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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond


30th May to 2nd June 2007.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Praise indeed for community Godspell

Newbury community production: Godspell, at St Nicholas' Church, from Monday, May 14 to Saturday, June 1

This was a community production in every sense of the word. The highly-talented partnership of musical director Sarah Cope and stage director Amanda Maskell brought together a small army of actors, choir singers, dancers, musicians, artists and backstage helpers who transformed the parish church into a joyous performance venue.

Conceived in 1970 by John Michael Tebelak and rewritten a year later by Stephen Schwarz, Godspell is, as the programme put it, "a product of an era of theatrical experimentation".

Following a musical debate between some of the greatest philosophers of history, the performance took us through the life of Jesus, from John the Baptist's prophecies to a symbolic crucifixion by Judas. The main focus was Christ's close and joyous relationship with his followers, who re-enacted his parables in a series of humorous and poignant scenes, interspersed by musical numbers in a broad range of styles.

Godspell offers plenty of scope for improvisation, to highlight the individual strengths of the principal performers as they glide from one role to another. There were some very memorable performances from the core cast, such as Mark Craig's clear tenor voice soaring skywards with Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, and Mark Broadhurst's hugely powerful rendering of All Good Gifts. Juliet Clarke showed her vocal versatility throughout the show, but particularly in By My Side, while Elly Greenwood's playful characterisation came through very well in Learn your Lessons Well.

Virginia Leonard gave us a delightfully saucy Turn Back O Man, at the beginning of act two; Delia Canning led Bless the Lord with terrific style and gusto; and Shaun Blake gave us a touching portrayal of Judas in the closing scenes.

Tim Clarke and Julian Embleton brought excellent comic tuning and vocal strength to their scenes, while Charly Lambert performed Day by Day with charm and clarity. At the centre of the cast, Daniel Maskell gave a fine performance as Jesus, at once understated and dominant, bringing strength, humour and compassion to a very demanding role.

Supporting the principal cast, Cope's large choir of adults and children were in fine voice and extremely well drilled, while Chris Scott's dance troupe added an extra dimension to the show, bringing the action down among the audience and drawing the first act to a fine dramatic conclusion.

Ancient churches can be the best or worst venues for dramatic performances, depending on the way that sound and lighting are managed.

Thankfully, Vicky Allen's team lit the church space with great care, providing some eerie effects as darkness fell; Jesus' translucent appearance on the cross was particularly memorable. Likewise, the sound quality, controlled by Simon Lake and Simon Pike, was remarkably consistent throughout, while Daniel Maskell's set design blended well with the beautiful surroundings.

This was a show that clearly set out to involve all parts of the community, from the cosmopolitan chorus to the wall decorations produced by a MENCAP workshop. Congratulations to the directors and production team for staging a fine event that really mirrored the talents of the area.