CHURCHER’S – YOU ROCK!

REVIEW – School of Rock

Churcher’s College, Petersfield

Wednesday, April 21

Churcher’s pupils proved they are Petersfield’s School of Rock, as they air-guitared and fist-pumped their way through this musical.

Based on the Linklater film starring Jack Black, the stage show of School of Rock was created by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Julian Fellowes (yes, of Downton Abbey fame – who’d have thought??)  Different music to the film but the plot is the same – eternal slacker Dewey, kicked out of his band and kipping at his friend Ned’s place, is a failed wannabe rock star. He’s broke, he can’t get into Battle of the Bands and he’s definitely not flavour of the month with Ned’s girlfriend as he hasn’t paid the rent yet again.

Oliver Fogelin as Dewey is engaging and talented; I suspect, not at all a slacker in real life. Great performance.
In the show, Dewey pretends to be Ned, a supply teacher, and takes a job at a smart prep school which prides itself on tradition, discipline and academic success. Dewey shocks the pupils with his don’t care attitude to grades and timetables and he’s on his way to being found out when he discovers the children are musically gifted. He teaches them rock history, swaps the cello for a bass and piano for some prog keyboards and hey presto – he has a band!

In the process of course, he gives them the freedom to express their feelings. The boy who likes Streisand, reads Vogue and is oppressed by his football-mad dad, gets to be the band’s stylist (Jackson Wilks – take a bow; you are superb). The girl who never speaks proves to have a golden singing voice (Milly Greenall – well done!). Zack whose dad wants him to be an academic success so he doesn’t get stuck in a poorly-paid job just wants to be a rock guitarist (Roscoe Davey – devil’s horns to you, sir).

There’s a very moving song from the children in the first act, where they explain the pressure they’re under from parents. If Only You Would Listen is a plea to be seen and heard, and I had a lump in my throat when these diminutive lower school pupils turned to the audience and showed their vulnerability in the song.

The big, catchy number is Stick It to the Man – the rock anthem in which Dewey teaches the kids to break out and rebel.  What do you do when “parents overwork ya” or they’re “all up in your Facebook” or make you eat “gluten-free vegan snack foods”? You “stick it to the man”, the man being your parents, your teacher, your boss… any figure of authority preventing you from being yourself. It was lovely watching the kids let go and leap around the stage. It left everyone smiling and humming the tune in the interval.

Of course, the children aren’t the only ones who are trapped in their lives, needing rock to free them. As the put-upon Ned, Harry Marden has the audience’s sympathy, waiting until his girlfriend Patty (played with confidence by Ruby Hall) is out of the house, before playing Guitar Hero and rocking out on the sofa.

Matilda Shapland plays the head teacher Miss Mullins, who needs to take off her specs and indulge her passion for Stevie Nicks (I loved the little scene as she hums along to Fleetwood Mac on her headphones in her office). Her Queen of the Night aria in the music class was incredible – Matilda has starred in West End musicals and it’s easy to see why from this performance.

There were so many fantastic performances in this show – from the band perched above the stage to the smallest of the performers rocking out front. It’s a big, warm-hearted show about freedom of expression – and Churcher’s totally nailed it.

Well done director and choreographer Stacey Carty, musical director Helen Purchase, production manager Chris Pellet and the many, many backstage crew and enthusiastic cast. You rock!

Kat Wootton

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