Saturday, December 13, 2003

It’s all a matter of relativity 

Last night we had a wonderful evening out. In spite of living so close to London with its huge choice of musical and theatrical entertainment we don’t get out often enough to see a show, so it was rare treat to sit back and enjoy West Side Story. Familiar it may be, but it’s still one of my favourite musicals. A great show, intelligent music, superbly performed; only in this case it wasn’t in a major West End theatre that we saw it – it was at a local secondary school, performed by kids from age 11 to 18.

Remember when you were a kid; someone a few years younger than you was a “little kid”, hardly more than a baby; someone a few years older was a “big kid” – almost a grown-up. And that held true no matter how old you were, so from a seven-year-old’s perspective an eleven-year-old was like a giant, yet from the impossibly sophisticated view of a fifteen-year-old, that same eleven-year-old was still very much a child. There’s a similar categorisation comes into effect when you have kids of your own, as you look at other kids. Those younger than yours are little; those older than yours are big. So with ours being 17, 20 and 22, the kids on stage last night tended towards the littler end of the spectrum. Or they did to start with. The magical thing was, as the evening went on and we became more caught up in the performance, these kids seemed to grow and mature until by the end of the evening we had all but forgotten they were kids at all.

On the face of it, West Side Story has a lot going for it as a choice for a school production. The storyline and characters appeal; the main characters aren’t so different in age from the cast and the music is some of the best ever written for a show. But it’s a show built around powerful, elemental emotions; it’s no good just telling the story – those kids really have to be the story, able to deliver the emotional intensity; able too to keep it in check so that you can sense the power boiling under the surface, waiting to erupt. Not only that, but the songs and the music demand considerable technical competence from both cast and orchestra (just for the record, my daughter was playing flute in the orchestra).

Their success in carrying it off was stunning. So much so that I was far from being the only one who had surreptitiously to wipe away a tear on more than one occasion. Not because they were kids acting their hearts out; this was real emotional communication. Sometimes rough round the edges, but rough edges can be polished. The raw material was there in abundance.

I’ve no doubt many of those we saw last night have dreams of a career on the stage. Who knows whether in a few years time, we’ll be seeing some of these kids again when we manage one of our occasional visits to the West End theatres? But even if we do, I wonder whether the experience will be as meaningful?

What a wonderful thing, to be starting out with so much talent, so much energy, so many dreams. Almost makes me feel young again myself – but then I wouldn’t be Older and Growing would I?

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