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Maltings Youth Theatre Nails Jesus Christ Superstar

You’ve got to hand it to Wendy Payn, director of Maltings Youth Theatre, she ain’t lacking in chutzpah.  We at NOT BAd understand she has a set of honorary gold cahoonas kept in a velvet box which she buffs every night after her charges have delivered yet another stonking performance.

How do we know this?

Because we’ve just spent the evening attending the opening performance of Maltings Youth Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

“So” and “what?” you’re thinking. 

Let’s take a moment to break the situation down into the problematic component parts for the am-dram lite amongst you:

1.  Youth theatre.

2. Jesus Christ Superstar.

Hello?  In the hands of someone less experienced – less well-endowed – than Wendy Payn, it could have been  horrible to watch, like vivisection, say, or a bearded man eating soup. 

Jesus Christ Superstar is difficult, so difficult that it makes turning water into wine and healing lepers look easy.  You want to force-feed the score Ritalin just to calm it down.  It leaps tempo, key, range … basically it charges through the whole production with the bin on its head.

And then, then to trust and believe that the talent and ability of your young and largely inexperienced cast can tame the beast and make it biddable so it comes to heel but without breaking its spirit … 

One word.  Cahoonas.

You are by now familiar with NOT BAd’s aversion to giving detailed plot outlines , and we see no cause to change our M.O. with Jesus Christ Superstar.  If you don’t know how the last week of Jesus’s life ends then, quite frankly, you’re a disgrace.  However, we will just mention for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the production that the tale is told casting Judas Iscariot in a sympathetic light and commentating on the symbiotic nature of today’s politico-celebrity culture.  There.

The stage at The Maltings is fairly small and the budget for Youth Theatre smaller, demanding some clever staging solutions from the team.  The need for scenery was almost obviated by projecting images on to white drapes and using lighting to create space, additional atmosphere and dramatic punctuation where needed.

This simplicity worked as the ideal backdrop for such a frenetic production.  It allowed everything to flow, vital in a show like Jesus Christ Superstar which has such a fast-gathering momentum.  The set didn’t compete for attention, merely enhanced the performances. 

And, crikey, what performances.  There wasn’t one dud that NOT BAd could spot so either Wendy very cleverly placed any planks at the back or, as we suspect, her cast was all freakishly able.  Two names, however, absolutely must have their moment in the sun – Daniel Cox as Judas Iscariot and Oliver Payn as Jesus.

Appropriately, Oliver/Jesus seems to have been blessed with the voice of an angel, if not Barry Gibb.  He has a lovely warm tone to his voice, and an impressive range including a falsetto which took us all by surprise.  Bloody marvellous. 

Daniel played Judas with utter conviction and has a real gift for performing a song.  He stalked and prowled around the stage, snarling and spitting with such excellent diction and projection that we didn’t miss a moment of his frustration, anger, guilt and grief.  Moving and convincing.  Bravo, sir!

And, we think, a further mention must go to Edward Keenan who turned in an assured performance as an angst-ridden Pontius Pilate.

One little grumble if we may?  And this isn’t a problem with the cast or Wendy’s direction, it’s a problem with the show itself.  Out of the nine lead characters, only one was female – Mary Magdalene.  Cast your mind back to your Bible stories and you’ll recall Mary was the prossie with the great hair.  Ho-hum.

Yes, we know the Bible hasn’t got a great track record when it comes to equal ops, but it seemed such a waste of Katie Hindmarsh’s talents.  She was an absolute fire-cracker in last year’s West Side Story but unfortunately in this production she was saddled with “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, surely the wettest load of old tosh Tim Rice has ever been guilty of penning.

Perhaps next year’s production will have something more for the girls to sink their acting teeth into.  Still, the chorus – the majority made up of girls in view of the lack of main parts – made the best of it.  They crackled with energy, engaging with the audience with infectious enthusiasm.

If you’re dithering about whether to go and see Jesus Christ Superstar, stop.  Pick up your bed and run to catch it!  Performances 14th-16th July at 7.30pm, and 2pm on Sunday, 17th July.

Everyone involved in this production has delivered something way beyond amateur: Tamsin Davidson – the Musical Director – together with Neil Metcalfe and the musicians, Neil Mark, Alison Coates, Robert Wilkinson and Sandy Hutchinson, really deserve a massive pat on the back for keeping the score on track and coping with everything it flung at them.   Thumbs up for the technical team too – Steven Percy and Jimmy Manningham – the unsung heroes of any production.

Well done, of course, to the magnificent cast!  We’re amazed at your talent and outstanding professionalism.  An eleven hour rehearsal last Sunday?  For the adults out there who hold a cynical view of the youth of today, that’s eleven hours of happy-slapping these guys gave up for you.  We are all astonishment and admiration, thank you.  

But finally, hats off to director Wendy Payn, who right now is deservedly polishing those cahoonas to a most brilliant shine.


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