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Grease (Susan Elkin reviews)

Grease is such an iconic show that the audience tends to arrive already drunk with endorphins even before the band plays the first note and so it was at Canterbury. On the opening night there was a near full house and a good atmosphere. And I really approve of the idea of showing the band – on an overstage platform in full light – and allowing each player to strut his (and yes, they were all men) stuff before we even start. It is, after all the 1950s music which defines Grease. It also makes it feel episodic and narratively weak because it’s really just a journey from one set piece number to the next then nobody seems to mind much.

The audience didn’t even seem fazed by the indisposition of Danielle Hope (and Oliver Jacobson). Warmest congratulations to understudy Gabriella Williams who normally plays Patty but was on for Sandy. She has a deliciously sweet, “clean” singing voice and – blonde and pretty in lemon yellow – finds all the right puzzled demureness for the first act and a half before relaunching herself as an in-your-face, full belt, all-American girl towards the end. Her scene at the drive-in with Tom Parker as Danny made me laugh aloud. Parker is suitably troubled and unsure of himself but covers it with hair slicked swagger and, like Williams, sings well both solo and in groups. Among other things Grease is a perceptive exploration of adolescence – groups of boys showing off to needy girls, for example

Natasha Mould (who normally plays Cha Cha) gives a delightfully irritating, often funny account of the pushy Patty and Alessia McDermott steps up from her usual dance ensemble role as Catarina to impress as Cha Cha. McDermott can effortlessly swing either leg into a vertical position so that her thigh brushes her ear. It’s a witty performance too.

The problem with these cast changes – which presumably arose at the last minute – is that the show began with weak hesitancy and for the first fifteen minutes or so it felt like a high school musical in every sense. The ensemble was clearly uneasy. It settled, though, and certainly in the second half the dance routines which make or break this show were slick and energetic. The jiving competition is good fun, as ever. And I do love a bit of Elvis-style hip gyration.

There is a problem, however, with sound and the spoken word. The broad-mouthed, twangy – faux, in most cases – Southern accents are quite high pitched, especially for women. Delivered at naturalistic speed, much of the dialogue is lost before it reaches the audience. This may be down to the unfamiliar (to the cast on their first night) Marlowe acoustic and/or a faulty sound balance. Let’s hope it improves in subsequent performances.

 First published by Sardines
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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