Towering performances and topical themes in Chesterfield's awe-inspiring production of The Crooked Spire musical

Derbyshire’s newest full-length musical premiering in Chesterfield this week stands tall and proud – just like the crooked spire that inspired its creation.

Saturday, 21st May 2022, 11:11 am
Gerard Fletcher is cast as Sir Henry and John Conway as Sir Richard in The Crooked Spire musical (photo: Tom Humphries).
Gerard Fletcher is cast as Sir Henry and John Conway as Sir Richard in The Crooked Spire musical (photo: Tom Humphries).

With just two performances remaining at the Pomegranate today (Saturday) at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, you must beg, borrow or steal a ticket to watch this awe-inspiring production.

The Crooked Spire musical is a work of fiction, based on Chris Nickson’s novel, but that doesn’t make it any less believable.

Despite being set in 1360 the story contains themes that resonate today.

Stretcher-bearers wearing masks carrying a victim of the Plague draws parallels with the Covid pandemic. A blade amnesty brings to mind the haunting Knife Angel which towered over the gateway to the crooked spire church last year.

Murders, crooked men and dodgy dealings are at the core of the story. The Shambles, where angels would fear to tread in the 14th century, feature in the storyline while a couple of the characters’ surnames reference other local places.

The audience is given an insight into the amount of lead needed to build the spire and a theory is shared about what caused it to twist in later years.

Adam Stickler heads the ensemble, playing the likeable carpenter John, who arrives from York, to work on building the crooked spire but soon finds himself battling to clear his name. His scenes and songs with 11-year-old Chesterfield actor Eddie Waller, as John’s ally Walter, add heart to the show. Both bring assured and confident performances to the stage and the rapport between their characters is a joy to watch.

Hayley Mitchell is cast as leading lady Katherine, straight-talking sister of Walter who has the singing voice of an angel. Her duet with Clara Coslett, who plays newly widowed Beth, is a highlight.

Clara Coslett is a superlative singer, at her best in the musical’s standout solo, Beth’s Lament, which captures the devastation and vulnerability of a woman who has lost the love of her life. Clara is also a skilful violinist, as highlighted in solos at the start and at the end of the show.

John Conway, who plays coroner Sir Richard De Harville, and Gerard Fletcher as construction tycoon Sir Henry make a great double act, especially when they sing Brothers.

Ben Storey shows his flexibility as an actor, cast as honest master carpenter Will and later as Sir Henry’s shady steward Hugo.

Light relief comes from Stephanie Putson playing the saucy widow Martha and Philip Meeks as Robert the monk who carries a torch for Martha.

The staging is simple yet effective with an assortment of ropes depicting the construction site. Planks of wood used in the building of the spire double up as fencing and trees in other scenes.

Particularly dramatic is the lighting. The shadow of a man being stabbed to death behind a backlit cloth and the construction scene at night, in which you imagine that you’re seeing the side of the church, are especially effective.

To the side of the stage is a quartet of instrumentalists, led by musical director Harry Style, providing live accompaniment for the singers.

Award-winning scriptwriter Mary Hennessey of Buxton and musicians and lyricists Martin Coslett and Peter Gray who live in Chesterfield began work on adapting the story for the stage three years ago.

Their vision has been crafted into a work of art by director Jake Smith, movement director Frazer Meakin, designer Lu Herbert, award-winning lighting designer Jack Weir and sound designer Andy Onion.

Heart-tugging and heart-warming in equal measure, this musical is as memorable as the crooked spire.