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POP! The Musical
Wroughton Theatre, King Edward’s School
Wednesday 6th – Saturday 9th December 2017

 

When amateur casts tackle major musicals, they often hang on for dear life to something considerably bigger than they are. With Pop! The Musical, King Edward’s School mastered a truly grand design, with all the gravitas and crazy ambition of a Kevin McCloud, Channel 4, epic construction.

When you have an accomplished writer of teen fiction (Catherine Bruton), and a renowned young British composer (Mark Boden), you’re hugely fortunate as a school. The duo conceived the musical back in 2016. Eighteen months on, their progeny was unleashed upon an appreciative audience. Add a talented cast to help develop the script and songs, under the judicious eye of director, Sarah Bird, and you have a home-grown, collaboratively-owned show of talent that few schools can surpass.

Set against the backdrop of a strike-hit North-Western community, it tackles emotive issues, such as poverty, immigration and fragmented families (just a few biggies). Atop this was layered a critique of our cynical reality TV culture. The main character, Elfie, manipulatively pursues fame and prize money on ‘Pop to the Top,’ exploiting Polish pariah, Agnies, for her stunning songbird vocals, rather than offering the hand of friendship.

Elfie, Agnies and the object of both girls’ affections, Jimmy Wigmore, were played alternately by two actors. Emily Farmer’s Elfie was hilarious and heartbreaking, whilst Molly Phillips was tender and tough in equal measures. Laden with pathos, they were the beating heart of the production.

Lucy Thomas and Sophie Mayhew both illuminated proceedings as Agnies. In a dark times, their subtle sparkle made it easy to see what enamoured Jimmy Wigmore. All four sang masterfully, Agnies’ songs served with more delicate restraint, before the jaw-dropping heft of her closing number, ‘I Will Rise.’

Lorenzo Montani’s Jimmy was sweet yet mature, witty yet moving. Sascha Lee-Sekulic’s Jimmy was more overtly boyish, full of the milk of human kindness, but stoical. This gentleness contrasted starkly with Elfie’s pent-up patriarch (Alex Rodway) and flighty, man-mad matriarch (Cate De Morgan). It also further exposed the cynical televisual world, embodied by neurotic, madcap, Hunger Games-style presenters, Greg Taylor and Cecilia Toke-Nichols and by a quartet of deliciously-objectionable judges, led by Tom Harcourt (complete with scene-stealing eyebrows).

The opening song claims, “They say that nothing good will ever come from our neighbourhood.” That’s clearly not the case at KES. It similarly states, “There’s no way of knowing what the future’s showing.” These four shows felt like merely the beginning, for Pop! The Musical. Encore!

 

 

Jon Kean