Coram Boy, Bristol Old Vic

Coram Boy, adapted from Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award Winning novel, is intense and dark and it dredges up the underbelly of wealth and luxury in the 18th century South West. The story follows Alexander, a young boy with a passion for music who must choose between his family’s wishes and what he loves.

This tale mixes in with that of cruelty to children and the more horrific choices faced by young women who have to deal with their unwanted pregnancies and babies. Some, having no alternative, give them to a man, Otis (Triston Sturrock), who claims to take them to the Coram institute but the truth is much more sinister.
The two worlds collide with the help of Otis’s helper, Meshack, (Fionn Gill) a young man who isn’t quite as in touch with reality as the rest. He sees angels and after falling in love with Melissa, Alexander’s love interest, he becomes instrumental in the fate of the two lovers.

It’s quite fitting that this Old Vic production which touches upon slavery should be shown a few hundred metres from its normal home, in Colston Hall, named after Edward Colston known for his wealth acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves. It brings with it a powerful message from a strong and varied cast which includes a full choir, an orchestra and some well known actors and various Bristolian children.

A strong and familiar, but dare I say predictable, performance from Tristan Sturrock, who retains some of his menacing act from his brilliant Long John Silver in Treasure Island over summer. A young Thomas proves delightful right from the start and stands out as a vivacious actor with great presence. Both actresses that played Melissa, Alexander’s love interest, were a treat to watch with Emily Head from the Inbetweeners adding a touch of elegance.

The stage direction and creative embellishments were superbly done by the Old Vic production team. Ropes and plastic sheeting were all that was needed to create a ship and the sea on stage. In a familiar touch from past plays, the characters used most of the stage and auditorium to bring the story to life.

This may take a little more emotional reserve than last year’s Swallows and Amazons but it will be one of the more memorable performances that you will see this year and there are only 15 of them. Do your best to see it. It is a production that won’t easily be forgotten.

Runs until December 30

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