Big Fish, Headgate Theatre, Colchester.

We all know the big whopper that people tell, the One That Got Away, the really Big Fish that anglers claim they almost caught. Well, Edward Bloom tells one big fish after another, or are his stories based on fact? On his death bed, Edward recounts his tales and his son, Will, attempts to find out the truth. The parent is the one with all the imagination, the son the hard slab of reality, but as each tale is explored, the facts begin to emerge in this enjoyable production by the hugely talented youth group, Mad Hatter.

Once again director and choreographer Wade Ablitt shows his skill at filling a small space with a large cast, in fact the traverse staging at the Headgate lends itself gloriously to the material. This is aided by a wonderful lighting design by CDC Productions, and the musical director Olly Wood does a great job. And for Big Fish you have Big Talent on stage, with a tight ensemble crackling with enthusiasm and energy.

In the lead role of Edward Bloom, Tom Beattie adds to his reputation as the finest young actor we have in the region. Contrasting astonishingly with his drug addicted son in The Vortex just a few weeks ago, here he is charming, an excellent story teller, and sings beautifully. He is the beating heart of the show, and an actor with a bright future ahead of him. As Will Bloom, Sam Brown is equally good, showing great range, and in the supporting roles Dayle Saunders is a wonderful Karl the Giant, Ryan Cope an enjoyable Don Price and Tom Holt a terrific Amos Calloway. The women are sidelined a bit in this tale, but Stephanie Laine is excellent as Sandra Bloom, Martha Mugford sings beautifully as Jenny Hill and Yasmin Sharp makes a big impact with her small role of The Witch.

The show itself is cloyingly sentimental, and has one of the longest death scenes I’ve ever witnessed! And apart from the foot stomping opening number Be The Hero, many of the tunes struggle to make an impact. That matters little, however, when a company this talented put everything into the production, and Mad Hatter have set the bar high for musical theatre this year.