I am a person who goes to the theatre a lot, I live and breathe the art form. When I am not out with my partner or friends watching a show I'm reviewing one, and when I am not watching something my company Vertigo is usually producing a show that I am directing and co writing . This means I see a lot of theatre. I have probably seen a few 100 shows since I first fell in love with it. Seeing so much means it's often more difficult to be blown away by something. I've seen it all, from Broadway to London to fringe. I have some incredible theatre memories, but one of those memories took place right here in Manchester and completely came out of left field.
In 2010, I was sent to review the musical Parade at The Lowry for this very site. I was looking forward to the show as it's one I missed during its short run on Broadway and then again in the West End. My editor messaged me the day of the review telling me it was by The Company, a local theatre company that showcased ages from 13 to 23.....my heart sank. He assured me that the reputation of The Company was top notch. I took his word for it but as me and my partner headed to The Lowry I could not help but think the worst. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate youth theatre at all, I had seen some awful productions, but I knew good ones existed. My biggest issue was how could a group of 13 to 23 year olds possibly pull off a hard hitting musical about a Jewish man convicted of the murder of a young girl?
Just before the curtain went up I was perking up a bit, but I still could not help feeling that I was about to watch a lot of talented young performers try their best in a musical that was completely out of their league ....boy was I wrong.
The show and the cast lit up the stage and every performer, musician, song after song started to put West End touring casts to shame. My jaw was on the floor. Surely these were adults on stage, the performances are stunning, these can't be 13 to 23 year olds can they? At the interval me and my partner just turned to each other and mouthed the word ‘wow'. The rest of the audience seemed just as excited - what the hell had I just witnessed? I could not wait to get back in for act 2 so we downed our white wine and headed back in. Act 2 did not disappoint. I for one was in floods of tears completely immersed in the show. As the show ended something else happened, my body shot out of my seat and gave the show a standing ovation. This seemed to prompt people around me to do the same. Now I have given standing ovations before but this time I had no choice, my body was upright before I could even think, and to me that is the sign of an incredible night at the theatre.
All the way home we could not stop talking about it, I was on fire with energy and could not wait to write my review. We only get a certain word count to use when it comes to reviews. I had to keep rewriting it as at one point it was 4 x the word count, I just had so much to say. As I finished my review I added on my star rating and I gave it 5 stars, the first 5 star I had given to a theatre show ever (since 2010 I have only given 1 more).
A few weeks ago as I was reading the What's on Stage Manchester review of Ghost. I put 2 and 2 together (finally) and realised that Stewart Clarke who is playing the lead role of Sam was the same Stewart Clarke I reviewed in Parade back in 2010 (predicting he would have a huge career ahead of him). I felt so happy for him, his performance in Parade also ranked as one of the best I had seen.
Today I found out that The Company are returning to The Lowry with their production of the brilliant How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying from the 8th to 10th August. My heart skipped a beat again, will I feel the same as I did during that 2 hours in 2010? If anyone can shock me to the core with their sheer talent and dedication it's The Company.
I honestly cannot urge you more to go and see the show, it's sure to be something remarkable and I have no doubt that future West End stars are in the cast. There's a reason they have received 5 star reviews, award wins and support from the Mackintosh foundation, because when it comes to ‘youth' theatre nobody does it better. To be fair, youth or not, when it comes to regional musical theatre in general they are a cut above everybody else.
The Company is a National Youth theatre for Musicals, many a West End star and creative's support this company as they should. They do one major show a year and the kids, crew and creative's work on a tight deadline to create the best show they possibly can. The kids as I mentioned are between 13 and 23 and come from all backgrounds no matter what their income, something I think is a hugely positive thing. You buying a ticket will help this extraordinary company keep on achieving the great results they do. Quite simply put we NEED The Company.
So please, stop what you are doing, buy tickets and see this incredible team in action, you will then have a theatre memory that will linger with you for a long time as well, I guarantee it.
- Craig Hepworth