A talented ensemble of actors thoroughly impressed JO HENWOOD.
The heat was on at the Hammond School last week as students told a harrowing tale of love and war from a poignant period of our modern history.
The youngsters on the drama, diploma and degree courses at the Hoole Bank performing arts school presented Miss Saigon, an epic adaptation of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the duo behind Les Misérables.
Principal Maggie Evans warned the audience in advance of the need for a hanky but anyone with even a scant knowledge of the history of the Vietnam War will know that this is not going to end well.
I saw Miss Saigon when it first opened in London’s Drury Lane more than 25 years ago and since then it has been my all-time favourite.
I used to queue outside the Theatre Royal for student standbys to see it again and again and was one of the first to buy a ticket for the 25th anniversary screening in cinemas last October.
It is with trepidation therefore that I wait for a troupe of, no doubt talented but still very young, 16-25 year-olds to tell the tale of a Vietnamese girl who watches her parents die, becomes a prostitute, falls in love with an American GI, kills her Viet Cong fiancé, hides her son and wait - I am in tears already.
I won’t focus on my jangled nerves during the hectic Dreamland opening, when the 17-year- old Kim is introduced to her new working world, in a bar full of war-weary US Marines who are only interested in one thing.
When Chloe O’Gorman, as Gigi or Miss Saigon, sings her powerful first note of The Movie in My Mind I begin to relax. I am in good hands. From then on in the actors show their true Hammond-school colours and wow the audience with their burgeoning talent.
Melissa Bellman starts tentatively, as Kim should, but soon lets us know she is strong enough to do what she must do.
Elliot Parkes, as the GI Chris, is a perfect match and we almost believe there is a chance their dreams could come true. Their brief love affair was an absolute delight to watch and listen to and the emotional intensity of their relationship sets the scene for the whole show.
Dan Wilshire brought his own personality to the role of The Engineer, played by Jonathan Pryce in the original and Jon Jon Briones in the anniversary production.
What he lacked in sleaziness, he made up for in charm.
The ensemble showed their true (red) colours in The Morning of the Dragon, expertly choreographed by Heather Roberts, where the acrobatic and dance skills of Ross Dorrington were an absolute thrill. I could have watched him dance all night.
There is no love lost for Viet Cong Commisar Thuy, who comes to claim his betrothed Kim, steadfastly clinging to a promise made by their parents in the pre-Communist era.
Ben Maddison was excellent in the role and I even felt some empathy for his impossible situation.
Act II opens with the rousing ballad Bui Doi, led by Josh Roberts as John, and the ex-Marines sounded just like a cracking Welsh Male Voice choir.
Olivia-Jayne Currie was tremendous in the often unsung role of Ellen, Chris’s new wife and when she and Kim meet for the first time, the tension is palpable.
Hats off to the team who put this epic production together, with two enormous casts for six performances.
I leave wishing I could see it all again with the second cast. And then again, and again and again.