By Maddie Clark
After a whole summer short of musical theatre in my life, I was extremely excited to top up on some of my favourite musical theatre classics. Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s Freshers’ Showcase exceeded all my expectations. Not only did they do an excellent job at delivering excelling performances for DST’s first showcase of the post-pandemic era, but the new intake of talent from this year’s freshers was seriously impressive. Watch this space!
Audience members were accompanied to their seats by the melody of some of my musical favourites, played by Musical Director Josh Tarrier and Assistant Musical Director Freya Hartley, on their keyboards. This, alongside the simplistic set and gentle backwash, immediately created a professional and charming atmosphere. Josh’s musical ability was impeccable. He played with tenacity, running his fingers over the keys in legato play before switching with ease to forte. His skill as a conductor must not go uncommended, directing Freya with clarity and precision.
The creative decision made by Vivienne Shaw and Sam Jones to keep the set stripped back was highly effective. It allowed for the audience to pay their full attention to the cast’s voices and stage performance. I was particularly impressed by Technical Director Charlotte Beech’s effective transitions between a softer coloured backwash and harsher whitewash to reflect the mood shifts in songs.
Each performer should be proud of their immense vocal talent. To perform for the first time on the AR stage is a daunting experience, especially after a year in the pandemic, however, the five talented freshers had nothing to worry about. They brought musical theatre back to life and did so with a bang.
The Showcase began and ended with some impressive group numbers, opening with ‘Welcome to the Rock’ from Come from Away and closing with ‘From Now On’ from The Greatest Showman. Walking in staggered, audience members had time to take in each performer, all of whom took control of the stage and sang with resolve. The initial harmonies were slightly off-pitch but by the time it came to the final number nerves had been extinguished and the cast of five worked exceptionally well together. However, the choreography of both numbers was quite messy. The cast was often walking around in circles, with little to no sense of direction, or purpose. Shaw and Jones did not need to use so much movement: the cast’s voices can carry the show. This was especially the case in the final ensemble where the cast started to walk in a circle tapping their outer thigh, which came across a bit haphazard. That being said, there were some lovely moments when the entire cast would unite in a triangle formation and create a beautiful harmonic image.
Theo Dowglass was a standout. Whilst a questionable choice to start the show with, she commanded the audience with her performance of ‘I Can’t Say No’ from Oklahoma. Her stage presence was unmissable; she brought every song she sang to life. Her playfulness and facial expressions hilariously portrayed the confusion and excitement of coming of age and receiving more male attention. Her accent at times faltered and there were some moments of being slightly off-key, however, that can be put down to merely a few nerves. For when she performed ‘Home’, there was no doubt in my mind that Dowglass is a star. She was pitch-perfect, singing every word with ease and sending shivers down my arm with her belting ability. She is certainly one to watch.
Next was Francesca Horgan performing the heartbreaking ‘ When He Sees Me’ from Waitress. Horgan has a lovely tone to her voice and was very emotive in her expression throughout the piece. It was a shame that her constant movements across the stage, which at times seemed aimless, detracted from her vocal skills. Moments of stillness in a piece so powerful must never be underrated. Never-the-less, Francesca’s true talent shone through in her duet with Harry Allderidge of ‘Love is an Open Door’ from Frozen. The Disney classic was the perfect song for the two performers, tapping into Horgan’s higher range and Harry’s ease in harmonising. It was exceptionally choreographed, with lovely moments where the two would come together to hold hands or giggle awkwardly.
Allderidge, being the only male in the cast, added great variety to the showcase, especially in his performance of ‘Music of the Night’ from Phantom of the Opera. It is an extremely difficult song, but he did it more than justice. Mia’s performance of ‘Rather Be Me’ from Mean Girls also added great flare to the evening, specifically with her sassy portrayal of Janis when raising her middle finger to the audience.
However, two performances stole the evening, the first being ‘I Know it’s Today’ from Shrek. Shaw and Jones cleverly chose Theo, Mia and Emily to play Fiona at different stages of her waiting for Prince Charming. Each performer entered the stage individually, clasping an old fashioned storybook and would exit whilst the next Fiona entered. All three performers sang beautifully and the slick transitions, comedic timing and excellent harmonies, made it the most entertaining song of the evening.
Lastly, Emily Philips blew me away in her rendition of ‘Adelaide’s Lament’. The fast pace of this song makes it one of the most challenging of the evening but Philips’ clarity whilst keeping up the rhythmic intensity was exceptional. Her accent never faltered and her dynamic use of pitch to emphasise moments of panic, had me in stitches.
Overall, TDTC’s Freshers Showcase was a heart-warming reminder of the talent we have at our fingertips here at Durham. Although the production could have done with some slicker choreography and perhaps some greater thought into which songs were chosen in relation to each cast member: the positives far outweigh the negatives. I am excited to see what else TDTC has in store for the next academic year.
Image credit: Tone Deaf Theatre Company