It must be slightly daunting when planning to perform a well-known and loved musical. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows what the songs are supposed to sound like. Can we do it justice? No such qualms need to have worried the cast and crew of who treated audiences to a feast of entertainment with Thornden School’s summer production of The Sound of Music last week.
The production required a large cast of over 100 performers – all pupils from years seven to ten (first to fourth form in old money). All demonstrated a very professional and mature approach to the performance. At times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t at the Mayflower Theatre and that these were schoolchildren.
Superb quality of singing
The musical’s opening number – the Nun’s Chorus – was performed by more than four dozen nuns spread across the stage and through the aisles. The quality of singing wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Winchester Cathedral. Later scenes amused the audience with the lighter side of the nuns’ characters, with roller-skating, giggling in the background and surreptitiously catching the wedding bouquet.
We were then transported to the Austrian countryside, where we met Maria revelling in the beauty and solace of her beloved mountains. This difficult and demanding role was portrayed to perfection with some outstanding singing and expertly delivered dialogue. There was definitely no problem with this Maria – here surely is an actress who could go far.
The other main parts perfectly complemented that of Maria. In Captain Von Trapp we saw the stern, unemotional naval captain gradually soften as he came to realise that his family was the most important part of his life. Max was the slightly shady wheeler-dealer who had a finger in several pies – somehow you knew that he would not fare badly in the approaching political upheaval. The Mother Superior gave thoughtful and careful pastoral advice to Maria.
Perfect timing and pinpoint accuracy
The seven Von Trapp children were played as characters close enough to be siblings, yet each with a particular characteristic to make them stand out from the others. The troupe performed some wonderfully choreographed numbers, with perfect timing and pinpoint accuracy. Did I detect a nod to the “if I was not upon the stage” routine in a section of “do-re-mi” when the children performed a separate action to each of the notes?
The large chorus and ensemble supported the main cast in several musical scenes and opened the second act with an exciting rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd” – presented as an audition to the music festival. This performance actually started during the interval, with the characters milling about the stage as they waited for the audition to start. As we watched the interaction unfold on stage – small groups merging into large groups, large groups splitting into small groups, characters moving between groups and starting up new conversations – we realised that this wasn’t a random sequence of movements but a carefully choreographed display, made the more impressive by the lack of any music to time the action to.
The music was provided by a live orchestra – to which more pupils contributed – who tackled the variety of musical styles required by the score with great dexterity. Some of the arrangements and synchronisations with the action on stage were quite complex, but the musical accompaniment didn’t falter. Just a pity that the layout of the hall meant that we didn’t get to see the musicians.
Behind the scenes the backstage and technical crew provided slick scene changes as the settings moved between Abbey, the Von Trapp residence, and the mountains. Clever use of lighting – including the projection of rose windows onto the side walls – turned the auditorium into an abbey, and flashing lights and sirens emphasised the panic from the authorities when the Von Trapp family disappeared.
A big fat Yes from me
Of course, a show as wonderful as this doesn’t just happen. It takes months of dedication and hard work. Countless hours must have been spent by both staff and students in learning lines, developing and practising choreography, mastering the music, and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. And all this on top of their academic studies. Is it all worth it? Of course it is. It’s a big fat yes from me. Well done, Thornden School.
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