Technically: A Musical is the final of three plays to be performed at the Assembly Rooms Theatre to celebrate Durham Drama Festival 2024.
It’s 9:35pm and the play is supposed to have started 5 minutes ago. Technicians are still preparing the stage, testing the sound, trialling the lights, and- oh! What’s this? The play has already started! Yes, it’s all very meta. Technically : A Musical, tells the tale of theatre’s behind-the-scenes heroes. Unsung they are no longer, since this play is a musical, and our tech team are the stars.
The set is basically what you’d expect any backstage area to look like – perhaps with a bit of added chaos. Props are piled upon fold-away tables: a cuddly raccoon, an African drum, a creepy toy doll and a human skull, among many other items. It’s messy and intriguing.
We focus primarily on five leads – the Stage Manager (Carrie Cheung), Lights (Jolie Rooks), Sound (Grace Heron), Stage Left (Niamh Williams) and Stage Right (Alice Lim) – and their struggles in preparing for a production led by a capricious and pretentious director (Rachel Wilkison). “I’d like you to change everything”, she requests, just as the team has almost finished preparing for the performance. It’s all very sweet and very funny. The script (written by Shannon Hill, Jacob Marshall, Luke Mallon and Faith Gorton) doesn’t attempt anything overly ambitious but does a simple job superbly. Certain moments in the play are quite moving, too.
The highlights of the show by no small margin are the songs. They’re very stripped back – usually just a keyboard and vocals – but the chord progressions and melodies are gorgeous (if not revolutionary). Every vocal performance is brilliant, though a special mention must be given to Jolie Rooks, who transforms when she sings. Her voice is both powerful and angelic and will certainly give you goosebumps. The use of harmonies is tasteful and intricate and the Singin’ in the Rain-esque dancing that often accompanies the musical numbers adds another layer of entertainment. Lyrically, the songs are lighthearted, but in the best way possible, with too many funny lines to count.
Technically: A Musical is a humble yet hugely entertaining production that improves exponentially as it progresses. It would be difficult to end Durham Drama Festival 2024 with a better (or more meta) show than this.
Image credit: Ellen Olley