Floyd Collins is a musical about a man stuck in a hole, and there were moments during this production that I felt like I was down there with him, waiting interminably in the darkness for the sweet release of death.
Despite a strong cast and clever staging, exceptionally poor pacing makes Adam Guettel’s musical – based on a true story – feel tiresome and bloated, crawling through the first half in particular, while offering little in the way of insight or message.
The year is 1925 and Floyd Collins is a young cave explorer with a habit of getting lodged in small spaces. After discovering the underground cavern of his dreams, a collapsed wall seals him into the ultimate tight spot, resulting in a nation-wide media frenzy as various people try to fish him back out.
The chilly plains of Kentucky are skilfully evoked despite a sparse set, with the peeling walls of Wilton’s providing an atmospheric backdrop. The opening country and western guitar piece hints that the production may remain musically in-tune with its historical context, but protracted bouts of more traditional musical theatre repeatedly breaks any sense of immersion. Ashley Robinson can certainly sing, though, with an early number playing with the cave system’s echoes being particularly impressive.
But as the production limps towards the end of its more than two-hour run-time, it fails to make any real commentary beyond people – especially the press – being selfish and exploitative.
The man-stuck-down-a-hole genre is an established niche, from James Franco’s pen-knife wielding performance in 127 Hours to Billy Wilder’s classic Ace in the Hole; on the strength of this production, the spontaneous outbreak of song adds little.