The Coram Boy is a show for adults and children alike, involving a rumbustious (and sometimes chaotic) storyline, magical music and singing and an insight into some of the bleaker aspects of 18th century England.

The play is based on the children’s novel by Jamila Gavin and takes its title from the Coram Foundation, established in London by Thomas Coram.

The Foundation took in and cared for babies born to mothers who either couldn’t afford to raise them themselves, or couldn’t face the shame of having an illegitimate child in an age when this was much frowned upon.

The play involves a somewhat complicated tale revolving around Alexander Ashbrook (Louisa Binder) a young aristocratic chorister, a mysterious young man Meshak Gardiner (Aled Gomer) – who sometimes appears real and sometimes almost fantasy – and his father, a sinister rogue Otis Gardiner (Samuel Oatley).

Otis gets new mothers to pay him to take their newborns to the Coram Hospital but either murders them or sells them into slavery.

He is eventually caught, hanged and pronounced dead but later somehow re-emerges as a wealthy corrupt slave trader. It’s an unlikely tale which is complicated further by a plethora of real and imagined characters, appearing and disappearing at regular intervals.

But the production is lifted by a stunning musical score under the direction of Stephen Higgins and some brilliant choral singing. And singing could be, or should have been at the heart the story, in particular Handel’s famous Christmas work The Messiah.

Handel (James Staddon) makes a cameo performance as the German-born composer who was one of the early benefactors of the Coram Hospital and donated the proceeds of the first-ever performance of The Messiah to the Foundation.

In the end good triumphs over evil, Otis Gardiner perishes and Alexander, now a man, returns to his family after many years of estrangement. And what a powerful ending it could have been to have the cast (and maybe even the audience) belting out the Hallelujah Chorus, the iconic highlight of The Messiah.

The Coram Boy is at Chichester Festival Theatre until June 15

Ivor Gaber