A rare child-free evening pass for me last night, with a jaunt to Guildford to see Ghosts’ production of Nine at the Electric Theatre.

Although I’m an occasional theatre-goer – annual visits to see the RSC and a few big name musicals such as Chicago and Phantom of the Opera are about as far as I get – I will be the first to admit that I am still something of a Philistine when it comes to my knowledge and appreciation of the dramatic arts. I’m no Sheridan Morley, that’s for sure. But I know what I like, and I liked Nine, very much.

Nine was originally a 1982 Broadway musical based loosely on Federico Fellini‘s semi-autobiographical film . The story centres around Italian film director Guido Contini, a serial philanderer confronted by a midlife crisis brought on by a combination of his imminent 40th birthday and writer’s block. It follows Contini, whose personal and professional lives rapidly spiral out of control as he struggles to produce a film he has not yet written while he attempting to juggle his various romantic entanglements.

This being my first experience of an amateur musical production, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Without stretching my critical faculties beyond the point of credibility with a note-by-note review, let’s just say I was very pleasantly surprised.

Alex de Courcy shines in the solo male role of Contini, coming across as something of an Italian Jack Nicholson and effortlessly conveying Guido’s passion, intensity and inner turmoil while maintaining an Italian accent in both spoken and sung word. (Nifty tambourine work, too!) Emma Culley impresses as Guido’s weary and put-upon wife, Luisa, while Jenny Moon plays up the vampishness of his mistress Carla in a humorous but sympathetic fashion. There are shining individual and collective moments for the ensemble cast, but I should give special mention to both Kieran Masters, who was wonderfully poised as the nine-year old Guido, and Vanessa Wheeler, whose rendition of ‘Be Italian’ is the highlight of the first act.

‘Be Italian’:

Overall, this was a well-produced and highly entertaining production full of pathos, and one which pleasingly plays with the audience rather than merely to them, occasionally tapping on the fourth wall with a knowing wink rather than breaking it down for the sake of effect.

Nine has a star-studded history on both stage and screen. The original 1982 Broadway musical starred the late Raul Julia (The Addams Family, The Burning Season) as Contini, with a 2003 revival featuring Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, Evita, Shrek 2) and Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal), who won a Tony for her role as Carla. London productions have starred Jonathan Pryce (Miss Saigon, Tomorrow Never Dies) and Larry Lamb (Eastenders, Gavin and Stacey) as Contini.

It was also remade as a Hollywood film last year, directed by Rob Marshall (who helmed the 2002 Best Picture Oscar winner Chicago) and starring no fewer than six previous Oscar winners: Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, Gangs of New York), Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love, Mrs Brown), Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Moulin Rouge), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Vanilla Sky) and Sophia Loren (Two Women), as well as Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) and Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas.

Nine film trailer:

Opening scene of Nine:

Nine highlights:

Ghosts’ production of Nine may only have been a small amateur production, a footnote in the footlights of a musical with a Broadway and Hollywood pedigree, but it suffered not a jot for that (indeed, it benefits from the intimacy of a smaller, 120-seat venue). A great evening out, and highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10 (obviously!)

Nine runs until Saturday 2nd October. Contact the Electric Theatre box office on 01483 444789 for ticket enquiries.