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A review of MTB’S GREASE

Standing ovations and multiple sold-out shows: it’s no easy feat for a student production and yet MTB’s performances of ‘Grease’, directed by Issy Davy and Nepheli Velissariou, did just that! 


By Gabriella Adaway, First Year, Theatre and Performance Studies and Isabel Fraser, Second Year, English Literature

Finely Carty-Howe and Annabella Dawkins took on the leading roles of Danny and Sandy and had us in awe of their talent and chemistry on the Winston stage. Despite the sleazy nature of Danny Zuko’s usual portrayal, Carty-Howe presented a far more comedic, softer and boyish side to the character utilising his charm and voice to draw in Sandy. Dawkins, on the other hand, exquisitely performed Sandy with a beautiful innocence and the most spectacular singing voice with her stand out moment being ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ in which she had us compelled; it is hard to fault her performance. 

 The T-Birds and Pink Ladies were brought to life by a brilliantly talented ensemble, however, there were definitely a few stand-out performers. Lily Robinson as Frenchy gave a truly compelling performance as a giddy, self-doubting, and loving Pink Lady, while Honey Gawn-Hopkins as Rizzo echoed the original performance by Stockard Channing with her sass, angst and her tear-jerking rendition of ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do’. And of course, though a potentially less likely candidate for capturing one’s attention, Becky Stanton portrayed a lovely, warm and bubbly Jan that truly captured our hearts and gave a wealth of humour to the show. Elise Eden Rose as Marty, and her wonderfully controlled rendition of ‘Freddy my Love’, also deserves recognition.

 Amongst the T-Birds, Cooper Brown as Kenickie was easily left in the audience’s mind as he dominated the stage and did not disappoint with his performance of ‘Grease Lightning’. Olivia Chruchouse as Roger and Joe Crosby as Doody should also be mentioned amongst the stand-out cast, both providing added moments of comedy and very little class which just added to the T-Bird charm. Crosbie’s rendition of ‘Those Magic Changes’ deserves a shout-out in itself; beginning a song solo on the Winston stage in the absence of the band, just himself and his guitar, was no mean feat - it was executed fantastically.

Photos by Garbriella Adaway and Isabel Fraser

 The show opened with the electric T Birds performing ‘Grease’, with strong vocals and harmonies, directed by Lucy Tytherleigh, filling the Winston. These electric vocals were reflected by the vibrant set with glowing, retro LEDs framing the stage. Despite the aforementioned stand-out performers, every single member of the ensemble brought incredible energy to the monochrome-checked floor in front of the stage. The creative choice for the cast to perform on the same level as the front row of the audience made for an interactive and engaging performance. This close proximity gave no room for mistakes; luckily the beautiful choreography by Aoibh McCann was executed nearly perfectly by the ensemble.

 ‘Summer Nights’ was, of course, a highlight of the show, the expert lighting by the STA highlighting the T-Birds, then the Pink Ladies, enhancing the tennis-match style of the song that we all know and love. Each and every member of the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies alike sold the song with their facial expressions and body language, not to mention slick vocals. Carty-Howe’s over-confident but endearing persona perfectly contrasted against Dawkins’ innocence on stage. Their vocals reflected this, and the iconic harmony that closes the song captivated the audience perfectly.

 The staging was kept to a minimum, far more was conveyed in their acting and dialogue than through design choices. From being in the diner and then to Marty’s bedroom, the staging was set to tell the audience where we were and for the actors to interact with the space. If I had to critique an element of the show, I would note that the transitions in between scenes, particularly in the first half, were slow and slightly awkward. It often broke up the performance meaning the audience began speaking and disengaged with the show; for the small changes in the set needed, it can only be assumed the transitions were to provide the actors with time to change. Nonetheless, once the action started up again, it was easy to forget.

