This particular show had completely passed me by until I was asked to accompany my friends, Dawn, Jeannine and Helen on a bit of a girlie road trip to The Robin Hood Theatre in Averham. It’s a small public theatre situated in the countryside close to Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire, seating 150, it has the reputation of producing professional, high standard entertainment and it certainly didn’t let us down last night!
The main reason for our trip was to support one of our dear friends, Cliff McArdle who we all met in the cast of the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar in Lincoln Cathedral in 2015. Cliff wrote all the Music and Lyrics for ‘Ton of Bricks’, with the script being Written and Directed by Carolyn Drury. After the show, Cliff said he found the experience a really rewarding one, that was made easier by the clear directions given by Carolyn Drury; he said, “She knew exactly what she wanted from each song , and all I had to do was to write them!” Well, what a fabulous job Cliff did with every single song; although he’s ‘dabbled’ in song-writing for many years, this particular show was his first foray into composition not specifically for children (despite it being set in a village school), having left the teaching profession a few years ago to concentrate more fully on music and song writing.
The show itself was set in a Village School, where the rich, older generation London weekend visitors were buying up all the property in the village, leaving the local young people, wanting to stay in their village, with no affordable housing. The result of that, lead to the decline in the numbers of children attending the local school, with the stark fact that it might close within a year or two. A fleeting thought by the Head Teacher, led to a series of well planned discussions and events, eventually saving the school from it’s sad demise.
There were some brilliant characters that were totally believable from beginning to end. The wonderfully buoyant Head Teacher, Mrs Esther Dawson played by Sarah-Lee Taylor was so obviously drowning in ‘Paperwork’ as portrayed in a fabulous duet with her efficient school Business Manager Sarah, played by Kerri Saxby. Despite her drive to success as Head Teacher, she was lonely, having only in the last few years been widowed. Her school and her ‘school children’ meant everything to her so she needed to save it and them at all costs.
Mrs Dawson was plagued on a daily basis by her nasty neighbour from hell Bob, played brilliantly by David Baliol-Key earning him a very loud ‘booooo’ at the end! He made Esther Dawson’s life a misery but it didn’t just end there; Bob’s very sad, downtrodden and very bullied wife Marilyn played by Yvonne Cockayne, showed the audience just what a mean character he was, fortunately getting his comeuppance in the end being left one lonely old grumpy man. Sarah-Lee in pensive thought, gave a wonderful rendition of ‘If Only’, a beautiful song asking the question we might often ask ourselves, I wonder what would have happened if only…?
Two hilarious cleaners Molly and Sandra, played by Zanda Pepper and Flick Millis, doubled as ‘scene shifters’ earning special thanks in the programme from their mum, Writer and Director Carolyn Drury. They were both wonderful, even just walking on stage, and the looks passing between them brought laughter from the audience. Their duet ‘Get the bleach’ made me wonder whether there must have been some glue in their buckets and elastic on their mops… (I will forever wonder!). (I also thought I saw a slight resemblance to a couple of other ladies in the community meeting towards the end of the show… maybe some older, well-to-do great aunts also lived in the village and occupied a couple of the elusive properties…?)
The snooty Councillor/land owner Edward Montague played by Tony Smith, seemed initially to be the baddy, but with the help and money from the charming suave and sophisticated building entrepreneur Tony Marshall played by Ian Carr, eventually saved the day in more ways than one!
A gorgeous duet by Ian and Sarah-Lee, ‘What do I like?’ showed us that even with our personal differences and preferences, love can still prevail… after all, we all like a bit of the ‘bright lights’ sometimes!
The wonderfully portrayed ‘posh’ head boy and girl were stunning in their performances, looking down their noses at the lesser beings in the playground, otherwise known as ‘Year 7’s’; Giles played by Kane Stone, was clear and articulate as well as showing a kind brave side, winning the heart of the unexpected girl by breaking up a fight. Tara, the head girl, played by Hannah Roe, showed more than a hint of ‘Miranda Hart’ (Sorry Hannah I had to say it!). She showed a brilliant sense of comedic timing and an altogether hilarious performance; their duet ‘I want to go where the action is’ was both enthusiastic and passionate.
The other 3 teenagers played by Lewis Wilby, Jo Anna Geary and Toby Lobmeister, despite looking and acting like the sort of teenagers you don’t want anything to do with, were obviously misunderstood, and their song, ‘Pride’, a mix of solo and trio, was very touching…
“…Yes, we’re often skint,
but we’re rich in the important things,
the importance a family brings
fills us up with pride…”
The Year 7’s really got involved in the whole show, both singing, acting, speaking and choreography; I was impressed by their passion and obvious enjoyment throughout the performance.
One of my favourite numbers, apart from ‘Pride’and ‘If Only’ (there were many favourites!), was the solo ‘Sunday, Sunday’, sang again by Ian (despite my friend Jeannine speculating in advance Sarah-Lee would join Ian in her dressing gown before the end of the scene!). The humorous reference to building Mr Trump’s wall in Mexico was a delightful addition to the script making it very current!
Since I left school back in 1982, I haven’t had much to do with teachers or schooling apart from through my son’s education, until I joined the Jesus Christ Superstar ensemble in 2015, where I met Cliff and a lot of other either current or past teachers… being part of a community with a lot of people with a teaching background, you pick up a lot of vibes about the state of schools today, including the fact that record numbers of teachers are leaving the profession. This production highlighted perfectly for me some of the key issues facing both schools, teachers and students in our world today with both hilarity and extreme sadness with hints of bullying, theft, overwork and long term sickness amongst the teaching staff (the lazy jobsworth caretaker Frank played by John Dodd a typical example). The script was delightfully funny yet emotional and each song, and the unique, elusive harmonies, were performed with a sense of confidence and assurance. It was also great to see Cliff supporting the male harmonies whilst playing the keyboard during a few numbers!
Jeannine said about the show:
“Cliff…. I can’t tell you how proud we ALL were of you… the show was fantastic… very refreshing to be honest…
We had no idea what we were coming to…I just thought that we were kind of coming to support you in this fantastic venture… which was ok in itself anyway… You’re our friend and we wanted to support you…
We had no idea that it would be such a brilliant show…
Interesting script… Amazing songs and harmonies… some wonderful performances from the youngest on stage to the older ones… I liked the choreography, it went perfectly with the songs…
It was funny yet at times rather moving…
I just loved it Darlin’ ….. Well worth coming over for……THANK YOU…”
“What a great show! Funny in places, poignant in others. Very strong cast who were fully into their characters. Loved the score with themes running through it for the characters. Clever lyrics and I really enjoyed all the songs entwined in the final song. I had no idea what Jeannine and gang were taking me to, down the dark country lane, but what a great night. Well done you and your team x”
“Well, I thought it was incredibly well observed, a modern tale with totally believable characters and songs that just, well, fit in perfectly with clever and moving lyrics. I went from laughing out loud to holding back the tears”
I don’t know what more to add other than what has been said already above, except congratulations to all the cast and the Production Team, especially Carolyn, Cliff, the Choreographer Rebecca Ladds, the musicians, Stage Manager, Jean Baliol-Key, the sound, lighting, set design and construction and all others involved. You’ve done a brilliant job and I really hope it’s not the last we see of the writers of this – this show needs to be seen again and again.
Photo’s taken during show rehearsals…