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Abbey Theatre review: Silas Marner: The Musical

Well, if you can do it to Jesus and to the other Eliot (T S) and his cats, you can certainly do it to George Eliot’s eponymous hero, and when better than in the week of Ms Eliot’s 200th birthday, and where better than in her home town of Nuneaton, and who better than Nuneaton’s very own Sudden Impulse? This could have been a drily over-respectful homage to the town’s most famous daughter, but the company, in one of its most ambitious projects yet, takes this tale of a linen weaver, exiled from his community and newly settled in Raveloe, by the scruff of the neck and gives it new life with specially written music, lyrics and dance. Many of Eliot’s themes – the importance of community, the ambiguities of religion, the force of social and economic change – shine through, often highlighted by the well-placed songs.

The singing was a revelation, surefooted from the start, even better as the evening progressed and the actors warmed to the occasion.

Sam Asbury as Silas, Bridie Vowles as a memorable Dolly Winthrop and Eleanor Charman as Mollie and Eppie stood out from a large cast that at times made the small stage look crowded and had a few weaker members in the minor parts, but came into its own in the set-piece ensembles. As a first night (and world premiere) audience we were treated to a troublesome curtain and one or two longueurs whilst the set was – somewhat noisily - reorganised. It’ll undoubtedly settle down as the run progresses. Let’s hope that the good townsfolk of Nuneaton take heed of strictures in the play’s programme about their failure to recognise what an asset they have in Eliot’s legacy, and grace the Abbey Theatre with full houses for the rest of the week.

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