The Crooked Spire is an inventive, lockdown-influenced musical from Ashgate Heritage Arts, which evokes the aftermath of a plague-ridden Europe for a musical murder mystery. With obviously striking modern-day parallels, this adaptation of Chris Nickson’s novel of the same name is a sometimes ingenious work-around of lockdown restrictions that, with a little polishing, promises something that begs to be seen on a live stage.
Accused of murder in the town of Chesterfield, John Carpenter (Sam McCagherty) has to clear his name while trying to keep hold of his newfound love, Katherine (Georgina Rose Hanson). You don’t get to see how it all plays out – delivered via webcam feeds edited together, along with tracking camera shots of empty streets, this is meant as a teaser rather than the full story. The deserted town is a key part of the way The Crooked Spire tries to bridge the gap between past and present day phenomena, which is hard enough when you don’t have to worry about internet connections and infectious diseases. Nevertheless, it is a challenge that the cast valiantly take on.
The singing voices are all excellent, harmonising with each other effortlessly. The restrictions of acting together online does not slow the performers down, and they all manage to construct believable relationships that, even in such a short running time, feel like they have nuance and direction. Grounding the story is Helen Grady’s narration, which is effectively delivered and used to keep the narrative tight.
The only major letdown is the tone. The Crooked Spire feels atmospherically uneven throughout. High-pitched, lovely singing voices sit strangely between a tolling bell that opens the play and sombre narration that covers disease, death and murder. The experimental online setting undoubtedly makes this harder; nonetheless, it could have benefited from a darker feel. Sweeney Todd is perhaps the best example of how to mould together music and misery, a balance not struck here. Instead you get heavenly voices with piano solos and peaceful rivers running across the screen. There is a need for some more consistency.
Barely a taste of what’s to come, and a flavour of what can you can expect from the full production, The Crooked Spire is loaded with potential and rightfully gives exciting new theatre the chance to thrive. If ever seen on the stage where it belongs, audiences can expect something very special indeed.
The Crooked Spire can be streamed via YouTube here