School Days & Matilda Jr

September 11, 2022 | By More

School Days: ★★★★★     Outrageously good
Matilda Jr: ★★★☆☆      Rebellious

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 7 – Sat 10 Sept 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The LYAMC are back where they belong: on stage at the Church Hill Theatre in a double bill combining a portmanteau concert with the junior version of the musical of Roald Dhal’s Matilda.

It is very much a show of two halves. The first allowing many individuals to show off their musical chops, amidst a few larger company numbers, the second a break-neck ride through a show that is always a bit sketched in, but which has more big ensemble numbers and a few main roles.

The cast of School Days. Pic: Ric Brannan.

The first half, loosely themed around School Days, really was on the ball. It showed a company that contains an almost ridiculous level of talent. LYAMC is not as good as this by right, however. It wreaks of hard endeavour.

The creatives behind the show, artistic director Malcolm J Burnett, assistant director Lisa Fleming, MD Lou Everett and choreographer Emma Clarkson must be applauded for the decisions they have taken in pairing the soloists up with different numbers, but the talent on stage is “all the artists own”.

Where to start with the first half? The delicate duet between Hannah Kelly and Katie Hardie in Dance With You from The Prom? Ru MaKay’s commanding Children Will Listen from Into the Woods? A show-stopping Hopelessly Devoted to You from Grease by Sophie Watt?

All are burnished to a point that would please a professional adult company, let alone an amateur youth performers.

delightfully winsome

It just gets better though. Ava Smith gives a delightfully winsome account of If I Met Myself Again from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, with a completely mesmerising ballet-based trio from Bobby Duncan, Alyssa Taylor and Ellie Henderson, adding immensely to the meaning of the number.

There is even more emotion from Emilia Moone for Ring of Keys from Fun Home, before Lewis Boyd and the full company return to Dear Evan Hansen – from which Megan MacLean, En-yi Lee and Kieran Burnett had already performed a delightful Requiem – for an emotional Waving Through a Window.

Saving the best for last, however, is always a good trick. Dean Gray gets the big, iconic This is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde. It certainly is the moment. His opening has you on the front edge of your seat in anticipation before pushing right back with an exhilarating climax that displays emotional understanding and technical ability.

The company’s signature number, Beautiful Dreamer from Kids from Fame and the entirely appropriate post lockdown response of All In This Together from High School Musical, round out the half.

Mija Cibuka as Miss Honey and Bobby Duncan as Miss Trunchbull with the cast of school children. Pic: Ric Brannan.

Following such a magnificent opening half was always going to be a hard task and Matilda suffers somewhat as a result. That, and maybe reviewing at the Saturday matinee, when everyone is looking forward to the big Saturday night finale.

Not that there was any holding back for anyone, let alone the main characters. Alice McAslan is a spiky, strong-willed presence in the title role, owning her numbers and commanding the stage whether with her scumbag parents, standing up to Miss Trunchbull or telling stories to the librarian, Mrs Phelps.

April McLeod and Joseph Coane are magnificent classic Roald Dahl parents as Mrs and Mr Wormwood, Lahndan accents to the fore, with Bobby Duncan a properly menacing Mrs Trunchbull and Mija Cibuka creating the most complex of the characters as unfortunate teacher Mrs Honey.

The issue is pace. At times, so hurried that understanding of what is going could be clearer. Notably in Matilda’s tragic tale of the Escapologist (Corin Wake) and his wife the Acrobat (Robyn Lund), which in some ways Matilda uses to vent the frustrations of her own life.

There is no faulting the kids chorus of privileged class mates, however. Numbers like the opening Miracle with their doting parents and the big finale Revolting Children stand out. While the storytelling in the likes of Chokey Chant, Bruce and The Smell of Rebellion is excellent.

Given the 55-strong cast on stage, there is an understandably minimal set for the whole piece, a few furnishings for the Wormwood home being the most of it. Which is more than compensated for with Scott Davidson’s lighting. And also makes you wonder at the work going on back stage with costumes, radio mics and all to ensure it flows as easily as it does.

All told a great piece of entertainment from a company of youngsters who it feels a privilege to watch at this stage in their performance careers and who, undoubtedly, what ever path they take, we will be doing so for some years to come.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre,
Wednesday 7 to Saturday 10 September 2022.
Daily: 7.30pm. Sat Mat: 2.30pm.
Run ended.

LYAMC facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lyamc
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lyamc/

Alice McAslan as Matilda. Pic: Ric Brannan.

ENDS

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