Longitude at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

From Brother and Sister duo Kaz and David Maloney with William Godfree comes Longitude: A Clockmaker’s Obsession. Longitude tells the real-life story of 18th century clockmaker  John Harrison and his decades-long pursuit to develop an instrument to allow sailors to correctly measure Longitude (and thus location) for a £20,000 reward. The opening set the scene well and with imagery of sailors lost at sea, soaring vocals and powerful ambience, however the overall project felt as though it required some additional revision.

David Phipps-Davis powerfully embodied our central character John Harrison. David was in excellent voice, balancing both power and heartfelt emotion throughout the piece. His competition, the domineering and manipulative Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, played expertly by Alex Lyne whose haughty derision was conveyed well both throughout the dialogue and song. In such a small ensemble show, praise must be given to Abigail Brodie who played the gender-flipped dual role of Lord Anson and King George III. Her characterisation and exceptional vocal delivery were a real highlight.

Musically, the show had commendable moments. There was some beautiful harmonisation and use of dynamics (“Lost”, “We’ll Find You Weary Travellers (reprise)”) and some excellent use of melody. “The Dreamers” and “The Man Who Conquered Time” were particularly strong offerings. The main issue was the sheer number of songs (22 in a 1hr30 musical) which meant most were quite short and not overly memorable and did little to enhance the plot. There was also some disconnect between numbers from a stylistic perspective and some revision of these to utilise additional dialogue may have been of benefit.  This would have enabled the cast to more meaningfully portray the desperation and obsession with more depth than the current writing has allowed them to do. Some of the storylines felt superfluous to the main narrative, such as the love story between Adam and Lizzie which felt was in place to provide a standard MT romantic duet (“I’ll Find You Lizzie Harrison”) and the scenes with Delysle and The Board which felt unnecessary.

The movement was simple and well utilised. It was clean and mostly fit the style of the piece well. This was particularly evident during “Dear King” and in the scenes with The Board. Similarly the set and costumes were deliberately stripped back, however some of the uniformity of both would have led to a more polished overall finish. There was use of projection at the start and end of the show, however against a rippling curtain and with inconsistent imagery, I question the efficacy.

The production has chosen to donate 10% of  profits to the RNLI and Orpington Sea cadets and it was incredibly touching to have representatives from both organisations to greet us into the theatre – it set the scene for this maritime piece beautifully. 

Review by Jaime Finch

Longitude is on at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 7th July. To book tickets and find out more please visit their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Babies, Operation Mincemeat and Six.

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