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West Side Story - Nice Swan Theatre Company @The People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 7th Sep 2011 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

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First nights are always a nerve-jangling affair, for all involved, where all manner of things can go awry. However, even with a few glitches, Nice Swan Theatre Company can still stage a production that puts their competitors in the shade.

Never lacking in ambition, enthusiasm or talent, Nice Swan’s latest production is their version of the West End, Broadway and celluloid hit, West Side Story. As usual, many of the hallmarks of the group are there to be seen – fantastic staging, great acting, and brilliant choreography to name a few. However, for me, this production is not what this group is all about. With all due respect, at any one given time, I can go and see half a dozen less talented amateur groups perform productions of Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady or West Side Story. Nice Swan is so much better than that.

I associate their productions with edginess, ambition, risk-taking and flair. They take up the challenge of producing pieces which other companies would not have the courage to even consider – and they do it brilliantly and with such panache. West Side Story, in my opinion, seemed just a little too ‘safe’ and ‘commercial’.

A number of other things compounded my disappointment. Firstly, the orchestra overpowered the singing at times and, being located on an elevated platform at the rear of the stage, detracted the eye from the action below. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the two leads, Sean Gray (Tony) and Carly Burns (Maria) were outshone by the supporting principles. Jessica Brady (Anita), Bethany Walker (Rosalia), Dale Jewitt (Bernardo) and, especially, Paul Falkous (Riff) who stepped in as a late replacement at three weeks’ notice, were absolutely outstanding.

On the plus side, the choreography, by Stephanie Smith, was breathtaking and fantastically executed and extremely worthy of special mention. Credit should also be given to the ensemble of more than twenty performers who sang, danced and acted their socks off.

I am certain that the keen eyes of  the producer, Jamie Gray, and director, Ben Hunt, will also have noticed the things that didn’t go as well as they should have and that, as a result, the technical aspects of the show will be improved for the remainder of the run.

As a passionate advocate of Nice Swan Theatre Company, I hope their next production will be a return to what they do best – a risk-taking, challenging, new interpretation of a piece of work that reaches out to its audience, takes them on a journey and leaves them more culturally enriched than it found them.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 10 September 2011.



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