The Flyte Report: Review

Maltings Youth Theatre's production of The Phantom of the OperarThe Phantom of The Opera, Maltings Youth Theatre

The Maltings Theatre & Cinema

27th November 2013

4.5 stars

Hands up — this isn’t really a review. There’s not a lot I can write this late in the day to heap further praise on The Maltings Youth Theatre’s production of The Phantom of the Opera, the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic chosen to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MYT under the direction of Wendy Payn.

“Phantom was a musical and technical tour de force …”

“The large ensemble dazzled throughout …”

“Everything from the cast, to the costumes to the mightily impressive set was top drawer.” 

The Berwick Advertiser

You can’t argue with that, can you? So I won’t bore you by repeating the ins and outs, suffice to say:

Musical Director Neil Metcalfe drew musicality out of even the most reluctant singer; Stephen Percy and Jimmy Manningham pulled out all the stops, producing an amazing tech design; the eye for detail from Karen Page, Alyson Farmer and the Maltings’ costume department raised the show to a level far above that of anything that had gone before. And Wendy? I loved her unshakeable belief in her charges, her quiet, unrelenting insistence that the ambitious nature of Phantom was something that lay within the reach of these 39 youngsters, and how they rewarded that faith in spades.

The chorus of Phantom of the Opera, Maltings Youth Theatre, Berwick-upon-Tweed

We’re all in agreement then — a phenomenal show in which everyone dazzled, whether lead or supporting role.

Hold that thought.

As always, some actors stood out, but not necessarily those whom you might think. The buzz continues to swirl around Frazer Smiles (Raoul), an actor with unnerving stage presence, and while he, Katie Hindmarsh and Oliver Payn (Christine and the Phantom) would be obvious candidates for Best Actress/Actor awards — they’re all used to meeting the challenge of leading roles and delivering astonishing performances — Jonathan Combe and David Simpson were the dark horses of the production.

David Simpson and Jonathan Combes as Andre and Firmin in Maltings Youth Theatre's production of The Phantom of the OperaAs Messieurs Firmin and André, this comedy duo raised energy and pace every time they set foot on the stage, no mean feat in a show hardly inclined to sit on its laurels. Not only could they sing (the number ‘Notes’ was a technical and comedic delight), their physicality and easy rapport made them a joy to watch. And I confess, the quality of their performance caught me by surprise.

You see, Wendy courts controversy whenever she casts a new show. There are grumbles that the lead roles often go to the same actors and that not everybody gets a bite of the cherry or their moment in the sun.

It’s a difficult decision. Do you cast in order to let everybody have a go — community theatre in its truest sense — or do you try to produce the best possible show and build a reputation for quality theatre, irrespective of a ‘community’ or ‘amateur’ epithet?

With the cost of putting on a show rising year on year, it makes financial sense to go for quality over equality. Leading roles should go to those best able to deliver, those with the ability to draw in an audience wider than just family and friends. Sadly, this does mean that some very able performers are destined to remain frustrated spear carriers, forever doomed to fly under the lead role radar. But sometimes, just sometimes, this can work in their favour…

The delighted reaction of the audience to the Simpson and Combe’s double-act lay not only in their skill but also in its unexpectedness. Here was a pair more familiar to the audience playing unremarkable support roles — the almosts-but-not-quites — and yet in Phantom of the Opera they came damn close to stealing the show.

So take note and stand proud, spear carriers everywhere — quality will always trump quantity.



10 comments on “The Flyte Report: Review

  1. Everyone has to audition for the parts in front of a panel that is not just Wendy alone so I feel your comment ‘Wendy courts controversy whenever she casts a new show. There are grumbles that the lead roles often go to the same actors and that not everybody gets a bite of the cherry or their moment in the sun’ is extremely unfair. If us other members of youth theatre felt this way she wouldn’t have as many of us as she does.

