There were two differences to Thornden School’s summer production of Guys and Dolls. The first was that it wasn’t in the summer, it was last week (29 January to 1 February). The second was that it wasn’t in its usual location of Thornden Hall.
Only a few weeks before the intended July production, disaster struck. Major structural damage to Thornden Hall forced the performance to be postponed – originally to the autumn, and then to January, by which time it was hoped the Hall would be back in use.
A few weeks before the rescheduled date it became clear that repairs to Thornden Hall were going to take a lot longer than hoped. Plan B (or was it C, D, or E) was needed.
“Could we perform in the sports hall?” someone might have suggested. “What, and have the audience sit on benches and hang the scenery from the wall bars?” might have been the response. “Hang on,” may have interjected a more innovative soul, “there might be something in that idea”.
And so Studio 4 was born. A lot of planning, a mountain of paperwork, and a long weekend of long days ensued. The sports hall was spectacularly transformed into a replica of Thornden Hall, complete with a stage big enough for the original set, and an identical seating plan. Not so obviously visible but equally important, rigging points were installed in the roof, cable was laid, sound and lighting systems installed, and extra electricity supplied to power it all.
This time-lapse sequence from Thornden Hall’s facebook page shows the work undertaken:
All was finally set for the performances when more problems loomed. Heavy snow was forecast. Surely not. Not after all the trouble they had already gone through . Well, the weather gods must have decided that Thornden had had its share of bad luck, and the snow that brought most of the rest of the county to a standstill all-but missed Chandlers Ford. The show would go on.
And what a show it was. Guys and Dolls is one of my favourite musicals, and Thornden School’s production did not disappoint. It fully endorsed Thornden’s reputation for staging high quality theatrical performances.
The four leads – Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide, Sky Masterton and Sarah Brown – brought out the best in their roles, with superb singing and acting.
Behind them, a troupe of secondary roles and energetic ensembles ensured that the show never floundered. “Remember,” I was once told when performing in a musical, “the songs tell the story. If the audience can’t hear the lyrics, they won’t understand what’s happening”. No such danger here. Every musical number was crystal clear, the acting backed up the words, and the humour of the dialogue was not lost on the cast or the audience.
If I have to single out two musical numbers for particular praise, I will choose “Adelaide’s Lament” and the crapshooters before and during “Luck be a Lady”. In the former, a medically-dressed ensemble offered Adelaide sympathy and empathy in equal measure. In the latter the boys demonstrated incredible agility and energy in a fast-paced sequence.
The cast were supported by a mainly in-house orchestra – referred to as “Jonesy and the Whippets”, for some reason – and a backstage crew who ensured that lights and sound were turned on when needed, and scenery and props were in the right place at the right time.
All in all, a tremendous effort by Thornden School. Indeed, with all the problems that had to be overcome, an even more tremendous than most tremendous efforts by Thornden School. Well done to all.