Hot on the heels of the release of the CD Alchemy (2013, see review), Clive Nolan's new music theatre project takes on an exciting new dimension through a live performance of this show, recorded in February 2013 at the Wyspiański Theatre in Katowice, Poland. The audio CD already was a wonderfully dramatic coloratura comprising a beautifully cast team of players romping their way through nearly two hours of musical Victorian derring-do and melodrama. The way it was written allowed much scope for the imagination to start creating the pictures to accompany the compositions. The performance here only builds on those foundations, the original cast from the CD giving a stellar performance in front of a very receptive and appreciative audience.
An explosive start comprising a gunshot in the Alps raises the proverbial curtain on the show set in 1842, whose plot centres on the finding of three hidden artefacts left behind by the alchemist, Thomas Anzeray. Enter Lord Henry Jagman, the villain of the piece for the prologue, Andy Sears (Twelfth Night) brilliantly reprising his over the top, dastardly performance with wicked swagger and a snarl throughout. Jagman thinks Professor Samuel King, played by Clive Nolan, is dead. King in fact is off in pursuit of the treasures and so Jagman is never far behind.
Clive Nolan may be better known for his enormous symphonic prog canon of compositions as a keyboard player with Strangers On A Train, Arena, Pendragon, Shadowland and Caamora. As this DVD proves, there's much more in his musical inventory as a fine character singer and performer, taking centre stage and occasionally stealing the show with songs like Quaternary Plan and Tide Of Wealth, during which he reveals the secrets of alchemy. There's also a romantic sub-plot involving a mysterious girl named Amelia Darvas, playing by Agnieszka Swita, the leading lady of the striking Caamora Theatre Company. After Jagman double-crosses her, she's rescued from the gallows by King and his friends. So begins a tender love affair between Amelia and William Gardelle, a part played with much sensitivity by David Clifford, again the possessor of a wonderful rich voice, which would not sound out of place in the West End of London.
There are other top rate performances by Victoria Bolley as the sweet-voiced Eva Bonaduce, Soheila Clifford as Jessamine and Christopher Longman as Ben Greaves. However, in the more minor roles three of the most distinctive voices in prog cut a dash. Paul Manzi, Nolan's Arena bandmate, is outstanding as the gypsy mercenary Milosh and Tracy Hitchings (Strangers On A Train, Landmarq) takes the part of Jane Muncey, Jagman's housekeeper. But there's no mistaking the distinctive rich baritone of Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace), sporting suitably nautical headgear as Captain Joseph Farrell, as Amelia's death results in her burial at sea.
It all comes to a climax when a ritual creates a gateway that heralds in the return of Anzeray (Chris Lewis) in a white robe, followed by a suitably ghostly Amelia. I should also mention the Caamora Theatre Company chorus, all dressed in black, and the musical quartet made up of Mark Westwood ( Shadowland, guitars), Scott Higham (Pendragon, drums), Claudio Momberg (SETI, keyboards) and Kylan Amos (bass) with contributions by Penny Gee and Ian Stott.
Look out for the wonderful 'sets' in between each song, which really conjure up moods of Gothic Victoriana. As well as the riveting show, there are lots of other extras including a film going behind the scenes plus interviews with Nolan, Swita and Clifford. Also, the accompanying booklet tells the whole story of Alchemy from identifying the characters in each scene to providing a gallery of photographs from the show. Roll on February 22, when Nolan and his Company will be performing Alchemy at the Classic Rock Society Awards night. There's guaranteed some magic that evening and this is a great introduction as to what to expect.
**** Alison Henderson (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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