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A scene from The Crooked Spire musical. Picture by Tom Humphries.
Thursday 19th May 2022 was certainly ‘a day to be seized’ by anyone who loves Chesterfield’s iconic Crooked Spire and legendary Pomegranate Theatre. Our medieval market town’s fascinating cultural history – and endearing ability to punch above its regional weight – were made manifest in superb style during the opening performance of: ‘The Crooked Spire – A Medieval Murder-Mystery Musical’.
Adapted from a book of the same name by northern writer Chris Nickson, the show is the fruit of almost four years’ hard toil by an intrepid team of creatives led by Producer Martin Coslett: a time in which plague – an all too familiar reality in the story’s 14th century genesis – returned to dominate the lives and careers of today’s ensemble in the form of a modern-day global pandemic. Notably, performances of the show are dedicated to ‘loved ones, the families of Ukrainians, and all those devastated by crime, plague or war.’
The show fittingly opens with ‘Seize the Day’ – an upbeat ballad sung by the show’s protagonist ‘John of York’ – performed with an engaging harmony of warmth and gravitas by actor Adam Stickler. The plotline (spoiler alert) sees this ‘stranger’ to Chesterfield overcome hostility, false accusation and physical injury to earn his place – not only in the hearts of the medieval townsfolk, but in the legendary twisted structure of the town’s most enduring character.
Joiner John’s journey is supported and thwarted in turns by a cast of characters played by a troupe of hugely talented performers to a standard worthy of West End spotlights: young Walter played by local lad Eddie Waller, had the audience not only ducking in their seats with his convincing David-and-Goliathesque sling-shot antics, but also held our eyes and ears firmly fixed on the stage – with a maturity and talent belying his years – throughout his key role in the unfolding plot, including moving duet numbers: ‘To Be a Journeyman’ and ‘To Be an Artisan’.
Hayley Mitchell (Walter’s older sister Katherine), overcame initial sound tech glitches with calm and professional aplomb during her First Act solo ‘The Water is Wide’ – her beautifully resonant voice conveyed that authentic mix of resilience and hope required to convey her character’s concern for her little brother – and her hopes for their future after their parent’s death from the plague – transporting the audience back through the centuries to the lived realities of medieval plague survivors.
Equally brilliant supporting roles were delivered by Ben Storey (Will/Hugo), Philip Meeks (Robert) and Clara Coslett – whose purity of voice in ‘Beth’s Lament’ and as part of the trio in ‘The Water is Wide/Trust in the Lord/Find the Truth’ rendered the performance as indescribably moving as that of Fantine in Les Miserables.
Such is the overall talent of the whole cast, underpinned by the vision of all those who comprise the Creative Team, that to hint at ‘unofficial Oscars’ in this review is simply impossible. Unlike the eponymous crooked icon of the show’s title – whose awe-inspiring silent presence is rendered mystically throughout the performance – the ‘timbers’ used in this arguably inspired and entertaining collage of dramatic cultural heritage is seasoned to perfection. Indeed, if the Crooked Spire herself could sing – we might hear ‘Seize the Day’ ringing out over the rooftops of Chesterfield, calling 21st Century townsfolk not to miss this moment! The show runs until Saturday 21st May, so book your tickets here!
Review by Chesterfield author/poet Leonie Martin, 20th May 2022
Leonie is a published author, poet and creative writing facilitator. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield and working on a textual reimagining of a medieval Dutch Saint which explores cultural attitudes to invisible illness and mystical revelation. Follow leonie.martin.writer on facebook