Nov 2 2023 | By More

★★★★☆    Vibrant

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 31 Oct – Sat 4 Nov 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Smart, precise and packing more energy than the Duracell Bunny on pep pills, Allegro’s production of Grease the Musical electrifies the Church Hill Theatre where it is playing all week.

It’s a production where the focus on the froth and the hand-jive does sometimes come at the expense of the darker and more gritty elements of a musical, set amidst the burgeoning sexual tension of a bunch of teens in a working-class neighbourhood in 1959 America. The grit is still there; just not always in plain sight.

Zoe Brookes as Sandy (in yellow) with the Pink Ladies (and Eugene). Pic: Rachel Bolton.

Performance wise, there is great stuff all the way down the cast, as summer lovers Sandy and Danny unexpectedly meet up on the first day of autumn term at Rydell High. He’s too cool with his Burger Palace Boys to really acknowledge her, but the Pink Ladies, who have taken her under their wing as the new girl, know what’s going on.

Zoe Brookes as Sandy and Greg McCafferty Thomson as Danny create a strong and credible central pairing. He is clearly smitten, but just can’t let his peer group see it and keeps on snubbing her. She tries hard to fit in with the Pink Ladies, but doesn’t quite get it.

spine-tingling success

Vocally, they are beautifully matched, with only the sound balance, which too often favours the pit over the stage, undoing their duets. But their scene-setting Summer Nights, as each recounts their summer escapades to their own gangs, is a perfect, spine-tingling success. As is that famous leather-clad final number of You’re The One That I Want.

The Pink Ladies: Anna Spence, Sally Cairns, Rebecca Drever and Imogen Wright, with the Burger Palace Boys: Joe Purcell, Alasdair Davidson, Greg McCafferty Thomson, Sean Vannet and Andrew Hally. Pic: Rachel Bolton.

Between times this is a thoroughly successful exercise in balancing a huge on-stage ensemble with one of the larger groups of principals in musical theatre. Big props to director Katie Renton for wielding all those characters so well, and to choreographer Felicity Halfpenny – and her dance captains Laura Green and Stephanie Knowles – for drilling the cast to perfection. Hand jiving has never looked so exciting.

Part of Grease’s allure must surely lie in deeply engrained teen memories of attempting to look cool – and the fatal tragedy when you didn’t. The two gangs of Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies get that all down brilliantly.

frailties and humanity

Rebecca Drever is particularly strong in the key role of Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies. Her big, mocking Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee is disdain incarnate, while there is a real sense of Rizzo’s frailties and humanity as a character – particularly in her There are Worse Things I Could Do when she is giving Sandy advice.

If there is not time for everyone to create similar depth, all the actors bring what they can to their roles. Imogen Wright as wanna-be beautician Frenchy, Anna Spence as side-kick Jan and Sally Cairns as the letter writing Marty, whose boyfriend is in the navy, all hit that complex mix of naivety and blind ferocity.

Alasdair Davidson as Kenickie and the Burger Palace Boys. Pic: Rachel Bolton.

There is less subtlety to the Burger Palace Boys, just a lot more testosterone and plenty of chances to shine vocally. Alasdair Davidson as Kenickie has all the musical chops needed to lead off a memorable Greased Lightnin’, with Joe Purcell making a sympathetic Doody, as he launches into Those Magic Changes.

Andrew Hally has plenty of comedy in his bones as the put-upon Roger, who can’t quite get it together to tell Jan his feelings for her, even in Mooning. While Sean Vannet can always be relied on to provide the wrong note as wanna-be laydeez man, Sonny.

reduces the jeopardy

Where the production reduces the grit of different tribes, it makes more of what unifies the Rydell High students. So Fiona Scott’s super-keen cheer leader Patty feels less of an outcast than in some versions. While Dominic Lewis has a ball re-inventing Eugine as the Pink Ladies’ gay friend who gets to have a male partner in the Shakin’ at the High School Hop scene.

This reducing of the othering of characters does also reduce the jeopardy – even the gun in the rumble scene, brought about when Stacey Scott’s flirty Cha Cha won the hand jive competition with Danny, doesn’t have the impact it might.

Imogen Wright as Frenchy, Mark Wilson as Teen Angel and the Radio Gals (Eilidh Todd, Lyndsey McGhee and Paris Afshar) behind with the ensemble. Pic: Rachel Bolton.

Which isn’t to say that there are no notes of discord. David Bartholomew’s radio jock Vince Fontain is just as sleazy as ever, picking up Marty at the hop. Elsewhere, however, Bartholomew provides excellent service with interjections on the radio with the fantastic trio of Eilidh Todd, Lyndsey McGhee and Paris Afshar as the Radio Gals.

For the other grownups, Amy King is a properly draconian teacher, Miss Lynch, and Donald Randall is in great voice as Johnny Casino. But it is Mark Wilson who totally kills it as Teen Angel, with a full bodied take of Beauty School Drop Out which is just a joy to behold as it hits everything just right.


A nifty folding set, brought in from Scenic Projects, ably lit by George Cort, and appropriate costume design from Kate Dixon, provides a good looking platform for the consistently up-beat and vibrant 41-strong cast to strut their moves.

And that is the best thing about this whole production. An ensemble who seem to click, with that delicious combination of military precision and fluid movement. Without the former, the hand jiving would look naff, and without the latter the piece would have no soul.

No worries there, then: This is a production which has precision and soul written through its core.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre,
Tue 31 October – Saturday 4 November.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of Grease. Pic Rachel Bolton.


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