REVIEW: Alnwick, come on feel the noise!

Amy Barrett and Charley Anstee in Rock of Ages by Duchess's High School, Alnwick. Pictures by Will Larkin
Amy Barrett and Charley Anstee in Rock of Ages by Duchess's High School, Alnwick. Pictures by Will Larkin

Rock of Ages – Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick, at The Playhouse from Wednesday, March 2, to Saturday, March 5. ALL TICKETS SOLD

A star is born at Alnwick Playhouse this week – or more to the point, several stars are born.

Sophie Murray with protestors.

Sophie Murray with protestors.

Many of the principals in the latest Duchess’s Community High School musical have not been in the spotlight before but they truly step up to the plate and deliver.

There are some amazing performances from, among others, Sean Elliott, incredibly in his first Duchess’s production, and Daisy Hope, who is simply captivating. They herald a new era of talent to continue the finest of traditions at the school.

They are ably supported by the more seasoned performers, the likes of Cerys Williams, whose voice will blow you away, Amy Barrett, as always, so outrageously adept, and Dan Thomassen, who will have you in stitches.

And so Alnwick is set to rock to the very core with this gritty, punchy musical and some foot-stomping classics plucked from the ’80s.

Band members Jacob Crooks, Anthony Newman and Alex Rae

Band members Jacob Crooks, Anthony Newman and Alex Rae

Having been given a sneak preview at the dress rehearsal, I can guarantee, absolutely guarantee, audiences will emerge with hearts pounding with pride, buzzing about their favourite parts and singing both the signature tunes and the praises of the young performers.

A vibrant, colourful wall of noise that is the finale will consume everybody, drag them onto their feet and force their hands to clap.

Rock of Ages is an ambitious musical even for a professional outfit, but for a school group, it is courageous almost beyond belief.

There are some big, big numbers that require big, big voices and, in the main, they are up to it.

Daisy Hope

Daisy Hope

The Duchess’s High School is one of the first amateur groups in the UK to be granted the rights to perform Rock of Ages. A schools version has also been released but it doesn’t include a band score, just a backing track. That is probably an indication of just how difficult the task is.

But no challenge is too great for this school. And so a band was formed – Jacob Crooks (guitar), Anthony Newman (guitar), Issy Maxwell (keyboard), Alex Rae (bass) and Dan Lyst (drums) are pivotal to the whole piece. In fact, they have a special place at the heart of the stage and the musicians even have lines of their own.

They have been practising since October and it shows – they are slick, confident and hit the mark. Their solos are impossibly good – guitar shredding at its best from Anthony.

The plot is almost peripheral, an excuse to play, sing and dance through some great rock tunes. It’s almost a concert on its own.

Sean Elliott

Sean Elliott

The production centres on a famous rock club, The Bourbon Room, which is run by Dennis Dupree, played with swagger by Fraser Wright, and Lonnie Barnett, who is brought to life by the excellent and dependable Amy, who really lives her characters.

Barman Drew (Sean) meets small-town girl Sherrie (Daisy) and they immediately strike a chord. But throw into the mix superstar Stacey Jaxx, who is given an extreme amount of attitude by Billy Swan, a pair of German real estate investors Franz and Helga Klinemann, who want to pull down the rock joint, and a group of protestors led by Regina Spectator, and relationships become entwined and complicated.

The laughs are provided by Dan Thomassen, who has the camp, larger-than-life Franz off to a tee, and Charley Anstee, whose performance as his sidekick Helga, shows what a good character actress she is.

Sophie Murray matches her with a confident portrayal of the rallying Regina.

But it is the central pairing that will have you singing from the rooftops. Daisy is a joy – she is so at home on the stage. She has a beautiful voice and an effortless, likeable manner that suited the role perfectly.

And where has Sean been for the last few years? He is in his final year, yet has landed the lead role in his first musical. He was brilliant, both acting and belting out the rock anthems.

Dan Thomassen

Dan Thomassen

The songs will blow you away, particularly in the second half, when the big numbers are repeated in that special finale.

You’ll be blasting out Don’t Stop Believin’, Cum on Feel the Noize, Here I Go Again and The Final Countdown for the rest of the night.

My favourite, though, was Every Rose Has Its Thorn, which Cerys and Daisy begin beautifully. What a moment of theatrical magic – worth paying the ticket price for that alone.

Add a first-class chorus and some expert dancing and Rock of Ages is another hit to add to the prestigious stable of memorable shows over recent years.

The school productions are not just about the actors and musicians on stage but the whole crew behind the scenes looking after lighting, sound, costumes, set design and promotion. So much hard work has gone into producing another spectacular show – you are all a credit to the community.

Finally, teachers, take a bow – director Martin Allenby for his vision, drive and expertise; associate director Richard Lyst; musical director Susie Cochrane, who is new to the school; and choreographer Joanne Burn.

It is no surprise that this has been the fastest selling Alnwick school show to date. The reputation for utmost professionalism has gone before it and, judging by this performance, will continue long after. Well done!

CAST

Drew Boley – Sean Elliott

Sherrie Christian – Daisy Hope

Lonnie Barnett – Amy Barrett

Dennis Dupree – Fraser Wright

Stacee Jaxx – Billy Swan

Justice Charlier – Cerys Williams

Regina Spectator – Sophie Murray

Helga Klinemann – Charley Anstee

Franz Klinemann – Dan Thomassen

Sherrie’s Mother – Harriet Renner

Sherrie’s Father – Joe Bennett

Mayor – Oscar Wilson

Waitress #1 – Clarissa Lauder-Frost

Constance Sack – Ella Paul

Ja’Keith Gill – Matty Potts

CHORUS

Ethan Allan, Izzy Baker-Cresswell, Bea Barnes, Lexy Bee, Hannah Breeze, Georgia Brown, Megan Brown, Ula Campbell, Jenny Clapcott, Harry Clark-Thompson, Cora Drummond, Oscar Elliott-Selkirk, Isaac Ellis, Lucy Embleton, Michael Head, Xenia Johnson, Martin Latto, Rachael Latto, Isaac Mills, Isabell Niles, Becca Pitcher, Anna Simpson, Courtney Swain, Sarah Walker, Ben Williams

BAND

Austin ‘Fast Hand’ Troy (Guitar) – Jacob Crooks

Brian ‘Amnesia’ Guthrie (Guitar) – Anthony Newman

Missy Vox (Keyboard) – Issy Maxwell

Guy Savage (Bass) – Alex Rae

Dave ‘Snazzy’ Davis (Drums) – Dan Lyst

Guitar Tech – Aidan Hickman

THE CREW

Director – Martin Allenby; Assistant Director – Sam Murray; Musical Director – Susie Cochrane; Assistant Musical Director – Dan Lyst; Associate Director – Richard Lyst; Choreographer – Joanne Burn; Assistant Choreographer – Maya Woolfrey; Lighting – Jack Carriga, Robert Stephenson; Sound – Sam Smith, Jack Clements; Promotion and Video – Edwin Barnes, Will Larkin, Neil Hawkins; Costumes – Sarah Denton, Pip Terry, Caitlin Brown; Set Design – Lou Middleton, Ruth Brown, Richard Hay; Backstage and Set – Callum Wood, Megan Hallows, Zara Browell, Ruairi Ryan, Matilda Leng; Make-Up – Erinn Parry, Vicky Robertson, Georgia Brown, Lucy Embleton, Sally Larkin; Front of House Manager – Rosie Murton