If ‘footloose’ means being able to do as one pleases due to a lack of responsibilities or commitments, then the cast of the College’s latest musical were presented with a tricky dichotomy as they strived to blend their commitment to producing a first-class performance, with the mood of frivolity so tangible in the script. It was therefore with great admiration and delight that I observed the actors, musicians and back-stage team smiling profusely, whilst thoroughly engaged in their responsibilities during rehearsals. Indeed, such was the commitment from all involved that they, understandably, had little time for my fatuous questions about the number of buttons on the sound desk or the number of notes in the score (‘many’ is the answer to both questions).
I must admit that I have always assumed rehearsals to be chaotic affairs with cues missed, staging malfunctioning and tempers flaring. The final rehearsal for this production, however, was so polished that it could have been passed off as an actual performance, with Director Miss Rhiannon Johnson putting the finishing touches to a masterpiece via a loudspeaker, whilst the magnificent staff technicians and pupil backstage teams refined the effects (Jason Kitcatt (Fa), Joshua Dixon (C), Joshua Crockett (F), Leo Skingley (F), and Sade Toye (Rv)).
On the opening night, George Kelly (Rn) gave an emotive performance as Ren, the city boy with the dance moves and earnest determination of a teenager. Ren’s flair and drive for liberty was quickly noted by Ariel, played exquisitely by Ariana Menassa (Rv), who captivated the audience with her pin-point rendition of ‘Holding out for a Hero’. Ariel’s confidence and swagger served to enhance the awkwardness of the social interactions of local boy Willard, played with great humour by Daniel Lodge (C), and Rusty, an exuberant country gal played with the greatest of enthusiasm and skill by Meredith Briggs (Rv). Rusty’s high-jinks were elaborately supported by her light-footed friends, the adept dance ensemble, Maddie Fairbank (M), Lizzie Finch (Wh), Mia Smiley (Rv) and Lucy Picken (Wh). Willard had his supporters in Jeter, Bickle and Garvin (Bertie Gathercole (H), James Harris (Rn) and Toby Lodge (C)), who appeared in various guises, including a human-sized hot dog!
Sophie Norman (Wh) played the part of Ethel with great emotion, whilst the greatest piety was reserved for Reverend Shaw and his wife Vi, (Barney Fildes (P) and Caroline Lansdown (Wh)). Both Fildes and Lansdown used their wealth of singing experience, partly gained with the College’s Chapel Choir, to produce passionate songs which will inevitably stay with onlookers for days. Maddie Luckyn-Malone added ‘Footloose’ to her repertoire of school plays, with a loyal portrayal of Ren’s outspoken aunt.
Meanwhile, on the edgier side of town, Tom Bulmer (F) as Chuck led his gang of rogues in Lyle and Travis (Thomas Stoney (Fa) and Theo Mully (P)) with great intensity, and received a burst of applause from the audience in the final scene. Poppy Tilling (Cr) and Gemima Iseka-Bekano (Wh) made everyone smile with their discerning wit and girlish quirks, as Urleen and Wendy Jo.
It would be remiss of me to omit reference to those who worked away in the shadows of stage-left. The production was, after all, a musical, and great appreciation must be directed to Mr Graeme Lodge and his team as they flawlessly delivered tune after tune throughout the performance. A special mention must also go to Solomon Ekoku (Fa) who, squirrelled away in the back corner, tapped, banged and tinged himself to glory so impressively on a variety of percussion. Our very own Mr Seb Johns and Miss Julia De Luca flexed their adept fingers to bring us much joyful sound from their keyboards. Miss Caitlin Barnett, our superb choreographer, managed to inspire the pupils again, with outstanding routines, and the cast definitely rose to the challenge this year!
Amid the sounds, movements, music and lights, a theme most striking was that the pupils seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. It is so wondrous for a teacher to see some of their quietest pupils in the classroom, strut across the stage in song before an unknown audience. Beaming smiles were seen all round on the actors’ faces, especially during the rip-roaring tunes such as ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ and ‘Still Rockin’. These delighted faces may have been a result of genuine enjoyment or of superb acting. Either way, they are testament to great success!
By Mr David Nuthall