Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Youth Panel Review: Tis Written in the Stars

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton
Oldham Theatre Workshop
Oldham Coliseum
26 July 2017 to 29 July 2017

This summer, Oldham Theatre Workshop restage their musical Tis Written In The Stars. Originally written over ten years ago by James Atherton and Sarah Nelson, this reworking with new songs and characters is performed by a cast of young people with musicians playing live onstage.

The story revolves around Ethan, a withdrawn and misunderstood teenager with Asperger Syndrome, who loves to observe the stars and can read the future in them. His prophecies are greeted with ridicule and contempt by the other characters – just like Cassandra, who predicted the fall of Troy in Greek mythology, he sees what will threaten to destroy his community and is ignored. This supernatural element could be explored in more depth, and used as a gateway to develop Ethan’s character beyond the typical depiction of someone with autism.

Ethan’s story takes place against the backdrop of a close-knit community threatened by a sudden surge in crime – property is vandalised, rents are raised and the streets become unsafe. Multiple side plots play out: Ethan’s older sister’s relationship with the landlord’s villainous son, Suzie the hairdresser’s unrequited love, family feuds, births and marriages. The cast of characters is huge and there’s a lot to pack in – it’s not surprising that the show runs for over two hours.

James Atherton’s music ranges from heartfelt solos to energetic group numbers, several of which are rather catchy and accompanied by dynamic, quirky staging and movement. Singing across the board is high quality and there are some truly beautiful voices amongst the cast.

The central concept of an interconnected community under threat is highly relevant today and the cast are convincing in their portrayal of strong bonds. However, as the plot progresses, each new event becomes more shocking – someone’s cat is found killed and skinned; the school is set fire to; Ethan stabs his Dad in the back to stop him leaving the house. As the drama increases, things become less recognisable.

Underscoring the melodrama though is the sense of humour displayed by the characters, who tease and banter with each other throughout. Particularly entertaining is the “love triangle” between three primary school children, the bickering of Ethan’s siblings and the synchronised delivery of the fish and chip shop twins.

This production represents a huge amount of work by Oldham Theatre Workshop, its young cast and creative team. Although the story could benefit from some streamlining, there's no question that the dedication and talent on display makes Tis Written in the Stars an enjoyable watch.

Reviewer: Georgina Wells