Review: 42 Balloons

Written by on May 3, 2024

Review: 42 Balloons


02-05-24 World Premiere Gala Performance – The Lowry, Salford Quays by Jamie Griffiths

The decision to write a musical about Larry Walter’s flight in a lawn chair over LA in 1982 is, at first glance, rather leftfield, but Jack Godfrey saw something in Larry that is worth sharing. For many months now, Matinee has enjoyed playing music from 42 Balloons, and we’ve been fortunate to speak to the cast and production team during rehearsals. We knew that Jack Godfrey’s music was catchy and emotive, but we couldn’t be sure how it would translate into a full-blown production? It’s very rare that we can say that a brand new musical exceeded all expectations. This is a really special production.

L-R Lejaun Sheppard (Ron), Evelyn Hoskins (Carol), Charlie McCullagh (Larry) & Gillian Hardie (Carol’s Mom)
Pic: Pamela Raith

What makes a man want to fly in a lawn chair? What makes a woman buy 42 weather balloons?

Charlie McCullagh and Evelyn Hoskins have both enjoyed some great roles over the years, but their partnership as Larry and Carol is a revelation. From the moment the characters meet in the 1970s we are treated to a convincing romcom, elevated by some sharp physical comedy and electric chemistry. It doesn’t matter that Larry is socially awkward and embarrassing, you are left rooting for both of them. It’s a testament to their incredibly compatible vocals and effortless choreography.



The curved staging makes an impressive first impression, making great use of the space and projection. It’s a colourful treat that’s a very easy watch, and the way in which we take to the sky with Lawnchair Larry never feels far fetched. This is a flight of imagination that I was very happy to take.

Evelyn Hoskins (Carol)
Pic: Pamela Raith

Gillian Hardie plays Carol’s Mom and her solo numbers were a total joy – her nuance and clarity meant that no joke was missed and when she had her reprise in the second act, you could see that the audience were eager to hear more from her. The role of disapproving mother-in-law could easily have just been one note or played for laughs but Gillian’s portrayal never lost sight of having Carol’s best interests at heart. This is a character who refuses to let her daughter play a bit part in somebody else’s story.

Some of the narrative devices are very meta, with all cast members taking time to comment on the true life stories that they are portraying, before diving straight back into character. It left me with a comprehensive list of facts to look up after the show, and I recommend doing it – your curiosity will be rewarded.

A number of 80’s jukebox musicals have done the rounds in recent months, but none in my opinion have evoked the era in as authentic and refreshing a way. Jack Godfrey’s score evokes the feel of Cyndi Lauper, Van Halen, even the Fresh Prince of Bel Air without ever resorting to parody or sounding like a tribute act.

Charlie McCullagh (Larry)
Pic: Pamela Raith

I had no idea how far through Larry’s story we were going to travel, and sure enough we covered his whole journey, which was a difficult watch toward the end. 42 Balloons is not only a story about chasing your dreams, but how you deal with life after you’ve realised them. By the gutwrenching conclusion you are left feeling as helpless as Carol. I’ve not been able to get Helium out of my head since leaving the Lowry, but the show ends with an affection for the true life subjects that is to be applauded. 42 Balloons has made one of the most refreshing debuts I’ve seen in a long time, and I look forward to seeing it reach exciting new heights.

Get your tickets for 42 Balloons from the official site HERE.


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