REVIEW: 42 Balloons – Quays Theatre – Salford


In “42 Balloons,” the Quays Theatre invites audiences to embark on a whimsical and emotionally resonant journey inspired by the improbable true story of Larry Walters, a man who dared to defy gravity and soar above the streets of Los Angeles in a lawn chair suspended by 42 helium-filled balloons. This new musical, with its book, music, and lyrics by the talented Jack Godfrey, unfolds as a multi-layered exploration of the human spirit’s yearning for adventure, the complexities of relationships, and the resilience required to chase one’s dreams against all odds.

From the moment the curtains rise, it becomes evident that “42 Balloons” boasts an ensemble of extraordinary talent. Charlie McCullagh and Evelyn Hoskins lead the cast with remarkable performances as Larry and Carol, respectively. McCullagh embodies Larry’s sense of wonder and determination with an authenticity that draws the audience into his fantastical world, while Hoskins infuses Carol with a depth of emotion and vulnerability that tugs at the heartstrings. Their chemistry on stage is palpable, lending credence to the central relationship that drives the narrative forward.

Supporting the stellar cast is a creative team that has crafted a visually stunning and immersive production. Milla Clarke’s scenic design transports the audience from the mundane streets of Los Angeles to the ethereal realm of Larry’s dreams, while Natalie Pryce’s costume design captures the vibrant spirit of the 1980s era. However, it is Andrzej Goulding’s video design that truly elevates the production, creating breathtaking visual landscapes that serve as a mesmerising backdrop to Larry’s airborne adventure. The projections onto the set are sensational and in many scenes, steal the audience’s attention.

At the heart of “42 Balloons” is its irresistible score, which draws inspiration from the iconic hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Under the masterful musical supervision of Joe Beighton, the ensemble delivers electrifying performances that seamlessly blend nostalgia with contemporary flair. Each musical number serves as a window into the characters’ innermost desires and fears, propelling the narrative forward with infectious energy and emotion.

Alexzandra Sarmiento’s choreography adds another layer of dynamism to the production, with each dance number serving as a visual feast for the eyes. Bruno Poet’s lighting design enhances the choreography, casting the stage in a kaleidoscope of colors and shadows that mirror the emotional highs and lows of the characters’ journey.

Despite its many strengths, “42 Balloons” is not without its flaws. The narrative, particularly in the second act, suffers from pacing issues that diminish the impact of key moments such as Larry’s flight and his subsequent breakup with Carol. Additionally, some characters feel underdeveloped, leaving the audience craving more depth and exploration of their relationships. Many of the characters feel relatively one-note and don’t get to fully have a character arc.

However, amidst these shortcomings, there are standout performances that shine brightly. Gillian Hardie delivers a captivating portrayal of Carol’s Mom, infusing the character with nuance and humor. Similarly, Evelyn Hoskins shines vocally, offering an emotionally resonant performance that lingers in the mind long after the final curtain call.

In conclusion, “42 Balloons” at the Quays Theatre is a multi-layered tapestry of dreams, love, and resilience that soars on the strength of its cast and creative team. While it may falter in its pacing and character development, the sheer spectacle and heartfelt performances make it a journey worth embarking on, reminding audiences that sometimes, the sky is not the limit—it’s just the beginning.

42 Balloons plays at the Quays Theatre until Sunday 19th May.

Photography throughout from Pamela Raith.






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