Whilst the play’s more explicitly adult moments had thankfully been toned down a little to suit the cast, a lot of the darker issues the script deals with, such as drug abuse, thwarted ambition and death, were still present to challenge the cast. The principals all rose commendably to these challenges, though, with the actresses playing provocative Carmen Diaz (Georgina Hendry) and the strict Miss Sherman (Rebecca Goldie) dealing sensitively and accurately with portrayals of characters with much more age or experience.
Jose Vegas’ (Peter Sowersby) unique charm, Nick and Serena’s (Edd Bird and Eve Norris) passion for acting and Tyrone and Schlomo’s (Myles Osborn-Banton and Sam Johnson) respective kinds of inner turmoil were portrayed with control when the roles demanded, but also a kind of unstoppable, bubbling energy that kept each new scene fresh and interesting. The teachers were all so very convincing that I genuinely thought they were played by adults for much of the play.
The large dance numbers were very enjoyable – for a production involving some tiny children, each was choreographed ambitiously and executed near-perfectly. Speaking as someone who always took days to learn dance routines for school musicals (and often forgot half as a result of stage fright) I was stunned that children as young as eight were able to learn and perform so many dances, even where there were several groups all doing different things on stage at once, in only ten days!
Perhaps I’m easily impressed and such are the New Theatre’s expectations for every show, but the professional quality of the singing, the dancing (and break dancing) and the persistent energy of the cast, suggested to me that these were some seriously talented young people. The play will be running at the New Theatre, on George Street, in Oxford, tonight at 7.30pm, and on Saturday 7th August at 2.30 and 7.30pm. If you don’t mind being unable to stop humming the title song under your breath for days, I urge you to go and see it.