That’s a Wrap!
How do you follow a show featuring a big green cartoon character, a revolving stage and a Monkees classic finale? By taking on one of the great challenges of musical theatre!
Stephen Sondheim is widely regarded as the master of the modern musical, with shows including ‘Sweeney Todd’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Company’. ‘Into the Woods’ is his most family-friendly works, often produced in American high schools, but it is still highly demanding in terms of both singing and acting. At the start of this year’s season of shows for Queen’s College, Mr Trafford decided to introduce our students to classic Sondheim- a feat never before attempted at the school! Could the cast of 28 and the crew of 10 pull it off? Absolutely!
The first challenge faced musical director, Mr Jenkins, and assistant M.D., Miss Wills: there is a huge amount of singing in the show, with tricky harmonies and solos demanding precise rhythm. The choral work is undoubtedly some of the most complex material faced by any cast in one of our senior shows, but everyone worked together to make a great, rich and sometimes surprising sound. ‘Into the Woods’ is not the kind of show to finish with an upbeat mega-mix, but the finale sequence of ‘Children Will Listen’ especially brought the show to a rousing emotional ending.
The sound of the show also relied on the proficiency of the student tech team, and for the first time, members of the 6th form took full control of sound mixing, with Toby at the helm of 16 radio microphones and Hugh and Charlie cueing hundreds of effects.
Mr Trafford has directed several professional Sondheim musicals, including ‘Sweeney Todd’, ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ and ‘A Little Night Music’, but he was especially struck by the detail and nuance achieved in the acting performances in this production. There were so many outstanding moments, from Millie’s masterclass of comedy and pathos as the Baker’s Wife, to Fallon and Elizabeth’s delivering two very different characterisations each as the hideous Witch and transformed Enchantress, to Falah as the tortured and soulful Baker and Jack revealing surprises as the Mysterious Man. Lucia and Freya shared the crucial role of the dreamer, Cinderella, whilst Aria and Rosie also shared beanstalk-climbing duties as Jack. It was especially pleasing to see younger members of the school stepping up to be part of the senior company, with Mary-Tess bringing comedy and spirit as Red Riding Hood and Annabelle on stilts, towering over the rest of the cast as the Giant.
Another hugely impressive feature of the production was the fact that a whole set of understudies also had their chance to shine as they developed their skills in readiness for future leading roles. Makanaka was a force of nature as Red Ridinghood (Saturday), Felicity made the role of the Baker’s Wife her own (Friday) and Oscar absolutely blew everyone away as the Baker (Saturday). Annicka and Antonia also showed their versatility as swing covers.
But the success of a large-scale musical absolutely relies on teamwork from the whole ensemble on every level, be it Mrs Elliott, polishing the ensemble scenes, to Louis and Mr Charles having to re-fly 3 dummies in the roof every day ready to be dropped as one of our special effect moments, to Tom hurrying from his sick bed to help backstage with microphone changes. The passion and dedication were hugely impressive and resulted in another milestone of a show from Queen’s Performing Arts! The challenge has certainly now been set for the next show…
A message from Mark Edwards, Chair of Governors
It is often commented to me about the high quality of the productions at Queen’s College and so often people ask how do we keep the standards so consistently high? I can only conclude that its is down to the huge effort made by so many people across the College community and this performance of “Into the Woods” will be no exception.
Performance, production, music, costumes, sets, props all making the students part of the whole production, this engagement forms such a powerful bond. If students don’t want to perform on stage the critical roles played by students in putting on the productions technically and visually is central to its success. I personally see the school performances in the same way I see the skills learnt in our sport, it’s about working together and connecting as a team.
Performance is also a skill for life. The ability to stand at the front of a room and engage with an audience are key aspects of strengthening character and helping in giving confidence. In any environment of work from interviews to presentations either in University and the workplace, it will be hugely valuable.
However we have had some individuals with notable success in the world of performance some with first class Film and TV careers some acting on our screens today. Paul Arditti is also another great example – an Olivier award-winning sound and production director with global success, including Broadway, who learnt his skills here at Queen’s College working on the school plays.
Over many years our school has valued performance; there have been many productions across the College before and during the World Wars. It has to be remembered with a history as long as ours that many performances would have taken place. The School Play has long been an important part of the school year and is etched in many Old Queenians’ minds of all ages.
It is with this in mind the decision to appoint a College Artistic Director to encourage performance across the whole College was a key decision and now seeing the engagement with the relevant departments and the increase in productions over this time has been truly inspirational. And to see Queen’s students touring with their work including to the Edinburgh festival, has fulfilled a personal goal of mine as Chairman.
My thanks to every single person involved. It’s a valuable part of your school life. You will all remember these productions with great fondness and for the cast of “Into the Woods” ..bravo!
Toby Year 13 – Sound Operator
This was my first time being a Sound Operator at Queen’s, which involved mixing and balancing the microphones with the song tracks/sound effects to ensure that the actors could be heard. Compared with other roles I have had, such as DSM or follow spot operator, this role was more difficult at first as I needed constant focus, listening to the volume of the actors and adjusting the levels when necessary. The complex nature of these particular songs also proved quite a challenge. However, as I became more comfortable with the show, this role became incredibly enjoyable and very satisfying when things ran smoothly. I have also gained a deeper understanding of how things like reverb or EQ can affect voices on stage, and it has definitely given me a greater interest in sound engineering as a whole.
Rosie Year 12 – “Jack”
I thoroughly enjoyed my whole experience of being involved with ‘Into the woods’, from the weekly Saturday rehearsals to show week itself.
One of my favourite parts of the preparations was our trip to see the show at the Bath theatre Royal early in September. This took place on the second day back from the summer holidays, meaning that it was a great opportunity for those interested in the show to get to know each other and gain a deeper understanding of the ‘Into the Woods’ itself before the auditions the following Saturday. The outstanding talent the we saw was great inspiration for our own show and the creative staging and set allowed us to consider the show from a new perspective.
I took part in ‘Into the Woods’ as a member of the cast and was lucky enough to play two different roles across the 6 shows, alternating the role of ‘Jack’ as well as having the responsibility of being the swing cover for ‘Rapunzel’s Prince’.
Being an understudy was a really valuable experience for me as it gave me a great insight into the preparation and confidence needed to take on multiple characters and allowed me to throw myself into a role which I wouldn’t usually think of playing, yet really enjoyed.
Although at times the idea of putting such a challenging show on in only a few months did seem daunting I was constantly surrounded by a supportive and energetic cast in which every member contributed their own ideas and got involved in every moment. Not only did this allow us to have fun and be creative during the rehearsal process but also meant that by the time we reached the shows themselves the whole cast had a close bond and was able to work together to deliver an impactful performance every night.
Whether you’re an experienced actor or have never stepped foot on a stage before I would thoroughly recommend giving performing at Queen’s a try.
Oscar Year 11—Understudy “Baker”
Originally, I wanted and auditioned for the role of Jack. After the auditions I was given the role of Rapunzel’s Prince and understudy for the Baker – with one performance as the Baker guaranteed! Although I didn’t get the role I originally hoped for, I was really pleased with the part I was given. I learnt my lines for the prince quite quickly and then started to learn the Baker’s lines – there were quite a few! I practised whenever I could – including in the car on the way to and from school. As the week of the show got nearer, I did panic thinking I would never learn all the lines for the Baker. In the end we all managed to learn our lines and I really enjoyed the whole experience.