In a world where J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, are celebrated worldwide, the man behind these legendary tales remains somewhat unknown. Based on a true story, A Tale of Fellowship provides a fresh perspective, illuminating the life of the young Tolkien and his unwavering pursuit of artistic dreams, with a focus on his fellowship with like-minded creative individuals. Joseph Purdue's brilliant book, music, and lyrics, along with the direction of Jacob Wolstencroft, bring this remarkable journey to life. With Sake Wijers leading a stellar cast of fifteen, this production is not just a tribute to Tolkien; it is a show that inspires us to dream.
This performance, presented as a musical in concert with an abridged script, unveils Tolkien's life through chronological storytelling, punctuated by songs that mark significant moments in his life. The venue choice, the Actors Church, adds an intriguing layer to the narrative, considering the profound influence of Tolkien's Catholic faith on C. S. Lewis's religious transformation.
Joseph Purdue's writing is both witty and emotionally resonant, but his lyrical prowess takes centre stage. The lyrics breathe life into the characters' emotions, forging a genuine connection between the audience and their struggles and aspirations. Guided by the musical director, Ben Garnett, the music throughout the production is beautiful and lush. It possesses a quality that is both uplifting and playful, evoking the grandeur of an epic film score, further enhancing the storytelling.
At the heart of this performance is Sake Wijers' portrayal of J.R.R. Tolkien, a beautiful blend of sincerity and hope. His rendition of ‘Hear my Call' showcases his extraordinary vocal talent. The supporting cast is equally commendable. Aidan Cutler, Christopher Cameron, Daniel Hall, Samantha Thomas, and Natasha Hoeberigs deliver solid performances that allow their characters' personalities to shine. The collective harmonies of the ensemble are nothing short of remarkable and showcase Purdue's musical genius. Special recognition is deserved for Soophia Foroughi whose performance of ‘Still So Close', a duet with Wijers, is simultaneously uplifting and heart-wrenching, showcasing her remarkable vocal prowess, range and emotional depth; moving some in the audience to tears.
While A Tale of Fellowship is a love letter to Tolkien, at its core, it is equally about young people relentlessly pursuing their hopes and dreams, all with the noble intention of making the world a better place. In a world fraught with conflicts and divisions, the musical serves as a poignant reminder of the healing power of the arts. Set against the backdrop of World War I, this story resonates deeply with current events, particularly the ongoing Israel-Palestine political unrest, highlighting the enduring relevance of the themes it presents. It emphasises the potential for the arts to unite people and, just perhaps, to change the world for the better.
A Tale of Fellowship is a testament to the enduring power of art, friendship, and dreams. As Tolkien and his friends face the trials of a world at war, their unwavering bond and creative endeavours serve as a beacon of hope, reminding us of our collective strength. It is a show that speaks to the heart, affirming us that even in "dark, dark times”, we have the resilience to overcome them. This is a promising show, full of heart, and I can't wait to see those dreams become a reality.
Review: Dr Caleb Lee