After a blip last year (cf Review of 2014) the Youth Theatre makes a triumphant return to the newly refurbished main house with a brand new adaption of Dodie Smith’s iconic children’s book by Bryony Lavery. (Co-author of this year’s National Theatre Christmas offering Treasure Island)
The team of Lavey, producer Dale Rooks, composer Matthew Scott and Designer Andrew D Edwards have combined to produce some real seasonal magic to delight audiences of all ages. The look and feel of the show is almost comic book. The set is simple and ingenious and is beautifully lit by James Whiteside. The witty script comes in punchy little nuggets that would fit well inside speech bubbles; and the musical numbers with choreography by Mark Smith are cleverly integrated and never hold up the action.
The success of this production is down to a clever mix between the adult professionals who uphold the high production values we have come to expect from the Festival Theatre and the exuberant young cast, all one hundred and twenty-two of them. Such is the popularity of the Youth Theatre that if you need 101 Dalmatians you can have exactly that number. The unique layout of the auditorium allows characters to enter and exit from all over the house and this facility is made good use of in the show. The logistics of getting all these bodies to the right place at the right time is quite something and credit must go to the unseen SMs and backstage runners who make this happen.
Many of the young company are making their debuts in this production, and they know that if they stick with it and work hard, they will graduate to more substantial roles as they get older.
And the stars this year? Cruella De Vil is, of course, a gift of a part. It is shared between Poppy Crawford and, at the performance I attended, Charlie Daniels who made the most of it – she can certainly belt out a song. Fred Davis and Romina Hytten were very convincing as bi-lingual Pongo and Missis (Human and barking). Also outstanding were Ellie Bulpert as Cook, Ed Waller as Butler and Beth Cave as Perdita.