Described as a musical faerytale, Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter aims to create the feeling of a story from the Brothers Grimm but in actual fact, has come up with an astonishingly assured piece of original musical theatre. Set in the fictional Irish town of Spindlewood, the story delves into the myth behind the statue of a young girl in the town square – a tale of grieving inventor Abraham and of Constance, a girl not like the others, and how she touches the lives of the townspeople around her despite their pettiness and prejudices.
David Shields’ remarkable design work is some of the best the Landor has ever seen, an all-encompassing vision that properly transforms the theatre and transports the audience to a different, magical, place. Cleverly conceived and carefully constructed, its various pieces work…well…like clockwork. And this ambition is matched in the scope of the writing and the score, combining the epic with the intimate, the emotional with the entertaining, the folkloric with the universal in what emerges as a deeply moving tale.
It works so well because Webborn and Finn capture so much of what makes a fairytale tick, whilst also adding its own comic spin to elevate it. So Jo Wickham’s should-be grotesque Ma’Riley is actually hilarious whilst being horrific (the bit with the mixed-up names is still making me chuckle now); and Constance’s first journey into the real world is highly amusing as she slowly becomes accustomed to human habits but Jennifer Harding ensures we’re always laughing with and not at her in what is an awesomely impressive performance. And because it is funny, it becomes charming. And because it becomes charming, it also ends up heartbreaking.
The grief that fuels Lawrence Carmichael’s clockmaker is more potent for being (relatively) unexplored and the ambiguity of his feelings towards Constance hint darkly; the witty whirligig of small-town life turns affectingly nasty once their small-mindedness is revealed; and with the outstanding Alan McHale as the superbly delightful Will, there’s a believable love story that you can’t help but root for, and one which cleverly keeps us on our toes throughout as his and Harding’s palpable chemistry dances across the stage.
The work that has gone into every aspect of Robert McWhir’s production is phenomenal and it is in the smaller details that this shines through – the time delay on the sound effect of things falling into the well, the workmanship on a complex model that only remains in the background, the simple fact that Robbie O’Reilly’s choreography is used solely for when the townsfolk are actually dancing, the rounded characterisations from every one of the 20-strong company. So much works so well that the world of Spindlewood is pretty much irresistible from top to bottom.
And with a score that blends elements of Howard Goodall’s folk-inspired choral work with the emotional directness of Stephen Schwartz whilst again aiming big, especially in the wide-ranging Act 1 finale which folds in at least five vocal lines into its main theme. Webborn’s musical direction from the keys fills the room beautifully and the cumulative effect of the whole production is just something wonderful – you reach the end feeling like you’ve seen a classic tale as old as time but also something fresh and new and exciting.