The Burnt Part Boys at Park Theatre
Making its European debut at the Park Theatre, Mariana Elders The Burnt Part Boys is a new kind of musical. Gone are the cheesy dance scenes, to be replaced instead with effective physical theatre and folk music. Set in the small town of Pickaway in West Virginia, the story follows a group of children whose lives were changed forever ten years previously when a mining accident killed 12 men, including their fathers. Now the mine is to be reopened, and we watch as one boy in particular, Pete (Joseph Peacock), struggles with this.
As the director Matthew Iliffe himself admits, putting on a musical is no easy feat, especially in Park 90. The Burnt Part Boys is the first to be performed in the small theatre in Finsbury Park; the in-the-round format allowing everyone in the audience to be close to the action. The set, designed by Rachel Wingate, is minimal, the decoration coming mainly from the atmospheric drapings and lights that hang from the ceiling, like in a mine. Similarly, there are few props, with the set predominantly relying on rope and chairs, allowing a physical aspect to the play. Instead of rafts there is much pushing and pulling, which is extremely effective.
The music is probably the real star of the show, combining folk, bluegrass and country and fitting perfectly with the West Virginia setting. Written by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, the songs depict the overshadowing presence of the mines in this community, the simple lines becoming compounded through rounds and harmony. Whilst not quite all the singing was in time, the style and its worldwide reception proves that this is something different, and highlights the change that is happening in musicals.
This is a performance that builds throughout, creating a real connection with the characters and their relationships. Everyone is solid in their roles, though some of the accents slipped now and then. The uncertainty of the characters was very well captured, especially by Chris Jenkins in the role of Jack, Pete’s older brother, clearly frustrated in the paternal role forced upon him. Supporting him as his best mate was Chet, played by David Leopold, amusing and intense by turns, creating a duo that is mirrored and contrasted by the younger boys Pete and Dusty.
Burnt Part Boys is a tale of youthful discovery and redemption. The company makes great use of a small stage and with lovely but dark music, this is definitely worth seeing.
Photo: Sacha Queiroz
The Burnt Part Boys is at Park Theatre from 10th August until 3rd September, for further information or to book visit here.