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POP! the musical wows audiences and earns rave reviews

POP! the musical wows audiences and earns rave reviews

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12 December 2017

When amateur casts tackle major musicals, they often hang on for dear life to something considerably bigger than they are. With POP! The Musical, King Edward’s School mastered a truly grand design, with all the gravitas and crazy ambition of a Kevin McCloud, Channel 4, epic construction.

I say ‘gravitas’ (which it had by the bucketload) but it also had that most wondrous of X factors – Northernness. Not only did Bath’s finest young gentlemen and ladies give us a linguistic adventure into the land of ‘chunder,’ ‘divvies’ and ‘Billy-no-mates,’ but we finally got to experience a school production with the line, “Who’re you tonguing, Fish Boy?” Your correspondent was in his element, whilst also frequently in stitches.

When you have an accomplished writer of teen fiction (Catherine Bruton), and a renowned young British composer (Mark Boden), you’re hugely fortunate as a school. The duo conceived the musical back in 2016. Eighteen months on, their progeny was unleashed upon an appreciative audience. Add a talented cast of actors and musicians to help develop the script and songs, under the judicious eye of director, Sarah Bird, with the backstage expertise of James Sellick and Rebecca Long, and you have a home-grown, collaboratively-owned show of talent that few schools can surpass.

Set against the backdrop of a strike-hit North-Western community, it tackles emotive issues, such as poverty, immigration and fragmented families (just a few biggies). Atop this was layered a critique of our cynical reality TV culture. The main character, Elfie, manipulatively pursues fame and prize money on ‘Pop to the Top,’ exploiting Polish pariah, Agnies, for her stunning songbird vocals, rather than offering the hand of friendship.

Elfie, Agnies and the object of both girls’ affections, Jimmy Wigmore, were played alternately by two actors. Emily Farmer’s Elfie was hilarious and heartbreaking, whilst Molly Phillips was tender and tough in equal measures. Laden with pathos, they were the beating heart of the production. Baby Alfie was portrayed through the subtle puppetry of Davide Montani and Boris Adams; frequently having Elfie and two puppeteers caring for Alfie made the absence of a nurturing adult even more profound.

Lucy Thomas and Sophie Mayhew both illuminated proceedings as Agnies. Her lonely widower father, Danek (Will Meadows) watched over Agnies benevolently. In dark times, their subtle sparkle made it easy to see what enamoured Jimmy Wigmore. All four sang masterfully, Agnies’ songs served with more delicate restraint, before the jaw-dropping heft of her closing number, ‘I Will Rise.’

Lorenzo Montani’s Jimmy was sweet yet mature, witty yet moving. Sascha Lee-Sekulic’s Jimmy was more overtly boyish, full of the milk of human kindness, but stoical, especially in the face of his firebrand, strike-breaking father, played by Sam Holdsworth. His meek, beleaguered mother (Issy Day) never stood a chance with those two at odds.

Jimmy’s gentleness starkly contrasted with Elfie’s pent-up patriarch (Alex Rodway) and flighty, man-mad matriarch (Cate De Morgan). It also further exposed the cynical televisual world, embodied by neurotic, madcap, Hunger Games-style presenters, Greg Taylor and Cecilia Toke-Nichols and by a quartet of deliciously-objectionable judges, led by ‘The Legend’ (the scriptwriter’s words, not mine…) Tom Harcourt, complete with scene-stealing eyebrows.

The world of ‘Pop to the Top’ was a suitably different universe to the one of strikes, scabs and social tensions, but it still had its flaws and personal vanities. Miranda Baines’ ‘The Facelift’ was statuesque and stern, Louis Dawson-Shepherd, the ‘Lingerie Lizard’ gave us all the heebie-jeebies (on purpose, I add) and Emma Botterill, the ‘Tabloid Princess’ channelled a non-Geordie Cheryl Cole. They were all fussed over by the serene Issy Hodge and the manic Tom Wilson.

Having an array of contestants allowed KES’ vocal strength to shine further. Tallulah Stephens and Holly Davies portrayed wannabes the opposite ends of the age spectrum with power and control. The Girl Band (Ella Crowsley, Anya Whybrow, Emily Best and Eleanor Carney) was a little mix (geddit?) of delights. Jack Bather sang, aptly and engagingly about singing in the bath and ‘Double Trouble’ – Doi Phomtham and Matt Thompson dazzled us with their jackets and enthralled us with talk of their “lucky pants.” Rosie Cooper, Minnie Leigh, Sophia Siersted and Ammar Hassan completed the ‘Hopefuls,’ all of whom were defeated by Tallulah’s ‘Child Prodigy’ character in the end (although I’d have given the trophy to Louie Milton for that guitar solo in the encore).

The town frequently seemed to live up to its billing as a “hellhole.” The townspeople (Sid Kuruvilla, Thomas Crawford, James Carney, Immy Smith, Robyn Coombe and Enya Maylor) were aggressors or gossips. Will Pinder brought physical menace and a strong solo voice to his role as Clive’s right-hand man. Mrs Newsround (Eloise Thorne) and Mrs Tyzack (Meg Lintern) were fine archetypes of town tattlers, but ones who could also dance like Beyoncé.

The town’s youth was represented by the Scooter Kids and the Kirby gang. The gang (Ella Featherstone, Ella Fairhurst, Georgie Sewell and Amelia Newton), led by a sneering, Queen-of-Mean Megs Allan, had all the qualities a good PSHE lesson would discourage. They were feral, catty, gum-chewing and brutish. The Scooter Kids (Jemima Tollworthy, Harry Hight and Emma Thomas) served as a classical chorus, bookending the play with effervescent humour and a worrying revelation about Father Christmas.

The opening song claims, “They say that nothing good will ever come from our neighbourhood.” That’s clearly not the case at KES. It similarly states, “There’s no way of knowing what the future’s showing.” These four shows felt like merely the beginning, for POP! The Musical. Encore!

 

Review kindly provided by Mr Kean, KES English department.

A gallery of images from the show is available to view here.

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