‘May you live in interesting times’: by now I’m guessing we all know the Chinese curse. Hmmm. Just how interesting does it have to be, we ask, as the curse of Covid continues to cut us off from many pleasures, including indoor live performance? But wait, here is one little silver lining: a marriage between the extraordinary talents of Performing Arts and Film Academy has brought to a screen near you a joyous 58 minutes of Hurtwood music and dance. Our Time is magic. It is so, so much more than a filmed show, or a replacement outlet for amazing talent of all kinds. Its stylish trompe l’oeil blurs the boundaries of performance and practice, beguiling us through something of the story of Hurtwood itself, featuring elements of many former shows from over thirty years. It is something special indeed: a celebration of our abiding love affair with the abiding glamour, escapism and fun of musical theatre.
From the first flutter of ticker tape and glitter to the last sweep of the broom, we follow the hopes and dreams of youth and talent, of song and dance, of sweat and greasepaint, of comedy and tragedy. It is a glorious treat, blurring the boundaries of dull reality, offering welcome escapism, pulling us along as co-conspirators in the game, from dressing room, make-up and wigs through the red curtains and onto the hallowed stage. Lights up, we’re on. Music, glamour, perfection. Rhythm picks us up and carries us along, guided by extraordinary camerawork that seamlessly and subtly shapes the narrative, that tells the story. This really is Hurtwood, with its supercharged creativity, its shifts of mood, the movement, the collective energy, the individual dreams, the competition, the camaraderie. Enjoy it all, from the sweat of the ballet barre to the fluttering feathers and sequins, from one voice to many, from triumph to tragedy, from rejection to fame and back again, to real life.
So much talent has gone into the show that it is almost impertinent to identify specific names. However, Doug’s deft direction, Andy’s quirky touches and Nick’s underpinning work on cast recording (as well as his contented smile), Neil and Lottie’s choreography, Catherine's amazing costumes, Al’s 18 sets and Guy’s lighting shift from theatre to film, provide the substance that Luke’s editorial genius and filming techniques bring to life. Phew – sorry, but this is a truly collaborative piece of genius. In student terms, so many memorable faces and moments. Foregrounding a few: Keira Milward as Roxy in Chicago, Sam Menhinick as Seymour in Little Shop, Ben Lewis as Herod and Cameron Tweed & Chloe Britain's tap.
The talent of all our kids? Prodigious and self-evident at every turn. Stunning, and stunningly different, from glossy Hollywood tap, belting leading characters, and poignantly foregrounded ‘also-rans’, to the brilliant comic turns, this is theatre and film in very happy congruence and at its best. From the opening sequence we are never allowed to forget that this is first and foremost creative performance: from make-up to mirror, everyone is putting on a show. We are all drawn into the gentle narcissism, and whether we like it or not become both judge and judged. Which, of course, is where we are ultimately taken in a lovely mock-comic replication of our current cultural gods, the show judges.
Make up your own mind. Take a(nother?) look at Our Time. You won’t have time to be bored and you will hopefully recognise the ironic, energetic creativity and self-mockery that is Hurtwood, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously. ‘This is where we began/ Being what we can’, the belting chorus offers as we close. You bet. ‘We’re what’s happening.... Worlds to change and worlds to win.’ This is pure joyous optimistic heaven, that knows itself and refuses to apologise. Bring it on, I say, and Covid be damned.