Lucky isn’t always the first word you would think of for those growing up in Bracknell’s concrete jungle, but looking at the children beaming on stage at South Hill Park last night, it’s hard not to think of them as fortunate.
How many young people have the chance to perform on a large, revolving set with multiple tiers of staging and flashing lights, at barely 11-years-old? How many get to wear glittering costumes and experience that feeling of adrenaline and excitement which comes from a thundering applause?
South Hill Park and the Berkshire ARTs Academy (BARTA), of which the young cast are all pupils, have created a fantastic opportunity for the young thespians of Berkshire and no doubt last night will have inspired some cast members to chase their dreams of the stage for years to come.
The Wizard of Oz is a classic musical theatre piece and the cast sang and danced their way through with plenty of gusto. Three casts alternate the main roles throughout the run and yesterday Rachel Ingram stepped into Dorothy’s red slippers. Holding ball of fluff Toto (played with expert attention and fantastic behavioural skills by Buster), Rachel gave us a sweet and kind Dorothy, who led the show confidently. The young actress showcased a talented singing voice in all her numbers, with particular nod to her performance of Over the Rainbow which demonstrated a maturity beyond her years.
Gaby Foulsham as Glinda the Good Witch had equally strong vocals, with a real clarity to her sound, while Molly Field, Connor Pearson and Luca Dondi made for a fantastic trio as Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man respectively. Each appeared fully immersed in their characters, balancing wackiness and physical humour with a genuine warmth.
With a large cast full of little faces who turned from poppies to munchkins to trees, the stage was full and vibrant, and it is commendable how some of the smallest actors and actresses managed to keep in time, perform their dance routines and not forget their lines.
This isn’t a show which felt scaled down to meet the age range of its cast, it was a production which was aiming high, and doing the skills of Bracknell’s youth justice. BARTA, together with South Hill Park, is igniting a spark here, giving young people a small glimpse of what it could be like. And in the next few days there’s a good chance many of them will be clicking their heels and whispering, ‘there’s no place like the stage’.
The Wizard of Oz by the Berkshire Arts Academy (BARTA) is at South Hill Park until Sunday, 5 June. Visit http://www.southhillpark.org.uk.
I was invited to review the production so my tickets were complimentary but all views are my own.