I don’t often go to the theatre. I’m too busy, it’s too expensive, I prefer to go to music performances when I have the time and money. I took part in a couple of productions when I was at school and have been to some Shakespeare productions. That’s been pretty much it for the last forty years.
Tonight, I find myself at the St. Joseph’s School hall amongst a sea of young people. I’ve been invited by Richard Carruthers, director of the Nelson Youth Theatre, to attend a dress rehearsal of ‘All Shook Up’, which will be performed (pandemic levels permitting) at the Theatre Royal later in September and October.
I’m offered a chair and perch near piles of clothes spread on the floor. ‘Jail House Rock’ fills my ears, and I see lines of young people in striped T shirts and black leggings dancing and singing. Power buzzes through me – there’s something about the combination of youthful energy and rock ‘n roll that’s just electrifying! The song ends, and they stampede over to my side of the room. I realise that the mound is their dressing room when a bum is thrust into my face as the owner, oblivious to my presence, bends over to pull on a tulle petticoat.
Dressing room. Photo: Jenni Komarovsky
‘Quiet! No talking! Tiptoe when you’re walking!’ The words reverberate around the room during the quick change, and I pick up my chair and tiptoe over to a vacant spot on the other side of the hall where the tide of gorgeous young bodies doesn’t have to wash around me like I’m a piece of driftwood.
The actors are going through their lines and rehearsing their stage positions. There is some improv being done to cement the flow of scenes. Chairs are being used instead of props, and I’m soon invited to vacate my chair and watch the action from the stage, where producers, directors, stage managers and set managers are sitting, scripts in hand.
Observers. Photo: Jenni Komarovsky
The plot seems to be a combination of Grease and Twelfth Night. There is a motorbike, a female car mechanic who pretends to be a boy and becomes involved in a love quadrangle. There is a gay romance. There are statues that sing, pelvic thrusts, OTT dance moves and the occasional LOL one-liners. Dialogue is sparse, action is big and the plot is fairly thin, revolving around hero-worship, misplaced love and the evils of rock ‘n roll music.
Rock ‘n rolling. Photo: Jenni Komarovsky
The whole thing is held together by very sing-along-able Elvis numbers like ‘Blue suede shoes’, ‘Heartbreak hotel’, ‘Love me tender’, ‘Teddy bear’ and ‘Hound dog’ that have me humming harmonies and tapping my feet. I don’t even need to be particularly quiet – did I mention the big voices? The voices that emerge from these teens are immense. I’m blown away by the talent that’s showcased here – this is real Broadway material.
The gender imbalance is obvious. I count 6 young men and 18 young women. Where are all the young blokes wanting to me surrounded by a horde of girls? Perhaps they’re scared of the dancing, or the excess of oestrogen. Perhaps they don’t know about the quick changes where the girls strip down to their slips (a sturdy slip is modesty’s best friend!) in full view of everyone. But then, everyone is too busy to notice what other people are doing.
The love quadrangle. Photo: Jenni Komarovsky
I have to leave before the end of the rehearsal. The number that ends the first act is ‘Can’t help falling in love’. Bananas indicate spotlights at the front of the stage. The whole cast is lined up, doing their dance moves, working out positions and singing fairly sedately. One of the directors shouts ‘Energy!’ and the response raises hairs on the back of my neck and fills my eyes with tears – wow! The hall sizzles with energy, it zips off the walls and bounces around with the power of the song. At the end, I applaud and holler my appreciation as if I’m in an Elvis concert.
I think I might have just been turned into a theatre-goer.