Hurstpierpoint College’s Bury Theatre came alive on October 28 and 29 with superb prose, song, emotion and laughter as Ariel Company Theatre held an evening called Act the Part.
The evening, the first of its kind for Ariel, was an experimental blend of student’s drama exam pieces, musical numbers and National Theatre Connections play Hospital Food.
The first act was a wonderfully curated mix of student work and the evening burst into action with a rendition of ‘God, I hate Shakespeare’ from Broadway hit Something Rotten.
It was the perfect tongue- in-cheek start to an evening that included three well executed Shakespeare monologues from Hamlet, Twelfth Night and As You Like it. With its humour and lyrics the first song aptly portrays how some people have a deep love of the Bard, while others just don’t get it.
The evening progressed with a selection of monologues, all linked by a common theme about man’s best friend; the dog. Showing a range of acting skills and displaying a variety of emotions from fear to happiness and awkwardness to domination the performers kept the audience captivated.
The second half of the evening was given over to a performance of Hospital Food by actor and playwright Eugene O’Hare.
An extremely impactful play, as soon as the 11 actors appeared on the stage with their chemotherapy drips, wheelchairs, crutches and shaved or headscarf-wrapped heads the audience knew they were in for an emotionally charged play.
Managed with great sensitivity, we followed the story of Gus, played by Greg Pearson who had decided, with his mum, to leave the cancer ward and seek other options as his cancer relapses and he has to face up to the fact that he may not get better. Gus has built very close bonds with the other teenagers in the ward and we watch things unravel as Gus explains in The Retreat why he has decided to go.
The Retreat is the group’s private room where they meet to relax, chat, and moan with privacy and without the interference of medics or parents. The group have a strong response to his news but “what goes on in the retreat stays in the retreat”.
Gus’s friends react badly to his announcement that he wishes to withdraw from treatment.
Layna, played by Sacha Botting gave a sterling performance as the angry young girl who is incensed that Gus’s mum would think of removing him to pursue ‘alternative’ treatments. The audience were swept away by Layna’s raw disappointment and then witnessed the frustration of Gus’s best friend in the unit Josh, played impeccably by Tom Clarke, as he is told as part of the group, not privately about Gus’s decision. The bond between Gus and Josh was laid bare for all to see and it is a great credit to the actors that they demonstrated such sadness and compassion, allowing some difficult scenes to be acted with such realism.
For young men, the expression of grief and friendship was something not often seen and left the audience very moved as they discussed their treatment and how they detested the ‘hospital food’, i.e. the chemotherapy drugs, which make them feel so ill but can also be their saviour.
The whole extended cast were extremely skilled at playing the youngsters who were battling with illness. Each was portrayed as a really individual character with their quirks, flaws and personalities endearing each and every one of them to the audience. Skilfully directed by Nicci Hopson, the play left an indelible mark on everyone.
The show ended with an audible gasp from the audience as the finale was so powerfully executed, a standing ovation followed and there was not a dry eye in the house.
The students raised money for the Angus Rowland Forget Me Not Fund, in memory of local teen Angus. From a charity headshave, a just giving page and collections on the night the students raised £2,700 for this very worthy cause.
Donations can still be given by visiting this page.
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