THE OTHER SCHOOL
St James Theatre, London
Commissioned by National Youth Music Theatre
Book by Dominic Marsh and Dougal Irvine
Music and Lyrics by Dougal Irvine
POLLY - Lizzie Jay
KESTER - Oscar Morgan
MS PARISH - Ellie Hudson
MR MORTON - Freddie Tapner
HEAD - Merryl Ansah
BEREAVEMENT COUNSELLOR - Bexie Archer
SECRETARY - Jessica Lee
AXEL – Michael Colbourne
BARNY - Robin Franklin
LEONARD - Eddie Manning
WILKES - Harry Sykes
DANIEL - Toby Turpin
NIGEL - Bradley Gascoyne
ARTHUR - Tim Mahendran
SARAH SIDCUP - Rachel Bird
JANINE - Anuli Changa
ELLEN - Emma Ernest
SAM - Lily May CARL - Alex Gilchrist
DONALD - Adam Hepworth
MICHAELA - Naomi Morris
DINNER LADY - Tim Mahendran
CAROL - Jess Stoddard
GEORGIE - Meghan Bunyan
ZOE - Sara Hughes
TOM - Billy Nevers
TYRONE - Sam Parmiter
Ellie Davis - flute / saxophone
Ollie Farley - guitars
Felix Stickland - guitars
Harry Robinson - cello
Marcus Pritchard - bass guitar
Matt Billups - percussion
Isaac McCullough - keyboard
Mark Collins - piano
Director - Lotte Wakeham
Musical Director - Mark Collins
Choreographer - Tim Jackson
Designer - Colin Falconer
Lighting Designer - Howard Hudson
Sound Designer - Andy Graham
Costume Supervisors – Zlatica Halkova & Frances Jegar
Assistant Director - Anna Pool
Assistant Musical Director - Isaac McCullough
Assistant Choreographers - Joshua Berg & Clare Inez
The Stage – Shenton’s View
Reviewer: Mark Shenton
The Other School for new musicals
Just the other day I was wondering aloud whether [title of show] was a last gasp from the planet of original new musicals. Of course, I was being deliberately provocative, asking whether its very original take on the art of writing new musicals had managed to write them out of existence.
And no sooner than I’d written those words, of course, than a new and completely original musical arrived in London to utterly disprove me, I’m happy to say. Believe me, I am only too pleased to be proved wrong in my thesis, and it is a thrill to be reminded that there are always new directions for musicals still to travel in and new talents to make them do so.
The Other School, premiered last week at the St James Theatre under the auspices of the National Youth Music Theatre, is important for lots of reasons, and not just because it was a cracking good show. First of all, there’s the speed of its creation: as composer Dougal Irvine describes in a programme note about the show’s fast birth with his co-book writer Dominic Marsh,
When The Other School opens on 14 August 2013 it will mark the passage of just ten months since Dom and I began writing the show. Most musicals take years to get to production, so it’s been both a wonderful opportunity and a challenge to imagine something on this scale with an original storyline in such a short space of time.
It was after Irvine had seen NYMT’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s 13 (directed by the composer himself) last summer at the Apollo Theatre that the idea was born.
My jaw dropped both at the show and the talent of the kids on stage, who would have looked at home amongst seasoned pros. I thought it would be a dream to write for an organisation like NYMT and my jaw dropped again a few weeks later when meeting their producer Jeremy Walker for coffee and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘So, have you written it yet?’ Better get cracking. Dom and I began work in October and finished the first draft just before Christmas. It was rough, it didn’t have an ending, but it was a start.
And last week, it reached the stage in a blissfully confident form that shows how speed can focus the attention usefully. That, of course, is how shows were always once written – and indeed is still the way Alan Ayckbourn writes today. He sets himself an annual deadline and writes to meet it.
But also what is striking is how the NYMT, who have been through this process many times before with original musicals that they’ve commissioned from Ayckbourn, Howard Goodall and others, are also so adept at harnessing the human and creative energy to make it happen. With young, resilient cast members and orchestra, aged between 12 and 23 and drawn from all over the country, they’ve been able to put it up in record time.
