The Burnt Part Boys is set in West Virginia, in the early 1960’s, ten years after the mines collapsed and killed many people. This is the story of those left behind and how they came to terms with their loss (or in some cases didn’t).
Jake and Chet are trying to keep their heads above the water, supporting their families during poverty stricken times. Jake’s brother Pete is fourteen years old and their mother hasn’t been the same since their fathers death, leaving the role of mother and father down to Jake. When they hear the news that The Burnt Part mine is due to be reopened for business, Jake prepares himself to start working there. Pete on the other hand, is distraught at the idea that the mine will be reopened when his fathers body is still hidden underneath the rubble. With best friend Dusty in toe, Pete sets off to the mine to do the only thing he can. Blow it up so that no one can disturb his fathers grave.
Joseph Peacock and Ryan Heenan play Pete and Dusty. Whilst obviously not fourteen years old, they play the parts of the children brilliantly and bring bundles of youthful energy to this otherwise bleak musical. Grace Osborn (Frances) also does a brilliant job with her southern twang and Calamity Jane boisterousness. Chris Jenkins (Jake) and David Leopold (Chet) play the older boys and help to give the perspective of those who remember the disaster but feel they have no choice to work there to support their families.
The bluegrass/folky music by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen works perfectly for this middle america set show and the harmonies between the cast are beautiful to listen to. Whilst there aren’t any particular stand out songs, they blend well together and are all very pleasant to listen to. There are also some great moment of choreography during numbers.
The only thing that lets this show down at times is Matthew Iliffe’s direction. Performed in the round, the direction tends to favour one side of the theatre over the other at times during the beginning. Thankfully this seems to be cleared up by the middle of the show. The final ten minutes or so are performed mostly in darkness, making it hard to keep focus on what is happening. A good use of lighting could have made this scene work well, keeping focus on the characters faces. Whilst I understand there may only be one way in and one way out for the actors (through the door the audience entered through), the constant swinging of the door and light from the corridor was distracting and wasn’t conducive to staying within the moment of the story. Perhaps some kind of sheet could have been hung over the door so as not to break the audiences focus every time it opened.
The Burnt Part Boys is brilliantly cast with a strong ensemble and incredible leading actors. The music and harmonies are wonderful and the story doesn’t drag and keeps the audiences attention for the 100 minute (without interval) show. Definitely one to watch!
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Sacha Queiroz
THE BURNT PART BOYS plays at PARK Theatre until 3 September 2016