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Bring It On: Southwark Playhouse

August 15, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 11th August 2018).

Following the triumphant “13” at the Ambassadors Theatre in 2017, the British Theatre Academy return to American High School culture, a little bit older, a little bit wiser in a Tom Kitt / Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda / Jeff Whitty confection celebrating cheerleading and the US teen.

Campbell is looking forward to her Senior Year as elected Head Cheerleader, rounding out her Truman High School career in style. A spanner in the works finds her transferred unexpectedly to the tough Jackson High. No cheerleading squad, no adoring circle of friends… just fellow ex-Trumanite and cheer Mascot Bridget-the-unpopular. “Sink or Swim” is the motion now.

It’s a pretty long-winded setup, taking almost 30 minutes to reach the good stuff, but it’s worth the journey. For those who know Miranda’s earlier work, this has plenty of the elements that make “In The Heights” such a wonderful slice of true life – unfettered honesty about interpersonal relationships; the obvious made even more glaringly so.

The more experienced Kitt and Green provide the soundest structure to his early effort. Kitt’s score isn’t that memorable, though the odd ballad, in particular, sticks. With Kitt, though, Green pours on the attitude to keep the book characters engaging and witty enough to sustain the show.

Tom Paris (Set and Costumes) gives us an open space with two-tone lockers and floor, plus the odd simple bench, mirror and road sign – and plenty of cheerleading outfits and Unicorn Onesies – don’t ask.

Director / Choreographer Ewan Jones keeps the action flowing for all three sides of the audience, and creates some impressive ensemble dance routines. The older cast members cope better with these than the youngsters (a little extra mirror-rehearsal may help tidy and tighten slightly “Do Your Own Thing” in particular) but “We Ain’t No Cheerleaders” and “It’s All Happening” are impressive.

Where British Theatre Academy score biggest, however, is the cast. This is a library of all the theatre performers we will be fighting online for tickets to see over the next half decade or so.

Victim Campbell (Robyn McIntyre) proves her ability by selling a weaker song “One Perfect Moment” in show-stopping style. It can be impossible to love a bitch, but she maintains her edge while never losing sympathy. Her scenes with Danielle (Chisara Agor) are emotionally explosive, as Agor’s remarkable charisma enters the mix. A triple-threat likely to reach the top very quickly.

Fellow victim Bridget (Kristine Kruse) will probably end up with Mischief Theatre at some point. Comic, yes, but with a self-assurance that transcends pity, and a sure understanding of character.

For the rest of the Truman gang, sidekick Skylar (Isabella Pappas) is another step towards a stellar career. Character acting is as natural to her as breathing, facial expressions simply hilarious, and a stage-holding song “Tryouts” demonstrates her range still further.

Loyal Kylar (Clair Cleave) is a versatile MC too, Campbell’s boyfriend Steven (Samuel Witty) is credible, later work with Eva (Sydnie Hocknell) proving that both can produce a very broad range of emotions as required.

At Jackson, La Cienega (Matthew Brazier) is vivid, and to be congratulated on his sound Dance Captaincy and cheerleading supervision on the show. Twig’s (Ashley Daniels) evolving love-life is a lovely piece of sensitivity, with Nautica (Mary Celeste) making the most of her role in proceedings.

Notes too for Cameron (Clark James), Tyler (Ben Terry) and Jake (Morgan Howard Chambers), also Woman (Millie Longhurst), all of whom for dance ability and strong acting add something to the show at many points.

An acknowledgement to the rest of the ensemble too, too numerous to mention but always effective and surely the generation to come once the current “oldies” are safely transferred to less desirable show casts…

So, second year of my own encounter with British Theatre Academy work, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. There’s still a couple of weeks left to see stellar work at below star prices, and I do suggest that you take it.

4 stars.


Photo credit: Eliza Wilmot. Used by kind permission.


And that’s it for the season. I’ll be on summer blog break until the leaves turn around on 26th September 2018. Have a good one, all!


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