Venue: Dormston Centre Theatre, Sedgley

Performance Run: One Night Only (Sat 1 Apr)

Performance Reviewed: Saturday 1 April 2017

Touring musical theatre revues are fairly ten a penny at the moment. Look hard enough and you’ll usually find a Three Phantoms or Beyond the Barricade doing the rounds somewhere nearby in the not-too-distant.

The latter is back at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre later this very month.

And it’s in this routine, this regularity, that the problem lies. The voices are usually solid, the staging and technical artistry perfectly efficient, but it’s all been seen and done ad nauseum. That the talent involved have sometimes been performing their numbers for decades similarly laces proceedings with a sheen of old hat. 

Which is what makes Just Arrived by The Theatre Collective, a recently-formed professional theatre company offering bespoke musical shows, a more interesting and exciting affair.

The show, which also serves as the group’s debut outing and showcase of sorts, may not be markedly different on paper - an evening of show tunes and dance numbers - but it’s in the details where the interest piques.

Or lack thereof, perhaps, for Just Arrived was cannily a much more stripped back and focused affair than some of its contemporaries; the eight strong group all dressed in black and the minimalist lighting complimentary and mostly confined to the occasional spotlight or gels.

It made for no distractions, no pretences and, crucially for a performance of this ilk, no attempt to hide behind staging or production values. It put the talent and creativity of its team front and centre for the entirety of the night, and let them run a seemingly full gamut of musical classics and show tune favourites.

If it occasionally meant the sheer size of the unexpectedly spacious stage at the Dormston Centre threatened to swallow some of the smaller or more delicate numbers up a little, it wouldn’t be long before a rousing take on ‘Circle of Life’ (complete with the obligatory in-audience walk ons) or ‘One Day More’ redressed the balance, or a searing solo such as George Stuart’s ‘Bring Him Home’ or Cat Davis’ ‘Somebody To Love’ knocked the audiences back in their seats.

Above all though, it was just great to see an evening of musical entertainment which had clearly been tailored to its individual performer’s strengths. The Collective state that bespoke, crafted theatre experiences are their raison d’etre, and from what was on show in Just Arrived, there is enough diversity and breadth of talent to more than live up to that mission statement. 

To attempt to revisit and appraise each individual performance and number would be insane; the evening was a full, robust programme that ran a full 2 and a half hours. And whilst, naturally, as within any such arrangement, there were the big vocal heavy hitters (the aforementioned Davis and Stuart, along with the supremely charismatic Anna Forster), what was particularly welcome was how each individual member had their moment to shine, and each component of the Theatre Collective clearly brings something valuable to their stagey table.

Adam Partridge shone throughout as one the strongest dancers of the evening, whilst also providing a memorable, soulful rendition of La Cage standard ‘I Am What I Am’ towards the end of the night. Amy Williams took us on a vibrant and confident revisit of Velma Kelly’s ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’ from Chicago, having earlier impressed with Grease’s ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. James Gordanifar leant Miss Saigon’s moving ‘Bui Doi’ the necessary heart and soul, Heidi Fletcher fully immersed herself in the sass and salt of ‘Roxie Hart’, whilst the aforementioned Anna Forster showed off every inch of her dance and theatre experience on numerous occasions, highlights being her ‘Suddenly Seymour’ Audrey or in going full Debbie Reynolds with a completely infectious take on Singin' in the Rain's ‘Good Morning’ alongside Partridge and Philip Watson-Smith.

And, at the risk of sounding fawning, every time George Stuart and Cat Davis were let loose on a ‘Defying Gravity’ or their stunning ‘Beauty and the Beast’ duet, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Collective had given you a fast track ticket straight to the West End.

As a showcase of talent and a proof of concept, Just Arrived was a confident and impressive debut by The Theatre Collective. It wasn’t faultless; some of the short dance numbers used to segue between numbers were so brief as to be almost inconsequential, and if there were to be any critiques lain at the door of the evening as a whole then it perhaps could have done with a little objective editing; trimming out a couple of the less effective numbers that momentarily sapped the pace, such as a take on The Pajama Game’s ‘Steam Heat’. 

But other than these minor (and easily amendable) picks, The Theatre Collective have set out their stall (to a packed Stalls, no less!) in confident fashion and proven themselves an exciting, talented and versatile new theatre troupe to pay heed to. 

And, in a way, Just Arrived couldn’t be a more fitting title; this is a group that have literally just gotten started (together in this format at least, they all individually have years of theatre training and experience), and whilst there may still be some finding of their feet and testing of the waters, they have pulled off their big opening number with prowess and passion, and left this particular critic and theatregoer excited for the rest of the ‘Theatre Collective’ show to follow.

JUST ARRIVED ran at the DORMSTON CENTRE, SEDGLEY for a one night only engagement.

For more information on The Theatre Collective and to stay updated on upcoming productions, visit their official website or Facebook Page!