During the opening number of this year’s Bede’s musical, the titular Addams family dances their ancestors out of the afterlife – and with them, after fours years away from the Devonshire Park theatre, and two years of a show-thwarting global pandemic, it felt a little like they brought Bede’s Drama back from the dead, too.
After a soaring, spiralling overture, which included the iconic and all-but-mandatory Addams Family theme, and during which Bede’s Director of Music Robert Scamardella roused his whip-tight band into a frenzy, this opening tune, When You’re an Addams, felt like a showstopper right out of the gate.
In addition to introducing the core cast, including Will Gillett as Gomez, Antonia Clark as Morticia, and Veronica Travers and Tabitha Newton as Wednesday, the song saw the Devonshire Park stage gradually filling with over twenty cast members, all dressed to the nines while singing, dancing, and raising the roof.
It really was something to behold – unearthly, hilarious, and a joyous reminder of the theatrical wizardry for which Bede’s is justifiably acclaimed.
Set years after the Addams Family you might know, be that the foundational Charles Addams comic strips, 1960s black-and-white TV series, the 90s movies, or the modern animated films, the Addams Family musical sees Wednesday all grown-up and back from college. She has met a boy, Lucas, played here by Alfie Kennedy, and the plot centres on his very normal Ohio parents being invited for dinner.
An allegory about modern American cultural difference, the show sees a right-wing father, Mal, played by Robbie Cloke, and his repressed wife, Alice, played by Trinity Gott, clashing with the kooky, exuberant, utterly uninhibited Addamses, embracing their opulence, Hispanic warmth, and learning to let their freak flags fly.
Aiding them is Fester, played here by Will Quibbell on sweet and airy form, conspiring to make the evening a success in the name of love; at the same time, Pugsley, care of Bede’s Anna Scott and Maya Goswami in alternating performances, contrives to ruin the event, fearing his sister will no longer want to torture him for kicks.
The plot is delightfully subversive, and with a cast so large it felt remarkable that nobody was lost in the mix. Indeed, Goswami and Scott, who each channelled the duelling-spirits of Sid Vicious and Billie Eilish in their shared role, made the most of every moment they had on stage. Scott, sneering yet vulnerable, and Goswami, pugnacious yet gentle, excelled. Their solo number ‘What If’ was an absolute highlight, the voices of both young actors quite astounding.
The absolute crutch of the show, however, is Gomez. The character with the most to do, and a role which requires extraordinary range, from rapid-fire quipping to sincere and heart-felt speeches, a half-dozen dances and countless songs, Gillett was furiously, relentlessly brilliant. The glue that held the show together, snake-hipped, loose, relaxed and ribald, he was a dynamo of charm and livewire energy. He sang like a veteran and made every moment count. And that accent? Flawless!
The yin to Gomez’ yang, of course, is his wife, Morticia, played in the Bede’s production by Antonia Clark. Dry, sarcastic, wounded and severe, Clark delivered a femme fatale brimming with caustic poise and grace. As a mother struggling to adapt to middle-age, a rip-roaring highlight saw her skirt whipped away, revealing a corseted body suit, fish-netted legs and heels that would have made any mum squeal with joy. This led into a gymnastic, jaw-dropping tango which marked the climax of Clark’s physical performance – one that few could have hoped to deliver.
Voice of the show had to go to Trinity Gott however, whose Act One closer ‘Waiting’ raised the roof. As an actress, Gott has always been dynamite; crackling with energy, wit and passion, she’s a chameleon and a natural. As such, it was no surprise that she could play a sweetness and apple-pie mother. When she opened her mouth to sing, however, who could have expected such range, power and skill? Her solo raised goose-bumps, prompted rapturous impromptu applause, and marked a high point in Bede’s Drama few things have touched in my ten years at the school.
