Last night (Sunday 25th September) I found myself in Stratford upon Avon to help the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrate their 50th birthday. It was a fantastic evening outside the theatre with a rather late sudden appearance of summer making it possible to even enjoy a (soft) drink over looking the river Avon just outside the theatre before the concert celebrating the RSC’s musical successes over the years.
As you may have gathered, when it comes to the theatre I’m unashamedly more musical than serious play. I have nothing against a play – infact some have made me have huge emotive journeys while sat in a not very comfortable seat in a theatre – but give me the option I’d choose a musical over a play to see 9 times out of 10. You may have also gathered that a new musical about to open in London (Matilda) is a bit of an obsession with mine, and the fact that it was being mentioned in the blurb for the concert convinced me that I wanted to go. Add to that the fact that as I walked towards the steps of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last night, the Matilda that I first saw (Adrianna Bertola) was sat on the steps. Me being me got a little bit starstruck and it’s probably a good idea I didn’t have my copy of the CD with me!
I seriously digressed there and I apologise. Now, it wasn’t until I saw the Les Miserables 25th anniversary tour last year that I found out that the original production was an RSC production at the Barbican and not really until last night how many musicals the RSC have produced. Last night we had songs and music from 12 productions from the last 50 years performed by some brilliant performers and supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s orchestra.
What struck me the most about the concert was it’s diversity. There were a mumber of songs from musicals aimed at families such as Matilda, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Secret Garden as well as more serious ‘grown up’ musicals such as Piaf (a number from which was perfromed by one of the hosts for the evening, Annette McLaughlin). The audience was also very diverse – with the younger generation being evenly distributed amongst the older. In my own personal opinion (and this goes for me to an extent too), the RSC struck gold with Matilda and brought the company to a whole new audience. No longer is it seen as a company that supports GCSE texts, but a company that produces a vast range of theatre and works with all kinds of people. It’s not lost it’s stuffy image, but has softened greatly. And now with the Royal Shakespeare Thatre reopening it’s door after a huge renovation (and in parts rebuild) it appears to be becoming even greater.
It was fantastic for me to see Adrianna Bertola reprise her role as Matilda for a couple of songs from Matilda (Naughty, Pathetic [Rosalie Craig ‘playing’ Miss Honey] and When I Grow Up). Between the two Matilda’s I saw she was the stronger of the two and it’s a shame she isn’t taking the role to London. She really kicked the show off, even though she didn’t appear for a few songs, taking command of the space and making the audience fall in love with her. Ian Hughes gave a number of fantastic and at times comedic performances as did Rebecca Brewer and Rosalie Craig. We witnessed an absolutely stunning performanc of ‘Stars’ from Les Miserables by Earl Carpenter as well as Desmond Barrit leading the Act 1 finale of ‘Master of the House’. All the excellent soloists (Clare Foster, Chris Jarman, David McGranagham, Helena Raeburn andMichael Xavier complete the list of soloists) were supported by the great Capital Voices choir.
As well as the music we heard an exhange between the current producers of the latest version of Carrie the Musical and the RSC. The RSC produced a version of the show and wanted the permission to perform the title song, but due to it’s chequered past the current producers in America are very precious of the source materail… to say the exchange became heated is a slighlty understatement. As you can guess we weren’t lucky enough to see the title song being performed (but anyone aware of the show’s history may see that as a good thing!).
It was a fantastic evening and I had a great time. The new theatre is a fantastic space with lots of hidden gems (which I took a few photos of!) Next time I go I want to have a meal at the roof top restaurant and go up the tower (hope the weather’s as good as it was yesteday!)
So, thank you for letting me in on your birthday celebrations and here’s for the next 50!