Previous school productions include the following:
School of Rock
'Holes' At The Edinburgh Fringe
This was Cheam School’s inaugural trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It began, as tours often do, with an intensive three days’ rehearsals at school. The show we had to take with us was in its relative infancy and had lots of ‘holes’ – excuse the pun, but the children had remembered their lines over the course of 4 weeks of holiday, so that was a bonus! By the end of the third day of rehearsal, and with a reasonable dress-rehearsal under our belts, the group headed into the weekend in good spirits, nervous at the huge adventure ahead of us and yet hugely buoyed by the knowledge that we potentially had a super show to share at Edinburgh Fringe: the world’s biggest Arts festival.
The team met at Newbury station early on the Sunday morning, all sporting their newly acquired ‘Holes T-Shirts’, and after a long train journey, a short tube and a brief cab ride, we had arrived in the capital city of Scotland.
The arrival up the long drive of Fettes College, our accommodation for the week, was quite breath taking and our vista for the next 7 days was one we never tired of – our very own Hogwarts… By the end of the day we were all shattered, but also eagerly anticipating the follow day’s first performance…
An early start of 06.00 for George Chancellor and his technical crew, whilst the thespians got their beauty sleep, meant that by the time the cast arrived at C-Venue, our performance space for the week, all the technical aspects of the show were prepared and ready for the first performance of ‘Holes’. At 11.50, 10 minutes before the scheduled start time for the show, the cast entered the performance space for the first time. A ‘pre-doors opening’ 70 tickets had been sold and though we knew some were parents and friends, we also knew that the lion’s share were not. The public had come to see the show from promotion only. No pressure there then? At £7.50 a ticket they had the right to complain, walk out or just hate it.
65 minutes later, at 12.56 precisely, the 1st Show ended and there was a buzz about the place that we all became increasingly accustomed to as the week went on. It had gone well! It had gone really well! The parents that saw it were full of beans, the children were alive with the adrenaline rush that comes from these sorts of fixes, and we were up and away.
After the performance we left mums and dads, and headed out to the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s busy hot spot for advertising at the Fringe, to sell our show-an important part of the experience and one which we would become very successful at as the week progressed. Following on from the ‘manic Mile’ the cast went to see their first show of the tour ‘Leaf by Niggle’. It was at this point in the day that the 06.00 start to the day proved a little too much for both George and a certain member of staff, who won’t be named, as they couldn’t help but nodding off during this beautifully poignant and sentimental journey of discovery through a man’s life, which most thoroughly enjoyed.
For the majority, this began the regular pattern for the week: breakfast, a noisy song filled Karaoke journey on the bus to the venue, our performance, quick lunch break and then engrossing oneself into the wonders that the Fringe has to offer. And the Cheam Team really did make the most of what the Fringe has to offer: from the thrills and breath-taking dynamism of the Canadian Circus, to the hysterical Python saucy madness of The Cambridge Footlights. From the slightly macabre oddness of the brilliant masked production from Familie Floz to the downright bonkers craziness of Bunk Puppet’s ‘Tink Tank’. All in all we saw 10 shows in the week! It was a week’s journey of discovery for all of us. A journey that certainly will have changed the children’s lives forever.
The children lived, breathed and loved every show. Animated discussions on the way home in taxis or on the school bus rarely strayed from the narrations that they had just seen or the skills that they had just observed. We shared many hours together and this will be the lasting memory of the tour. We all felt the energy of each our six performances of Holes. We all experienced the buzz of promoting our play with complete strangers. We all saw with our own eyes the diverse and wonderful brilliance of what the world offered by Edinburgh’s Fringe has to offer in Live Theatre.
What a bond we all shared over this exhausting week. What a great tribute to the bond we all have shared under the cloak of Cheam School. For most of this party a bond that now has ended as they head on to their Senior Schools. Ended but not forgotten. Forever shared between us all. Omnia Caritatae never more obvious than on this, the 1st Cheam Tour to Edinburg’s Fringe Festival. What a wonderful way to end these Cheamite’s careers and a wonderful way to spend some of the holidays!
CATS REVIEW – What a send off!
I don’t think there is a single person associated with the Spring term’s extraordinary production of Cats that doesn’t feel an incredible sense of pride and good fortune. It all began with the huge generosity of Lord Lloyd-Webber and some quite remarkable inspiration from Justin Pugsley. What an incredibly kind gesture it was of his Lordship to give us permission to perform his brilliant musical to Mr Pugsley’s clever script and Mr Bennett’s fabulous arrangement. Who knew how many lead roles could be squeezed into one show and how lucky and proud Mr & Mrs J must have felt to watch this fabulous tribute. There were more than a few hankies at the ready for the final performance. A night where staff members and children gave every ounce of their effort to demonstrate their deep love and very great thanks to their beloved Mr & Mrs J.
