Early confession time – I’ve never read Big Fish the book by Daniel Wallace or seen Big Fish the film starring Ewan McGregor. And while we’re at it, I might as well admit this is the first ever am-dram performance I’ve been to as well. At least I'm honest.
Still, that means I have no reference points, nothing to compare to or contrast with – and sometimes that’s a healthy situation. I’m here with my eyes and mind completely open, and ready to be entertained.
I’ve started high: Portsmouth-based CCADs have been entertaining local audiences since the early 1990s, and have scooped numerous accolades along the way including a clutch of The News’ Guide Awards. Most recently, artistic director John-Paul McCrohon landed this year’s Special Achievement award, and it was he who played Edward Bloom in this touching tale of a dying man’s lifelong relationship with his son, Will.
In a nutshell, Will grew up listening to his dad’s colourful tales of unlikely meetings with mermaids and giants, working in a circus, and encountering a witch who showed him, via her crystal ball, how his life would end.
Now married with a son of his own on the way, Will’s determination to find out more about the father he believed he never knew leads to an emotional encounter with Edward’s ex-sweetheart Jenny Hill and the shock discovery that his dad was a hero.
Though this is ‘am-dram’, there is very little amateur about this two-and-a-half hour production. Both John-Paul and his real-life wife Kerry McCrohon (Edward’s spouse, Sandra, the girl he spent three years trying to find) turn in wonderful performances boosted by their obvious chemistry.
But, for me, it is Ross Cobbold’s performance as Will which will stick in the memory – for his vocals as well as his acting. That and the 19 songs – all composed by Andrew Lippa, ahead of the musical’s Broadway debut six years ago – helped produce a show that was entertaining, emotional, humorous, clever (the daffodil scene to end the first act) and thought-provoking in equal measure. Especially for those of us who have sons of our own and believed a little exaggeration could go a very long way.
Edward Bloom was a big fish in a small pond in an Alabama backwater. His magnificent tales, he believed, spiced up his life story and acted as an inspiration to his son to ‘Be the Hero’ (both the first and last songs of the night).
It took Will a long time to realise the ‘Magic in the Man (another song title), but thankfully – and to ensure the overall production was wrapped with a heart-warming feel – he got there in the end. And as a tear was pushed down my cheeks as the daffodils were laid on stage by those closest to Edward following his passing, so I was glad I had come into this blind, so to speak. We all have to start somewhere.
Great acting, beautiful lyrics, heart-strings tugged at every turn. If amateur dramatics is always this good, I’ve been missing out ...