposed to be singing something else perhaps, and instead we get to see what thoughts are streaming through their head.  The songs also like to use irony and satire to deliver powerful messages, such as misogyny and homophobia.  And they are brilliantly delivered through happy, cheerful tunes, with deeper messages.  It is really clever, and I have to say, and this is the highest compliment I can give, they felt like Victoria Wood songs, and for me to dare say that someone else has achieved what Vic Wood did, is something I never thought I’d say.  The music is witty, punchy and includes cracking one liners that catch you unawares and make you laugh that spluttering kind of laugh you have no way of holding in.

The references to the 1960’s and 1965 in particular are lovingly sprinkled throughout, as are ones to 2024 that make you think, wow, what kind of world are we living through right now?  The script has so much fun when Sheelagh and Jack meet and she asks questions about the future and we recognise how insane our world has become and how reliant on technology it is, in a way that couldn’t even be comprehended in the 60’s.  There are also fantastic local references in there too, such as a sparkly eyed Irish footballer who likes to have a drink in the local club.  Of course, George Best lived in Chorlton so touches such as these are wonderful nods to our own history and will make you smile.  The show seems to end all of a sudden, but take your time to think about the lyrics in the song you have just heard, and things that have been said earlier by Jack about not giving away any spoilers, and a few lies he may have had to tell Sheelagh, and the whole thing does tie up with a heartfelt and content sigh and happy smile. 

In The Time Of Dragons is about 80 minutes long with no interval, and no pun intended, but the time flies.  This new show has been thoroughly thought through and is allows its audience to follow the complexities of time with a relaxed ease.  It is set in the stunning venue of The Edge and somehow, on a wet and cold February night, I felt like I was in spring or summer for this show, this venue holds that special something that makes you feel anything can be possible.


In The Time Of Dragons is on at The Edge, Chorlton until Saturday 9th March 2024.


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