When We Built A Rocket Ship

The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Wednesday 25th July, 2018


“We can do anything; we can be anywhere; we can be anyone we want to be.”

Written to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Oldham Theatre Workshop, When We Built A Rocket Ship is a masterclass in how to create a theatrical performance that gives feel-good, musical cuddles.

A group of childhood friends meet up in a secluded woodland setting. There they let their imaginations run wild as their playtime frolics see them embark on extravagant adventures involving mermaids and sea voyages, all accompanied by what appears to be a small army of friendly forest elves.

The good times never seem to end, and the sky’s the limit – or not, maybe, as their next adventure quest becomes the challenge to build a rocket ship that will allow them to blast towards infinity and possibly even catch the stars that twinkle in the night sky.

When We Built A Rocket Ship is a cleverly written piece of theatre. The show moves in stages from era to era, spanning many decades and thus following the initially very young group of friends as they get older and older.

At each hop into the future there is an increase in maturity for all of them, always accompanied by harsh, real-world events that spoil any chance of having 100% carefree fun. But the solution always seems to be the same: as a group they retreat into the safety of their fantasy world, and for a short while they can be free of the traumas that real life throws at them.

As a spectacle When We Built A Rocket Ship is very unusual. It is clearly a play about children and one which stars many young performers; yet it is in no way a children’s play. The initially jovial and happy moods are bought crashing back down to earth when the more serious subjects of death, divorce, and incurable illness are injected into the storyline.

The brutality of these interjections and the severity of the impact on the characters means that this surely can’t be suitable for young children, hence it has to be a musical for adult audiences. Yet it somehow still retains the overall innocence and purity of a musical written purely for children.

As a showcase for youth theatre and nurturing young talent, When We Built A Rocket Ship is a fine effort – this is undoubtedly a show dominated by young performers but it definitely isn’t the usual pat-on-the-head school play type of spectacle, this is a serious piece of musical theatre where young performers demand (and earn the right) to be judged on their absolute performance skills rather than viewed as children who are trying their best to perform as adults do.





Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure No expense spared with a huge, 2-tier set depicting a mysterious woodland setting. Let down slightly though by one factor: for large parts of the show there were too many people on stage (27 counted at one point) because with each doing slightly different things it was visually difficult to focus attention where it should have been. 4
Auditory pleasure Outstanding musical performance, both in terms of the songs being sung and the live musical score being performed towards the rear of the stage. 5
Architecture & Theme The underlying moral of the story (you can do anything if you put your mind to it) is cleverly developed into a full plot, although there are some obvious contradictions in a few of the plot twists that break the consistency of what is being presented – most notably the notion that someone hasn’t told their friends-for-life about a secret love child. 3
Artistic delivery The cast is huge, but somehow they stayed coordinated and deliver an coherent performance, despite the overcrowding on a relatively cramped stage. Acting, singing, choreography and musical expression were all excellent. 4
Overall impact This is an intriguing show. It can’t possibly be a musical for children given the multiple instances of genuinely sad and depressing points in the story; yet it has so many “childish” features, and not just by virtue of the tender age of so many of the performers. This is an entertaining show, though the boundaries between a pure fantasy world and a plot that seems to follow the real world seem to be blurred, which leads to more than a little confusion on ocassions. 3
Final Score: 3.8


Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.


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