Photos by Aoibh McCann and Annabel King

 That said, these moments of transition did give the band, directed by Sophie Winfield, their moment to shine. They were situated at the top of the stage which was a unique and very effective creative decision that made the stage even more engaging. It was amazing to be able to watch the band, who are usually concealed in the pit of the Winston, particularly in the frequent but fantastic moments of overture. 

Towards the end of the show, the band performed the ‘Greased Lighting Reprise’ over a transition which reminded the audience of their effect on the show that is impossible to overstate. The band managed to achieve the perfect balance of being unnoticed and noticed, as and when it was appropriate.  

Next up it was the T-Birds singing the classic ‘Greased Lightning’. The T-Birds continued to bring their electric energy to the stage, combined with slick, sharp choreography (hip thrusts included). The ensemble only enhanced this song; the decision for them to hold bandannas added some unexpected visual dynamics to the performance through the intersection of costume and choreography. It was after this song that Dawkins and Carty-Howe’s chemistry really got a chance to shine through in their extended dialogue, soon to be interrupted by the hilarious Patty, played by Anna Byham, who stole the spotlight throughout. This said, the leading pair’s chemistry was closely rivalled by Churchhouse and Stanton playing Jen and Rodger, a brilliantly awkward duo who provided comedic relief, particularly in the lesser-known song ‘Mooning’.

Photos by Garbriella Adaway and Isabel Fraser

 The slickness of choreography shone through again in ‘We Go Together’, the quick hand-hive moves so characteristic of the show expertly executed by the ensemble. This, along with quick footwork in partners, encapsulated the fun and flirty atmosphere of the 1950s that Grease is so well known for.

 Act 2 continued to impress, with Ella Waring taking the stage by storm as Cha Cha. Waring and Carty-Howe recovered from a small slip-up expertly and seamlessly which actually added to how professional their stunning flamenco-style dancing felt. Lifts and kicks in the school dance scene made for an exciting opening to the second act, enhanced by beautiful costumes, by Lottie Houghton and Tilly Southam, a stunning rainbow created on stage with couples in matching-coloured suits and dresses.

 ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ was, for me, a personal highlight of the show; the usually belted song was given a much softer approach by Dawkins, however this was a choice that I very much enjoyed and added depth to her beautiful construction of Sandy as a character. Furthermore, this soft but clean take allowed for more contrast in character when Dawkins took to the stage for the iconic ‘You’re the One that I Want’.

 One of the most well-received moments of the show was when Danny appeared at the top of the steps through the audience wearing some extremely short running shorts. The bright red garment paired with a hip-swaying walk by Carty-Howe received masses of laughter from the audience, and the leading actor’s ability to not take himself too seriously was what carried his performance of classic jock Danny. Another costume choice that deserves a shout-out is the brilliantly executed (and very camp) silver dresses and hair rollers that characterised ‘Beauty School Drop Out’. 

 Carty-Howe’s stand-out moment as leading man was certainly his rendition of the well-known and loved track ‘Sandy’. He had a lovely break in his voice when going up to falsetto that he was able to use to his advantage to assist the emotion of the song. Despite being one of the hardest well-known songs for a male voice, Carty-Howe certainly did the song justice.

Photos by Aoibh McCann and Annabel King

 Another highlight of the second act was the chemistry between Rizzo, played by Gawn-Hopkins, and Kenickie, played by Brown, which was given more time to shine later in the show. The dualism between Gawn-Hopkins’ fiery character and the vulnerability of her solo, ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’, showed her versatility as an actress and performer.

‘You’re The One that I Want’ was a brilliant closer to the show, and the ensemble created a truly joyous atmosphere on stage reflected in the much-anticipated resolution between Sandy and Danny. The show ended on a high, the explosive energy and happy ending leaving the audience beaming and still wanting more. The show truly was a credit to the entire cast and creative team, producers Grace Shropshire and Modge Tait deserve a mention, and the hard work but also the enjoyment experienced by all involved shone through. Whap bam boom bap, a whap bam boom!

Featured image: Aoibh McCann and Annabel King

Did you manage to get tickets for the sold-out show?