A warm welcome was given to me on such a rotten night! From the cheery teacher/pupil combo on the ticket desk to the array of upbeat pop hits emanating from the speakers; “Here Comes The Sun” put the grotty weather outside out of mind. Advertised as a pantomime with a twist, Mrs Creggwood’s program notes hoped that the audience left with a “smile on our faces” and spoke of how proud she was of the students.
This production certainly has had a few set-backs – this was the rescheduled performance. The original was sadly a victim of Covid. Tonight there was another unexpected set-back. The audience diligently turned their phones off at 6.25pm ready for the show but the interval “switch on” revealed the tragic news of the passing of Her Majesty the Queen. A decision to carry on was taken. The teachers felt that Elizabeth’s commitment to her duty was a sort of “show must go on” attitude. The second half would go ahead. A photo of the Queen adorns the wall of the school on the way in with the quote: “When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.” The spirit and ambition of the cast and crew really typified this and this production aimed high.
And so the show, as mentioned, was a pantomime. Every panto needs a good villain and we were introduced to one immediately. The wicked Mrs. Grimm’s ominous warning about mobile phones and uniform violations echoed around the delightful, refurbished East Hall. Portrayed with marvellous maleficence by Esme Barclay-Jay, Mrs. Grimm patrolled the halls and even engaged in that time honoured panto tradition of audience participation with an experience that belied her age. Esme’s ability to dominate a stage came across well likewise her “Head Teacher stare” – the sort of look that can sour milk or strike fear into Year 11s. There were moments of real comedy and villainy. These exemplified with her reaction to a poorly made cup of tea (I know the feeling) and the farcical pedantry of green versus forest green photocopying. Wonderful!
The first character we physically met was Harry Button who entered an empty stage consuming gargantuan mouthfuls of crisps (a lovely reoccurring joke). Anyone who has been involved with acting will tell you that two of the hardest things to do on stage are: 1. Be alone without talking and 2. Eat. Matthew Manning managed these amazingly well and his portrayal of Harry as an awkward, likeable, rough-around-the-edges character was charming (pun unintended) and went down well with the audience for whom he acted as narrator. He engaged the crowd well and reacted to their responses with unflappable ease.
The Ugly sisters made an appearance, as expected, but in this rendition as Anastazia and Drizella Grimm. The chemistry between Minnie Jowett’s threating presence (Anastazisa) and Pepper Millington’s delightfully dim Drizella was apparent. The two were able to provide both physical comedy and fabulous word play which caused many a chuckle from the crowd. The pair were able to work well as one which added to the effectiveness of their characters. I did enjoy the recipe for Unicorn Punch and will probably try it for my next party, although maybe without the Goldschlager!
Of course, a love interest is a must in this kind of show and this had it! The entrance of the smooth Chad Charming was nicely done. With his hair, leather jacket and the deliberate removal of the sunglasses before his introduction, “Hi, I’m Chad” was reminiscent of Fiyero’s entrance in Wicked or, for any who may remember, The Fonz. Edan Coe provided a good blend of charm and confidence and brought his character’s arrogance out well. Accents are never easy, but Edan was able to maintain his Californian drawl well.
Scarlett Westmore as Cindy’s father, Gerald, provided good stability too. Scarlett’s ability to project her lines from the back of the stage was good and she didn’t flinch when having to say some of the “sickly dad” lines, such as “Pookie Bear”, “Cindy Poo” and so on, and this made the character relatable and sympathetic.
I was wondering where the Fairy Godmother was at first. A scan of the program revealed an absence of the character so I was intrigued to see how it would play out. The realisation hit me when Matthew Blow sashayed on to the stage with confidence, poise and his character’s initials (FG!) proudly displayed on his customised blazer. Ah! There we go! Matthew’s character was the absolute perfect blend of kindness, campness, warmth and had the knack of delivering withering looks and comments. A highlight of this was his chairing of the “Couture Club.” A discussion about making and altering clothes had the audience in stiches (pun intended.) More on the Couture Club later!
The two “nice” teachers (Mrs. Tate and the Dance Teacher) were played by Macey O’Reilly and Eleanor Newton who brought a believability to their roles and despite being the same age as the other actors were able to create the illusion of being adult figures. A good job! Macey and Eleanor not “corpsing” with the ridiculousness of the Ugly sisters deserves a medal!
This brings me on to Cindy herself. The titular character was brought to life by Ellie May-Smith. As an aside – I knew that this show had ambition when the opening bars of the first musical number, Bohemian Rhapsody, began. Matthew Manning started the singing, hitting every note and showing later a good control; switching between head voice and falsetto. Ellie came in showcasing her vocal ability.
Ellie showed that she has a promising potential on stage. Her heart-breaking rendition of Emile Sande’s “Read all about it” was a poignant and moving moment. She was able to move between emotions with ease, her sadness was complemented by her comedic facial expressions when dealing with Charming and the Ugly Sisters. Body language is an important skill to master in acting and her ability with this brought the character to life taking the audience along with them. One of many to watch I feel.
The main cast was supported by a marvellous selection of ensemble and students:
Willow Samuel, Matilda McCormick, Charlotte Jenkins, Iyla Postlethwaite, Madison Eldridge, Leona Ould, Emse Wallis, Kai Watts, Blaize Shilton, Isobel Bower, Phoebe Bamford, Amelia Chruches-Wingrove, Betty George, Aydin Gumus, Charley Harfield, Olivia Hall, Poppy Mannix and Caitlin Squire.
One thing I did notice was how good the background action was. The ensemble reacted to the action well and stayed in character whilst on stage. No mean feat! Their lines were delivered with confidence and there was super singing evident too. There were no insignificant roles, whether the character had one line or ninety-nine they were of equal quality. The comedy was subtle, clever and unforced. It was comfortable and genuinely funny.
The staging was clever and continued to show ambition. The passing-of-time dance with speeding clock hands and the stage lit red, was a smart and slick trick. The phone conversations between Cindy’s parents again was cleverly staged. The ensemble dances were appropriately energetic and I was impressed with the singing.
The confidence of the cast grew visibly through the performance, early nerves soon evaporated and it was abundantly clear that all were enjoying themselves. The sense of joy came across in all aspects of this performance. The fashion show/prom continued that joyful theme, the children simply loved being on stage and enjoyed every moment. To me, that is one of the most important things in theatre: to love and enjoy what you do. Clearly this rings true for this group of actors.
Returning briefly to the Couture Club. It was refreshing and pleasing to see and hear such inclusivity. From Freddie Green’s call to arms for all “LGBTQ plus” to Drizella’s “Couple of the Year” award (girl and boy, boy and boy, girl and girl, they and she, they and they and so on.) This was not played for laughs or with any agenda and it was fantastic to see. The theme of inclusion ran deep with one character, Grey, being referred to by they/them pronouns. The normalisation of this was lovely to see, however they may need to practise making tea!
The backstage crew were professional in their approach and the lighting design and sound again showed the ambition of the company and this production. At times it was hard to remember that this was a school production. Coming so quick into term could have meant little time for rehearsal or prep. This wasn’t evident at all. The smooth transitions between scenes made the production snappy and neat.
And so, did I leave with a smile on my face? Most definitely! I will be watching closely for these names to appear in island theatre and hope that they continue to tread the boards. This review will probably come too late for you to see this production, sadly. But I encourage you to look out for this school’s next production which, if this is anything to go by, will be well worth a watch. Thank you for inviting me, your teacher is right to be proud and so should you.
Performance: Thursday 8th September
Reviewed by Si Lynch