Hastleons, White Rock Theatre, Hastings, 18 October 2017
Resisting the urge to pull on the leg warmers and lycra I joined the audience for an entertaining and uplifting evening courtesy of the Hastleons . The show is based on the film, rather than the television series that many of us grew up with. Consequently I found that early on I was mentally renaming some of the characters to fit with the ones in my memory. However, I soon found I no longer needed to do so as every character, without exception, was played with such conviction. The nature of the show – charting the progress of a group of students at the New York School for Performing Arts – calls for a particularly youthful cast with just a few parts for the longer established members as the school’s staff. Interactions between staff and students were realistic, with differing relationships just as in any school setting.
This is very much a song and dance show and, as well as some outstanding individual performances, I was most struck by the ensemble numbers. The choreography was very reminiscent of dance from the ‘80s – and gave opportunities for the characters to play to their strengths as well as allowing some characters to be less proficient – just as would be the case where students with a specialism are encouraged/forced to take part in disciplines in which they don’t really shine. (I speak from my own college experience!) The energy and interaction between all of the cast in these numbers was wonderful. So much work must have gone into this and it really paid off.
It is difficult to single out individual performances but I was particularly struck by the young leads Nathan McDonald (Nick Piazza), with the lovely I want to make magic and with his convincing theatrical leanings, and Robyn Nash (Serena Katz) in Let’s play a love scene and her feisty angst. Kenny Giles worked well as the class clown Joe Vegas and the larger than life (but really rather fragile) Carmen Diaz was brilliantly portrayed by Vanessa King. Amanda Porter (Mabel) surprised us all with her fabulous gospel rendition of Mabel’s Prayer. Thomas Nichols’ portrayal of the troubled but finally redeemed Tyrone Jackson worked extremely well – at times full of fire and anger, and at other times quietly resolute. Rapping can be a difficult task but he did it with force and conviction. Tom Golby’s Schlomo was a very endearing character, pulling off another difficult trick, synching his “piano playing” to the band and his attitude at the piano being very convincing.
There were moments in virtually every dance where individuals were doing amazing things. Just as in an Aardman animation these little background details make all the difference but are often passed over without much comment.
The use of a live band enhances a production so much. The small group of musicians under the direction of Clare Adams, were superb, producing a wide range of sounds and styles, in often up-tempo and complex sounding arrangements. The singing of members of the company was often intricate with solo lines and harmonies appearing from all directions in a fluid and natural way.
A production such as this involves so much time, talent and commitment from those on stage but also from all who have worked behind the scenes and during a long period of preparation. I always enjoy a good musical but how much more enjoyable when it is by a local company, and particularly when so much well established and newly emerging talent is on show. Please support future productions. We will miss them if they disappear.