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NODA Review of the HYT Musical IMAGINARY

"Imaginary" was commissioned for the National Youth Music Theatre and first saw the light of day just two years ago. It is always a joy to see something fresh; the opportunity to do so comes rarely. It would have been helpful to find space in the well-presented programme for a brief synopsis to prepare us for what we were about to receive. As a result of the audience really had little to hang the early scenes on. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual presentation and concept  - so on to more relevant matters!


From the moment Sam, played by Joseph Willis, took the stage we knew we were in for a treat. Joseph immediately established a rapport with the audience. Director Martin Cook ensured that every part of the stage was put to good use. Joseph drew us into the fantasy we were about to witness and played his character all the way through from start to finish with charm and assurance.


Sams' mother is concerned for the development of her son as he prepares for his first day at secondary school. Amelia Denker was every inch the worried parent. Will Sam lose his childlike ability to create and imagine or will he be lulled into the staid world of adults? "Imaginary" explores this idea with considerable humour. Will Milo, played confidently by Katy Atkinson, hold him back and will she and Sam still be friends after all their adventures?


The score is intriguingly broad, ranging in style from Lionel Bart to Sondheim to Tamla with even a hint of Kurt Weill thrown in for good measure. As a result, every number becomes a surprise. Of all the songs perhaps "Those Were The Days"  struck me as being the most powerful. The teachers Abigayle Rogers, Mirren Sunderland, Isabelle Craven and Finn Maden, were winsome in their rendition of this song, clearly enjoying every note. I loved their costumes, by the way. Jo Howard, in charge of wardrobe, had dressed the entire company appropriately and imaginatively thereby adding an extra dimension to the audiences' understanding of the roles. There were three "Spooners" in principal roles in this production. So, in no particular order, as they say in "Strictly", (or so I am told) they were Emma, Rebecca and Ellie. All three were exceptional. Big Brenda (Ellie) had the most to do and also he most, by a short head, "ridiculous" costume. Ellie is an accomplished performer imbued with the rare skill to continue to act off the book. This is a talent I have only seen used to this degree of competence a couple of times by performers in District 3 so far this year.  It can not be directed, it has to come from the soul.


"The Oogie, Boogie, Woogie", arguably the weakest of melodies, was raised to something special by Rebecca and the Kids, we were all tapping our toes by the end of the song. Emma was well cast as Brenda Junior and is to be applauded for her ease to use the stage with absolute assurance.  Theo Hewson-Betts introduced us to a misguided Headmaster whose basic intentions were good but realised just in time that they were misplaced. Theo held the stage giving us just enough of a hint of "evil" to warm to him and allow him the benefit of the doubt in his actions as Head.

Milo (Katie Atkinson) and Sam (Joseph Willis) - In For A Treat! 


All the other principals, Abigail Leach, Thea Crowther, Megan Shaw, Bea Wigmore, Evie Gray, Maebh Logue, Alice King and Anna Crowther created believable roles, fitting into the relaxed atmosphere that had been instilled by Martin Cook.  Helen Clarkson's musical direction was immaculate. Alexandra Townend and Lisa Parker offered all the players the chance to shine with clever choreography that used all the stage and interpreted the songs with panache.


Steven Clarkson's set design was outstanding. Congratulations, it was innovative, colourful, original and eye-catching; never seeking to intrude on the action but creating just the right level of whimsy, (if sets can do that?). So many people helped create it. I offer them all my equal appreciation.

Every member of the cast, Brendettes, Young Kids, Parents, Older Kids and Ifs were alluring in their interpretations of such a range of characters who are required to change attitudes several times during the play. 


This was a well put together performance in every sense of the words. Thank you, Todmorden Hippodrome Youth Theatre for introducing me so well to this fascinating musical. I look forward to your next production with eager anticipation.