Performers complete stage marathon

Bede Academy

Wednesday, 9th November 2016

Performers complete stage marathon

ACADEMY stages most ambitious production to date.

STUDENT performers have completed a stage marathon in their academy's most ambitious production to date.

Bede Academy, in Blyth, pulled out all the stops to stage Les Misérables, considered to be among the most challenging musicals for young performers.

Having staged Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in 2013, the academy has a tradition of staging ambitious and demanding productions.

Student performers completed a stage marathon in their academy's most ambitious production to date, performing to over 1000 people in a week and receiving three standing ovations.

Set almost entirely to music, with virtually no spoken dialogue, the show required the performers to act in song, as well as to dance and carry out stage stunts during a three-night run before audiences of family and friends, and a matinee for Year 6 students. Since the show closed, the academy has been inundated with congratulations cards, emails and good will messages, comparing the show favourably with those staged by professional theatre companies.

Work began in September 2015 with auditions followed by casting, with some of the students who secured principal roles in the 42-strong cast initially underestimating the demands of the next 13 months.

Music teacher and principal pianist for the show Lauren McQuoid said: "Les Misérables is a musical of virtually constant singing so to maintain that level of concentration for so long was a huge ask. It was a tireless schedule of rehearsals with many late nights. We asked so much of the students absolutely exceeded our expectations.

"By curtain up on the first night, they had become a family; the younger students looked up to the older ones as role models, who in turn helped those who hadn't much experience of performing."

Joanna Swainston, 14, who took the lead role of Annie in last year's production at Bede Academy, played the very different character of Éponine in Les Mis.

"Annie is a happy little girl so this was very different; it was much more challenging to act and sing at the same time," she said.

For Lewis Dunsmure, 17, playing Thénardier provided an escape from studying for A levels in history, English literature and French. "He's a very happy character so took a lot of energy to play,” he said.

Lewis, whose on-stage wife Christie Wilce, 18, made her debut in Les Mis, added: “What separated us from other productions was that we didn’t have a rotating stage so I think that made what we achieved even more impressive. It demanded good stage management skills, being in the right place at the right moment; at times it was a bit like an extreme sport.”

Bede head boy Jay Robinson, 18, who took the lead role of Jean Valjean, said: "I usually play fat, comic characters so this was even more rewarding because it really tested your limits and took you out of your comfort zone."

Olivia Logan, 16, who played Fantine and is a grade six standard pop and theatre singer, said: "I've never done anything like it. It was very intense and has actually got me a lot more interested in performance."

Daniel Collins, 16, said: “Acting while you’re singing was difficult; the challenge was to find a balance so being in character didn’t put you off your notes.”

Head girl Claire Brown, 17, proved to be multi-talented actor playing at least nine different characters from a guard to a factory worker, a revolutionary to a wedding guest and even a corpse.

“I had a lot of costume changes and by the end of each performance had quite a few layers on,” she said.

Lucy Wilkinson, 14, and Adam Swalwell, 15, stepped into the breach of the main roles of Cosette and Javert after being cast in other parts initially.

Major Mark Aldridge, who has recently taken over as Head of Music, had a great challenge in his first few weeks in the Academy. He learned the score and conducted a twenty-strong band, which accompanied the on-stage performers.

The cast benefitted from five weeks of intensive acting coaching from Mrs Paula Wells, Head of Drama at Bede's sister school, Emmanuel College, in Gateshead. Mrs Wells stepped in as director; all involved agreed that her energy, enthusiasm and expertise were invaluable in getting the show on the stage.

Putting on a show of such enormous magnitude requires a huge team of staff: Bede Assistant Vice Principal Andrew Moore oversaw the production and trainee English teacher Jonathan Clarkson managed backstage; mathematics teacher Alison Tarn was choreographer and costume manager, art technician Sarah Leask organised the set and props, and audio-visual technicians Daniel Sword and Callum Kewen ran sound and lighting. Many students worked backstage to make the show a resounding success, showing maturity beyond their years and a truly impressive professionalism.

Principal Gwyneth Evans said: "The musical was an incredible team effort among staff at Bede and Mrs Wells. The hard work and commitment of the staff and students resulted in a spectacular show that will go down in Bede history.”

Now the show is over, the students have returned to 'normal' life. Jake Watson who, as Marius, was in all but around six scenes, said: "I got quite excited when I went shopping again for the first time in months!”