THIS was no ordinary school production. This musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber was shaped into a breath-taking, emotional experience. With Nick Huntington as Director and Producer, Peter North as Musical Director and Natasha Hobbs as Choreographer, the show was inevitably highly professional.

The young cast gave considerable depth and meaning to a musical I had previously believed to be a light-hearted telling of the story of Jesus Christ. Not this time. Yes, all the old favourite songs were there but this time they were very much part of a deeply moving telling of the pain, anguish and betrayal in the story. This is largely due to the amazingly high standard of acting and singing in all members of the cast.

Charlie Watson gave an ideal portrayal of Jesus, living and breathing the part, his anguish, suffering and anger made apparent by his excellent singing and acting. He bought the production to a fitting end, in which the death of Jesus was as dramatically intense and slow and painful as it must have been. He held the audience spellbound.

Judas (played by Alexander Layfield) captured the dominance and ambiguity of his role in the story very well. He had no choice. The hanging scene was particularly well done and harrowing. Mary Magdalene (Francesca Bisson) was a strong character with a fine singing voice who explored the confusion of her relationship with Jesus sensitively. Caiaphas (Joshua Jackson) and Pontius Pilate (Alfie Peckham) carried out their major roles perfectly, bringing out their respective feelings about Jesus strongly. This applies to Simon Zealotes (Freddie Bowles), Annas (Emily Hamilton-Bing), King Herod (Jamie Layfield) Peter (Peter Lonsdale) and the Woman by the Fire (Victoria Davis).

The priests and guards helped create palpable tension in their credible role-play while the disciples, reporters, lepers, crowds and dancers held by no means a minor role in proceedings. They helped considerably to create the serious, at times almost frightening atmosphere that must have existed then and does so in riots in this day and age. The backdrop images were particularly successful in producing this effect.

The dancing followed the design of the music amazingly well, thus contributing to a production that was particularly cohesive and alive. The orchestra, conducted by Peter North, was phenomenal, offering unstinting support to the singers and their messages, using a wide variety of timbres, rhythms and effects. This score was not a simple one, for performers and singers alike but all rose to meet the requirements impeccably.

Clever effects, varied and skilful lighting and sound, fitting, symbolic costumes, and ingenious staging all enhanced the incredibly realistic atmosphere these fine performers created. There was no doubt these performers were very much involved in the drama of the moment which in turn mesmerised the audience. This was indeed a wonderful production.

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