Since National Youth Music Theatre was established in 1976, it has produced some great alumni who are now headlining in shows all over the West End. If its new production of The Other School is anything to go by, there is certainly many more on their way.
Dougal Irvine (best known for writing musical Departure Lounge) and Dominic Marsh’s script is the perfect platform for the young talent, and has an interesting plot. Brother and sister Poppy and Kester Parish are on their way to their fifth new school in five years, except when they arrive, they discover that the school is not what it seems. It transpires that the school is full of dead children, who each have a ‘reason’ for being at the school – namely, the accident that lead to their death. Only it seems Poppy isn’t dead, and with an ‘emergency pass’ given to her by the head teacher of the school, she can transport between two worlds; the one that her brother now exists in, and the one in which he doesn’t.
The script is fast-paced in the first half as the audience uncovers the parallel worlds, although it is a tad clunky in the second, as we focus more on Poppy’s struggle to cope with her brother’s death. The music is one of the best elements of the show; Irvine has written some seriously funky contemporary hits. They instantly boast a catchy tune and harmonies the cast let soar. My favourite songs proved to be the ensemble numbers: ‘It’s a fine life (when you’re dead)’ was the highlight of the first half, boasting eccentric accidents that each child maintained, and a nice showcase for the cast’s exquisite tapping skills. The opener to act two also proved the genius in the writing, as the cast wrap their tongues around the twister that is ‘Mr Morton’s Interesting Facts About Death’ which reminded me slightly of Tim Minchin’s ‘School Song’ from Matilda.
And then there’s the kids themselves, who have the fiercest energy I’ve seen in a cast for a while. The enthusiasm and passion are there for all to see and are evident in their performances. Lizzie Jay and Oscar Morgan, who play the brother and sister duo, both handle the large roles excellently. Morgan shows skills well above his years and Jay soars in the Act One finale with a gorgeous voice. Particular mention must also go to Freddie Tapner as Mr. Morton who is a quirky, mad teacher and Robin Franklin as Barney, who both surely have a career in comic characters mapped out.
Tim Jackson’s inventive choreography (including some rather nifty use of chairs) fits well with the great music and is fresh and relevant, which makes many stark hints at the ever-increasing social media takeover. Director Lotte Wakeham has fitted all the pieces together nicely, from the minimalist set by Colin Falconer, to the excellent Youth Band playing live, to Howard Hudson’s lighting design. When a new production as exciting as this comes along, full of the future West End stars, it goes a long way to furthering the argument that the youth of today needs funding more than ever to help increase their already outstanding potential.
The Other School is playing St. James Theatre until 17 August 2013. For more information see the St James’s Theatre website.