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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 14:54 GMT
Madness' house of fun
Our House
The show features a string of Madness hits

First it was Abba, then Queen. Now Madness have become the latest '80s band to have their back catalogue plundered in a West End musical.

But where Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You were exercises in audience manipulation, Our House does at least keep faith with its source.

Suggs and co have given their wholehearted support to the show, writing new material and making the now-obligatory curtain call at Monday's star-studded press night.

Despite Tim Firth's convoluted and downbeat book, this is a fitting tribute to the exuberance and wit of those Nutty Boys from Camden.

Gimmick

Our House revolves around a Sliding Doors-style gimmick that enables us to follow two separate stories simultaneously.

In one, 16-year-old Joe Casey (Michael Jibson) is jailed for breaking into a flat, a course of action that drives a wedge between him and girlfriend Sarah (Julia Gay).

In the other, Joe evades the police and, emboldened, evolves into a wealthy yuppie scumbag. He gets the girl too.
Julia Gay as Sarah in Our House
Actress Julia Gay plays Sarah in the show

Such moral complexity is bold stuff for a West End musical, usually the place for comforting homilies and tooth-rotting sentiment.

Exhilarating

Since many of the Madness songs featured here deal with adolescent rites of passage - first love, first car, first condom - they fit fairly seamlessly into Firth's double-headed narrative.

Driving In My Car, for example, becomes an exhilarating set-piece thanks to nifty back projection which momentarily whisks the audience on a rollercoaster ride.

The more outlandish ditties (Night Boat to Cairo, Wings of a Dove) are justified by having the "bad" Joe wed Sarah in tacky Las Vegas.

And the timeless It Must Be Love is transformed into a charming duet as the "good" Joe finally wins Sarah back.
Madness
Madness were one of the biggest bands of the 80s

Anarchic

The alarming lack of humour, particularly in the second half, works against the anarchic spirit of the Madness songs.

And the all-seeing spectral narrator - Ian Reddington as Joe's ghostly dad - invites unflattering comparisons with Willy Russell's superior Blood Brothers.

Still, it is the music that matters, and with Baggy Trousers, House Of Fun and My Girl on the bill we are never far away from a knockabout dance routine or Ska-flavoured sing-along.

Matthew Warchus's direction is slick and inventive, while the young cast are clearly having the time of their lives.

Our House is playing at the Cambridge Theatre in central London.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | Entertainment
28 Oct 02 | Breakfast
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