REVIEW: Bawdiness, ribaldry and exuberance aplenty in boozy new musical on Northampton stage
John Griff reviews Gin Craze! at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Live theatre has finally, liberatingly, returned to major Northamptonshire stages. ‘Exhilarating’ was the word used to describe the process of getting it there by Artistic Director James Dacre – ‘relief’ might well be the word used by those on both sides of the Royal’s curtain as it rose on the brand new musical Gin Craze!.
A co-production between Royal and Derngate under its Made In Northampton brand and China Plate, Gin Craze! tells a bawdy, ribald, exuberant tale of drunken disobedience in the mid 1700s, where beer was far more expensive to buy (and thus accessible to the wealthy) and water downright dangerous to drink. In their impecunity the poor were forced to consume gin – which they did in vast volumes of reportedly up to a litre per day. Each. Small wonder therefore that Hogarth’s prints of Beer Street and Gin Lane had the effect that they did in supporting the 1751 Gin Act which followed. With beer positioned as being positively good and fashionable for the drinker, gin brought reality to the lines ‘Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for tuppence’.
This production is a masterstroke of scheduling by Royal & Derngate. Supported financially by DCMS grant so that it can viably stage the piece with a vastly reduced, masked up and socially distanced audience, Gin Craze! brings together a cast and crew who have bubbled together in production for the past two months. Multi-skilled, each performer plays at least one musical instrument, sings, dances and delivers their lines in an impressively skeletal set which serves as drinking den, jail, fine house, court room, open street and more. Economical with cast numbers on stage, the audience has plenty to focus on and be entertained by. Additional applause to the irrepressible Debbie Chazen who brilliantly inhabits most of the piece’s laugh lines and also pulls off the trick of changing costume, wig and character in about a minute while reclined in a coffin in full view on stage.
Given the current fashion for gin, Gin Craze! offers more than commentary on a long-gone form of society. In just over two hours It also highlights many of the same issues (including alcohol abuse) which continue to dog contemporary society. So prepare for your conscience to ring a bell of social recognition.
Not one for the children or those with a distaste for the strongest language, Gin Craze! continues until this July 31.
* Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book