Having Justin Pugsley and Tim Bennett at the helm of all things music and drama at Cheam is where this review must begin. With his clever script, Mr Pugsley ticked just about every box. It brilliantly ensured as many as possible were able to have their moment to shine, through an adaptation that delivered so much to both children and audience in terms of its educational content. The wonderful, imagined conversations between T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound, as he embarked on writing his anthology of poems on Cats, were performed fantastically by Archie Del Mar as Ezra and William Worthington as T.S. Elliot. The vocabulary was incredibly impressive and delivered impeccably by these two, who looked very comfortable swilling whisky together in their armchairs. Alongside them, James Harrison played Thomas Faber, Elliot’s godson, so convincingly he might easily have been from the Preprep had his acting not been so good.
As an audience member and parent I feel so proud of our school, our children and everyone who helped put this quite mind blowing production together. The quality of the music, acting and drama left a feeling we could probably fool outsiders into believing Cheam was in fact a performing arts school! It wasn’t just a smattering of talented children we were presented with but a whole raft of utterly amazing voices and fabulous, early blooming actors and actresses. The kittens didn’t spend a moment where they were not completely engaged in their mischief. In fact the entire cast must be congratulated on the feat of concentration it must take to remain cat-like, twitches included for the entire performance. Not a soul lost focus once and the result was a show that none of us will easily forget.
Of course, there were some stand out performances from the soloists and it was wonderful to see how lucky they all felt to have been cast in their roles. As a year 8 parent, having known most of these children for five years, I am so proud to see what they have all achieved. Lucia Imi was captivating as Victoria, the ballet cat. She is certainly a formidable triple threat now with her beautiful dancing, flawless voice and strong acting skills. Munkustrap, played by Scarlett Longfield was such a pleasure to watch too, the crystal clarity of her beautifully pure voice had us all wondering how many more children could possibly have such stunning ability. We didn’t wonder for long though because a moment later Megan Harley-Martin’s Jennyannydot was so well delivered and she continued to captivate throughout the entire show. Just when we thought the bar couldn’t possibly be raised any higher in numbers of talented children, Freya Collington, who played both Elaine Page and Grizabella, hit notes so perfectly with her strong and melodic voice we were left in no doubt we were now witnessing something very special indeed. Freya’s performance was simply stunning and knowing of her long standing love of musical theatre, how lucky she and all the children must have felt to have had the opportunity to perform to Lord Lloyd-Webber.
And so to Lord Lloyd-Webber onstage the casting of James Duffield in his role was perfect! James played the young Andrew so well and Honor Woollett as his diva choreographer, Gillian Lynne was hysterical teaching her steps to Emily Edgington’s sassy Bonnie Langford. Costumes were Charlotte Little’s incredible job with the wardrobe. What a triumph! The catsuits were painted and decorated by Madame Fortier and each wig was lovingly crafted so kindly by Charlotte. We were all completely fooled into believing a top West End costumier had been hired to dress our little darlings. Added to this we mustn’t forget to mention all the make-up artists. Again, this was not done professionally as you could well have imagined given the standard, but by all the children. I am still amazed by this as it was just fantastic and they all deserve so much praise for their amazing work behind the scenes.
The list goes on of favourites of the evening, Old Deutoronomy played by Harrison Compton-Goddard was completely convincing. All the boys on this incredible cast were a force to be reckoned with as Tom Jones, Wilf Adams and Henry Shipton clearly showed. Henry’s Asparagus in particular was completely enthralling, Wilf gave us the re-appearing Macavity and Tom did an amazing job with his Magical Mr Mistoffelees. Mungojerrie and Rumplteaser were brilliant! This was so cleverly played and expertly sung by Ned Playdell-Bouverie and Tatiana Wiggin, complete with their cockney accents and some very mischievous choreography. Yet again, extraordinary talent on display from these two and it was at this point one started to forget we were watching prep school children.
Special mentions amongst the girls though have to go to Isabelle Christian (Bombalurina) and the extremely talented Tilly Gibbens for her Electra, who introduced Maddie Power’s rascal of a Macavity to us so well. This part of the show was just flawless and their number was certainly one of the contenders for ‘song hummed most the following day’ - a litmus test of excellence in my view!
When asked to write this review I realized I would need to include our own daughter at some point. Should I play it down a bit perhaps? Not good to blow ones own trumpet too much and all that…but no! None of it! She must be sung from the highest rooftops along with everyone else included in this rave review. Yes, I am completely biased but having got towards the end of this review and thought about it for a while, I know I am in very, very strong company of extremely proud parents. So, I feel quite safe to add that Aoife Reid’s Skimbleshanks made Brian and I burst with pride. As we watched our very competent little actress take to the stage as The Railway Cat. We feel incredibly lucky she has been a part of Cheam and all it has offered her. We have watched and listened over these unforgettable few years to the many events produced by Justin and Tim, observing all these children as they have developed their talents and become stronger and stronger. How lucky we all are and I know every other parent and grandparent in the room, teachers, friends and our much loved and hugely respected Mr & Mrs J must have felt the same.
What a show, what a send off, what a great kindness by Lord Lloyd-Webber. Thank you to everyone involved and well done to each and every one of the children, from the chorus to the lighting. It will never be forgotten!
We Will Rock You
Lord of the Flies
Cheam School’s performance of William Golding’s ground breaking novel Lord of the Flies will resonate in the memory for a long time. In bringing the novel to the stage as his first play at Cheam, Director Charlie Ponder, had set himself a stiff challenge indeed.
