Review by Rosie Holmes
Seeing a new musical is always rather exciting, and seeing a musical about cheese is doubly exciting. Seize The Cheese! is loosely inspired by the famous, and madcap, cheese rolling competition at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire, which takes place annually. Part of the ‘Premieres’ season at New Wimbledon Theatre’s intimate studio space, would Mike Stocks' and Patrick Steed’s new musical be a brie-lliantly cheesy delight, or simply crackers?
Set on Coopers Hill during the annual competition in late May, the audience are introduced to a motley crew of locals, all ready to leap off the hill and seize the cheese. Overseen by the Keeper of the Cheese, a self-confessed old hippie who believes in magic, the narrative of the story hinges on the Cheese-Seizers, whose desire to win the contest (by seizing the cheese) is representative of their own inner turmoil and conflict.
I suppose this is where the piece doesn’t quite hit the mark. Each character faces their own issues and personal trauma; and with quite a few characters it's hard to really invest in any of them, nor are they given much opportunity for any development. In fact, the characters, while all fairly likeable, are a little one dimensional, there is certainly no nuance to their stories. Nor are there many surprises, as we are presented with some rather stereotypical figures who, with just a little development, could emotionally heighten the show.
Rosie Zeidler gives the standout vocal performance of the night, with “Hold Me Some More”, and with a bit more weight behind her character, could have made for an emotional moment. But with only one song to understand the romantic situation between her and her best friend Arthur, played by Oliver Bullen, the song doesn’t reach its full potential. Similarly, Judith Orelly and Fred Zanni play Susan and Jake, a couple struggling to conceive, again a potentially interesting and emotional avenue to explore, but again underdeveloped and therefore unable to do justice to the storyline as well as the performances.
Travis Wood is a standout in the show, and he plays… ‘The Cheese’; yes, he plays a scat singing, and dare I say,sexy cheese? His appearance brings a lot of much needed comedy and silliness to the show. Wood not only performs with wonderful vocals but showcases his dancing skills, which when dressed as a giant Double Gloucester, I can imagine is no mean feat. It is this absolute silliness that this show excels in. When it succumbs to the fact it’s literally a musical about cheese, it shines, and delights the audience. I only wish there was more of this complete silliness, rather than the sometimes-forced sentimental moments that dominate a lot of the show.
Cathy McManamon is ‘The Keeper’ of the cheese, and the narrator of the piece. Earnest in her performance, the character is the piece’s only attempt to tie all of our character’s together, and provide some kind of narrative, as she begins to lose the magical powers bestowed upon her by the spirits of the hill and pass on her important role as keeper. Strangely, this plot point only happens late into the second half, by which point it feels rather inconsequential. McManamon does progress the action of the show, explaining to the audience who each of the characters are. It’s a little odd though, that the show’s programme, states Seize the Cheese! takes inspiration from anarchic and ungovernable musicals, for example Little Shop of Horrors. Yet here, we have a narrator leaving nothing to interpretation and quite literally announcing every flashback and action made by each character, underestimating the audience’s ability to join any of the dots.
There are some joyous songs, although few do much to progress the narrative, and work better as individual songs. Highlights were ‘Hold Me Some More’ and the undeniably catchy ‘Conquer the Fear’ which allows for the wonderful company to join all together. However, some of the songs do begin to feel more repetitive, and they could certainly be used more effectively to progress the narrative. That being said, choreography by Kiren Virdee is creative and inventive (I imagine she never thought she would be choreographing sexy cheese) and breathes life into the ensemble songs. A highlight for me was the slow motion catching of the cheese by the local rugby team as they tumbled over each other in over-exaggerated leaps and dives. Similarly, Rachel Sheridan and Travis Wood execute some beautiful lyrical choreography as they appear as spirits alongside The Keeper.
There are some lovely elements to this musical, and bringing a new musical to the stage is always a commendable feat in my eyes. After the success of the Bake-Off Musial earlier this year, I can see many similarities between the two, quintessentially British and actually about the hearts of the contestants involved rather than the competition itself. However, this piece is lacking a little in wit, and unfortunately the under development of its characters and lack of strong narrative mean its potential is not quite reached, despite an undeniably talented and enthusiastic cast.
Seize the Cheese! plays at the Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 11th November, tickets and more information can be found here - Seize The Cheese! A New Musical Tickets | Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre in Greater London | ATG Tickets