‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ was groovy.
Even if you weren’t alive to experience the 1960s first hand, the decade is infamous for its fun fashion, sexual liberation, and drug-induced existential crises. Exploring these themes, Redcliffe Musical Theatre has delivered a groovy rendition of ‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ – a jukebox styled production that follows the highs and lows, promises and heartbreaks of five women living in the 60s era.
With strong and mindful choices, a cohesive cast, and strategic use of visuals, this was an experience you’d want to take your cheeky aunt along to.
Lovingly directed by Jean Bowra, who has previously worked on productions including ‘Oliver’, ‘Come Swing With Us’ and ‘Rapunzel’, the show was raw and humorous, but also balanced. Throughout the performance, there appeared to be an intention to highlight the experiences of women in a real way – a particularly relevant choice given the challenges faced at the time. The use of humorous and exaggerated body language softened the dark elements of the period and script. Whilst orgasms and self-groping were performed in a tongue-in-cheek manner which amplified laughter.
Overall, the blocking of the play was Bowra’s most notable strength – with a constant balance given to the on-stage band, cast and set. The stage never felt crowded or empty, and there were many not-so-subtle references to 60s pop culture embedded in the positioning and body language of the characters.
Clever and raw scenes were possible because ‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ was well cast. It featured a united team of leads, standout supports, and a solid ensemble. Five is a good number. Hands have five fingers, flags have five-pointed stars, Britain had five Spice Girls, and this show has five leading ladies. Together, the women complimented one another’s strengths, and each had her own chance to shine. Yellow Girl, played by Louise Swainston, had the largest story arc and did well to bring audiences along on her journey; Red Girl, played by Georgia Barnard, delivered a strong and engaging physical performance, which was somewhat reminiscent of commedia dell’arte; Blue Girl, played by Caitlin Archer, held the most consistent and believable accent; Orange Girl, played by Elissa Holswich, produced beautiful vocals; and Green Girl, Patricia Dearness, stole the show with her brilliant comedic timing and characterisations.
Without overshadowing this strong leading cast, standout performances came from supporting actors, Reagan Warner as Shout Director, and Sharyn Donoghue as magazine love-letter guru, Gwendoline Holmes. Both performers captured audience members with their stage presence and consistency in characterisation. In addition, a five-strong ensemble, featuring Jasmine Reese, Rebel Bliss, Kara Fisher, Sheree Fitzgerald and Rebekah Collins, added another element to the dance numbers and presented a unified performance.
As a relatively unknown show, ‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ granted areas of freedom, not only to the actors and director but to the set and costume designers. However, being true to the period does present a challenge. Fortunately for Redcliffe Musical Theatre, the use of single set and multiple LEDs kept the focus on the leading ladies, and their vibrant outfits became a character in their own right. The style gave ‘Scooby-Doo’ vibes with bold primary colours and striking whites, which added a lot of to the show.
Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s production of ‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ allowed audiences to sink into their seats and spiral into an atmosphere of psychedelics and grooviness. The show illuminated the very essence of the vibrant 1960s, through outlandish attire and a whacky incorporation of pop culture.
As the world changes and the role of women comes under question once again, ‘Downtown: The Mod Musical’ is as relevant now as ever before. Under Bowra’s dynamic direction, Redcliffe Musical Theatre has delivered a very needed message in a fun and enjoyable way.
For more information about Redcliffe Musical Theatres upcoming productions, visit http://www.redcliffemusicaltheatre.com/.