And here, with 17 original songs by Irvine and a book that is both challenging and audacious as it imagines an after-life school for children who have met an early death, the show dares to embrace a dark subject matter with a light-hearted spirit (in every sense) to create an alternative world that feels authentic, disturbing and complex.
In fact, with its school setting, it reminded inevitably of Matilda (a world that director Lotte Wakeham is intimately acquainted with, as her other day job is associate director on the West End and Broadway incarnations of that show). But it also summonsed memories of another great musical for me: Next to Normal, with its conversations about bereavement between the living and the dead.
Those are both great inspirations, conscious or not; but Dougal Irvine is also the real deal as a composer, writing alternately moving and catchy tunes in a modern pop idiom that are absolutely original, too. It’s also very refreshing to hear so many of the songs scored for a dominant guitar and strings sound (and to see the utter concentration and musicality of the 12-year-old cello player).
A faultless cast give it spellbinding energy and commitment, and execute Tim Jackson’s evocative choreography and movement with panache and style. They always say of New York, New York that it is so good they named it twice, and The Other School was so good I saw it twice – on consecutive days last week. And as they say in [title of show],
I’d rather be nine people’s favourite thing
Than a hundred people’s ninth favourite thing
The Other School is already one of my favourite things of the year. I’m sure there are more than eight more people who agree!
One Stop Arts
Reviewer: Caitlin McDonald
Top of the Class: The Other School at St James Theatre Thoughtful, boisterous and poignant, The Other School is an enjoyable collaboration between National Youth Music Theatre, Dougal Irvine and Dominic Marsh at the St James Theatre.
I expected The Other School to be a zany horror-comedy-musical about two students, Polly and Kester Parish, getting caught up in a paranormal adventure at a nightmarish educational establishment. It turns out to be a story with far more complexity and emotional depth.
Polly Parish and her brother Kester arrive for their first day at a new school, one of many first days at new schools since they move around so much. There is a piquant bickering rivalry between Polly (Lizzie Jay) and Kester (Oscar Morgan). Polly, though older, is the shyer of the two, and Kester teases her about reading a book on coping with social anxiety disorder. But their teasing is underpinned by real affection, and they become each other's support as they find themselves in the oddest school they've ever known.
Polly and Kester have two striking duets together, "It's Okay to Be You" and "Do You Remember?", each equally stunning and with very different emotional resonance. The warmth in Polly and Kester's relationship underpins the whole performance, setting the tone for the rest of the cast.
The song "How I Got to School" is a toe-tapping number where the class take it in turns to explain how they arrived in this bizarre place: crushed by a woman jumping to her death, run over by an ambulance, hit by a clay pigeon, and so on and so forth. Seeking answers, Polly and Kester are led on a tour around the school by Daniel (Tony Turpin) who explains that "If It Were There", that's where the library, gym, and canteen would be - but none of it is real. This is my favourite number, displaying Tim Jackson's choreography to superb effect with the ensemble creating walls, doors, football goals and a rather queasy lunch line with crisp efficiency and full-on energy.
It becomes clear that Kester is meant to be at the eponymous "Other School" but Polly is not, and this is where the show becomes increasingly cerebral: we find Polly's mother, Ms Parish (Ellie Hudson) in a hospital waiting for her daughter to wake up from the concussion she suffered when Kester had the accident that killed him. Ms Parish's song "Hospital" is intense with the thrumming emotion of a grieving mother.
The ensemble picks up the pace again with "It's a Fine Life (When You're Dead)," featuring choreographic stylings that can only be dubbed zombie-chic and which I hope to see become the next big dance craze. There is some charming tap work here as well.
Other standout moments in the first half include a beautifully staged funeral with the cast making a coffin out of plastic school chairs and a meditation on conflicts between "Head and Heart", delivered with a sweet sentimentality by The Caretaker, Alex Gilchrist. Freddie Tapner gives us a deliciously ghoulish teacher, Mr Morton, who leads the way into the second act with "Mr Morton's Interesting Facts about Death."
