Clive Nolan ~ Alchemy

Clive Nolan – Alchemy Live

This is a review of the Alchemy Live DVD performance filmed in the Wyspianski Theatre, Katowice (Poland) in conjunction with Metal Mind Productions (MMP) in February 2013 and which was subsequently released in October 2013.    This review is taken from the Alchemy Live Box Set [Special Edition] which includes CD1 (Act I), CD2 (Act II), Bonus CD, Live DVD and Bonus DVD encased in a beautiful gatefold pack together with a very important booklet to help guide you through the performance.  Although the music on the two CD’s is similar it should be noted that certain characters are performed by different people – as noted in the track listing below. Hats off to Metal Mind Productions (MMP) for supporting this production, the detail and attention put into the lavish box set and its subsequent release.

This is an original story, by Clive Nolan, that has the songs broken up by brief video to set the scenes, and spoken word between the performers.  Clive’s favourite era is the Victorian period and he has a keen interest in history so he researched to set the scene in the right time but admitted to taking a few slight liberties.  From the outset I realised I needed the booklet to follow what was going on though.  The plot was acted out through the singing and dialogue supported by main singers and a multitude of guest artists joining in, combined with a choir called the Caamora Theatre Company Choir.  Clive Nolan started work on this production in 2009 and in 2013 this culminated in taking 21 people across to Poland to have the production filmed and released through MMP.  For a flavour play the video from Youtube below:

In this latest production of Clive’s he concentrates more on the music, although he does play the important but smaller role of Professor Samuel King throughout, working on this production with Mark Westwood (guitars) and Scott Higham (drums) who are Caamora counterparts.  For Alchemy, Clive’s troupe was joined by Claudio Momberg (piano), Kylan Amos (bass) with help from Penny Gee (violin) and Ian Stott (horn).  With Clive writing the original story, music and lyrics this has been an epic production resulting in some truly lovely melodies and vocal arrangements with some stellar performances by members of the company.

Professor Samuel King (Clive Nolan) and Lord Henry Jagman (Andy Sears) originally working together embark on a quest to find the three hidden artefacts left behind by alchemist, Thomas Anzeray (Chris Lewis).  Legend has it that if the artifacts are gathered together, they open borders between the worlds of the living and the dead, giving unlimited power to whoever possesses them.  However Jagman wants ultimate power and so betrays and shoots King leaving him for dead.  Jagman pursues the artefacts with his henchmen, with no heed for human life or feeling.  He tricks vital information from a helpless girl, Amelia Darvas (Agniezska Swita), who is imprisoned in Newgate for her father’s debts.  She finds herself double-crossed by Jagman and sentenced for public execution, but as she is taken to the scaffold before the baying crowd, she is saved by a daring escape plan from King and his friends Eva Bonaduce (Victoria Bolley) and William Gardelle (David Clifford).  It is now a race against time for King and his friends to secure the artefacts and prevent the Anzeray Ressurection, which would open the doorway between life and death and destroy the world.”

The show opens with the Prologue/Overture in Act I, with Twelfth Night front man Andy Sears performing the part of the evil villain Lord Henry Jagman.  Throughout the show it was evident that Andy obviously enjoyed his role.  This opening included an instrumental overture which was very dramatic before Andy was joined on stage by the troubled heroine Amelia Darvas played by Agnieszka Swita.  Agnieszka had worked with Clive before as the lead star character Ayesha in his production of SHE where she particularly shone.  The following One For The Noose had a marching drive to it that was very theatrical and brought to mind Les Mis.

Agnieszka was then joined on stage by Victoria Bolley who played the part of Eva Bonaduce to give an outstanding duet in The Warning.  Eva was taken on by Clive as Agneizska’s understudy in SHE and he ultimately went on to offer her the part of Eva in Alchemy.  The interplay between Amelia and Eva in their performances really make for some outstanding duets.