    You’re also writing this review with an already high favoritism towards one half of the duo so I suppose this review may have been different if this wasn’t the case…

    • Hi Anonymous

      Many thanks for your comment. You’re right, I should have said ‘Wendy and her team’ but I’m so used to Wendy as the face and director of Maltings Youth Theatre that for me she is the MYT. I stand corrected, thank you.

      That said, you’ve misunderstood my point. I have always supported Wendy — and her team — in the casting decisions they make because they make them with the best interests of the show at heart. Wendy — and her team (this could get tedious, do you see why I just put Wendy?) — always choose the right person for the right part, regardless. I’m not sure why you would see that comment as a negative, unless you think it’s a thinly veiled hint at nepotism and shady favours. Rest assured, I don’t do thinly veiled.

      As for your last sentence, *sigh* I’ll leave you to think about it a bit more.

      Chastity x

  2. Massive congratulations to David and Jonathan but don’t Madame Giry, Meg, Carlotta and Piangi deserve a mention?!

    • Hi Grace

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Please understand that any omissions are not personal or a comment on performance. If you have a look at the ‘About’ page you’ll see why this blog was set up. Basically I rarely give a detailed explanation of the plot nor do I mention every cast member individually. The Tiser and The News already have that covered and you had a glowing review!

      However, I feel amateur/community theatre deserves to have objective reviews that aren’t only there to flatter. Our local theatre companies are professional enough to want this. I stated that Phantom of the Opera was a phenomenal show and that every member of cast was wonderful, but as with other shows I like to give a pat on the back for those standout performances which I feel deserve a special mention and comment on areas that maybe didn’t work quite so well, etc, etc. That is what reviewing should be about.

      I hope this answers your question. Well done again to all of you. I don’t see how you can top Phantom but I look forward to seeing you all try.

      Chastity x

  3. Congratulations to the youth theatre for another outstanding production. I have enjoyed the double-page spread in the Berwick Advertiser and wholeheartedly agree with Chastity about the comic timing from David and Jonathan. The score is technically very difficult and was written with an older cast in mind so I was extremely impressed by how admirably this young cast coped.

    The joy of this youth theatre is the amount of productions put on, and the high level of talent obvious in all of the cast. I am amazed at the level of hard work that goes into each production and look forward to the next extravanganza!

    • Hi Sophie

      Hear, hear! I’m amazed at the high number of talented youngsters (is there a better word than youngsters, please? I shudder every time I fall back on that one) we have here in Berwick. Normally in community theatre the support cast is less accomplished than the leads, but MYT has all bases covered. Fab bunch.

      Chastity x

  4. A great review of a fantastic show! Congratulations to Wendy, Neil and the entire cast and crew. I agree Wendy’s casting decisions do sometimes court controversy but surely that’s the case with all local theatre groups? We can be a precious bunch! In my experience she has always cast the right person for the role, and ensures that every cast member is given the opportunity to shine. A true professional and my hero x

    • Hi Gary

      Thanks very much for your comment! And I have to agree, theatre is a place full of sensitive souls and pulsating egos. Guilty as charged. As regards Wendy, is there anywhere we can buy a t-shirt with her face on? It seems only right. x

  5. Great review, I’m not sure why ‘anonymous’ was offended by your observations about the casting by Wendy, weren’t you commending her on her ability to cast quality over equality? Quite right, and brilliant casting it was as a result! I thought there were some great stand-out performances, taking for granted that Katie, Oliver and Fraser were at the top of their game, Messieurs Firmin and André shone even as much smaller roles. Wendy has a gift for that, getting the best out of whatever size the role. For me though, the stand out was Carlotta. She was fabulous!

    • Hi Anna

      I feel loyalty to Wendy blinded the correspondent to what was actually being said. Just shows how much Wendy inspires her merry band!

      Grace will be thrilled to hear how much you liked her performance as Carlotta; I think she was disappointed that she didn’t get a special mention! If it helps, Grace, I thought your characterisation was spot on!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Chastity x

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