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Community of Hungerford Theatre Company - The Likes of Us

23rd to 26th February 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

One spirited community

More than 60 actors and dancers in town show

Community of Hungerford Theatre Company: The Likes of Us, at the Corn Exchange, from Wednesday, February 23 to Saturday, February 26

It is widely believed that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was the first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. That distinction, however, belongs to The Likes of Us, the story of Dr Barnardo and his struggle to help homeless children in Victorian London, which was written in 1965 when Lloyd Webber was just 17.

The Likes of Us never achieved the critical acclaim of later shows and was largely ignored until it was 40 years old, when the composers tidied it up for the 2005 Sydmonton Festival. Now available to amateur groups, the Berkshire première was presented last week al the John O'Gaunt Community Technical College by the Community of Hungerford Theatre Company.

This was a true community production, and demonstrated that the Hungerford area can draw on a very large pool of theatrical talent when it needs to. The 60-plus actors and dancers, under David Clayton's imaginative direction, exuded enthusiasm and remained animated throughout the many crowd scenes, while Tara Burden's lively choreography made good use of the limited stage space.

Live music was sensitively provided by a small ensemble under the baton of Jo Pollitt - it's such a relief when the orchestra accompanies the performers rather than drowning them.

The show is made up of a series of musical episodes from Barnardo's life, as he battles against hostility and self-doubt to introduce his social reforms. Matt Worth, in the lead role, managed to convey Barnardo's anxiety and determination, and he was tunefully supported by Charlotte Shanahan as Syrie, the patient co-campaigner who later became Barnardo's wife, and by the charismatic Helen Bonner as the hearty Oliver-style pub singer Rose. Mark Foster and the mellifluously voiced Zoe Hobbs were also very well cast as the hapless lovers Johnny and Jenny.

Continuity between the musical numbers was provided by two engaging narrators (fine performances by Richard Hewitt and Hoffi Munt), who filled in the gaps in the slightly meandering plot with wry humour. The songs themselves provided an opportunity for several good cameos from the supporting cast, such as Paul Hyde as the auctioneer who led a well drilled chorus in Going Going Gone (apparently the first Rice/Lloyd Webber song ever written), and Tony Brown as the haughty prime minister surrounded by his cabinet colleagues who gave a hilarious rendering of A Lion Hearted Land.

The rousing chorus number Have Another Cup of Tea was particularly memorable, while cheeky junior Jacob Smith and his 'sweetheart' Abbie Cleary stole the show with Man of the World during the wedding scene.

As with all community productions, it's the combined efforts of the many individuals on stage and behind the scenes that make the production a success, and in this respect CHTC have scored a real hit for the community.

Well done, all.