Following their stunning production of The Phantom of the Opera last November, the talented senior members of the Maltings Youth Theatre went retro - and it suited them.
When it comes to the award-winning Broadway hit ‘Hairspray’ I was, until Saturday, completely ignorant. I didn’t know the story and I’d never seen the show, or the film.
But despite this I knew I was in for a treat as I took my seat for the matinee performance, not least because former WOW aficionado Simon Duke, who has seen several MYT productions over the years, promised me it would be good.
Not only did he recommend seeing it, he put his money where his mouth was and returned to Berwick himself for the first time since leaving for the bright lights of the big city three months ago.
Less than 24 hours after mingling with Ed Sheeran, Ella Henderson and Nicole Scherzinger back stage at the Metro Radio Arena, Simon was taking his seat alongside me for curtains up at the Maltings.
As the final chords of the last number faded way, he said it had definitely been worth the trip - but enough of that, this is my review!
So let’s go back to the beginning as I found myself swept back to 1960’s Baltimore on a sea of song and dance in this funny, award-winning show in which loveable plus-size heroine Tracy Turnblad wins a spot on the local TV dance programme, and finds herself transformed from outsider to teen celebrity overnight.
The programme posed the question ‘can a larger than life adolescent manage to vanquish the reigning princess, integrate the television show, and find true love (singing and dancing all the while, of course!) without messing her hair?’ Well I can tell you yes! It seems she can.
The youth theatre certainly has a real star in its midst in Marie Tucker, whose engaging and endearing performance, complemented by her effortlessly strong singing voice, provided a stunning lynchpin for the whole production.
As Tracy, Marie perfectly portrayed the headrush of teenage ambition and infatuation, gulping lungfuls of air in the vicinity of her crush, heart-throb Link Larkin.
Making her senior youth theatre debut, Martine Vrieling van Tuijl was quirkily amusing as best friend Penny Pingleton while Fraser Smiles delivered a dazzling performance as Link every-guy-wants-to-be-him, every-girl-wants-to-be-with-him Larkin. Tracy’s preening, pouting nemesis Amber Von Tussle, superbly portrayed by Evie Mortimer, was nails-on-chalk-board annoying as the would-be prom queen while her bigoted mother Velma (Rachael Cross) who deemed Tracy too fat to dance and her black friends the wrong colour to be on TV, almost prompted pantomime hissing among the audience.
David Simpson as Tracy’s mother Edna and Jonathan Combe as father Wilbur provided the most touching moment of the show with their comically warm delivery of romantic duet ‘Timeless to Me’.
Katie Hindmarsh was a revelation as Motormouth Maybelle, stealing the show with her soulful rendition of ‘I know where I’ve been’.
Oliver Payn’s Seaweed Stubbs was effortlessly cool, and Daniel Cox as Corny Collins was the perfect mix of polished presenter with a touch of down-to-earth humanity.
In fact every performance was strong, from the lead all the way through to each member of the chorus, and the genuine chemistry between the cast took the show to another level.
Light and fluffy it may be, but Hairspray carries messages about prejudice which still ring true today. Tracy’s story is as inspiring as it is just plain fun, and the Maltings Youth Theatre brought it to life with their impressive production which lived up to its well-earned hype.