I find myself in the heart of Birmingham, and whats more I have been in the city for a few hours already, and get this... I've not been mugged or stabbed... I know!!! I am just as surprised as you are!!! No... truthfully people round here have been lovely, including the two police officers who helped me after my iPhone decided to try and kill me! (Its true... but I shouldn't wander too much off topic... you know what I am like!)
So why the hell am I in Birmingham? Well, since getting back into performing and mingling among theatrical circles, I have met a lot of new people and made new friends. One of these is James Hinton, who forms part of the "The Young Rep", a Birmingham based youth theatre group, who are staging their musical rendition of "Just So". The musical is based on the immortal short stories of Rudyard Kipling in the words of the programme. I guess he got bored of writing stories, which was probably a good thing as Mr Kipling makes the most fantastic cakes these days instead.
I am always keen to support my friends when they perform, us small time actors have to stick together... or something like that! Not long ago I traveled to Liverpool to see a friend in a fabulous version of "Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi", and next week I am seeing another friend perform in Potters Bar (wherever the hell that is... no really! Someone tell me... I haven't got a clue). So for the very same reason I am here in Birmingham. From my perspective it is also nice to see smaller shows as that is what I hope to be involved with in the near future, so it helps to give me ideas on how we can stage our smaller projects.
My concern with all young casts is that unlike a professional performance you will always get actors of mixed abilities. When you are sat in your seat just before the show starts you can only hope that the director has cast the right people in the right roles, especially in musicals as the singing and choreographed movement is much more defined and disciplined than in a play. Its something that leaves me nervous every time. My experiences have been mixed until now, so it was time to see what Birmingham had to offer.
Well what can I say? A stand out performance came from Glen Jordan who played the elephant child, which was one of the three lead roles in the show. Just like football, in acting you have to be just as good off the ball as you do on the ball. Ok strange analogy I know, but the principal is the same. Even when the spotlight is not directly on you, you have to remember that the audience is still aware that you're there and can see everything that you do. This is where Glen shone, every reaction, every movement was mastered to perfection. It didn't matter if he was hiding behind a tree, he let his body language portray his characters emotions at that specific moment in time. Its something that many actors forget - but Glen really impressed me here.
So that was Glen when the spotlight wasn't directly shining down on him, so what happens when he is at the forefront of the action? He is a blinding actor who is passionate about performing, who owns the stage when he is up there. As for his singing it was note perfect, and again the best in the entire company. It is rare to find someone who can blow you away on all levels, but Glen is an example that these performers do really exist. I really cannot emphasise how good this guy is.... put him on a West End stage, and you wouldn't be able to tell him apart from the pros, that's how good he really is. Glen will have a future in theatre... I just know it!
Kristal Watkins and Emily Owen were also fantastic within their roles as the two female leads. Both clearly have a passion for singing, and have taken on their roles with a great deal of confidence. They both had solo pieces which they delivered well most notably a song about the kolokolo bird who couldn't fly sung by Emily which was superb.
As for the supports on the whole I feel they too delivered their parts well. Not that I doubt my friends, but James really blew me away with his singing and characterisation of the Leopard. I never realised he was such a good singer until now, I'm still in shock! You learn something new about your friends every day I suppose! I don't want to be too critical of his partner playing the Jaguar but I feel James was far better, the pairing in my eyes was questionable, as James' counterpart seemed uncomfortable on stage. There was a real mixed ability among the supports some better than others, but as I said in the opening this was expected.
I think the story was very well written, and very family friendly, and it all flowed rather well in fact. However there was a role of a Kangaroo (who interestingly was played by the same girl who was a talking cooking stove which I thought was played very well indeed) in the second half of the show. I have to say it was well acted... very hyper and bouncy... frankly superb. I just struggled to appreciate how it fitted into the script (seeing as its based in Africa). Ths was explained in part but at this point I felt the script just went off at a random tangent. Though as I said very well acted, but I felt let down by the girl playing the dingo who the kangaroo partnered. Now I am not here to slag off actors, but I have always said I will speak my mind and be truthful in reviews. I just felt the dingo I felt had no passion, it was almost like the girl playing the role didn't want to be there, which really let the side down. Its a good job it was only a small role I suppose! The girl playing the Rhino however was fabulous with a great voice and her entrance from the back of the theatre was impressive, she really took hold of her opportunity in the spotlight and dominated.
The set was fairly minimalistic but effective, the music was well written. The ensemble pieces worked really well and were fantastically harmonised, which I feel was an issue in some of the duets and smaller group numbers where it didn't work as well. I feel a lot of work must have gone into this show as ts come off really well overall. Sound wise there were issues throughout, which left me wanting to deck the sound man. I always get annoyed when the technical team let down the performers... maybe that's just the actor in me having a rant?
Overall I was pleased with the outcome. I am proud of my friend for being part of the show and for performing so well (even though he disputes this.... but we all know Gareth knows best). But most of all I am pleased to have stumbled across yet another fantastically talented performer - Glen Jordon. Look out for his name in the west end programmes in the coming few years... he will be there I assure you!