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Review of The Musicians - National Theatre Connections performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

There is something quite magical about youth theatre other grown-up productions don't exhibit. A vibrant energy exudes from the actors, be it because they either have something to prove (to themselves or others), or perhaps more simply just a feeling of youthful ambition. I think it is almost certain that they are free to enjoy the situation more, as at this time this is for the fun of it with no monetary reward. This doesn't detract from the quality of the situation as this group appears to work tirelessly well together, with no obvious frictions that their musician characters depict in this play).

The Musicians by Patrick Marber (Closer and Dealer's Choice) is like all Connections plays a relatively short forty to fifty minute play specifically written for youth groups to perform. Originally written in 2004, this is part of the 2016 celebration of past material written for the yearly festival. It tells the story of a group of young musicians who find themselves at a concert in Moscow and due to an issue in customs, sans musical instruments. They get over the situation in a neat and in the end an unbelievably successful way.

Upon entering the compact Underground theatre space we were immediately greeted by a rather perfect little set from Helen Coyston. A gorgeously painted brick back wall and a set cleverly depicting the layout of a pinball table while still allowing the feel of a concert stage. Alex (Lauren-Jai Girvan) sweeps the set in a bored way as we take our seats.

Slightly unusually for Connection plays I have seen previously Alex is one of two characters that get to have quite a lot of two-hander scenes with conductor Roland Blatherwick played by Tom Spencer. They are however excellent and carry all of their scenes together perfectly. Girvan offers a gentle portrayal of Alex, depicting the obvious grimness of life in Russia with a subtle style and batting off the "English peoples" piss taking and general jokes at her expense with ease. Later in the play that one explosive moment with the mop comes as a genuine surprise and that is much because of how we learn to like the character in just a short space of time, much because of Girvan. Spencer's Roland is also a magnificently well formed character, pompous and opinionated yet surprisingly endearing. Roland is the most defined character of the show and Spencer's scarf strewn performance makes him the star of the show.

For me the rest of the characters in the show work as the most perfect ensemble and I feel wrong to single out any individuals with praise. Although the play almost cruelly at times has them playing second fiddle as it were to the two leads, there is enough material for them to get into on occasion and flesh out their characters, allowing the audience to either love or hate each one before the end.

Where the ensemble does come in though is what director Ashley Elbourne and choreographer Mary O'Brien provide them to do. When on stage they are constantly busy, talking among themselves, even over lines being spoken by others. This is not obtrusive at any time, but adds an obvious buzz and realism to the proceedings, these are after all a group of teenagers.

Then we have the silent movement pieces which at first feel as if they should not work at all as they are utterly bizarre in nature. However they evolve before our eyes and gradually moving into the dance work of Mary O'Brien become a thing of beauty. Although you might think dance might become awkward for at least one of the fifteen strong cast, I genuinely didn't notice anything like this and it was all quite emotional to watch build. Without doubt a stupendously magnificently conceived scene.

Finally the music itself was a fascinating part of the show, not revolving around the orchestras performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth as you would expect, but three interesting versions of The Who's Pinball Wizard. We have a gentle folk style one from Robyn Wilson, a powerful classical one from Esther Bailey and then finally the traditional one from all. I am personally a traditionalist when it comes to a classic like Wizard, but those two others depicted perfectly the diversity of music and were well performed.

A very funny, excellently acted performance again from the Royal & Derngate Young Company on a gorgeous set, and with that movement/dance sequence, one of the best scenes I have seen from a youth group. На самом деле довольно великолепно!


Performance reviewed: Saturday 27th February, 2016 (matinee) at the Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton.

The Musicians by Patrick Marber is one of the 2016 Connections plays, details of which can be found here: 
http://connections.nationaltheatre.org.uk/. It was performed by the R&D Youth Theatre at the Royal & Derngate on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March, 2016.

The play will be performed again on the Royal stage on Saturday 30th April, 2016 (8:15pm) as part of the National Theatre Connections Festival.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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