All Shook Up review: “excellent and amusing”

By Ella Gibbs

Woodplayers production of DiPietro’s All Shook Up is a feel-good rendition that certainly does justice to Elvis Presley’s musical genius. Across the board the level of performance is very high and the band, from the outset, whets the audience’s appetite for two hours of excellent musical theatre. All Shook Up, inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presley, is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, set in 1950s Midwest America. Although I, alongside many other audience members, must admit to knowing little about the musical, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the production. Much like a RomCom, the muddled infatuations formed and caricatured characters do not fail to entertain.

Whilst very occasionally the midwestern accent slipped, the cast sustained a convincing depiction of small town America. In the opening scene Chad, played by Josh Russell, celebrates his release from prison with the number “Jailhouse Rock”. Dressed in skinny black jeans and a plain white tee with aviators hooked over the collar he embodies the cocky, good-looking “roustabout”, nailing the loose swinging hips and pouty lips, which he sustains throughout the production. Soulful vocals were representative of what was to come and the cast as a whole sounded brilliant throughout.

Not all members were as comfortable with the choreography. However, this did not take away from my enjoyment, and the cast’s enthusiasm as well as the lighthearted nature of the play meant that the audience rooted for them from the outset. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, our first impression of the cast as a cohesive whole, hits the audience with an energy that leaves us in much anticipation for more incredible ensemble pieces. Performances of note included Meg Duffy as Sandra, portraying this no-nonsense character with particular sass, and both Isla Brendon and Josh Russell as Natalie and Chad respectively with their especially strong vocals. Harry Stanbury (Dennis) also proves to be a most excellent comic foil in his role, however fleeting, as Chad’s sidekick. I found the languid touch of his guitar strumming and fawning over Chad particularly amusing.

The transition from sad and lonely rural Midwest to a small town scattered with new (and old) found love by the end is executed perfectly. The diversity of dynamics mean that the final conclusion does not seem rushed or unrealistic and serve as a support from which all the other elements of the musical stand. The space was used effectively throughout and the raised platform at the back provided the audience with variation, since the set was minimalistic apart from a few pieces which established the settings, such as a table and chairs and jukebox in the bar and flags lining the back of the stage at the fairground.

Apart from a sometimes-shaky spotlight, the tech performance was very strong and was no doubt down to the extensive number of people on the team helping the production run like clockwork. Director Martin Docherty and Assistant Director Aaron Thompson should be commended for putting on a production that leaves the audience singing and moving with considerably more bounce and rhythm in their step than when they came in. Shayon Banerji, Musical Director, also guided the fantastic band skilfully and with vigour. As the backbone of the production they carried the cast through to great success. By the finale it is more than clear that each person on stage is having the time of their life. This energy found its way into the audience, I would be lying if I said that we all didn’t want to be up on stage dancing along with them too. If you are not busy this Sunday evening, I could not recommend catching the closing night of this stellar performance enough.

Photograph: All Shook Up Production Team

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