As supporting characters to the glitz, glamour and Gothic grace of Gomez and Morticia, Gott and Cloke were in danger of drawing the short straw: thankfully, while the two managed to sing in glorious harmony, the acrimony of their marriage proved a rich vein of comedy gold. Cloke squeezed jokes out of thin air at times, bravely appearing stripped to his underwear as his character gradually moved from repression into subversion. The moment where he ripped his shirt from his chest and declared his love was sensationally cathartic, note perfect, and a joyous political statement to boot.
With scene-stealing moments from Liv Driver as dirty-minded Grandma, cracking wise and crookedly wheeling a baby-carriage full of poisoned apples, and Anthony Tridico as Lurch, whose short solo was a joy, the show was packed with moment after moment of pleasure. Tridico in particular deserves notice for being the gel who made so much of the production run smoothly. A workhorse, he quietly moved props and set items with character and skill, finding the funniness in practicality, and marked himself out as a hidden talent brought finally into the light.
As the heart of the show, of course, Wednesday has a lot to do and both Travers and Newton made the most of the part, though both in refreshingly different ways. Travers offered us a bright-eyed Wednesday full of vim, bounce and dark energy. Newton’s take on the character was more sinister, vacant, and pleasantly perverse. Both actresses also sang tremendously well, walking the tightrope between earnestness and deviancy with enviable skill.
As Lucas, Kennedy played their dramatic foil – all rosy-cheeks, blue-eyes and farm boy charm. A slightly thankless task, he made the most of it, dancing and singing with every fibre of his being. His high-point was ‘Crazier Than You’ – a duet ending with a kiss that elicited jubilant whoops from the crowd.
No review of this show could be complete without significant and justifiable praise directed to the design, of course, which was brilliantly innovative. Most of the action takes place within the crumbling Addams mansion, which was rendered in a monochromatic set of swivelling flats designed by veteran genius Richard Waring and painted by the widely celebrated artist Stephanie Carr-Gomm. With each rotation revealing something new – a fireplace, window seat, or torture device – all smoothly operated by a backstage crew of 13 pupils, their creation was crammed with smile-inducing surprises.
Standing out from this intricate yet muted backdrop were the costumes, care of Eleanor Conlon. Bringing her expertise from Shakespeare’s Globe and Glyndebourne, she delivered intricate, detailed stylings that married alchemically with the work of multi-award-winning lighting designer Bob Bryan. Rather than offering us the look we might have expected, all matte blacks and greys, the tonal, textured, incredibly crafted costumes were packed with threads of gold and glittering fabrics that turned Bryan’s pink, blue and red illuminations into something evoking 1960s psychedelia.
This magic was possibly best embodied in the Ancestors – a singing, dancing, gambolling chorus of eleven corpses dressed variously as conquistadors, cavemen, flappers and nurses. Their cream and white costumes whirled, twirled and enlivened every moment, hauntingly beautiful and nigh-on hysterical at times.
The beating heart of the show was, of course, the musicianship, care of Mr Scamardella and his team, who variously played with fury, whimsy, and unbridled sweetness, the fiendish, relentless rhythm captured and ridden by cracking choreography care of Head of Legat Sherrie Pennington. To have over 20 numbers and make each count, using bodies and voices en masse, in small groups, or solo, raising and lowering tempo, while conveying such a range of moods, was no mean feat. To do it all so stylishly and well is a whole other matter.
Then, sitting behind it all, is the production’s director, Bede’s Director of Performing Arts, Karen Lewis. Her first Bede’s musical since 2018’s widely-lauded Oliver!, the Addams Family served as a powerful reminder of her skill, ability, playfulness and judgement. The school is lucky to have her, as the cast would no doubt attest, and she marshalled all involved to knock it out of the park.
Like lovestruck Fester singing at the moon, this year’s Bede’s musical proved an object of adoration. Sweet, funny, beautiful and daring, the Addams Family was a show you would be crazy to have missed. And not the good kind of crazy, either. A manifesto for a school that prides itself on fostering individuality, unearthing character, and in helping everybody feel like they belong, no matter how unusual they might seem or feel, the show is and was a triumph whose echoes will reverberate for years to come.