In December 2021, live theatre returned to our John Moore Theatre as audiences enjoyed three outstanding sold-out productions of We Will Rock You. Head of Drama, Mrs Parry, reflected on the event:
I don’t think I can claim that we single-handedly saved the world or even rock’n’roll, but it did feel as though the cast, band and crew of We Will Rock You saved everyone’s faith in the uplifting power of live theatre.
It would be fair to say that the road to production week had been very rocky (and we’re not talking about the style of music)! Although both the Drama and Music departments have been exceptionally proud of how creative outcomes have still been achieved during the pandemic, we would have been very naive to think that the enforced hiatus in preparing projects as ambitious as a full-scale musical hadn’t had repercussions.
Creating live arts events demands a remarkable leap of faith. Developing all the tangible skills required is hard work in itself but every one of those skills and creative resources is deployed in anticipation of the response from the audience. Until you get to opening night and you get that audience reaction, you never know for certain if it’s all been worth it! Experience teaches you to trust your instincts as you try to anticipate what your audience wants and needs but the experience is the one thing the arts has been denied for the last couple of years. We’ve kept those smaller scale and those digital events alive but the collective memory of bringing a full-scale production like this to fruition was a little fuzzy! The commitment of the intensive workload and the sheer emotional investment seemed more daunting than usual, given how long it had been since we had all taken that artistic leap of faith together.
In the arts, context is everything, and that was certainly true of the ultimate success of We Will Rock You. Not the crazy, futuristic, satirical sci-fi context of Ben Elton’s libretto, but our own context – we were putting on a show! So, very early on in the process, Mr Haynes cracked open the radio mics: why flog harmonies to death in a dry acoustic when you can hit the reverb and crank everything up to eleven? Mr T went crazy over half-term programming the vocoder and rehearsals became a magic box of musical special effects. Our amazing live band joined us far earlier in the process than usual. Miss Gamble seemingly attached LEDs to anything and everything whilst Miss Lane choreographed even the most incidental of transitions. Mrs Parry abandoned all hope of the plot actually making sense and, instead of fine-tuning scenes, just ran and ran and ran the whole show again and again. By throwing ourselves headlong into show-mode, we managed to capture the spirit of the show and the scenes started fine-tuning themselves. By the time we made it to production week, we were fairly confident we had a hit on our hands – Mrs Parry had even stopped writing notes(!) – but…we still needed that audience.
Even that aspect of the production had required a huge amount of faith! We delayed putting tickets on sale. We had contingency plans for every conceivable situation. We just didn’t know. We finally got to open the doors on the first night…
…and what a show! The audience laughed at the very first cheap gag (Boris Johnson’s 2025 release of Edith Piaf covers!) and from there on we didn’t look back. The atmosphere was utterly joyful – isn’t it amazing how clearly you can see people smiling when they’re wearing masks? What made it so joyful? Where do we start?
Technically, the show ran like clockwork. DSM-on the book, Tim Morris, in his final show, called the show expertly, moving from cue to cue with an experienced eye. Alongside him, Will Emsley and Jamie Waters, also in their final shows, ran the lighting and sound desks respectively – no mean feat in such a technically challenging show. Their enthusiasm and experience translated to the rest of the crew – a blend of ‘old hands’ refining their craft and showing the potential to fill the voids that will be left by our superb U6 technicians, and wide-eyed new recruits lapping up the experience. The showband also featured a winning combination of old and new. Tom K-D and Jamie K with seven school musicals between them, know that the showband doesn’t just play – they perform! Down the years they have learnt to embrace the theatricality and the costumes. That now includes the make-up. As U6 students come to the end of their King’s journey, there will be many a show band photograph to revisit as OVs! They proved to be superb mentors to new recruit, Jack B. For UR Jack, this was his first time drumming for a show band – a distinct skill in its own right – and it was lovely to see him grow into the role, knowing that he will be the one inspiring the musicians who will be coming in to replace Tom and Jamie in the years to come.
On stage, we had a similarly magical combination of old and new. Leading lady, Amelia ‘Mim’ D, has been in every Senior Musical since she was in L4 – initially ‘gatecrashing’ the senior productions in children’s roles (Gretl in The Sound of Music and Ngana in South Pacific) before taking on ‘legitimate’ named roles once she reached the FF. Bowing out in the U6 as the feisty heroine, Scaramouche, belting out those great Queen numbers in her amazing voice, was a fitting end to Mim’s King’s performance career.
Her leading man, Henry H, by contrast, was appearing in his first King’s theatrical production. We were aware of Henry’s musical talents but the voice, the acting, the dancing were a revelation. He swept his audience away with him as Galileo Figaro on a mission to save rock’n’roll as though he had been playing leading roles his whole school career. Henry and Mim’s on-stage rapport was electric and their rendition of Who Wants To Live Forever was particularly stunning.
Playing their evil nemesis, Keely J pitched the beautifully unhinged character of Killer Queen just the right side of pantomime villain. Keely has been a stalwart of productions at King’s since L4 but her distinctive pop vocals and strong stage presence were made for this leading role and blended superbly with production newbie, Gabby S, who, as henchman Khashoggi, matched Keely evil laugh for evil laugh.
The unsung hero of the show is Britney Spears! It can be easy to overlook a character who’s dead by the interval but Jack D’s scene-stealing performance made sure that was never going to happen. This was Jack’s first leading role but it was easy to see how his apprenticeship as a reliable ensemble member down the years has helped him hone his craft. His exceptional comic timing had the audience lapping up Britney’s crazy exploits (not to mention the kung-fu moves).
Playing opposite Jack was Riya M as Ozzy Osbourne. Riya’s stunning vocal talents are well-known in the King’s community and she is no stranger to leading roles but, as a Fifth Former, this was Riya’s first Senior Production. Her rendition of Only The Good Die Young proved that the music theatre legacy of the likes of Mim and Keely will be in safe hands when this year’s U6 depart.
The character of Buddy has the dubious honour of trying to generate the illusion that the plot of We Will Rock You actually makes sense! Zoe S triumphed in the role, navigating the circuitous explanations of how rock’n’roll (and the world) will be saved, and being rewarded with a chance to shine in the poignant number, These Are The Days Of Our Lives. She was backed throughout by the terrific ensemble of Bohemians, hiding out in the Hard Rock Cafe waiting for their messianic ‘Dreamer’ to finally appear and save the world from Globalsoft’s evil clutches.
The image of the Bohemians, bedecked in LED helmets as they are brainwashed by Khashoggi, was as striking as that of our comically committed chorus of Yuppies and GaGa Kids rocking their pastel wigs and LED sunglasses. The photographic evidence will be there for them to look back on and hopefully think Those Were The Days Of Our Lives.
For the production team, the performances most certainly were the days of our lives. Being creative has been an uphill struggle these last two years. Knowing how much everyone still needs those creative outcomes has put extra pressure on everyone’s shoulders at exactly the same time that the process itself has become more challenging. This show really was the ultimate leap of faith and we are so grateful to our immensely talented cast, band and crew for leaping with us!