Coram Boy | Chichester Festival Theatre | Review

Coram Boy

Chichester Festival Theatre

Following on from the Tudor period, Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2024 Festival has now reached the Eighteenth century with Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Jamila Gavin’s award-winning novel Coram BoyAnna Ledwich returns to Chichester to direct this dark and at times brutal tale, partially based around the Coram Foundling Hospital (a charity which still thrives today) and the wealthy Ashbrook family.

14 year-old Alexander Ashbrook wishes to continue studying music and forge a career as a composer but his overbearing father is insistent that he runs the family estate.  Despite his love for the beautiful Melissa, he flees the country for several years.  Meanwhile the evil Otis Gardiner and his sidekick Mrs Lynch are busy making money by falsely offering to take the poor mother’s illegitimate babies to the Coram Foundling hospital, when in reality they are slaughtering the infants and pocketing the money!  Running parallel to all this are the adventures of two of the Coram boys who eventually tie the many strands together.

Simon Higlett’s magnificent double height set dominates the stage providing ample scope to depict the variety of required locations.  A muted colour palette for the stunning costumes, innovative lighting and all shot through with exquisite music, guarantee a rich and atmospheric ambience for this production.

The ensemble cast make a bold effort with such a challenging and complex story, many playing multi roles, as this vast historical saga unfolds.  Some harrowing scenes and uncomfortable questions are balanced by Handel’s enchanting music, the choir’s angelic voices and the optimism for second chances.

This powerful account of murder and deliverance exploring some dark shadows and the cavernous divide existing between wealth and the brutality of abject poverty, all set to a backdrop of Georgian England, transfers to The Lowry Salford at the end of June.


Reviewer: Jill Lawrie