The Summer Youth Project at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre brings together a 100-strong community cast of young people aged between 9 and 19, who’ve had just two weeks to rehearse a show before taking to the stage and performing for friends, family and the general public.
Now in its seventh year, previous SYP productions have included Fame, Annie and Footloose, with last year’s Oliver! described by reviewers as “West End standard”. Does this year’s choice, Bugsy Malone, live up to its predecessor? You’d better believe it.
Bugsy is a great pick for a project of this kind, because besides being a family-friendly show with some irresistible tunes, it also has a huge amount of speaking parts; the list of characters in the programme is a page long. As a result, the Dartford audience gets to enjoy a true showcase of the vast amount of talent to be found on our doorstep. Many of the characters only have a few lines, but that doesn’t stop the actors making the most of their moment – like Thomas Gill, who has us eating out of his hand as Babyface (a.k.a. “the star of Dartford”), or Charlotte Whyte, who sparkles in her brief appearance as the spoilt diva Lena Marrelli.
Bugsy himself is played by Reece Eastgate, who owns the stage with cool confidence and charm; I’ve no doubt he’s got a great future ahead. Joseph Warrilow is great fun as Fat Sam, the incompetent gang boss and nightclub owner, while Calum Page’s slick, ruthless Dandy Dan wouldn’t look out of place in a remake of The Godfather.
There are some fantastic vocal performances too, most notably from Hollister Jacob as wannabe singer Blousey Brown, and Olivia Clark, who not only has a beautiful voice, but on Saturday afternoon also proved her professionalism as she powered through Fizzy’s solo number, Tomorrow, despite some distracting sound interference.
I could name everyone… but we’d be here all week. Suffice to say, every single member of the cast gives it their absolute all, and knowing the short time they’ve had to prepare only makes the achievement all the more impressive.
Directed and choreographed by Richard Peakman, who’s worked on the last five SYP productions, with musical direction from Melanie Crouch, the show dazzles most in its big musical numbers, during which the entire cast fill the stage and auditorium with an irresistible energy and enthusiasm. The finale is particularly infectious, with neither cast nor audience wanting the show to end.
Unfortunately this review is coming towards the end of the three-day run (I was meant to be there for opening night but had a train disaster), but if you have time to grab a ticket for the final show tonight, I really recommend it. Colourful, energetic, funny and joyful (not to mention the most child-friendly gangster story ever written – imagine how much better the world would be if all guns just squirted cream instead of bullets), the production is a wonderful testament to the power of theatre to bring people together – and for those of us who are regulars, it’s a refreshing reminder of the pleasure it can bring to so many.
Bugsy Malone has its final performance tonight, 13th August, at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford.