Review: York Light’s Grease

Wednesday 13th February 2019 at York Theatre Royal.


York Light’s production of Grease is a grinning, happy affair full of energy and youth, just as Grease should be.

There will surely be few who don’t know the plot of this smash hit movie musical, but for those who aren’t in the know, Grease follows two high school lovers and their cliques as they navigate dating and hormones. Sandy and Danny are like chalk and cheese; she’s a ‘good girl’ through and through while he’s a ‘bad boy’, or at least that’s his preferred persona – the truth is that he’s actually a decent guy underneath all that swagger and nonchalance.

Having enjoyed a fleeting summer romance, they are stunned to bump into each other at high school when Sandy arrives as the new girl. Cue the trials and tribulations of teen dating and the fights to fit in and save face no matter the cost. Don’t worry though, there’s a sparkly happy ending promised of course – how else could a teen musical possibly end?

With Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease as a show is a recipe for great entertainment: light hearted comedy, distinctive central characters, lovable supporting characters, big energy and great music. Some real musical classic gems nestle proudly in this show and We Go Together, Greased Lightnin’ and You’re the One That I Want are all delivered with great energy in this production.

James Horsman and Sarah Craggs take on the lead roles of Danny and Sandy with great energy and innocence. Horsman does the self-conscious pin-up schtick very nicely and Craggs is nothing if not sugar sweet and thoroughly sheltered. Both get to showcase vocal ability in at least one big song apiece and Horsman’s performance of Sandy and Craggs’ performance of Hopelessly Devoted allow them to prove their mettle as leads. They’re a credible pairing and while the production wisely steers clear of any indications of real heat, there’s a good sense of whistle stop transformation as the couple haggle with themselves about how to proceed in a world of swiftly made and broken reputations.

Director and Choreographer Martyn Knight has his work cut out here, heading up a large cast with lots of energy. Knight’s Direction keeps the pace up while his choreography, particularly the synchronised group numbers, creates some great visuals of teen spirit. Set is surprisingly generous and is used well, particularly when conjuring the lunch room and the bleachers – vital moments for taking us all back to school!

While the production is a great musical performance primarily, it’s also a comedy, and this cast consistently deliver. From Pascha Turnbull’s uppity Mrs Lynch to Richard Bayton’s smirking take on Beauty School Drop Out as Teen Angel, there are moments of varying degrees of amusement dotted throughout. 

Sarah Bruce’s performance as Patty, the overzealous and painfully lacking in self-awareness school council geek is a sound source of titters and William Darwin gets good laughs for his awkward guitar solo as Doody. Emma-Louise Dickinson plays Rizzo with passionate sarcasm, getting big laughs for her biting one liners and Jack Armstrong gives it some real comic welly as Kenickie, strutting about the place like a tightly wound spring (if Horsman hadn’t snapped up the lead, this guy would surely be next in line – he’d be a great Danny).

Frenchy (Hannah Witcomb) is almost as sweet as Sandy and Witcomb plays her as the classic naive bimbo type, but it’s a gentle take on the bimbo, performed with warmth rather than real mockery. Rachael Whitehead gives one of the best performances to be found in the production as Marty, the bombshell blonde who falls for every guy flashing any kind of status and Whitehead’s delivery never fails to find the punchline.

So it’s a strong cast overall, but there are two key performers who are clearly in a league of their own.

Stealing the show without a doubt are Finn East as Roger and Fiona Baistow as Jan. A pair with big smiles, big hearts and bigger appetites, the pair are a brilliant star attraction and the source of the biggest laughs to be had – their performance of the comic song Mooning is absolutely the show highlight for me. But even either side of that hilarious musical number, both East and Baistow are more often than not the best thing about a scene, with East in particular being a real hoot to watch thanks to his unshakeable energy and comic physicality. When it comes to stage presence, this golden pairing are tippity top…beebop? Yes indeed.

Is this a perfect production? Not quite – there’s an unsure opening scene to navigate before a collective confidence takes over and as is often the case with small companies championing large casts, some cast members don’t quite manage to pull off their respective roles or lack the polish of their fellow cast members. But this production does get all the best parts right and features some fantastic performances. York Light’s Grease offers up a bright and youthful cast and promises good laughs and beloved musical classics for an evening of light entertainment – catch it if you can.

York Light’s Grease plays at York Theatre Royal until February 23rd 2019 and you can find tickets here.

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