Tuesday 31 May 2022

School of Rock

 Curve, Leicester

30th May, 2022


‘Do it just as loudly as you can

Stick it to the man!’


School of Rock presents the recipe for a perfect 21st Century family musical. A simple story with likeable characters and a heart-warming message, played out to a soundtrack of bombastic, foot-tapping tunes. I’ve previously described it as being as if Matilda and Rock of Ages have been chucked in a blender, and the result is just as electric as you’d imagine. It’s no wonder then, that School of Rock has provided Andrew Lloyd Webber with that elusive, bankable ‘hit’ he’s been seeking for the past couple of decades.

If you’ve seen the 2003 film the musical is pretty familiar fare which sticks closely to the source material, which is a plus, as Julian Fellows’s book succeeds in its modest structure which lets the laugh out loud humour and touching moments of sentiment shine. Among the most enjoyable scenes are those taking place in the classroom. The chemistry and interplay between lovable loser turned substitute teacher, Dewey Finn, and the straight-laced kids of Horace Green prep school is sharp, often surprising and genuinely funny. The kids’ backstories are further developed by Fellows, leading to the incredibly sweet ‘If Only You Would Listen’; a plea for acceptance from parents that either can’t or won’t have time for their children’s growing independence and desire for connection.

Lloyd Webber’s songs (with lyrics by Glenn Slater) fit well alongside the existing songs from the film (‘School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet)’; ‘In the End of Time’). ‘You’re In The Band’ is a rocking sequence, showcasing the kids’ individual talents with gleeful enthusiasm, while the eleven o’clock number, ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ gets the balance between elegy and pastiche just right, humanising the stuffy Head Teacher, Miss Mullins. But the standout number is the anarchic anthem, ‘Stick It To The Man’, children and adults alike can’t help but want to be up on that stage with the band, ‘kicking ass’! The song is a thunderous wall of sound and the rebellious message has unsurprisingly become the global motif for the show.

The cast work their socks off; the talent displayed by the young actors is undeniably impressive – quadruple threats at the age of 10! – and the thrilling live music elevates the musical further by recreating the buzzing atmosphere of a rock concert. The children also display impeccable comic timing, the young actors playing Billy and Lawrence in particular are absolute scene stealers. Rebecca Lock is endearing as the high-strung Miss Mullins, her voice soaring whether singing in crystalline soprano or belting out a power ballad. Jake Sharp gives a star-making performance as big kid, Dewey Finn, endowing the role with charisma and wit while avoiding turning the part into a Jack Black impersonation. Sharp’s relentless energy and palpable joy really hold the show together, and his searing vocals are authentically rock’n’roll.

School of Rock is the feel-good musical that we need right now, and it was lovely to see such a varied audience on a Monday evening at Curve. From young families to veteran rockers sporting their favourite band tour t-shirts; Lloyd Webber, Slater and Fellows have crafted a musical for everyone to enjoy. The message conferring the transformative benefits of musical and artistic education is a very worthy one, but that aside, School of Rock is simply a rollicking, gleeful night of fun!

School of Rock plays at Curve, Leicester until 4th June 2022.

For full tour dates please visit: https://uktour.schoolofrockthemusical.com/tour-dates/

Jake Sharp and the company of School of Rock. Credit: Paul Coltas

Tuesday 10 May 2022

The Play that Goes Wrong

 Curve, Leicester

9th May, 2022

The snow’s coming down thick

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are back again with their production of the classic thriller The Murder at Haversham Manor, which we last reviewed on tour in 2017. You’d think the society would have had a lot of time to sort their act out since then. But I’m delighted to say that, in the time that’s passed, it’s still an utterly calamitous affair: two hours of under-rehearsed amateurs upstaging each other on a dangerous set in a rickety war-horse of a play. But of course, it isn’t really! This is The Play that Goes Wrong, a farce that’s hilarious from start to set-crashing finish in which a terrible amateur drama society attempts to stage a 1920s’ murder mystery.

The Mousetrap was one of the last plays we saw before the pandemic. It was the first time my wife had seen it but she had seen The Play that Goes Wrong. I admit there were parts of it where we found ourselves holding back laughing which reminded us of The Murder at Haversham Manor. In The Play that Goes Wrong, every element of a theatrical farce is wrung to its full potential: Actors wrestle with bits of the set falling apart, doors become stuck, characters mistime their entrances and get lost in the script. Colin Burnicle is particularly impressive as the Director-cum-Inspector. He has the farceur’s knack of trying to keep everything together when it’s clearly falling apart, and is especially funny in a 10 minute side-track dealing with hecklers in the audience. Aisha Numah and Beth Lilly also play off each other really nicely as the stagey actress Sandra and the ASM who gets a taste of her limelight. Kazeem Tosin Amore is also very funny as Robert, an actor who’s love for the game is tested to the limit when forced to drink numerous glasses of white spirit and is almost crushed by furniture on a collapsing platform. But this is an ensemble piece and the whole company make it look effortless. Mischief Theatre’s original show remains an unstoppable sensation ten years on from its premiere in a pub theatre. Now a global hit and having spawned a BBC series and other Goes Wrong spin offs, this latest tour maintains its breathless energy. It’s also great to see it flourish at a time when the mid-large scale touring market is struggling.

When I first saw the West End production, I noted that what really drives the play’s momentum is the notion of carrying on, something which many amateur or student drama groups have enjoyed (perhaps endured!). In farce, no one particularly wants to be in the position that they’re in. But what makes The Play that Goes Wrong special is that, as hapless as the characters might be, they are doing it for the love of theatre. The idea of carrying on, that the show must go on, has gained new relevance in the past couple of years, and this show is all the more joyous for it!

The Play that Goes Wrong plays at Curve, Leicester, until 14th May as part of a UK tour. For further dates, please visit https://www.mischiefcomedy.com/theplaythatgoeswrong-uk-tour/uk-tour/tour-dates

Members from the original cast are returning to the production in Manchester (30th May-4th June) and Newcastle (6th-11th June).

Colin Burnicle in The Play that Goes Wrong. Credit: Robert Day