The second half is more focused on Polly's real life outside the "Other School," which is a coping mechanism she is using to deal with her brother's death. In comes Barny, an irrepressibly peppy Robin Franklin, who makes it his mission to help Polly reintegrate into society with only the slightest prompting from his mother Carol (Jess Stoddard). As well as learning to let go of the "Other School," Polly must negotiate some bullies – "large female predators," as Barny calls them – in her new school. The interplay between Polly and her aggressors is fantastically funny and cringe-making. The show culminates with a tense action scene where Polly must learn to accept her brother's death and to move forward without guilt.
The ensemble as a whole is terrific, and I regret I can't praise by name every actor as they each approach the production with gusto. The pacing of the show works well and the cast display an impressive emotional range. The live band too are excellent, providing energetic and feeling support to the cast onstage.
Those with an eye for design will enjoy the simple but effective set pieces from Colin Falconer and the atmospheric lighting by Howard Hudson. The "Other School's" alarming orange uniforms really fit the mood of the show.
There are a few moments where youthful voices struggle to provide the full power needed to support the big ballads. The songs require an ambitious range and, apart from these minor slips, the performers carry them off with aplomb.
After the show's thunderous applause finally dies down I overhear some nabob in the audience exclaiming wistfully, "I ALWAYS wanted a first night like that!" Well, quite. My companion for the evening and I wended our way to the station merrily singing the chorus to "How I Got to School".
Musical Theatre Review
Reviewer: Peter St James
I think I can honestly say that I enjoyed The Other School more than Matilda the Musical.”
The Other School, a National Youth Music Theatre production, was staged at the St James Theatre, London.
The Other School is a psychological new musical by Dominic Marsh and Dougal Irvine, specially commissioned for the National Youth Music Theatre. Irvine wrote the brilliant musical Departure Lounge, so I was really looking forward to see what he would come up with next. I wasn’t disappointed.
With a cast of 26 talented youngsters ranging in age from 12 to 23, director Lottie Wakeham and choreographer Tim Jackson have joined forces to create an exciting and energetic new show with a simple but effective set design by Colin Falconer (it’s all done with chairs) and clever lighting by Howard Hudson.
When siblings Polly and Kester Parish from a one-parent family start at another new school, something doesn’t seem quite right. It turns out that Kester was knocked down and killed by a school bus and has entered a kind of twilight zone, while Polly who witnessed the tragedy and is suffering from shock has accidentally gone with him. Their fellow classmates sing of their gruesome ends in the amusing ‘How I Got to School’, although one of the pupils Daniel (an excellent Toby Turpin) is in denial and refuses to admit that he is dead. When the headmistress finds out that Polly shouldn’t be there, she issues her with a special pass to let Polly come and go at will. Things take a dramatic turn when the school bully Axel finds out about this magic pass and attempts a mass breakout.
There are a number of stand-out performances, especially Lizzie Jay and Oscar Morgan as Polly and Kester, who both have a great rapport and excellent singing voices. Michael Colbourne as Axel, Tim Mahendran as Kate, the dinner lady, and Robin Franklin as Polly’s next door neighbour Barny who helps her come to terms with the loss of her brother and move on, also impress.
Musical director Mark Collins on keyboards leads a fine band of six young musicians aged between 12 and 20. Irvine has written a great and varied score including company numbers such as It’s a Fine Life (When You’re Dead)’, ‘Mr Morton’s Interesting Facts About Death’ and ‘Let’s Get Living’, plus ballads like ‘It’s Okay to Be You’ and ‘Do You Remember?’
This is a great show for kids and adults, as the story handles the subject of death in an interesting and humorous way. Hopefully this will eventually be released for schools to perform. I’m so glad that I got to see this production, I think I can honestly say that I enjoyed The Other School more than Matilda the Musical.
If you can’t get to see The Other School, try and catch their epic, site-specific production of West Side Story, opening next week in the vast Victorian Warehouse in Manchester, directed by Nikolai Foster with choreography by Drew McOnie. NYMT has been going since 1976 and nurtured some great talent over the years including Matt Lucas and the company’s current patrons, Tom Chambers, Jude Law, Amy Nuttall and Sheridan Smith, long may it continue.