In 2015, Berwickshire High School produced their first full scale musical for 30 years – and they’ve been making up for lost time ever since.
Under the leadership of Mr Cameron Mabon, principal teacher of expressive arts, they have wowed audiences with Oliver, The Sound of Music and Into the Woods in the two short years since then, not to mention concert performances of Mamma Mia and Les Miserables.
Last week, many of the pupils involved in those shows welcomed some newcomers, making a cast of 70, who brought a stonking rendition of Hairspray to the stage.
Many of us know Hairspray from the 2007 film starring John Travolta and debutant Nikki Blonsky in the main roles of Edna and her daughter, Tracy Turnblad. Tracy is a spirited teenager who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the dancers on The Corny Collins Show but aspires to be one nonetheless and, in achieving that dream, manages to overturn the show’s policy of racial segregation.
S6 pupil Katie Scott, like Nikki Blonsky in the film, was making her debut in a major part. She was a natural as Tracy, bringing that combination of dreamy wistfulness and fierce moral rectitude which every teenager will recognise - not to mention a fabulous singing voice. She was partnered by Madeline Cawthorn, whose facial expressions and body language in the role of Tracy’s best friend, Penny Pingleton, were a joy to watch.
Rory Hamilton started his stage career at BHS playing the ultimate ‘hard man’ – Bill Sykes. In Hairspray, he demonstrated his range and versatility by stepping into John Travolta’s large (female) shoes in the role of Edna. One of the many highlights of the show was his hilarious duet with on-stage husband Wilbur (Gregor Murray), ‘You’re Timeless to Me’ – complete with dance moves reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and a stage kiss that brought the house down!
Xenia Garden is no stranger to the stage, having starred as Maria in The Sound of Music and Nancy in Oliver. She brought that ability and experience to the very different role of Velma von Tussle, the pushy manager of the TV station broadcasting the Corny Collins show, who is really only interested in promoting her daughter, Amber, a dancer on the show.
Emma Gaston did a sterling job of portraying Amber’s less than likeable character. Their rendition of ‘Mama, I’m a big girl now’ with Edna and Tracy, and Penny and her mother, Prudy, (played with verve by Bernie Owtram) was another highlight.
Oliver Wright as the charismatic Corny Collins and Barnaby Bevan as teen idol Link Larkin were also excellent, both bringing just the perfect touch of cheesiness to their roles!
Another two outstanding debut performances came from Samuel Adeosun, playing Seaweed Stubbs, and Jemima Bevan as his sister, Little Inez. This may have been their first appearance, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Samuel coped effortlessly with one of the most challenging and energetic songs in the score, ‘Run and Tell That’, joined on-stage by his gang (including his brothers, Calvin, Daniel and Jesse). Buoyed by the fantastic playing of the orchestra, his performance was full of attitude and spirit. So too was that of Jemima who portrayed Samuel’s sassy younger sister with real panache.
Meanwhile, Samuel’s sister Seyi Adeosun took a massive step up from her role as one of the nuns in the Sound of Music to play Maybelle ‘Motormouth’ Stubbs, the radio DJ who hosts ‘Negro Day’ on The Corny Collins show. Her stage presence showed a maturity beyond her years, and she displayed her vocal virtuosity in tremendously stylish performances of ‘Big, Blonde and Beautiful’ and ‘I know where I’ve been’. Seyi’s heartfelt and soulful rendition of this emotional ballad was truly spine-tingling.
As always, the supporting roles are as important as the main characters and everyone played their part to perfection: Chris Drewery (Spritzer), Ross Mair (Mr Pinky), Charlotte Thomas (Matron), Archie Beattie (School Principal) and Calum Watson (as the seediest PE teacher in the States). The Councilettes - the dancers on the Corny Collins show - brought colour and energy to the show, executing the brilliant choreography of Avril Murray, together with The Dynamites and an equally fabulous chorus.
Mention must also go to Rosemary Macdonald of Upper Circle Costume Hire in Kelso for the superb costumes – some made specially for the show.
A musical wouldn’t be a musical without the music. The live orchestra made up of fantastic local musicians added something extra special - the high-note trumpet of Mike Hardy at one end of the range, with the totally authentic bass guitar of Matthew Rooke at the other and the incomparable piano playing of BHS music teacher Harris Playfair in the middle.
Pupils were on hand to fulfil many of the back-stage roles – notably Will Derries, Sean Duxbury and Gregor Wilson doing an excellent job on sound and light.
After three months of hard work, all of it came together to make for four phenomenal, sold-out, standing-ovation-every-time performances full of colour and energy.