Pitching straight into the West End’s Criterion for the first of two showcase performances - the second being back in their ‘home’ theatre in Liverpool on the following Thursday - meant precious little room for nerves for this LIPA class of 2013 drama graduates. But, when the full company opened with a collectively vibrant, energetic rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together, it seemed that appearing on a large stage held few fears for most. Certainly not the immediately impressive Richard James-Clarke, as Paul, the comic, straight-talking swimming pool guard from Megan Walsh’s Lyre.
Matching him giggle for laugh was Louisa Lowe, as Cassie, the shopper getting high on everything Waitrose, in The Modern Melody by Hannah Meghan Lane. Her measured, assured, well-timed delivery was proof, if it was needed, that comedy can impress just as much as serious drama at student showcases, the caveat being that not everyone has naturally funny bones. Though a few interesting double handers then proved engaging enough, the first to elicit really enthusiastic applause paired Glenn Adamson and Jordan Veloso, performing She, from Georgia Stitt’s This Ordinary Thursday. Working well together, they may not have had the strongest of combined voices, but their professional performance, and evident passion for the musical piece, helped it seem a much less ordinary Monday at the Criterion. Another couple of graduates working well together were Lee Hallam, as Robert, and Eline Opsahl, as Lea, in an amusing snippet from Strawberries in January by Evelyne de la Cheneliere (translated by Rona Munro). Robert, intent on complaining to the hotel receptionist (Lea), having found a dead mouse in his hotel bed, finds himself instead charmed by her, and very likely to give the establishment five stars on the review website, deceased rodent and all. Even though he has the distinct advantage of being given a strong comedic part in Neil LaBute’s The New Testament, you admire the panache with which Anton Rice pulled off his role as an ‘actor’ determined to play Jesus, despite, as far as the producer (Alissa Franks), and writer (Thomas Ottersen) were concerned, being the “wrong colour”. The scenario could just have easily appeared ludicrous, but all those involved kept it credible, and engaging, before it reached a fabulously executed twist at the end, the scene being a credit to all three graduates.
Most acting showcases, the rare, exceptionally strong ones aside, need musical pieces to give variety to the student production experience, especially for trade guests present, and a Gershwin medley half-way through provides the perfect creative boost this showcase needs. Of the three strong pieces performed here, by Genevieve Lowe, Jack Quarton and Kelly Filios, it was Vodka, from Song of the Flame, performed by the vocally confident, flaming red-head, Filios that impressed most. But, with that piece having raised the showcase bar, too many of the solo and duo pieces which followed just failed to excite or engage, not that any fell below an acceptable level of performance. So, it isn’t really until another musical piece from a trio of graduates, with a song plucked from Ghost the Musical, that the Criterion audience feel compelled to once more applaud heartily. And, rightly so, given the combined musical efforts of Stephanie Hockley, Ashley Mackintosh and Hannah-Cate Morayati, the vocal arrangement, much to her credit, being also by Hockley. This has a nice feel throughout, and impressive melodic synergy, from the start, and had they stayed on stage for another couple of numbers, there would have been no complaints. Having been notable in his first, earlier performance - part of a three-hander in Kieran Lynn’s An Incident at the Border - Sebastian Gray’s solo spot was always going to be interesting. As it proved, with Gray, as Lucifer, in Immaculate by Oliver Lansley, showing that he clearly has all the required presence and versatility to become a very capable character actor. He draws your attention when on stage, and that’s a great asset for an aspiring actor to possess. Another second strong performance came from James- Clarke, working well with Abi Taylor Jones, as Freddie and Charlotte in A Brief History of Helen of Troy, by Mark Schultz. Acerbic humour clearly comes easily to him. For Now, from the musical Avenue Q, is an inspired choice for the full company finale. With its inventive, impressive choreography, this is a spirited number that this class of 2013 is clearly only too happy to enjoy to the full, especially with the pressures of the afternoon now out of the way.
Throughout the showcase their is a brave choice of more unusual pieces. Too many student showcases still feature far too many of the same, familiar pieces, when an industry audience wants to see fresh, bold drama at such events. LIPA, at least, had the courage to offer something different - it didn’t all work by any means, but the Institute should be applauded for what was a polished, creative ensemble effort.