Review – Coram Boy at The Lowry, Salford

CORAM BOY

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Until Saturday 29 June 2024

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It was disheartening to see so many empty seats dotted about the auditorium at last night’s performance of Coram Boy – a prime, Saturday evening performance at that – as this outstanding production fully deserves to be packing out houses throughout the duration of its run.

Perhaps competition with Euro 2024 isn’t helping matters. Perhaps it is how the show has been marketed. Who knows? Whatever the reason, those that have seen the production can surely attest that audiences are missing out on something very special indeed.

Helen Edmundson’s stage adaptation of Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award-winning 2000 novel was a huge hit when it first premiered at the National Theatre back in 2005, and was one of a series of major successes during Nicholas Hytner’s early tenure as Artistic Director, along with the likes of His Dark Materials and The History Boys.

The production enjoyed two seasons on the National’s Olivier stage before heading off to Broadway for a short run in 2007, where it was nominated for a total of six Tony Awards.

Despite that early success, however, Coram Boy sadly doesn’t seem to have developed the legacy it really deserves over the years – with only one other major revival at Bristol Old Vic in 2011 – making this stunning new revival all the more exciting.


Members of the company in a scene from Coram Boy at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo Manuel Harlan

In a world of contemporary reimaginings and big budget spectacles, it is somewhat rare these days to see a more traditional piece presented so simply and so beautifully. Everything about Anna Ledwich’s production is exceptional. The staging so smooth and fluid. Simon Higlett’s designs magnificent. A haunting, wood-framed set; Georgian period costumes elegantly crafted; candlelight chiaroscuro lighting so rich and atmospheric. Every frame simply exquisite. So wonderfully evocative and painterly. A theatre photographer’s dream.

Set in the mid eighteenth century, Coram Boy is a dark and gripping tale of murder, music and salvation, unfolding between Gloucestershire and London during the years of 1742 and 1750, following the opening of sea captain and philanthropist Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital for abandoned children.

Coram Boy is a sweeping and hugely ambitious piece that tackles a whole host of big issues and themes. At times it is hard to believe it is a children’s novel and was originally staged as the National’s festive production for families. In a thrilling, though tragic, first act alone there’s kidnapping, infanticide and hanging, with a tale of loss, abandonment and separation setting the action of the second act in motion.

Given its scope, there is an awful lot of plot to cram in which can often dilute the overall impact. It’s a very wordy piece that needs time to effectively develop its characters and narrative intricacies. Though never sluggish, the second act never quite matches the captivating feel of the first, and some of the big plot reveals can feel rushed and slightly anticlimactic. We get the key points and essence of Gavin’s novel, though depth and texture is perhaps light on occasion.


A scene from Coram Boy at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo Manuel Harlan

Flawless performances from a large ensemble cast – many of whom play dual roles – alongside a young company of choirboys and Coram children, give real depth and life to the complex characters and story.

Music is central to both the plot and the production and, throughout, we are treated to some glorious choral work and a haunting period score – comprising Handel-inspired chamber music and some more dramatic underscoring – performed live by an on stage quartet, led by Musical Director Michael Waldron.

With superb performances, sumptuous designs and intelligent direction, Coram Boy is one of the most beautiful and visually stimulating productions you are likely to see. Get down to The Lowry and do support this thrilling revival. You won’t be disappointed.


Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 29 June 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.


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