I particularly enjoyed the singing by David Clifford (aka DC) as the romantic lead William Gardelle who performed a beautiful ballad called Amelia. David Clifford started out playing drums with Red Jasper but during hiatus period from 1997 until now, David Clifford started getting involved in music theatre productions, where he ultimately met Clive Nolan and in 2010 they set working together to set up the Caamora Theatre Company and was heavily involved in Clive’s SHE production also starring in the lead role of Leo.  Red Jasper resurfaced in 2012 but this time with David as their lead singer.

The young girl who played Jessamine on this Live version – called Soheila Clifford – also had a lovely voice and persona – in her biography she said she was involved due to her father’s connection with the production, and although I don’t have any clarity on this – assume this may be David Clifford?  At just 15 years old at the time of this recording it can clearly be seen that this young person be on the brink of a truly spectacular career.  Her singing on Desperate Days was a highlight and I was disappointed to see though that she will not be singing at the two upcoming performances of Alchemy in February 2014.  It should be noted that in the CD this role is taken on by Noel Calcaterra with great success but for me, as I saw Soheila perform this first on the DVD, she will always be Jessamine.

The baritone of guest performer Damian Wilson (Threshold) – who portrayed the Sea Captain with aplomb – was very enjoyable to watch.  Clive admitted to pushing Damian outside of his comfort zone by getting him to sing so low, but this worked to good effect.

Chris Longman (an actor, singer & director, also Metropolis lead singer) performs as Benjamin Greaves, Lord Jagman’s henchman on the DVD.  Although to note that this part is played by Paul Menel (IQ, Paul Menel Band) on the CD production.  Chris performs throughout the production as a counterpart to Lord Jagman, doing is bidding, duets with Tracy Hitchings (Jane Muncey) in The Unwelcome Guest and sings together with Agniezska Swita (Amelia) and David Clifford (William) in Street Fight.

Additional characters add to the mix performed by an array of artists.  Tracy Hitchings (lead vocalist with Landmarq) playing the part of Jane Muncey, Lord Jagman’s Housekeeper, who sings together with Chris Longman (Benjamin Greaves) on The Unwelcome Guest.  Chris Lewis (Caamora Theatre Company) as  Thomas Anzeray and performs at the end of the show in Anzeray Speaks and Aftermath. Paul Manzi (Arena, Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman Band) appears as Milosh, the leader of a band of mercenaries hired by Lord Jagman and who performs in Ambush, Tide Of Wealth and Jagman Arrives.

With so much emphasise at the front of stage it might be understandable if the musicians are somewhat overlooked, but it is their drive and bombast that carries the show.  Claudio Momberg takes on the detailed keyboard arrangements whilst Mark Westwood on guitar adds drive and texture, the rhythm section of Kylan Amos (bass) and Scott Higham (drums) form a formidable and concise unit.  As the music serves more as a foundation to the story and the vocals, there is little opportunity for individual performance, however their presence is felt throughout and Momberg sets much in terms of the atmosphere.

At the end of the DVD I was momentarily a tad disappointed! – Why?  Well without the booklet telling me what was happening – I had no idea what Clive Nolan actually did on the stage in the last 30 seconds.  The booklet says that he “takes the Journal and throws it on the fire, but then takes it back out, puts it under his coat and leaves with the Journal intact”.  Opening the way to a follow-on production perhaps?  Well the video didn’t make it clear at all what had happened – a minor point but one that would have been lost on me had I not been dutifully following the proceedings from the booklet. The booklet allows you to follow the full musical, with script and songs indicated, ensuring that the viewer is aware of what is happening on stage at any point – although a point to note is that if I was sat in the Theatre I wouldn’t have been able to read it in the darkness.

The booklet also gives insight into the Bonus CD and interesting to note that some of the ideas came from as far back as Clive’s SHE production. The Bonus CD is a collection of alternative arrangements, mixes, early mixes and even pieces that did not feature in the final production.  Opening track of the CD is Clive Nolan on piano exploring the main themes from Alchemy played as a continuous piece.  Throughout it offers glimpses into the creative development of the musical ranging from original demo’s and first drafts to alternative vocal arrangements.

The Bonus DVD includes some interesting parts, an interview with Clive Nolan by Marcel Haster for LiveProg, their adverts and fundraising evenings but also a very interesting section from Clive Nolan on the seven themes upon which the musical is founded and helped define its structure.  I found this particularly interesting and well worth its inclusion on the DVD.

