Saturday, 14 May 2016

Great Theatre where you Least Expect to Find It

Author Carol Rose
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Take 2 Performing Arts Academy, Barnum, The Academy Theatre, Birdwell, 13 May 2016

Just outside Barnsley lies the village of Birdwell.  I have lived over 30 years in the vicinity and have driven by Birdwell scores of time without knowing until a few hours ago that it has two great claims to fame. One of those is the obelisk erected in 1775 which appears in the photo. Imposing though it is the obelisk is essentially an outsize milestone marking three miles from Wentworth Castle. The village's other claim to fame is the Academy Theatre and Take 2 Performing Arts Academy. I should mention in passing that that Academy is not the village's only connection with theatrical education for Silvia Young, the founder of the well known London stage school is a native of the place.

Take 2 Performing Arts Academy aims:
  • "To promote musical theatre and dramatic performance.
  • To encourage creativity and develop confidence.
  • To develop communication skills and movement co-ordination.
  • To encourage fun, enjoyment and the thrill of working together."
To those ends it offers a range of dance classes including ballet, tap, modern and lyrical jazz and gymnastics as well as drama and musical theatre. On the site of the Academy is a fully equipped theatre with a very full play list.

I discovered the Academy Theatre and Take 2 yesterday evening as a guest of the parents of one of the pupils of the Academy who is playing a leading role in the musical Barnum which is running until this evening.  The show is based on the Broadway and West End musical on the life of the American showman, P T Bowman, the founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It has many catchy numbers such as I Like Your Style and The Prince of Humbug and demands both virtuosity and versatility from the performers. Barnum, in particular, has to perform several circus tricks himself such as walking a (not-particularly) tight rope while singing a song and allowing himself to be swung round the stage with some velocity. It was all the more impressive on reflecting that several of those parts were played by school kids, several of whom are swotting for"A" levels and other public exams.

Yesterday's audience contained a lot of proud parents, siblings and other relations and they had much of which to be proud. The chorus sang and danced well. Their costumes, which ranged from a yellow cat suit to a multicoloured tutus, were colourful and striking. They were good performances from young Felix Yates who played the micro-general Thumb, Ffion Tandy as the beguiling Jenny Lind, Harry Steel who held the ring majestically, Ellie Cooper, a delightful Mrs Barnum, and Jacob Steers as Barnum himself. I was particularly impressed by Cooper who has a lovely voice and remarkable stage presence for one so young, Steel who can act, sing and dance with the best of them and, of course, Steers who had the most demanding role of all and performed it magnificently.

In a charming touch after the show, the entire cast lined up in the lobby to greet their audience. Such eager, excited, young faces. I know that at least one of those young players has his sights set on the Urdang Academy. If he performs in his auditions as well as he did last night he has as good a chance as most of a successful career on the stage and I wish him and all the young artists all the best in their studies.

There is only one thing that I would change in the show.  Many, though not all, members of the cast wore microphones which were visible from row D of the stalls. They should not have needed them but, if they did, they have to learn how to project their voices at some stage of their careers.  The Academy Theatre is not a massive auditorium and every actor's voice should have been clearly audible from the back row.

As I said before the show ends tonight. If you live in Barnsley, Rotherham, Sheffield, Wakefield or anywhere in the North of England within easy reach of the M1 there are worse ways of spending this Saturday night than at the Academy Theatre at Birdwell.

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