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Posts Tagged ‘The British Theatre Academy’

It’s only three months since I saw newcomer Sam Tutty in the British Theatre Academy’s production of Once On This Island at Southwark Playhouse (co-incidentally, Benj Pasak & Justin Paul’s other stage show Dogfight was in the same season) and here he is starring in this enthralling Broadway transfer of a musical with the unlikley themes of teenage anxiety & depression, parenting and the irony that social media has made us more connected but lonlier. Both he and the show are extraordinary.

Evan Hansen is a troubled teenager. His parents split up when he was seven and he lives with his mum, who spends most of her time working and studying to improve her and Evan’s lives. He suffers from anxiety for which he has medication and a therapist, who has set him the task of writing letters to himself to build his confidence and self-esteem. Fellow student Connor, himself a troubled teen who uses drugs to deal with his depression, bullies Evan, stealing one of these letters. When Connor commits suicide, his parents find and misinterpret this letter, which sets Evan on a series of lies that gets out of control.

He effectively invents a friendship with Connor, and initially this has positive impact on his confidence, proving to be better therapy than therapy, and brings comfort to Connor’s parents. Even his fantasy of a relationship with Connor’s sister Zoe becomes a reality. At school it’s more surreal as a grief bandwagon begins to roll, with people who hardly knew Connor inventing friendships. It goes viral with its own hashtag #youwillbefound and Evan becomes the de facto leader, spurred on by colleagues Alana and Jared, though the latter for more cynical reasons. Throughout all of this, his mother is oblivious. Then the truth comes out…….

You rarely see an actor invest so much into a role, but Sam Tutty’s neurotic, vulnerable, emotionally raw, authentic performance captures just about every heart in the theatre. There’s another auspicious professional debut from Lucy Anderson as Zoe, a much cooler, guarded, suspicious character. Jack Loxton is great as the more worldly wise Jared who can hardly believe all this emotional stuff, Nicole Raquel Dennis delightful as Alana, fully wrapped up in it, and a fine performance from Doug Colling as Connor, who we see briefly alive, but also in Evan’s head. The parents – Lauren Ward, Rebecca McKinnis & Rupert Young – are all excellent, each having their own revelatory journey.

The design, which relies heavily on projections, is simple, facilitating an organic flow for Michael Greif’s impeccable staging. The musical theatre form suits the story because musicals are good at conveying the emotional and Steven Levenson’s book and Pasek & Paul’s music and lyrics are seamlessly conjoined and produce something even deeper, addressing serious themes delicately but with humour and heart, leading to a hopeful conclusion. I loved every moment of it and left the theatre emotionally drained but exhilarated.

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I never thought I’d see myself at a musical about cheerleading, which in my view vies with synchronised swimming as the most pointless ‘sport’. Fortunately, though it has pounds and pounds of cheese, it doesn’t take itself seriously, has it’s tongue in its cheek and it’s heart in the right place, and has a very good score. Above all though it’s a fireball of youthful energy and enthusiasm. I’m a regular at NYT, NYMT and the London colleges, so how come the British Theatre Academy haven’t been on my radar until now?

Campbell is re-assigned to Jackson, a school on the wrong side of the tracks, just after being elected Captain of Truman’s cheerleading squad. Jackson doesn’t have one any more, but it does have a dance crew, which she persuades to become a cheerleading squad. They get through regional heats to make it to the national final, but relationships are challenged along the way. Jeff (Avenue Q) Whitty’s book is, well, witty, as are the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda & Amanda Green, and there are some great songs by Hamilton’s Miranda and Tom Kitt (Broadway’s Next to Normal & High Fidelity).

Ewan Jones’ direction and choreography are thrillingly athletic, with a smattering of gymnastics, filling the Southwark Playhouse space to the brim. Designer Tom Paris doesn’t have room for an elaborate design so he’s rightly concentrated on costumes, a whole load of them, which cleverly differentiate between the two schools, as the musical styles sometimes do too. Chris Ma’s five-piece band attack the score with great gusto. Above all, though, it’s a stage full of enthusiastic, energetic young talent that takes your breath away. Lots of excellent acting, plenty of slick moves and some fine vocals.

BYA are now well and truly on my radar.

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