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ONSTAGE

The Likes Of Us

Stephen Whittock from Nomad Theatre thinks back about the highs and lows of staging a book musical without a book. A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

The Likes of Us is the first musical written by the winning team of Andrew LloydWebber and Tim Rice. It is a strange cocktail of the traditional musical form with some chorus numbers reminiscent of Half a Sixpence, Charlie Girl and other successes from the ‘60’s and glimpses of the route they would finally take down the road of through written musicals many, at least in the beginning with solid rock themes.

THE MUSICAL

The piece has a certain naivety which is actually quite charming however the lack of a useable book does pose some sizeable problems. For many a narration, no matter how witty, really cannot make up for good dialogue. As some of the Narrators lines are literally a handful of words it also causes immense problems for scene changes if you are to be adventurous as opposed to lacklustre with the staging. However there are some truly wonderful songs and because of a lack of sung recitative the concentration on pure melody is far more noticeable. The story charts the beginnings of the Barnardos children’s homes and follows very loosely, the life of Thomas Barnardo on his arrival in London from Ireland. The show has a large cast including children and is scattered with poignant solos, some showstopping chorus numbers and a truly beautiful, children’s “anthem”.

REHEARSALS

In common with most companies early rehearsals were twice a week stepping up to 3 or 4 as the show got closer. This was until December when we were brought to a grinding halt by the weather and in total lost 4 rehearsals no small number in the amateur world. We also suffered 1 week before opening with 7 (that was a third) of the adult chorus off sick with the various bugs that infested the country in January and one of the kids breaking an ankle. All in all now was the time for endless sleepless nights for the production team, Wendy Denny (choreographer), Steven Geraghty (musical director) and Stephen Whittock (director) and the inevitable thoughts of “why do we bother?” At this point I would like to make note of the stunning choreography by, Wendy Denny as a Director/Choreographer it can be difficult to release the complete control of the production but her routines were perfectly conceived and executed and were wonderfully exhilarating to watch.

THE THEATRE, SET and CREW

The Nomads are blessed to have as their home the wonderful Nomad Theatre in East Horsley, Surrey. Equipped with revolving stage and fully functional fly tower staging musicals especially this one is made a little easier (oh no it’s not) I hear the crew cry. I had said from the first meeting with our building team and crew that I wanted a park bandstand that would magically “transform” onto the rooftops of London with smoking

CASTING

Never an easy task for most amateur companies these days, we were however lucky to get a very strong principal line up. Emile Maurice-Toussaint as the irascible but driven Barnardo gave the part a very personal touch as he spent much of his childhood in a Barnardo home. Wendy Denny as Syrie, Barnardo’s wife to be was warm and charming. Annabelle Farrell as the tart with a heart, Rose was powerful and suitably alluring. Nathan Farrell who as a first time song and dance man brought the part of, Johnny the juvenile lead to life with a wonderfully melodic and physical interpretation of, “Love is Here” was more than enough to soften any heart especially that of his charming and talented ingénue, Bronwyn Elliott as Jenny. Last but by no means least, Francis Pindar, as the auctioneer. His song was truly memorable in all respects and one of the undoubted highlights of the show. A solid chorus who gave the showstoppers everything they needed to actually stop the show The gentleman of the chorus deserve to be highlighted for their stirring interpretation of the rousing “Lion Hearted Land”. Very much a number to be “commended to the house”!!! Two teams of “kids” who were just mesmerising.and brought a tear to the eye every performance with their “anthem”. At this point special note should be made of Jordan Farrell (14), Ellie Eves (15) and Ellie Silvey (15) as the unnamed “Lead Boy and Girls” who at their very tender age have the unenviable task of leading the entire company in one of the many showstoppers, “Man of the World”. They did it with great panache.

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ONSTAGE chimneys and back and then be able to revolve. As always with this exceptional team my wildest ramblings were fully realised and to such effect that every performance this “transformation” received spontaneous applause from the audience. I must also thank here our scenic artist, Anne Thomas who masterminded and executed some of the very tricky paintwork involved with the set. The biggest problem in staging a musical at The Nomad Theatre, is where to put the band as the theatre was never designed with musicals in mind. The 9 strong band (some players quadrupling on instruments were banished to the studio behind the stage. Special mention must be made about one of the youngest and without doubt one of the best Musical Directors in the business, Steven Geraghty for his talent, imagination and technical expertise. Another strong feature of the theatre is superb sound and lighting and as always the standard was kept very high. I wish I had the space here to list the entire “crew” including builders etc but I don’t. They all know who they are and over the years have earned my respect and thanks for just doing what they do and being so brilliant at it!!!!

MARKETING

Unlike most of the companies that perform this show, The Nomads decided not to take up the, NODA and RUG marketing.package but to design our own. With the cooperation of Jordan Farrell and his family a poster was designed based around an image of him as a shirtless starving orphan. The poster was very successful and conveyed the distress and squalor of the era. A successful radio campaign was undertaken including slots on local radio and the inevitable mention on the “Break a Leg” slot on BBC Radio 2’s Elaine Page on Sunday show. Numerous press releases including a large piece in a magazine aimed at schools with ideas for their Christmas trips all the usual local advertising and the army of handbill distributors to put the bills through the letterboxes. Obviously numerous mentions in the monthly newsletter help to get the message home.

albeit written by a truly world renowned team. It has no book instead a narration that is not all it might be and by virtue of no dialogue or recitative to build character the cast have an uphill task to win the audience and engender any kind of empathy. They are fairly big mountains but they can be climbed as long as production team, cast and crew have imagination and are prepared to look “outside the box” and approach it with no preconceptions. I suggest it is treated for what it is, an oddity!! I tried to make it a series of postcards or snapshots of a time when lurking not far beneath the surface was a lot of unpleasantness. Be imaginative with the staging don’t rely on an “Oliver” based set it won’t be enough. If you decide to do the show I hope you would find as we did that Really Useful Group are fantastic to work with (some others could learn from them). Having talked to other companies about the show they are always ready to listen if you want to do something new with it. One group I know actually wrote a script instead of using the narration. All in all I am very fond of the show and am particularly proud of our production of it and hope The Lord and Sir Tim would be too. I would recommend it to any group but just say beware of some fairly large pitfalls get over them and enjoy it. Certainly the audiences that came to our production were almost unanimously delighted with the show and had a great evening at the theatre.

COSTUMES/MAKE UP

Most costumes came from the theatres own wardrobe supply. With a cast of 20 adults and 20 kids this is no mean feat but as always the wardrobe department under the guidance of Jill Asher came up trumps. I had said from early on that although the show is a very “rose tinted” view of the Barnardo story I wanted to make it a little harder and to that end decided to uniformly make up the cast so they looked more Victorian London and sickly and less Surrey, bouncy and healthy. Generally this worked and the effect was almost “ghostlike”..

CONCLUSION

Every production throws up challenges musicals more than most and these challenges can often seem like mountains. This one is no exception. It is unknown,

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The Likes Of Us - May 2011  

Stephen Whittock from Nomad THeatre thinks back about the highs and lows of staging a book musical without a book. The Likes Of Us by Tim Ri...

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