Money’s tight right now and when school budgets get squeezed something has to give. And what gives tends to be non-core activities like music, dance and drama. It’s understandable but short-sighted. British performing arts are (still) world-class and contribute big bucks to our economy. Cutting off the supply at source is like serving up the golden goose for Christmas.
And so community-based youth theatre is as important as ever, providing the opportunity for kids to get stuck in – everyone welcome, no one excluded. It takes guts and bravado to step on a stage and strut your stuff in front of a bunch of strangers, especially for the first time. But the rewards – building confidence and learning new skills – can last a lifetime. And, once in a while, a star is born.
That’s why we love a bit of am dram and, if it involves people we know, we love it more. That’s as it was when we took our seats for Annie, performed by the Fisher Youth Theatre Group based at the rather cute Fisher Theatre in pretty little Bungay. Well done to fledgling starlets Eva and Jas; your elegant armography was good enough for Strictly Come Dancing. I was teary-eyed at the end.
As dedicated friends of Dorothy, it’s been a long old slog along the yellow brick road back to Oz. Two years later than planned because of COVID, we finally arrived at the Emerald City (AKA Langley School) courtesy of the Funky Theatre Company. It was well worth the trip – a joyful gig packed to the rafters with energy and enthusiasm. Full marks to wardrobe for the incredible costumes. And to the set designers who gave us a stage full of richness. From the first scene to the last, the show was non-stop magic – from the young and not so young, the leads and the ensemble. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces treading the boards and giving us their all. Who knew there was so much talent in this little corner of Norfolk?
A special shout out must go to Karen Peck, who stepped in at the last minute to play the Wicked Witch of the West. Way to go, my pretty!
Another year passes, another joint birthday to mark. These days we prefer doing rather than giving so this year we decided to do a bit more of London by taking in a big wheel, a few sharks and a West End show. First up was the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on London’s South Bank and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the land. I’ve ridden the Eye a couple of times before but, remarkably, this was Liam’s first ever flight. He loved it and I’d forgotten just how good it is. Our weather is predictably unpredictable and it was a bit overcast when we joined the international queue. But as our pod slowly glided above the city skyline, the clouds parted giving us an almost picture-perfect panorama. It’s not called the London Eye for nothing.
The Eye’s neighbour is old County Hall, formerly the seat of London’s government but now home to a couple of hotels and a mishmash of attractions, one of which is Sea Life at the London Aquarium. The exhibition occupies much of the basement. The shelves of dusty old archives have been replaced by bubbling tanks of sea creatures swimming about to amuse and amaze the thousands of curious gawpers who pass by each day. It was another first for Liam. And as for the platoons of over-excited school kids who overwhelmed us, I have no words.
Quite rightly, flash photography is forbidden so photo opportunities were limited but we did what we could. There really were sharks – honest.
Lastly, we took our seats for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, a song and dance show for the digital age. We slipped in just before it reached the end of its West End run. With a theme of teenage angst and anger, it’s very of the moment. While the set and staging were slick and inventive, we thought the big songs were well beyond the cast, particularly ‘Evan’ himself, which was disappointing. Still, the largely youthful crowd lapped it up and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, so what do we know? And anything that gets young bums on seats gets my vote. At least the bar was empty during the interval.
At the tender age of 12, Rob put on a full-blown Disney parade for his giggly Grandma. In dodgy wigs and improvised costumes, he gave her Ariel, Belle, Mary Poppins and Mickey Mouse while doting Dad acted as stagehand, sound technician and general props-body. It didn’t go well.
As much as I dislike the whole ‘we’re all queer, now’ thing, I jumped at the chance to see My Son’s a Queer, written and performed by Rob Madge at Norwich’s trendy Playhouse Theatre. It’s received some spectacular reviews, selling out at London’s off-West End Turbine Theatre in 2021 and taking the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe by storm. It’s currently on national tour before heading to yer actual West End this October. We saw the single-handed touring version and it was glorious – a fabulous autobiographical tale of Rob’s upbringing as a Disney-obsessed, uber-flamboyant child delivered in words, music and old family videos.
Just an everyday ordinary family with an everyday extra-ordinary child; the love – and sometimes the exasperation – shone brightly through those old movies. Despite the teachers, the bullies and the rejection, Rob stuck by his sequins and, thanks to Rob’s courage and loving family, proved beyond doubt that home is where the heart is. This isn’t always the case for the child who’s just a little bit different. We laughed a lot, we cried a bit, we jumped to our feet at the end. The simple answer to the question but what can you do? to parents everywhere is just roll with it; it will bring you endless joy.
We just can’t wait to get back into the theatre – we’ve a glittering chorus of touring musicals queued up – from the modern: Six, Waitress, The Book of Mormon to the classics: Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Sound of Music. Few trades have suffered from COVID more than the performing arts. The only sure way to get bums back on seats and keep them there is for everyone to get the jab. And yet there are still some twats out there who won’t get vaccinated because they’d rather fall for the total crap swilling around social media than listen to those who really know what’s what.
A case in point is the music video commissioned by the Official London Theatre (the umbrella organisation for London’s West End theatreland) which features a host of names encouraging vaccine take-up. I love it because it’s a spoof of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ number from Sweet Charity, one of my all-time favourites. Like everything else these days, the video’s on YouTube. Depressingly, the barrage of fake ‘outrage’ from the trolls is staggering.
So I have two messages – the first to the refuseniks…
Do us all a favour, stop being a wanker and get the bloody jab because it’s the right thing to do.
And the second to those running the show…
Do us all a favour, share the vaccine with those in the world who can’t afford it because it’s the right thing to do and because until we’re all protected, none of us are.