A Chorus Line (Threshold Theatre, 4th June 2022)
If you read my review of CSODS' Shrek the Musical, you’ll know my views on the word amateur when it comes to theatre, and how the term can almost cast an unwanted shadow over groups and shows with a much more professional ethos. Threshold Theatre very much falls into that category in terms of the word amateur being an unjust label, as what they produced at the Playhouse with A Chorus Line was anything but.
The show began with a whisper, deliberately, as the auditionees slowly filed on stage while the audience continued to make their way into the auditorium. The stage was laid bare, so there was no place for the cast to hide as we witnessed them nervously or enviously glancing at the competition for a place in the chorus line of the unnamed Broadway show. They’d clearly been taught a routine in another room by the dance captain, Lori, played superbly by Phillippa Nortcliffe by the way, who looked like she was having a ball on stage. The show then begins with them all taking their places ready to be judged by the Director, Zach, who was portrayed with solid authority, but also a bit of heart too, by James Bell. And with a 5,6,7,8 we were launched headlong into the opening song and dance routine. For those unfamiliar with A Chorus Line, the show gradually explores each of the characters’ back stories and motivations for wanting a place in the chorus line. An initial line-up of 20-odd auditionees are quickly slimmed down to just sixteen, and it’s these sixteen characters whom the spotlight is focused on as they compete for one of the eight places on offer.
And that’s the last time I mention the story itself. I can’t stand when I read reviews of shows where the majority of their so-called review is just repeating a synopsis of the show. As interested parties, we all want to know what you actually thought about the show and the performances, so that’s what I’m going to do.
So here goes. While it’s true to say that the show as a whole was greater than the sum of its parts, that’s not a reflection on individual performances, simply that they shined brightest as a cohesive unit. And that’s a huge compliment to the production team, as yes, they were blessed with some fantastic talent among the cast who each had their solo moments to sparkle, but it’s the parts where they all supported each other, their micro-interactions with each other, the beautiful harmonies, and incredible choregraphed routines, that were the most impressive. With a more or less naked stage, there was no distractions for the audience, so the attention to detail had to be perfect as the cast was the only thing we were looking at throughout. And it was perfect. At any given time, when I took my eyes away from the soloist or focal point at that moment, those around them had full concentration and were completely immersed in their characters. And that speaks volumes of the direction and their individual professionalism, especially given that the show that I watched was the last in their run and their second that day.
Whilst I could justify it given the level of performance, there simply isn’t enough space to wax lyrical about each performer, but there is a handful of special mentions I’d like to give.
First of all, Georgia Folkard was a revelation as the quiet, unassuming Maggie. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what grabbed me about her performance, but there was just this purity to it that made you want her character to do well. Yes, Georgia could sing and dance, they all could, but it was her acting that made me sit up and take notice. Her character was quite a meek one and would be easy to overlook in that line-up, but she made the most of the part without resorting to overacting in order to leave a lasting impression. Everything she did, from the smallest movements and facial expressions to her solo number was faithful to her character, and it really impressed me.
Speaking of impressive, and Holly Graham never fails to impress, but her acting skills were also given a stern test with this show and she passed with flying colours. It’s testament to the skill of an actor when you can’t imagine anyone else being able to play a part quite as well, and that’s what I felt with Holly in the role of Sheila.
There was an emotionally charged monologue from Nic Gordon, who portrayed the badly damaged Paul, and Nic offered it up in such a delicate and fragile way, highlighting that he really is the full package when it comes to performance. If I’m being a teensy bit critical, I think he could have slightly reined in the self-hugging and arm-rubbing device that he used throughout his monologue, as the longer it went on, it threatened to distract from what was otherwise a beautifully delivered piece.
As with Holly, Kathryn White always impresses me, but this time it was it was acting through dance that had the biggest effect on me. As a dreadful dancer myself, when I’m watching others dance, the only feelings that are ever stirred up in me are usually jealousy, but on this occasion, Kathryn conjured something both beautiful and desperate in her solo number as the fallen Cassie.
And finally, Ben Woodward put in an incredible turn as Richie. It would be very easy to dismiss his character as one simply there to play for laughs, but his skill as a dancer was impossible to overlook, and the way he portrayed the role was just, as this kind of ball of nervous energy which gave way to a person struggling to know who he is, and you couldn’t help side with him.
As I said earlier, this was really about the cast as a unit, and my god did they all produce something really special between them. I noticed that Threshold Theatre have asked for suggestions about which show they should do next. I’ll be keeping a close eye on when they make their decision, as I would love to check out whatever they do next.