West Side Story

Wed 29th August – Sat 1st September 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 02:04 on 30th Aug 2012

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At a time when so much thought is put into giving opportunities to young performers, it is perverse, though perhaps not entirely surprising, that so many of our youth theatre groups seem really to patronise their members. Aspiring actors are forever being directed by drama teacher-type failed theatre people, in plays chosen for them as “just the sort of thing young people like”. RicNic is quite different. It is a theatre company in which all the work of producing, directing, design, lighting, marketing and so on, as well as the performing, is done by those from the ages of sixteen to twenty. This is the Oxford RicNic branch’s first production and their choice of Bernstein’s "West Side Story" is commendable. It is much more sophisticated, in every respect, than a lot of the musical theatre repertoire (and one of few musicals with any serious artistic merit), and it requires very capable singers and dancers.

The secondary roles are done very well. Riff (Henry McPherson) has the correct jittery, and slightly sinister, energy, Andrew Archibald’s Gladhand, who considers himself very cool and well-liked by the Jet and Shark children, gets a laugh with almost every line and gesture, and Chino (Nathan Elliot) is wonderfully greasy. The band too does its job well, it isn’t exceptional but the tuning and ensemble are good enough to support the actors, and the choreography, though nothing special, is an achievement considering it was done by a young artist for mostly untrained dancers. The leading parts however disappointed me. Will Abell, who played Tony, didn’t have a big enough voice for it, and his high B-flat in “Maria” was unsatisfying, being very untenorially in falsetto. Hannah Cross's voice was not large enough for the part of Maria.

I do not think I am unreasonable in making these slight criticisms of a young company. They are performing in a proper theatre to a paying audience and what is more deserve better than to be belittled by unconsidered praise. I should say the musical was greatly enjoyed by all of us (by some perhaps too much so – an old boy immediately in front of me was even moved to hum along to the opening of “I feel pretty”, and feel pretty he may have done but look or sound it, readers, he did not) and with I gather almost no help from anyone older than twenty this show’s very happening is to be judged favourably.

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