Let’s hear it for the kids

Duchess's High School Back to the 80's at Alnwick Playhouse.
Duchess's High School Back to the 80's at Alnwick Playhouse.

REVIEW: Back To The ‘80s, Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick, at Alnwick Playhouse (last night, this afternoon and evening, tomorrow evening)

It was the decade that brought us the Rubik’s Cube, My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shoulder pads, leg warmers, Madonna and Kajagoogoo.

And, of course, who could forget Rick Astley?

The ‘80s spawned some iconic tracks and some pretty awful ones!

The youngsters of Duchess’s Community High School took those of us ancient enough to remember on a journey through the era’s culture, fashion, movies and music.

It was the perfect vehicle to show off their many talents - be it acting, singing, dancing or playing music.

Last night’s performance enticed the Alnwick Playhouse audience to clap and sing along and earned a raptuous standing ovation.

In fact, on the strength of the first night, I wanted to go back to see it again but both tonight and tomorrow evening’s shows are sold out and only a handful of tickets are left for this afternoon’s matinee.

The story is of the final year at American college, William Ocean High, seen through the eyes of Corey Palmer, now in his 30s.

He was played by the dynamic, charismatic Barney Healy-Smith, one of the finest actors the school has produced, and, in later years, by Matthew Walton, who narrated with clarity and purpose.

Corey takes a shine to the girl next door, cool Tiffany Houston (Hannah Lamb smashed the lead female role).

But Tiffany has captured the heart of dishy college football captain Michael Feldman (the excellent Tyler Angus), who is uber-popular and hot favourite to win the student presidential election. He is up against Corey and prize geek Feargal Bobby McFerrin III, a scientist who crazily believes CDs will revolutionise the music scene and mobile phones will become commonplace (Rob Shilton gave a marvellously comic portrayal that won over an enthusiastic auditorium).

Enter college newcomer Eileen Reagan (Amy Barrett was simply amazing as Eileen, oozing confidence, stage presence and a fantastic singing voice). Her arrival sparks a love triangle, with the dastardly Feldman at the heart of it.

In the end, he gets his comeuppance and the good guys get the girls.

It is a musical full of cheesy campness, predictable one-liners, copious hilarious references to lyrics from ‘80s numbers, delivered, I must say, with aplomb, New Romantic big hair and, of course, those iconic tunes. You find yourself trying to guess the next song.

From the rousing opener – Kim Wilde’s Kids in America – to the megamix of tunes to close the spectacular show, the singing and dance routines were slick and seamless. I had a great time - and, sadly, it brought back lots of memories!

While the key cast members played their role in making this an exceptional theatrical experience, their running mates in the student election also shone.

Kirsty Hensleigh, a stage natural who gave a magnetic, flawless performance, and Abbie Donaldson were convincing and funny in mad Feargal’s clan. The threesome’s version of Video Killed the Radio Star would have stolen any show, professional or amateur.

Twins Mel Easton and Kim Easton (Mel & Kim, geddit?) were played with giggly, tippy-toed, swooning excitement by Annie Davison and Georgia Robson - hilarious. And their rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, with Hannah and Jane Henderson (who played in-love-with-herself cheerleader Cyndi Gibson) received the first big cheer of the night.

Harry Brierley and Jordan Shiel (as Alf Bueller and Kirk Keaton) were great foils for Barney’s Corey and were responsible for another top moment - the much-anticipated Come On Eileen, sung, surprisingly, a cappella.

Feldmann’s bad boys had attitude thanks to Benjamin Kinloch, Daniel Thomassen and Fynn Riseborough.

Kieran Renner and Lindsay Manion gave the show authority as two teachers who fall in and out of love. Their version of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror was probably the absolute high point of the musical for me - in a show full of highlights. They voices were assured and heartfelt in a difficult song to pull off.

And this cast had one of the strongest choruses you’ll ever see. Anna Tucker and Kiya Bowers sang Glory of Love beautifully with Harry as the rest of the cast played out a fight scene from the Star Wars series.

Another great number - We Are the World (originally America’s Live Aid song) - kicked off the second act, when members of the chorus were given a chance to shine as soloists. They were amazing.

The 10-strong band and other members of the crew should also stand up and take a bow for a first-class production.

When the original Playhouse trustees came up with the idea for a community theatre more than 20 years ago and fought so hard to achieve it, they could only have dreamed of nights like this. Duchess’s High School, you’ve done them, Alnwick and the rest of north Northumberland proud. Well done!

* Full review and more pictures in next week’s Northumberland Gazette.