This show as directed with deft flair and panache by Wayne Ings, lively, inventive choreography by Chris Magdziarz and the wonderful on stage band under MD Matt Lemon is joyous. I could easily end there because this cast is so talented and the overall show from every aspect is so good, superlatives are going to run dry or at the very least indulge in repetition.
For Pointless viewers and pub quizzers, the original Grease was not the erstwhile film of 1978 but written in 1971 and ran for 3388 performances, the longest on Broadway until Chorus Line overtook it. Back then, the dialogue was raunchy raw and aggressive, a very far cry from the camp film version. This newer diluted version of the show takes on board the same themes of teenage angst, “where do I fit in”, image, teenage sexual exploration and such with lesser characters exploring the social set up of the school attendees rather than any kind of adult intervention: excepting the school principal (a mature, grounded performance from Molly Sykes) and Vince Fontaine (a marvellously exuberant Peter Lavery, who’s general energy and impact throughout the show was only matched by the over worked dry ice machine), no fathers, mothers, brothers etc are alluded to leaving us to concentrate on a select few attendees of Rydell High, all interchanging partners like the wind and experiencing social bullying, ostracism and ambition as they try and find themselves.
Interpolated songs from the film do not distract and new positioning actually makes them feel fresher. The transition scene from party to ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ was exquisitely done. Beautiful lighting (throughout by Martin Whitaker) caught the moment the party décor was casually removed, allowing Alex Knott’s Sandy to envelope herself in the melancholy of the lyric. No Olivia copy soundalike, but better for it, her voice and poise perfectly attuned to this character, making Sandy far more accessible and warm.
Fickle in their relationships, the script excels when it is at its most abrasive. Rizzo gets all the best put downs and Annabel Clark snaps them out like bullets, hiding the same fears and concerns under this cast iron confidence: feelings finally expressing themselves in her superbly sung second act solo perfectly expressing the line, ” I could hurt someone like me”.
All the Pink Ladies held their own, each savouring their own spotlight songs. Maddie Matthews’ Frenchy was pert and bubbly, with Cerys Burnside banishing all thought of the quirky film performance with one of her own that was both comedic and touching as her relationship with a spot-on Luke Devlin progressed. Alana Morris, Amy Marsden, Emmie Rawlings and Diana Thomas completed a very talented line up of girls, all giving everything to what they had to do with fine singing too.
Matching them was a set of boys who were no doubt encouraged by direction to be more vulnerable and less one dimensional in performance. Henry Cox gave an almost shy persona to Danny which was a welcome change to the usual cardboard swagger only interpretation, bringing a sense of frustrated understanding to his well performed ‘Sandy’. Jake Babey as Kinicki also managed to find a “lost soul” interpretation and smashed ‘Greased Lightning’, with Daniel Rogers, Oliver Ingoe and Lewis Feast finding highly comedic timing and depth to their sometimes under rated characters, giving them an energy and voice. The banter script between all of them was well executed and natural.
Indeed, the whole show felt like an ensemble piece. Much of that was down to the clever intimate staging bringing everyone to the front of the stage and forcing closeness due to physical space being occupied by the aforementioned excellent musicians. Everyone on that stage felt like they belonged there, which was such a delight to see, with perfect sound and costumes. Well-oiled and polished, this is highly recommended escapism.