The Likes of Us (review)

AT a time when factions of the nation’s youth are being condemned for their lawlessness the parents of the cast in this year’s summer musical at The Grove can be justly proud of their off-spring.

Rarely have amateur dramatics been this good. In a flawless performance they rose to the challenge to spend just 10 days preparing from scratch their parts in The Likes of Us, the rarely seen debut production from those rather well known impresarios of English theatre, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The musical, which tells the story of how Dr Thomas Barnardo founded his children’s homes, was knocked out as a schools piece in the mid 1960s and it was, as the show’s narrator, the self-assured James Clark, told the first night audience on Thursday, “what failed to launch the careers of Webber and Rice 46 years ago.”

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But the seeds were sown for a style of musical which went on to serve the couple very well – from their very first collaborative song, the catchy crowd-pleaser Going, Going Gone, to tug-on-your-heartstring duets and whole company show-stoppers.

And perhaps, after seeing The Likes of Us, you’ll agree that there are the makings of fine musical theatre careers for the show’s leading boys and girls.

Webber and Rice would have heartily applauded the astounding talent of this area’s young performers who rocked The Grove with a stunningly professional and confident show.

Parents, friends, family and theatre-goers were treated to a splendid evening’s entertainment which began when Clark took hold of the reins and steered the largely lost story through to its conclusion.

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We were immediately bowled over by the raunchy antics of the cast’s scantily clad teenage girls playing, it has to be said with some conviction, a group of gin-soaked ladies of the night, led by the sassy Chloe Badham (as Rose), for the brazen Twice In Love Every Day.

The story is set in 1860s East London. Barnardo, an earnest, under-confident and rather pious doctor, abandons his plans to save the destitute of China after seeing the abject poverty of homeless children living hand-to-mouth in the eaves of the city.

He campaigned in Downing Street for support in opening a series of children’s homes but faced opposition from both MPs and the street urchins themselves who, initially, didn’t want to be saved.

Along the way he falls in love with a fellow do-gooder, Syrie, and the pair set about saving the waifs and strays and closing down the area’s gin palaces.

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There are some truly remarkable performances from the leads. The handsome Jason Homewood has the stature and confidence to impress as Barnardo but it is the leading ladies, possessing the powerful voices of seasoned professional stars, who are incredible.

Chloe Badham, Ellis Jenart as Syrie, and Abigail Parry as cockney sparrow Jenny, have the charisma and talent to go far. Give all three a few years at stage school and they’ll be starring in the West End.

The rest of the company didn’t put a foot wrong (although a wardrobe malfunction for one of the boys caused a few titters) and it was hard to believe that this was an amateur show. It oozed professionalism from the note-perfect performance of the young orchestra to the stage sets, costumes, singing and acting.

There was a sparkling cameo from little Charlie Spalding whose impish personality as an auctioneer’s assistant stole the limelight from James Clark in his only song, Going Going Gone. Moments later the pint-sized Spalding breathlessly burst back onto the stage for a charming duet with Chloe McGuire, singing Man Of The World.

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Outstanding. A real credit to the hard work of director Janet Devenish and producers Teresa Jones and Kimberley Maxim.

The Likes Of Us runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 01582 602080 or go online