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Memories

1997 'West Side Story'

IMPRESSIONS

I saw the film many years ago, but the performance I saw in the Fieldsend Theatre at Peterhouse last night has made an impact out of all proportion. From the moment the lights went out (no curtain, of course) the sense of foreboding began, subtle, indefinable, but beautifully contrived by the overall production of Sue Vandoros with the co-operation of such artistes as Niki Loxton, prima ballerina of CAPAB and her husband Bert van Jaarsveld, also with his experience from there, which meant that the choreography and scenery were spell-binding to begin with. Add to that a cast of forty boys and girls and members of staff, very varied, talented and highly trained, and we were kept in a state of attentive anticipation through to the shattering climax.

It is not easy to perform before your peers, and as the vast majority of the audience on the first night consisted of fellow students, they might easily have spoilt the audience participation with mindless giggles and guffaws, as I have observed on previous such occasions. This nearly happened at the first hint of genuine love between Tony and Maria, as if such a tender emotion would be too primitive for our sophisticates to stomach. But unperturbed, Matthew McChlery and Melanie Donald pressed on, and their sincerity won the day. Their singing of those two show-stoppers, Maria and I Feel Pretty are still with me, a haunting memory.

The story line
I guess we all know the story, a modern Americanisation of Romeo and Juliet. The feuding families of Montague and Capulet of Verona are replaced by two street gangs calling themselves the Jets and the Sharks. Romeo and Juliet become Tony and Maria. I need not pursue the analogy. And anyway, sitting at the back, I found it- hard to identify characters on the stage with names on my programme. That didn't matter. They were real characters. And the grouping and crowd movements interwoven with the dancing so well drilled that they appeared convincingly spontaneous. The giggles of the girls and the guffaws of the guys in the audience faded away and all of us were riveted by the drama, as that pair of star- crossed lovers took their way along the passage of their death-marked love.

Dazzling performances
What can one say about individual performances in such a magnificent team achievement! The dancers from those dainty petite ballerinas, Kim Blackwell and Lindsay Wells, right through to the whole cast, simply sparkled. Dancing became as normal as walking and much more graceful, enhanced by the colourful costumes produced by another team, Sue Buckland, Fay Loxton, Venita Valla and the mothers. And then there was the music. Composed by that famous American, Leonard Bernstein, and performed I by a polished little orchestra under the direction of Keith Nicholas, it skilfully set the tone of the changing moods of the story.

For, as in all good drama, there was both tragedy and comedy, laughter and tears, love and hate. For there was Tony, whose best friend was Riff, the leader of the Jets. And what he must do is fall in love at first sight with Maria, whose brother is the leader of the Sharks, and worse still she was intended to marry Chino, another Shark. In the event, Bernado kills Riff, Tony kills Bernado and Chino kills Tony. Shakespearean tragedy. Big stuff! Vimbai Makwavara and Wayne Lindsay were most convincing as Riff and Bernado. And I feel sure Shakespeare would have approved of Anita (Rugare Mahovo) and Anybody’s (Kate Mellon) whose rumbustious humour relieved the tragedy. Pete Roberts as officer Krupke supplied that essential touch of farce, and I liked Paul Davies Lt. Schrank, the typical American policeman, and the no-nonsense way he handled the gangs. Glad Hand (John Barrie) seemed to win their respect, too, with his efforts to break down their hostility, and George Gibson as Doc made his Drugstore a kind of home where he could chide them in a fatherly way for making this world a rotten place. But the remaining impression I have is of amazing changes of scenery, and a very lively cast, guys and dolls in great variety, no stereotypes, yet all blended in harmonious activity.

Richard Holderness

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