Perins Youth Theatre – Stunning
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REVIEW: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – Perins Youth Theatre, Perins School Hall, Alresford (by arrangement with THE REALLY USEFUL THEATRE GROUP LTD) – 14 July 2016. Review and interviews by Kevin Gover (interviews with cast and crew below via Soundcloud)
There are school productions. There are school productions on another level. There are school productions on another level that are completely off the scale. This is one of those shows. Tonight, I witnessed the greatest school production that I have ever seen. End of.
Of course, I could end this review there and then. However, I feel that it’s only fair to tell you why I feel that way. I have no vested interest in the school; I have no relatives or family at Perins, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never even been to see a show at Perins until today. But this is one of those shows that in the future you’re going to say to other people: “I saw that one” – and you’ll start smiling to yourself. I’m smiling right now as I write this review.
Before I got to the school, I had many things going round my head: “How are they going to do this in the school hall? How are they going to do the chandelier bit? How are they going to do the boat? The murders?” I need not have worried at all.
The first – and very clever move – was to put the audience in three sections down the three walls to the sides and opposite the stage – and then have a huge performing area right in the middle. There were then two further blocks leading up to the stage. Effectively it gave four levels of performance area for the 100 cast members AND a further section behind the main stage for the chorus, as well as the opportunity to rack people almost right up to the ceiling (production team – how did you do that? It was quite brilliant!).
So, although I had a front row seat, I was still some distance from the main stage – but it didn’t matter at all. As you will see from the photo below, a lot of the action takes place on the floor of the hall – as well as on the three other levels. Characters come in and out from both the front and from behind you – technically a triumph. And there’s an orchestra pit on the main stage too!
Thanks to M3 Technology, the lifting and crashing of the chandelier is also a triumph. Indeed, as Production Designer James Mitchell told me, it involved drilling holes in the school roof to put up the rig: “As soon as we knew we were doing ‘Phantom’ we also knew that we just had to do it properly – to fly the chandelier and crash it on to the stage. It has lights and pyrotechnics inside as well as the swinging movement, and I’m really pleased with the result.”
And then – there’s the cast. Wow. Every single cast member should be proud of what they have achieved, from the principal company members to ALL the dancers and chorus. The main casting though is genius.
Sasha Wells is a splendid ‘Madame Giry’, keeping her straight face throughout as the concierge – and the woman who must be obeyed by the opera performers. She told me it wasn’t easy all the time though: “I have to think of a sad thing in my head to keep a straight face which is really depressing. Then I see a member of my family in the audience and I start smiling and have to stop!” Director Marilitsa Alexiou thinks she’s putting herself down too much though: “I told her many times she IS the perfect Madame Giry. She’s completely committed to the role. When you walk past me I get a chill! You are totally in character!” In fact, they were lucky to receive a workshop visit from Joanna Strand who plays Mme Giry at Her Majesty’s Theatre – something which Sasha describes as “inspiring”. “She really explained to me how to keep the solemn look, how to move around the stage, and how I should react to other characters.”
Sam Booth and Josh Taylor – what a double act (Sam, what a voice, what perfect pitch on those high notes, and Josh you made us all laugh for all the right reasons). Sam told us how the man-plays-woman role works: “Yes, I play Carlotta the opera singer. The FEMALE opera singer! It’s just so much fun, to play the opposite of everything I am.”
You will be so impressed with Toby Cooper, who plays the Phantom. What a voice. Close your eyes and you could be in the West End. Both he and Sophie Jarrett (Christine) dominate the stage in so many ways at so many times. All these interviews are carried out just a few minutes after the show ends and Sophie says she’s still buzzing: “I am SO buzzing and there’s still another three shows to go! But yes, it’s amazing. It’s been hard and stressful too, but amazing.”
On top of all this, there are the many beautiful sparkling costumes, fantastic choreography (Georgina Jarrett and Ellie Mills), superb lighting and sound (well done on those radio mics), a solid performance from the members of the orchestra (some of them are only 12 years old) and amazing props right down to the monkey.
You may think I’m getting carried away here, but I didn’t hear a single duff note from the singers – they all remembered their lines and it was all carried out with so much conviction.
At the London show, I remember that you could hear a pin drop throughout most of Act 2 – it happened at Perins as well. What I didn’t see in London was a spontaneous standing ovation. Maddi Thomas (Meg Giry) was with us for the interviews after the show as well, still visibly shaking: “I’m so going to miss this when it’s over. We’ve had a standing ovation every night, and I’m now expecting it every night, it’s just insane!”
Perins, you can be very proud of your entire team. They’re pupils, but they’re also young adults. I’ve participated in loads of school productions myself, but never anything like this. As I said earlier, off the scale.
By the way – here’s a message to Head Teacher Steve Jones: I think it’s time you built that theatre now. Winchester Today will be with you all the way.
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Images: Leela Bennett