St John's students excel in brilliant production of We Will Rock You
Wow! They filled the stage with dancers, they filled the Theatre on the Hill with music and they filled its seats with very enthusiastic audiences.
This was a highly ambitious production by St John's Academy of the school version of the very adult musical We Will Rock You - and it came off with great aplomb and a display of some truly amazing local talents.
Based on the music of Queen, it tells of a time in the future when the biggest of the big multinational technology corporations has taken over the world (renamed here as iPlanet) and for some weird reason has outlawed the making of music - leaving the young to rely on boring old Radio Ga Ga (cue, of course, for another memorable Queen song.)
Enter Galileo Figaro - or Gazza for short - who has in his head a sort of archaeologist's collection of shards of pop music and broken bits of lyrics from times past. And who refuses to conform.
He is played by Will Sexton, who left St John's last year and is spending a year gaining stage experience before going to drama school. For this production he doubled as Acting Director.
He has a wonderful voice, which made the most of both the quieter and the more raucous Queen numbers. And he had great fun with the odd words and phrases from all those barely remembered pop lyrics.
All the rest of the cast - and the 34-strong dance troupe and the nine-strong chorus - are current St John's students. And the director and producer of this triumph was Max Moore, the school's Director of Performance - who had a third role as pianist and conductor of the twelve-strong live band.
Galileo gets arrested by the music police led by Khashoggi (Sam Austen in black leather - not Armani but M&S - and shades) under orders from Killer Queen (played on the night I watched by Chrissy Lightowler - a part shared with Tamlin Morgan.)
Arrested with Galileo is another cultural and dress-code refusnik who he names Scaramouche - another name of impeccable Queen ancestry. She was played by Rosie Amos.
This is a part that calls for careful and clever acting and great singing. Well, Ms Amos has great stage presence, confident movement and a grand voice - and she gave her character a depth I am pretty certain was not foreseen when the musical was written. She made the story work - especially her on-off-on-again love affair with Gazza.
Galileo persuades Scaramouche to join the underground Bohemians' movement which is trying to revive the live music they long for. This was the school version, but innuendos and double entendres and some spicy language flew about - all quite in character - and gave Scaramouche some of the evening's best lines.
I did like the way our magazines were seen from the future as 'websites made of paper'. And I loved the repartee about dreams and when love dies: When your partner wakes up and tells you about your dream of a rabbit in a bowler hat cooking an omelette for you.
One highpoint was the Seven Seas of Rhye pub with its bar full of youngsters who have had their brains emptied by the authorities and with barmaid Pop who had escaped, but was nonetheless pretty dippy and hippy.
Pop gave Ellen Trevaskiss a wonderful chance to entertain us and to sing with fine gusto.
There were several other highpoints: Killer Queen, living up to her name and laying waste a large number of young girls to Another One Bites the Dust. The tender duet sung by Will Sexton and Rosie Amos - with those telling lines "There's no place for us, there's no chance for us...Who wants to live for ever." There were also standout performances by Rhys Rowlands as Brit (that's Brit as, apparently, in Britney Spears) and Emma Doyle as Meat.
If anyone ever tells you again that the Theatre on the Hill has too small a stage and no proper wings, just run this production past them. The set design included a well-used raised walkway at the back of the stage. And called for wheel-on scenery of some complexity.
But more than that, the stage was filled from time to time with 24 dancers - sometimes GaGa Girls and sometimes not! (I think it was 24 but it was quite hard to count them as they moved so quickly between groupings and movements) The dancing was of a very high calibre.
You try athletic movements with that many fit young girls on a stage that size - with no one getting poked in the eye! They were brilliant and kept in perfect sync.
The boy dancers were that bit younger and showed their skills with some frenzied break dancing. The direction made the most of the theatre's space with actors tumbling off the stage and exiting through the audience.
The music was excellent and chorus sang clearly with some great Queen harmonies. Max More directed a humdinger of an evening even at one point adding a shouted intervention from his piano - much to the delight of students in the audience.
The Saturday sell-out performance was the last night of a run that was probably short enough for those with exams coming up, but too short for all those of the cast who were obviously enjoying the whole live stage experience so much.
Now the run is over I do not need to give readers a spoiler alert: after the curtain call, after the applause had finally died away and the stage had emptied, an offstage voice (Galileo, I think) suddenly said "We've left something out" - and back they came for the most amazing, spine tingling performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow!