Please Sir, I want some more. That might well be the line offered up to the Headmaster from Thorpe House parents hungry for more of the exquisite entertainment to which we have been treated throughout this week.
In stark contrast to Aladdin’s Agrabah street markets, we have seen the Thorpe House gym, now synonymous with grand style drama performances, transformed to the Victorian workhouse and Charles Dickens’ unwholesome, crime-ridden streets of London. A whole school cast from Year 3 to Year 11 skilfully captured the abject poverty of mid-19th century orphans and brought to life Mr Bumble’s workhouse, Mr Sowerberry’s funeral parlour and Fagin’s questionable boy-lodgings with precision and humour. Every boy on stage gave a remarkable portrayal of malnourished street urchins fighting on every level for survival, a far cry from 21st century Gerrards Cross. The gloom of the times was lifted by shining nuggets of pure talent and one-liners timed to keep the audience enthralled.
An inspired piece of casting gave us not one but two Olivers, in the eleven year old forms of Kieran Forster and Harry Windsor, with Kieran starring on opening night and the Thursday matinee, and Harry starring on the second night. Both boys were exceptional and unfailingly portrayed Oliver’s vulnerability and sense of right and justice. Their beautiful solos were profoundly moving especially when joined by the chorus of raggedy, soot-faced lower junior boys.
Toby Ayres made the Artful Dodger his own, conjuring all the skill and cunning of the leader of Fagin’s gang of juvenile pickpockets. Toby assumed a cockney accent, cheeky grin and mannerisms so convincing it was impossible at times not to confuse him with the child actor, Jack Wild, but this though was Toby’s show and he brought to it the unique qualities we saw in his Genie last summer.
Ben Wober was a formidable Bill Sikes, bringing villainry and fear to the stage, all the more awe-inspiring due to his even greater feat of balancing rehearsals with GCSE mock exams. Likewise Year 11 boys Christian Pepler playing Mr Brownlow, and Quinn Longman as Mr Bumble juggled their academic and thespian commitments but you wouldn’t have known it by the ease with which they commanded the stage.
Special mentions must be given to Freddie Heywood playing Mr Sowerberry, Rhys Arnold playing Noah Claypole, Luke Barker playing Charlie Sowerberry and Sam Ness who raised chuckles as the eccentric Dr Grimwig. James Palin shone as Widow Corney and Jasper Irvine was such an authentic Mrs Sowerberry that some parents asked which girls’ school had loaned us Mrs Sowerberry, such was Jasper’s professionalism in taking on a female role. Zach Fattouki switched seamlessly from a workhouse boy, to a townsperson, to one of Fagin’s boys and then dramatically to Old Sally who used her last dying breath to verify Oliver’s true identity.
The stage was graced by the presence of James Palin’s hugely talented sister, Emily Palin, who played Nancy with all the authenticity and rawness of the downtrodden and good-hearted woman whose misguided loyalty sees her tragically cut down by the wicked Sikes. Emily, 17, has appeared in West End productions including Oliver at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She delayed an assessment for her Musical Theatre diploma in order to appear in Thursday’s matinee. How privileged we were to have her!
Every single cast member wove magic through this polished production but it was Tadgh Knight’s Fagin who had audiences gasping and wondering if we really were watching a school production or if we hadn’t been transported back to the 1968 set of Oliver where a gnarled, miserly Fagin masterfully played by Ron Moody stole the show. Indeed Moody won an Oscar for the role. Tadgh, there wasn’t a soul in the house who didn’t think you weren’t worthy of an award for best theatrical newcomer, My Dear!
Unsurprisingly Tadgh took his inspiration from Moody and some audience members said he played the part even better than Moody. He told me, ‘It’s all about throwing yourself into the character. The more you practise the more you become the part you are playing”.
Zach Fattouki agreed, ‘it doesn’t matter if you have a big part or a tiny part, the important thing is you put everything you have into it, and more!’
This astounding production of Oliver! has not only fulfilled Mr Ayres’ dream since becoming Headmaster to stage this musical classic, but it has surely put Thorpe House on the map as a leading contender in musical theatre.
Parents reported, “I felt I was watching a West End production.” “This was as good if not better than any stage school production”. “Fagin and Dodger deserve awards”. Harry Windsor commented, “We feed off the enthusiasm of the audience on the night. The appreciation of everyone watching really lifts us up.’
Mrs Hughes has once again pulled off an astonishing achievement and all parents agreed that the rehearsals and commitment required more than paid off in the end. We saw our children realise their full potential and demonstrate confidence and self-assuredness on stage. The boys shared a great sense of camaraderie and teammanship as they pulled together, helped each other with lines and chorus words and showed once again the real spirit of Thorpe House.
As the gym filled with thunderous applause at the end of the three-day run and the boys took their final bows, Mr Ayres paid tribute to Mrs Hughes for doing a ‘phenomenal job.’ It was agreed by all that she really did. Just as she did with Aladdin, she appeared to have pulled off the impossible. As we now know, no grand ambition is out of reach of our drama department. Mr Ayres is now thinking about what our next school musical will be!
Mr Ayres thanked co-director Mrs Redman and her husband, Mr Redman, for the amazing set design; musical director Mrs Stallabrass for once again creating perfect chorus harmonies and solos; Stage manager, Mrs Delve, Lighting/sound, Mr Jenkin, Make-up Sophie Hampshire and Isabella Dawson-Harrington. A special thanks went to Philip Dawson-Harrington’s grandmother, Teresa, for creating such eye-catching costumes.
Mr Ayres had the last word that will stay with both parents and boys for a long time. “This is why we become teachers, these are the moments we live for. We hope to inspire but most importantly we become inspired.”
Lisa Fattouki, parent