Review: Her Benny at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

“Everybody has a right to dream” is the last line in the heart-tugging show Her Benny.

That dream has come true this weekend for children appearing in the Derbyshire premiere of the musical at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre.

Her Benny at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

Her Benny at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

They play bare-footed Victorian street urchins in this award-winning creation by Anne Dalton, inspired by Silas Hocking’s best-selling book.

Local kids are always going to be box-office gold and it was as heartening to see a good audience at the performance last night (Friday) as it was to see the dozens of youngsters take to the stage like ducks to water.

The title role in this rags to riches story is played by three different lads - Haydn Tudor Jones from North Wales was in the spotlight last night. Depending on which of the two performances you attend today or tomorrow, you’ll find Chesterfield’s Liam Jackson or Sutton in Ashfield’s Zakarie Stokes cast as Benny.

It’s a large part full of emotion and an energetic one, not least when the young Benny is spun around like a Catherine wheel by men twice his size in the guise of rowdy prisoners.

Likewise, three girls share the role of Benny’s sister Nell, with Charlotte Bennett from south-east Derbyshire playing her last night and Sheffield girls Eva Shrimpton and Rosie Shrimpton taking on the part for the rest of the weekend’s performances.

The chemistry between the two little leading characters is heart-warming as they escape their drunken parents and find a new home with kind-hearted night watchman Joe and his missus Sally. But the siblings’ newfound happiness is short-lived and you’ll need a hankie towards the end of Act One.

Three teams of youngsters play the supporting characters and last night’s performance featured confident and well-judged singing from Ciara Stothard in the role of Young Eva, the little rich girl who gives Benny a shilling.

There’s only one Derbyshire performer among the adult principals and what a terrific job she makes of it. Eighteen-year-old Zaylie Crowe from Tupton is cast as Older Eva, who by a twist of fate is reunited with Benny. Zaylie’s singing in Time the Healer can only bode well for her dream of getting into theatre school in the coming year.

The songs may not be the best-known but they are catchy, particularly Funny How Things Turn Out.

Johnny Kennedy is in fine operatic voice as the night watchman, his singing at its best in As Long As I Believe and Julie Davitt gives an equally accomplished performance as his wife,

Dynamic choreography, glorious costumes and a sprinkling of snow make the show a delight for the eyes as well as the ears.

Dark episodes in Benny’s life prevent the production from becoming too sickly-sweet. These are vividly portrayed when Benny feels the full force of his dad’s drunken rage (a blinding performance from Peter Brindle as the bullying father) or when the little hero finds himself in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Her Benny is a show which will appeal to fans of Oliver! Half A Sixpence and Les Miserables.

Performances are at 2.30pm and 7.30pm today (Saturday) and at 1.30pm and 6pm tomorrow. Tickets £17.50, £15.50 (concessions), £13.50 (child). Contact 01246 345222 or www.chesterfieldtheatres.co.uk

GAY BOLTON