Updated: Dec 6, 2022
PLAY ON indeed! This isn't just any show... it's Shakespeare meets the Hurtwood musical! If you went down to the theatre, as I did last Tuesday, a surprise awaited, as the legendary Hurtwood musical maneuvered through a critical gear change. There was something hushed in the air, even as over 60 students acquired costumes, make-up, props; many more were laying initial hands on smoke machines, lighting spots, cameras. The theatre was full of hushed excitement, the air positively vibrating with the adrenaline of professional expertise. Doug, Andy, Nick, Al, Elizabeth and Lottie (Neil having done his part has sadly gone North) were all in full tech mode. I’d been allowed in for a cheeky little pre-production peek behind the scenes of our truly seasonal treat, the one and only Hurtwood Christmas musical, even as all the strands are finally pulled together: light, sound, performance, actors. Impressive? I’ll say. The professionalism on display is off the scale, which of course I had expected; what surprised me was just how intense and broad reaching was the attention to detail, how efficiently mature and collective was the process.
Having had the privilege of seeing all but the very first production of Grease, I had never fully witnessed the skillful processes that underpin the final product. I remain bowled over by this slick team of extraordinary experts and the seamless way that they expected and achieved the highest, most professional commitment from every student involved. This was the final stage of the blood, sweat and tears that underpins the glossy brilliance of the finished show. It was truly astonishing, especially as after reiterating all kinds of reminders, from the replacement cost of personal mics (£4,000), to toilet facilities and costume protocols, there followed a kind of relentless Groundhog Day stop-and-start process, going over and over the same things. Visiting expert Stu was ‘setting the level of sound in the show’: the smallest detail being checked, noted and co-ordinated – costume, set, sound, timing. Numberless miked performers and facilitators suggest a recipe for disaster, yet the whole company was absolutely absorbed in the serious professional task, over costumes, sound, timing, lighting. No amateur team is this, not even a whisper of irritation at the endless repetition of the opening sequence. Respect.
So enough about the brilliant scaffolding. Hurtwood Theatre presents Twelfth Night: The Musical, a contemporary jazz-funk adaptation by Shaina Taub that won accolades when first staged in New York in 2018 and is now almost ready for its audience. Enter with me into a world of vibrant Mediterranean colours, sun and shady courtyards, the sound of lapping seawater, seagulls and church bells, the taverna just opening for business – a set that suggests all kinds of spaces and moods and revolutions even. Build in a crescendo of characters flirting and joking. Add more. A flurry of swirling skirts and embroidered shirts, a glorious patchwork of primary colours, frilled peasant blouses, cinched-in waists and flowers. Add some lovesick toffs, their drunken relatives and mischievous servants, and assume (always) that most of the characters are hopelessly in love with someone who in turn is hopelessly in love with someone else. Welcome to the world of misrule.
So: lights, action. Meet Duke Orsino self-indulgently commanding ‘If music be the food of love, play on’. Stand back. We’re off. Bring on the dancing boys and girls, and get ready for a brilliant modern reworking, lyrics that tell the story, fabulous choral work, amazing choreography, stunning individual and collective performances. Steady yourself for some fab jazz-funk rhythms (including the sexiest funeral procession I’ve yet seen) a storm and a shipwreck, and all this in the opening ten minutes. Here’s a play for today, surely, where boys will be girls and girls will be boys – a truthful much-loved play about love, gender, identity and all the stations in between. It’s been pulling in the crowds for hundreds of years and I reckon it’s going to please us. It’s a play for the final fling of Christmas festivities before the dull reality of January kicks in – a play where the Lord of Misrule turns everything upside down, where cross-dressing, cross-gendering and cross-gartering are the order of the day. ‘What should I do in Ilyria?’ intones Viola for the sixth consecutive time. The answer is simple: act your socks off, dress up as a boy and be prepared to fall in love with the wrong person. Mardi Gras meets Mamma Mia. Don’t fight it, just sit back and enjoy the madness. PLAY ON!
Muse also spoke to Tom Goss about his experience working on the play during rehearsal:
With the technical rehearsals fast approaching, exhaustion creeps in and the time to reflect on the magnificence of the Hurtwood musical becomes limited. How fortunate am I to be involved in such a project? Working daily with the brainbox that is Andy Johnson, whose quirks combine with Doug Quinn’s eye for a visual spectacle to create something extraordinary. Nick Larkin’s attention to detail and ability to add harmonies to a score within an instant is a testament to his skill as a musical director. Our directors encourage possibility for each and every member of the company, which creates an opportunity to turn a chorus role into a show-stealing performance. Each performance is elevated with the direction and flair of Lottie Stent and, of course, Neil Fisher. Though I will be gone by next year’s musical, I am certain our A1s will be devastated to hear that ‘Twelfth Night’ will indeed be Neil’s swan song. It’s clear that the key to success for any Hurtwood show remains to be the collaboration fostered by these individuals. In the rehearsals, our offers and ideas have been listened to by the directors creating a melting pot for creative minds and bodies. Since watching ‘Rent’ at Hurtwood in 2015, it has been an ambition of mine to be a lead in the Hurtwood musical and I am so grateful to have realised this goal alongside such a supremely talented cast.