Let’s face it, West Side Story is the greatest musical of all time but the children of Windlesham were not allowed to be daunted by that, with the result that they managed to capture so much of the energy, the sense of conflict, the crucial dynamics of the ensemble moments and raw emotional sincerity of the piece.
The production was aided by the stark symmetry of the design, which created a frame for some superbly choreographed group scenes and also an environment for solo moments of remarkable stillness – one thinks, for example, of Toby Hollis’ Chico isolated on the rostra as the tension builds; coming at the end of a wonderfully fluid sequence of little character moments (set to the beautiful voices of Heather Burrows, Lily-Martin Jenkins, Amber Langmead and Ella Evans) his appearance was fantastically powerful.
The group songs were a great achievement. It was thrilling to see so many children performing with such a specific sense of character, focus and timing.
Equally great were some of the individual character moments. The interpretation of Maria was spot-on; she was adorable but tragically vain, and both Bella Molinaro and Alice Kramer captured this beautifully. Bella had a superbly natural quality to her reactions while Alice was technically dazzling in her very precisely rehearsed expressions and superbly pitched moments of both speech and song. Rebecca Barden and Saskia Ziv Guest were both superb Anitas, feisty and fiery but also vulnerable, especially in that intensely disturbing scene with the boys in the drugstore, which was brilliantly judged and effectively stylised, bringing a real sense of shocked silence to the audience.
All the male characters were brilliantly detailed. Watching the development of Doc was particularly poignant, as it moved from a superbly forceful young Alec Hine to a fantastically rooted Jude Neame. Robbie Owen, Alex Hicks, Beau Scrase Dickins, George Augustin, Callum Wilcox and Ed Pollard all stood out. And as for Oscar Hill as Tony, many of us would have been sitting with our hearts in our throats as he hit those soaring emotional notes.
There will have been many proud parents in that audience and our thanks must particularly be extended to Fiona Jenkins and Anthony Hutchings for giving them the opportunity to see something very special in their children.