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Reviewing Student Performances

College policies vary.

An expert on musical theatre (with a PhD on one iconic show, no less !) was surprised to learn this week that the press are not wanted for a Sondheim season at the Musical Theatre Department of London's Royal Academy of Music, whereas press representatives are welcomed to concerts and operas there. Those are freely reviewed, the exposure welcomed by students hoping soon to embark upon professional careers.

At RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) no shows at all are reviewed. The topic was raised at a post-performance discussion of Lily Jones's Birthday, a scholarly new version of the ever relevant Lysistrata of Aristophanes, complete with parados, agon and parabis, updated and (fortuitously) very topical, arriving on the stage of their Vanbrugh Theatre stage whilst we are getting used to the idea of a Coalition Government, and with the World Cup upon us.

This proved to be a thoughtful, funny and very viable show, written by poet Glyn Maxwell with music by Stefan Bednarczyk and directed by Geoff Bullen, with a strong design team creating a set with a myriad old TVs in working order, impressive video blow-ups and a media-dominated environment. A central character doubled (trebled) as TV presenter(s) and as a Noble Lord costumed brilliantly in blue and yellow...

The audience enjoyed it hugely, but was slow to say so outright at an after-show event which gave us memorable insights from several of the actors and members of the production team.

Lily Jones's Birthday could do well in many a theatrical situation. Will it be published and the news spread on the theatrical grape-vine? Try to see it; playing until 12 June at RADA's lovely Vanbrugh Theatre [pictured].

Reviewing students needs to be sensitive with appreciation that student actor casting at colleges has particular constraints, notably age/character mismatches which are inevitable. But there was no inadequate performance in this show and many were first-rate, and combined in ensemble playing of the highest order. Perhaps a re-think and policy reconsideration is called for in these new times with blogs, twitters and face-book etc, everyone feeling entitled to make their opinions public.

Perhaps RADA (and RAM's Musical Theatre Department) might consider whether to include on their websites a page for audience comments; to be vetted for improprieties before putting on line?

We had felt similarly frustrated in 2008 by not being authorised to review Little Women – the Broadway Musical, an excellent show, also directed by Geoff Bullen. What do our readers think?

Peter Grahame Woolf [Editor]