The seven themes are thus:  (1) The Gateway Motif – a brash, dramatic, tense opening to the Overture, the opening of Act II and the Gateway Opening.  (2) Lullaby Theme which is an important theme throughout the show as it is the key to the Labyrinth and reflects the loss of innocence by Amelia.  (3) The Alchemy Scale is used throughout to get people’s attention and when King manipulates people.  (4) Gardelle’s Love Theme is a haunting piece reflecting William and Amelia’s love.  Used most effectively when William has to come to terms with Amelia’s loss during the burial at sea. (5) Information Device is a rhythmic motif used when information needs to be quickly exchanged between players and best shown with King Explains and Waiting For News.  (6) Jagman’s Theme (which Clive calls the Baddies Theme) – a bi-tonal jaggy, spikey piece sometimes just played by piano but at other times with the addition of violin – played when Jagman appears and threads throughout the show.  Finally we have (7) Amelia’s Theme which starts of as a melody which ironically covers Amelia’s bond of hate for Jagman but the theme is then used to show the change in Amelia through her love for William and is especially used to good effect when Williams sings about the death and loss of Amelia and again at the very end when William and Amelia are briefly reunited.

Well my first outing watching a rock opera! Did I enjoy it – yes I did! I think that Clive and his performers must be very pleased with the result, however I think unless the acting side of the performances takes off then the West End can rest safely. It needs to find a firmer footing – is it a theatrical musical or a music theatrical – Alchemy finds a small gap between the two – but the question is would I go to see this live – yes I think I would – the fun in this production is to see it live but until then the DVD ably fills the gap.  Following the recording of the DVD, according to an interview with Victoria Bolley, the company have been working under the guidance of directors Chris Longman and David Clifford to include more acting and choreography in future productions of Alchemy.  As the filming of the DVD took place in February 2013, I am left wondering about the difference in their performances in September 2013 and those of the performances scheduled for February 2014.

Act I
Prologue/Overture (3:21)
Deception (5:36)
One For The Noose (5:42)
The Warning (4:06)
Amelia (4:10)
King Explains (5:35)
Desperate Days (2:43)
Planning A Break-In (1:21)
Quaternary Plan (5:18)
The Unwelcome Guest (4:55)
Waiting For News (4:32)
The Girl I Was (6:06)
Highgate (8:17)
Act II
The Labyrinth (4:43)
Ambush (3:09)
Time Of Wealth (5:57)
Jagman Arrives (1:46)
The End Justifies The Means (3:33)
Sanctuary (5:44)
Street Fight (3:26)
Amelia Dies (3:21)
Burial At Sea (6:22)
Share This Dream (3:37)
Treachery (4:22)
The Ritual (2:13)
Anzeray Speaks (5:04)
Aftermath (3:53)

Professor Samuel King – Clive Nolan
Amelia Darvas – Agnieszka Swita
William Gardelle – David Clifford
Eva Bonaduce – Victoria Bolley
Lord Henry Jagman – Andy Sears
Ben Greaves – Christopher Longman
Ben Greaves – Paul Menel
Jane Muncey – Tracy Hitchings
Captain Joseph Farrell – Damian Wilson
Milosh – Paul Manzi
Jessamine – Soheila Clifford (DVD)
Jessamine – Noel Calcaterra (CD)
Thomas Anzeray – Chris Lewis
~ with
Caamora Theatre Company Choir

Clive Nolan – Keys & Orchestration
Mark Westwood – Guitars
Kylan Amos – Bass
Scott Higham – Drums & Percussion
Ian Stott- Horn
Penny Gee – Violin
Claudio Momberg – Additional Piano

Clive Nolan – Alchemy Live (2013)
Mixed and Remastered by Karl Groom
Recorded and Mixed at Thin Ice Studios
Released by: Metal Mind Productions
ID: MMP5 CDBOX 008 Special Edition Boxset

Websites: Clive Nolan | Clive Nolan Facebook | Alchemy