A Tale of Fellowship at the Actors’ Church
Taking centre stage in the Actors’ Church, A Tale of Fellowship by Joseph Purdue and directed by Jacob Wolstencroft is a production that revisits the world of musical theatre, reminding audiences of its enduring promise. The narrative follows JRR Tolkien’s journey from childhood to the genesis of his writing career, with a particular emphasis on the friendships that would eventually shape his epic works.
Presented in concert format, the production places considerable reliance on its musical elements to engage the audience. While the music is undeniably beautiful and evocative, it occasionally falls short of capturing the essence of Tolkien’s life and work. This disconnect from his legacy makes it somewhat challenging to immerse oneself fully in the unfolding narrative on stage.
Although there are grandiose musical compositions that stand as works of art in their own right, when combined with the lyrics, they at times detract from the overall musicality. There is a sense of regret that Purdue attempts to encompass such a broad spectrum of Tolkien’s life within a relatively brief timeframe. This results in an unneeded emphasis on certain aspects, such as the relationship between Edith and her best friend Molly. A more effective approach might involve selecting a specific facet of Tolkien’s remarkable life and delving deeply into it, with only cursory references to other aspects. As it stands, the production tends to overly highlight every aspect of Tolkien’s life, akin to someone meticulously highlighting an entire biography and citing it exhaustively. While this approach may be fitting for a biographical work, it leaves theatre-goers longing for a more cohesive and engaging experience.
Nevertheless, the musicians and actors on stage exhibit exceptional talent, with their voices reaching celestial heights. The female cast members, notably Samantha Thomas as Edith Bratt and Sophia Foroughi as Mabel Tolkien, deliver ethereal vocal performances that move many in the audience to tears. The male cast members also shine, offering a poignant portrayal of the anguish of war and the loss of friendship. Aidan Cutler as GB Smith and Daniel Hall as Christopher Wiseman succeed in captivating the audience with their voices, drawing them into the depths of despair. Special mention must be made of Sake Wijers, who stepped into the principal role of JRR Tolkien with just a week to familiarise himself with the material, following a cast illness. Wijers seamlessly slipped into the role and delivered a commendable performance, a feat that may have daunted others in a similar situation.
In its entirety, A Tale of Fellowship possesses remarkable potential as a biographical musical about the life of JRR Tolkien. However, it would benefit from a more focused plot and judicious editing of songs. With the right adjustments, this production could find a lasting place on both West End and Broadway stages.
A Tale of Fellowship is at the Actors’ Church from 20th until 21st October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.