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Thirsk School

& Sixth Form College

    'Back to the 80s' review

    For those of you who are nostalgic for our hit musical production, 'Back to the 80s', you can now read Mr Hollis's review. I think it's safe to say he quite enjoyed it...


    "Thirsk School and Sixth Form College’s production of ‘Back to the 80’s was huge amounts of fun to watch and, as was apparent from the extraordinary grins on the cast’s faces throughout, it was equally fun to be in. It has now become something of a school tradition that, upon entering the hall to watch a performing arts department show, you are encouraged to buy all sorts of inflatable items that enable you to rock out in an appropriate manner. Although this time I eschewed the opportunity to buy a blow up cassette player/electric guitar (last year’s are still sitting in a cupboard at home), it was clear that their presence set a joyful tone for the evening that was maintained throughout. This was a musical that demanded that you leave any boring or serious views outside, and entered with an open minded excitement about the opportunities for listening to hits from the eighties- a decade that I now believe may have received an unjustified bad press.

    Set in a US high school, the story took us through the reminiscences of Corey Palmer senior (Lewis Bendelow), as he wistfully looked back on his younger self (Alfie Dickson) and the problems he had in his final year. In many ways the plot engaged with the usual Americana of this sort of setting. The show started off with a passionate rendition of the star spangled banner and had a cast of bullying football jocks, cheerleading prom dates and hardworking geeks getting the upper hand in the end. So far so normal for a high school musical production. However, what made this show for me was how gloriously, effortlessly and comically English it all was. In the programme notes there was a comment about how the cast were ‘keeping their accents’ because they ‘quite like their own voices’. Whatever the reasons for this it was, in my mind, an inspired choice, bringing out all of the self-deprecating comedy that this country seems to have become famous for. It meant that Alfie Dickson’s hopeless attempts to get a date threw brilliant shades of Hugh Grant’s awkwardness in every Richard Curtis film there has been. It meant that Andre Vasconcelos’s performance as the computer nerd turned into a exemplary copy of Richard Ayoade in the IT crowd, and that Jess Coate’s materialistic Cyndi Gibson became a pantomime villain version of Cruella Devil. Comedy was a huge part of the success of this show and the whole cast made the script come alive- sometimes with cultural references that it was clear that the audience understood more than them. In the Star Wars dream section I almost fell of my chair I was laughing so much. In particular Mia Nichols, Lucy Barr and Jacob Fairweather were funny every time they opened their mouths. Tom Ward was funny even when he wasn’t talking, and his dance moves deserve an extra special mention for charismatic self abandonment. I think every member of the audience found themselves wishing that they had moves like him.

    Beyond the laughter there was strong acting throughout. Wilf Tomlinson and Poppy Moore carried a slightly more serious part of the plot about adult relationships and did so with maturity and presence. Oona Webster Jones was pitch perfect in her singing and acting as Tiffany Houston, the female lead. She has considerable stage presence and a lot of potential for further serious roles in the future. Alex Gardiner oozed menace as the jock bully, Michael Feldman, and I enjoyed the west side story-esque rivalry between his gang, and the group of lads who hung around with Corey Palmer. Alfie Dickson has consistently played lead roles in school productions in every year I have been at Thirsk. He has a lovely baritone voice and a great sense of timing with his line delivery.

    Because of the generation that I am from I really should love the eighties. However, until coming to this production, I think that its music had kind of passed me by. That is certainly no longer the case. I think I enjoyed every song, and indeed found myself almost singing along to some of them. Musically this production was a triumph. The band was spot on, and there was some excellent singing of some complex and challenging pieces. In particular Oona and Alfie stood out for the range and tone of their voices, but there were no weak links here and it was evident that everybody was hugely enjoying themselves belting out these classics. One noticeable singer to watch in the future is Madi Banthorpe, who came forward for ‘Lost in your eyes’ and sang with a presence that belies her years. She has some serious potential.

    School musicals are evidently fun to be in. This was a big ensemble cast who had given up hours of their spare time to do this, but speaking to any of them in the aftermath of the show it was obvious that it had been worth every second. As a group of young people there has been a buzz throughout the build up to this production and it was clear, looking on stage, that some of our best performing students in the classroom were also those who were dedicating their time to extra-curricular activities like this. As a school we should be so grateful to Mrs Stimson and Mr Pierce Williams for their extraordinary effort in putting this together. It was clear that they had quite literally given the students the ‘time of their lives.’ As I drove home I found myself rooting through my CD collection to see what I could possibly listen to that would keep the atmosphere of this musical going. It has been a long time since I found myself singing along to a Madonna song in the car, but the power and joy of this musical made that happen. Thank you so much to everybody who was involved."