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Taunton School

I presume that we all like that magical feeling as we step out of a theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue on a warm summer night, the sodium glutamate scent wafting over from Gerrard St. It’s a shame we can’t experience this back in Somerset, you ponder.

You can. Well, minus the No. 56 with fried rice anyway.

Jesus Christ Superstar, performed as the summer show at Taunton School had all the elements and it was no surprise when meeting the four leads – Oliver Kelham, (Jesus), Edward Bluemel (Judas), Izzy Messarra and Holly Ralph (alternate Marys) – that they all have the West End bug. All are studying drama and/or music, yet none are even in the Upper 6th. All four have taken exams and pulled this off at the same time, as have many in the cast. In Oliver’s case these have been GCSEs, more remarkable is that he has had the chutzpah to appear ¾ starkers in front of 1,250 people across five performances. No way would I have done that at his age.

Indeed, at that age, in the early 80s, I was playing the trombone (clothed) in the then Memorial Hall for the Gilbert and Sullivan productions that were our lot. The Director of Music, Michael Brown, correctly described my playing as a ‘wounded bull noise’, something I have clearly got over….(ahem..sniff)…..but the reality was that the orchestra was often too loud to hear vocals effectively. The Memorial Hall has long been hugely revamped into the Arts Centre, a modular design seating 250 with a resulting pit for the more contemporary band. This was superb, so tight and exact it must have given huge confidence to the cast. The cast themselves are blessed these days with barely visible head microphones. I was relieved that there was clearly expertise with switching these on and off – we did not get any ‘bigoted woman’ utterances from backstage.

The set itself had been cleverly fashioned into a temple, using the attributes of the building. No need for West End expensive sets, toys and gadgets, we got the desired effect.

The solo vocals were excellent, managing to overcome the slightly difficult acoustics of the Arts Centre. Here there was real and individual talent bringing out the wretchedness, forgiveness and anguish of Judas, Jesus and Mary respectively. The show however was stolen by the chorus pieces. Confident and polished, they were underpinned by stunning choreography and stark and effective costume. Acting throughout was authoritative, whether priests or apostles, dancers or chorus, building on the remorseless poignancy achieved by the major parts towards the conclusion.

The Herod interjection, between two masterful appearances by Ben Watkins as Pilate, was delightfully absurd and exquisite, West End at its zenith. Alex Wallace played up this cabaret interlude well, almost Mel Brooks mixed with Monty Python, and as if this was the part to die for.

Giles Adams is Editor of What’s On Somerset – www.whatsonsomerset.com

Sarah Parker


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