Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Grease

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

****

Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by Michael Vivian


One of many stunning dance moments from the GSA class of 2014

The audience for Grease, on a Monday night in refined Guildford with the River Wey in near flood-like spate, may well have been more blue-rinsed than Brylcreem’d but along with the cast’s family and friends they packed out the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. There, they witnessed the GSA class of 2014 morph into the Rydell High graduates of ‘58 in this all-American tale of rites of passage that over many years and countless disco mega-mixes, has been so forcibly injected into our culture.

We know the songs and the story, so with little to surprise us in the plot it is down to the cast’s talent and the show’s production values to impress. And at times this production is truly breathtaking, never better than when the full ensemble pack the stage to execute Phyllida Crowley-Smith’s inspired dance work. If the Rydell girls sing and act, en masse, better than the boys, (which generally they do) then the lads’ movement, which was at times almost acrobatic, more than makes up for it. The agile, technical excellence that the dancers display in Grease Lightning and the show’s carnival like finale, to name but two memorable moments, suggests the jaw-dropping choreography of David Toguri in his pomp.

Like all drama school productions, the focus here is on the company rather than upon the leading characters. That being said, there are still some stand-out performances on offer. Ones to watch from this year’s graduation are Erik West, whose bespectacled square-jawed Eugene is a masterclass in akward geek and who when the Rocky Horror show is next being cast should be a nailed on Brad. Elizabeth Walker admirably tackled the challenge that is Sandy. To plausibly play the pink-clad saint-like virgin, who falls from grace to become a cigarette smoking high heeled hussy ain't easy but Walker pulls it off. Andy Owens’ Doody singing These Magic Changes was perhaps the most charismatic male vocal turn, but the truly spine-tingling performance of the night came from Ellie Ann Lowe’s take on the grizzled Rizzo. Lowe skilfully explored the layers of this brash and ballsy yet still damaged and complex character with empathy beyond her years and her solo, the not often heard “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was deeply moving in its honest intensity.

For the townsfolk of Guildford, Grease makes for a grand night out. The staging is clever, the laughs are familiar and corny and so long as the teeming Wey stays within its banks, there truly are worse things you could do than give these talented undergraduates full houses for the rest of the week.


Runs until 15th February

Photography by Mark Dean

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