Saturday, July 11, 2015


A Night at the Musicals and The Machine Gunners

James French ended his first year as Director of Drama at King Edward VI School with not one but two summer shows.
The Machine Gunners, a new adaptation of the Robert Westall classic book, was performed with tremendous energy and enthusiasm by students from Year Nine, on an impressively designed cruciform staging which set the audience in amongst the Boys' Own action and gave an intimate insight into the motivations and moral dilemmas of the lads [and one lass] who set up their own machine gun post to defend the North East from the Hun. Smoke, sound effects and some excellent physical acting made for a gripping couple of hours. 
The Music Theatre Society ended their year in style with a rich mix of numbers – some masterpieces, some meretricious – from the musicals, directed and choreographed by Elizabeth Hutchinson. Some superb work: Roxy from Chicago, chorus boys from The Producers, a hilarious trio from Cabaret. Plus the Bad Guys from Bugsy, KEGS' last musical, and generous tasters from next year's offering, Les Misérables. Musically, some of the best things were the simplest – unplugged with just the accomplished piano of Will Foster. But the loudest cheers greeted a contribution by a chorus of unruly teachers in Revolting Children from Matilda, finally called to order by Headmaster Tom “Trunchbull” Carter.

"Richard Broadway" joined the enthusiastic audience on each night ...


That old stand-by, songs from the shows, made a pleasant end-of-year treat for KEGS Drama Department. It has a venerable history of musical theatre, and for some performers this was a “last hurrah” before the world of gap year/drama school/university beckons.
No pit orchestra, no auto-tune, no fancy costumes. But this unplugged approach was just what the evening needed, in the lofty but intimate performing space of the Music School. Some of the most successful offerings were the simplest, with Will Foster's piano the only accompaniment. Roxy's Funny Honey – from Chicago – nicely characterized, just one example.
The range was wide, from Oliver to Matilda, from Parade to High School Musical. Mr Broadway reckons to have a pretty good knowledge of the genre [though his name is much older than the Great White Way], but the Tony-awarded, Pulitzer-prized bipolar rock musical Next to Normal was new to me – Gabe's powerfully felt I'm Alive a striking contrast with the campery of the Keep It Gay chorus boys from The Producers or the knees-up production number Consider Yourself from Oliver!.
The amazingly talented young people were joined, briefly but to huge acclaim, by an ad hoc company of KEGS staff members, in a lively, if rough-and-ready Revolting Children.
There was a nod to last year's splurgy, slippery Bugsy Malone with a reprise of Bad Guys, and a look forward to January's production of Les Misérables, with a heart-rending Bring Him Home, a measured I Dreamed A Dream [with lovely piano and chorus accompaniment], and to end, a stirring Red and Black, with Marius flying the flag of freedom,

A Night at the Musicals was directed and choreographed by Elizabeth Hutchinson, who was joined on stage by Matthew Wadey, Joseph Folley, Nikhil Shah, Amy Wang, Benjamin Russell, Dionne O'Brien, Freya Von-Claire, Harry Clark, Hazel Ellender, Isabella George, Molly Sun-Wai, Rebecca Olson, Thomas Mitty, Mark Ellis, Dominic Short and Benjamin Southern-Thomas.

Sitting between the arms of a cross, the audience can see children cowering under the stage, slowly crawling out of the shelters to find the world above reduced to a rubble-strewn bomb-site.
Inspired staging for Robert Westall's classic story of bravery and bonding, in which war games become real for the Caporetto gang.
This is the new adaptation done by Ali Taylor for the Imperial War Museum.
Smoke and sound adds atmosphere to the story, and the physical approach gives some stunning stage pictures – the Heinkel gunned down and its pilot thrown clear, his capture with the weapon projected on screen. James French's vision enables the aircraft, the playground, the secret base at the bottom of the garden to be created in the boys' imagination and ours, in a powerful piece of theatre. The staging of the fights, and the panic and chaos of the climactic bombing raid, are especially effective.
Music and projected images help establish the period; rubble and a china tea-cup among the few actual props. Costumes evoke the period well, but perhaps the next fund-raiser might provide some stage chairs – seeing auditorium seats in the spotlight is one of Mr Broadway's pet hates.
Stirling performances from an excellent ensemble, though the nature of the staging means that not all the dialogue is easily audible.
Max Clifford holds the stage brilliantly as Chas McGill, leader of the pack and proud possessor of the second-best collection of war souvenirs in Garmouth. No mere token girl in the lads' gang, Harry Walton's Audrey is a subtly drawn character, wanting a fair fight, showing common sense and moving sympathy for the German pilot. Nicky is something of an outsider, with his posh house and musical mother – an outstanding performance from Kristoff Ahlner, whose moment in the pets' cemetery, and scenes with Joseph Penny's convincing Rudi are amongst the most moving of the evening.
Director James French was assisted by Saqib Ahmad, Nikhil Shah and Henry Sainsbury, and the performers were Max Clifford, Max Bawtree, Harry Walton. Eliott Bunch, Kristoff Ahlner, Dharma-Dev Morzaria, Ben Metzger, Jasper Tatum, Edward Robb, Jonathan Marshak, Joseph Penny, Adam Heath, Robert Perone, Conor Hemingway, Ryan Seal and Rohan Odedra.

images by Aaron Crowe

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