The Gathering opens on a stormy night with Tom (Joel Granger) getting ready for a house warming party in his dilapidated suburban home. He’s invited his best friends over to party. Except that Tom has been missing for the past five years, and no one, not even his family know where he went or why. As the friends arrive, firstly his bestie Joe (Daniel Cosgrove) we discover that Tom wants them all to move into the house with him. But they have all moved on with their lives and they want to know where he’s been. The only one who wants to move in is Mia (Olivia Charalambous) who has had a long-time crush on Tom.
This is a musical for this generation as a tribe tells its stories. Its themes of love, belonging, coming together and reliving past happiness are, however, universal. It’s easy to imagine the scene as Tom’s sister Kelly (Shannen Alyce Quan) sings “Sweet December Feelings”. The audience is transported to a warm stormy evening, the air heavy with jasmine, encouraging a feeling of nostalgia.
The story and singing is immediately engaging as the friends arrive one by one. As the party continues, many things are revealed about the characters and what has happened in the past 5 years. But when Kelly’s best friend Luke (a standout performance from Daniel Assetta) arrives, things certainly change up a gear. Why does his presence anger Tom so much? What are those noises coming from the attic? Is it only Tom who can hear them? There is a supernatural element which is keenly felt by hippy friend Daisy (Hannah Sullivan McInerny) who it turns out is the only person Tom has kept in touch with. She has an instant connection with Luke as they persuade the others to investigate the “haunting” in this old house.
The evocative score (Will Hannagan & Belinda Jenkin) is provided here by a band hidden behind a curtain and the miked vocals are beautifully sung live. This works very effectively as the sound design (Nick Walker) and acoustics work perfectly in this space. Designer Daniel Harvey’s set basically uses the walls of the building as the walls of the house, with different rooms delineated by furniture and props moved easily by the characters. The changes are further assisted by Tom Willis’ simple and effective lighting design which creates or suggests rooms and exterior spaces too.
Director Chris Parker has carefully choreographed his talented cast, having them move smoothly from scene to scene with no wasted movement. Nothing distracts from the flow of the music and story. It is a production with strong sustained energy from beginning to end. The transition from spoken to sung dialogue is quite seamless. This is a young powerhouse cast with lots of experience between them. This shows in the strong ensemble performance which can only be achieved through painstaking preparation and rehearsal. The large opening night audience generously and warmly appreciated this.
The Gathering is however, crying out for a second act. There is so much more in this story to explore both dramatically and musically. This production started with highly acclaimed Melbourne workshops in 2014 and following a Creative Victoria Grant, it progressed to a sell- out reading season at the New York Music Theatre Festival. The Gathering has developed to a point where it’s easy to imagine it as a full-scale two act musical with an orchestra to support this amazing cast. With further funding and development, it will certainly be worth it.
Jon Jackson reviewed The Gathering at 45 Downstairs on November 30, 2016. It runs until 11 December. More information.