Saturday, 15 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE / DANCE REVIEW: Lights! Camera! Action! - Z-Arts Theatre, Manchester.

It's that time of year again when private children's and young peoples' theatre and dancing schools present their annual showcase.  This afternoon I went to Hulme's Z-Arts Theatre for the first of quite of these for me this year. Starting the ball rolling then, was Shooting Star Theatre School, managed by Jade Walker, and her many young charges. The school offers classes in acting and various dance types as well as Musical Theatre and all the school's groups were given their time in the spotlight this afternoon.

Before the interval we saw the acting side of the school, and the various classes (divided by age) presented several short sketches or excerpts from published works. We started with the 4 - 7 year olds and their tale of Goldilocks And The Three Bears, and then the older group (8 - 14 year olds) presented several pieces. My overriding criticism of this first half was the lack of audibility. Sadly for the youngsters they had not been given mics, nor were they sufficiently trained to be able to project their voices proficiently, and much if not all of their pieces were played towards the rear of the stage, as far away from the audience as possible. The groupings were extremely odd at times too, especially in the first piece of Goldilocks. They could have and should have been much closer together and much nearer downstage.

Much time was also wasted in between items - in both acts - as we were obviously waiting for cast members to change or the chairs to be struck etc - so why couldn't the running order have been changed to accommodate, thus eradicating these hiatuses?

None of this of course is the fault of the performers, and to their credit they did the best they could and worked well.  One of the sketches in the programme this afternoon was written by one of the students (Maddison Weadock), who also starred in that sketch. I enjoyed this sketch and both the Secret Garden pieces. For me though, the most successful of the acting pieces was the short Blood Brothers excerpt which was acted by Harry Fewtrell and Brandon Phoenix.

To end the first half a bizarre but rather interesting piece of physical theatre was presented by the whole acting group. Starting with a video sequence of young girls at play in a park, with one of them being ignored, the sequence finished with another filmed passage showing this girl now being part of the group and them playing happily together. In the middle section, the whole cast, wearing t-shirts with emotive words on them and half-masks physicalised a piece about caring for each other - a watchcry to their generation to start caring about the future and to change and shatter expectations.

After the interval and we watched the dance items as well as a few Musical Theatre items. Again, these seemed to take a lot longer than necessary since a lot of time was wasted with in-between music. Costuming here was far more successful too. For the actors, a semblance of costuming was given, some being more realistic than others; however here, much more attention to the 'look' of the group had been given and all the dancers wore matching items for each number.  One thing the whole evening was crying out for though was some change of LX or FX. In the first act all the pieces were given the same lighting setting, and in the second half this was also the case until just over half way through, when suddenly we were given haze and a complete change of LX for a streetdance piece called, 'Strangelings'. It was a most welcome addition, and such a shame that other dances, and acting pieces couldn't have had the same consideration given to them too.

The second half saw 18 items in total, and again the age ranges were quite considerable, from 4 years upwards. Styles included Street, Contemporary, Jazz and Musical Theatre. The students gave their all and all the numbers were highly enjoyable. However for me, I suppose because of my Musical Theatre bias, I found I enjoyed some more than others. Although surprisingly, this evening my favourite two dances were 'Pretty Little Liars' (contemporary) and the Burlesque (jazz ).

As a small personal addition to the review, I would like to single out just two of this afternoon's performers. This is not because technically they were any better than any of the others, nor is it because they had more stage time. The reason is simple. These two young ladies had something known as 'stage presence' and knew instinctively how to be on the stage and to be always in the moment no matter what. They were constantly performing and always looking like they were enjoying every second of it, thus making me watch them more than the others whenever they were on stage. The two were - and I'm sorry for the convoluted descriptions but I don't  know their names... a) a tiny young girl dancer who was in a couple of the street dance numbers. She was the first girl, nearest the audience in the Rolex / Lean And Bop.  b) In the choir medley (Musical Theatre Main School) this girl was on the second row and third from SL, standing next to the black girl.

Thank you all for a most enjoyable afternoon and I look forward to seeing your next showcase next year.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 15/6/19

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