West Side Story
Beth Steer writes: From the opening notes of the prologue, Rebecca Clark’s production of West Side Story crackles into life with an intensity and a fierce energy that kept the audience enthralled. The rivalry between the Sharks and the Jets is played out through Lisa Elkins’ hugely effective choreography and the breathtaking parkour sequences that demonstrate both the physical skill and emotional range of the cast.
The two warring factions are led through the increasingly chaotic turf war by Riff (in a mature and sensitive performance by Chaz Maddison) and Bernardo (Louis Verschoyle bristling with energy and frustration) who are both outstanding as two young men trying to protect their gangs and families whilst maintaining their reputations. It is in the group scenes such as the dance and the fight that this production really comes alive with the ensemble cast, and particularly Max Heil as Action, perfectly capturing the energy and tension of Bernstein and Sondheim’s classic musical.
It is into this frenzied environment that the doomed lovers Tony and Maria step. Their perfectly judged performances provide moments of calm and stillness as all around them crumbles. Sassy Hammersley’s Maria is beautifully naive and a perfect match for Vincent Moisy’s quiet confidence and charm. Both leads put in impressive vocal performances (ably backed by the orchestra under Alex Tester’s musical direction) and take the audience with them on every step of their journey from excited new love to destructive rage and heartbreaking grief.
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this is ultimately a play about relationships and it is the bonds between the characters – be they friends, relatives or rivals – that gives this production such heart. The agony felt by Tony as he is torn between his old friendships and his new love, and Maria’s touching insistence that love can overcome division, left the audience deeply moved. Some of the most heartfelt moments in the production are those between Maria and her confidante Anita (played by Chrissy Kirkham) who strikes the perfect balance between her character’s funny and feisty turn in the first act and her grief-stricken rage in the second.
West Side Story is a huge undertaking for any group of pupils and this production draws out the timeless themes of poverty, immigration, identity, isolation and community with skill and sensitivity. The entire cast and crew deserve to be immensely proud of this production that fizzes with energy and heart from the first second to the final bow.