The original premise of the novel was that in the midst of a raging war, a plane evacuating a group of schoolboys from Britain is shot down over a deserted tropical island. Two of the boys, Ralph (George Dring) and Piggy (Annabel Hannan), discover a conch shell on the beach, and Piggy realizes it could be used as a horn to summon the other boys. Once assembled, the boys set about electing a leader and devising a way to be rescued. They choose Ralph as their leader, and Ralph appoints another boy, Jack (Aoife Reid), to be in charge of the boys who will hunt food for the entire group. The fact that Mr. Ponder employed a mixed cast of boys and girls for his production added an extra chilling dimension to the story of the children’s decent into savagery.
We are transported to the island with atmospheric lighting and sound effects, vibrant and realistic costuming and a stage set complete with sand – well done the production team. The sense of brooding menace was wonderfully captured by the cast who built a level of almost unbearable tension to the scenes they enacted before us. The cast quickly impressed their characters upon us with slick exchanges of dialogue, the pace of the play being quickly set.
Before long, the choir led by Jack lose their respect for the social norms imbedded by teachers and parents, and violence, torture, and murder break out as the savage instinct replaces the instinct for civilization among the group.
The acting throughout the cast was of such a high caliber that one ceased to see them as individuals one knew but rather you came to believe they were the characters they were “pretending” to be. It was an immense effort and no one element upon the stage for one moment let you forget what you were watching.
The ending of the play is powerful in the extreme, enhanced by the tableau sculptured positioning of the performers on the stage which has been a tremendously effective technique used throughout.
Annabel Hannan’s portrayal of the much bullied Piggy, complete with well sustained accent, drew us into a character fated to be the insightful victim. From George Dring’s faultless performance as Ralph, complete with plastered broken leg (as the Headmaster quipped – some people will sacrifice anything for their art!) to the baying savagery of the choir led by a chillingly dark Aoife Reid complete with facial expressions which totally gripped, not a moment of intensity was lost by any who took to the stage. Throughout the attention to detail both in the staging and acting provided much to appreciate and savour.
Producing a school play is no easy matter and there would have been many imponderables encountered along the way! That a cast so young can come together to deliver such telling performances both individually and collectively is a reflection of both talent and direction. I congratulate all who contributed to this emotionally draining and powerful play. Your efforts would have graced any professional theatre.
What next Mr. Producer? Perhaps the holidays ahead will give you time to ponder!
Wind in the Willows
Transported through the rolling Berkshire countryside by rowing boat, horse drawn caravan, car and steam train, and accompanied by animals wild, wise, woody, headstrong and canny – that was the wonderful journey to which those fortunate enough to see the recent production of The Wind In The Willows were treated. The older children led the way, inspiring and encouraging the younger ones to get up there and be the best they could. Amazingly, over 200 people were involved in one way or another.
Brilliantly innovative special effects and projections added realistic and dramatic twists to all scenes. Each scene change was quick, exciting and extraordinarily effective. Fantastic set pieces were produced in the Maintenance and Art departments. Stunningly colourful and inspired costumes and amazing makeup were evident. All provided by so many talented and generous individuals. A musical extravaganza, the story developed swiftly with memorable choreography and many lovely solos, company songs, well-rehearsed soliloquies, quips and hilarious facial expressions.
It was a very cleverly directed production, clearly enjoyed by musicians, actors, technicians and audience alike – you honestly had to remind yourselves you were watching a school production! Led by the inimitable and brilliantly acted Mr Toad, his henchmen and woodland friends and foes, the combination of all the brilliant elements resulted in a delightful feast for the eyes. Two truly memorable and enjoyable evenings provided the children with a fun, unforgettable and enriching team experience. Judging by their ebullient confidence on stage, the hours of learning lines, rehearsals and hard work were so clearly worth it!
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The flyers for A Midsummer Night’s Dream promised groovy costumes, a psychedelic set, funky 60’s soundtrack and fab entertainment, and this show did not disappoint!
The traditional text was delivered in a swinging 60s context, backed by Hendrix and the Beach Boys, set against a palace rainbowed with lava lamps and egg chairs, and a lush glade laced with flickering lighted trees that left the audience clapping in delight and asking for a copy of the cd on the way out.
The intimate thrust staging used for the forest scenes served the young actors well and made the audience feel part of the action; and the cast obviously felt comfortable and confident up there, as we saw a wealth of acting talent which was truly outstanding. The performances were mature and assured and even funny, deftly capturing the humour of the play. Even the protestations of love were totally convincing – not usually a comfortable thing for young people to do.
Each group on stage, whether the mechanicals, the aristocracy, the fairies or the lovers, had their own distinct identity, and made fine sense of words through lively action and fearless emotion. They were hugely helped by the unbelievable costumes, each one designed and created especially for this show by Monique Fortier. It all just looked amazing. Many people worked long and hard to achieve a spectacular show which was brilliantly pulled together by the director, Suzanne Debney.
The flyers also said, “Don’t miss it!” – I’m so glad I didn’t.