The Belgrade Theatre Coventry recently celebrated a whopping 50 years of pioneering theatre and is keen to make a name for itself and get on the way to 50 more, so it was no surprise to hear they are co-championing another new musical, this time with Big Broad Productions. Crush, a schoolgirl romp set in a 1963 all-girl establishment, doesn’t make its UK premiere in Coventry until September 4th but The Public Reviews’ Nicole Evans took a sneaky peek into the rehearsal rooms and caught up with the cast and creative team.
With the show being presented by a dynamic duo whose work includes Waterloo Road, Footballers’ Wives and Bad Girls: The Musical; it’s hard not to be excited at what Maureen Chadwick and Kath Gotts have to offer.
Speaking of her amazement that nobody has ever thought to set a musical in such a genre before, Gotts explains a little about her and Chadwick’s inspiration for Crush. “We’re naturally interested in worlds that are predominantly female because the rest of the world is writing things that are predominantly male with a few parts for women so we’re very keen, not just to redress that balance, but that’s what excites us to have lots of different female characters. I grew up also loving Fred and Ginger movies andold-fashionedromantic comedy and we wanted to do that with girls. Also, that adolescent schoolgirl age is when emotions are running high and that’s great territory for musical theatre because it’s angsty but it’s not Les Mis kind ofangsty,so it’s got that spin of fun
“We grew up loving all the old school girl stories and the Girls Own Annuals and St. Trinian’s and things so we thought what a great world to set a musical comedy in,” Chadwick adds. “We wanted to write something we want to see really.”
Of course, no matter how well-written and thought out a musical is, it’s really nothing without the company who are going to perform it. A glimpse of a few of the shows numbers firstly offers a taste of what might be in store for audiences from Sara Crowe, who plays a panic-stricken teacher who puts out an SOS message to save the school from imminent disaster.
“I play Miss Austin, the Deputy Headmistress who stands for women’semancipation,” Crowe says. “She’s a bit of a free-spirit but a school-lifer who thrives in the environment of a school and is sort of aninternal girl really. She’s the kind of teacher who would have you up to her study for a cocoa and to talk about your problems, so she’s very thrown by this new headmistress who comes in and wants to change the whole school policy. So the journey is all about how that swings round and changes for the best in the end”.
Describing the character of the new Headmistress herself, Miss Bleacher, Crowe adds: “She’s terrifying! It takes me right back to when I was seven years old standing at the front of assembly thinking ‘oh please don’t let the headmistress look at me’, so I’ve been there, I’ve been at one of those schools and people in that position don’t realise how terrifying they are”
Taking on saidtyrannicalrôle is none other than Oliver Award nominee and West End favourite, Rosemary Ashe. Watching her performance in an incredibly polished yet little-rehearsed assembly scene, it is clear to see why she was cast for the part. So what it’s like to play such a feisty and stern character?
“I quite like playing baddies. She stirs everything up and is appalled at what’s going on with a couple of the girls who have a crush on each other and wants to stamp out anything indecent. She’s fun to play.”
Going on to cackle about childhood memories of her own education in Lowestoft, Ashe adds: “When I had a costume fitting the other day I had to put a suit on and it took me back to this horrible English teacher at school who I’m sure has passed away now. We were scared of her. She was unnecessarily horrible and strict. I remember she was sitting at her desk and we could see her knickerbockers underneath…which sort of helped.”
For every bad guy (or girl) there is always a good one waiting in the wings to stride in and save the day and Crush offers no exception to that rule. After being reminded that what we are about to see is extremely rough copy, and later finding out the lift had only been choreographed earlier that morning, we are treated to the Navy Knicks tap routine complete with hockey sticks in which Kirsty Malpass oozes sexuality as the savvy-with-a-secret, Miss Givings.
“Her sole purpose is to motivate the girls, to show the girls that when you’re down you get up and do something about it,” Malpass says. “It’s really funny as I’ve just come out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I played Mrs Bucket, who is very sad and very calm and centred and warm…which is lovely, but this is the polar opposite, which is one of the things that was really appealing to me because it’s nice to have a bit of variety. To be part of an original production is just a real blessing and it’s such an amazing opportunity.”
As the school dinners were packed away and we left donning our new badges confirming our ‘Crush Prefect’ status, a reflection on the afternoon’s activities certainly left the feeling of witnessing the beginnings of something amazing.
With such polished performances already it’s hard to believe the show is in such early days of rehearsals and the aim of the finished product will most certainly be to impress.
Crush runs at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, from September 4th-19th, then tours to Brighton and Richmond.