Writers/Composers: Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie
Director: Kate Golledge
Reviewer: David Guest
Somewhere in the West End grown people are weeping over casting calls, production notes and new musical scripts. For members of the National Youth Music Theatre have smashed it again with a brand new musical with a message written especially for young people which jealous adults just can’t touch.
Legend Trippers by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie (together known as Noisemaker) was commissioned by NYMT and contains a cast of supremely talented 11 – 20-year-olds. It is so good there simply aren’t enough effusive words in the dictionary to praise it and it is outrageous to think that it is on at The Other Palace for just four days.
If the first show of their summer season, Parade, was worthy of five stars then this new offering is off the scale. While theatreland has been overwhelmed in the last couple of years with plays about immigration and intolerance and consequent political ramifications of every angle concerning them, this entertaining new musical tackles the subject in an enthralling and original way almost without you realising. And it does it impressively well.
The setting is a slightly boring town, Oakfield, whose only claim to fame was being the first place to have wheelie bins. An unlikely group of young teenagers – the sort who are bullied at school and regarded widely as “dweebs” – form themselves into a group called The Legend Trippers, a cross between comic book heroes, The Goonies and Scooby Doo’s Mystery Incorporated.
Their rallying cry is “Legend Trippers – Congregate!” after it’s pointed out that their original idea could cause copyright issues with a certain Marvel superhero team. This sharp and knowing humour permeates the entire show and there’s some cracking (and occasionally comically daft) lines. “Discreet is my middle name,” says one team member proudly. “I thought it was Brian,” is the rejoinder from another.
They visit sites by night which are chronicled in a scrapbook where some tragic or supernatural event has happened in the town’s history and they endeavour to remove the attached legendary curse.
So it is that the show – in best Horrible Histories style – recounts some of the legends, including the story of the Oakfield Highwayman, the Forgotten Grave of the Oakfield Angel, the Oakfield Vampire and Dr Oak and Mr Field as the team of young worthies cast off each curse under the mocking eyes of the school bullies – led by the brother of the head Tripper.
This in itself is absorbing, with great ensemble performances in the storytelling and plenty of humour. The solution to getting rid of vampires is definitely for a post-Twilight generation and a scene in which a dying horse is revived is just one stand-out moment that rightly earns a huge cheer.
But the ever-present theme of bullying takes a darker turn when a Middle Eastern pupil is taunted mercilessly and a mysterious girl of unknown origin wants to join the Trippers in their adventures.
It’s a cunning and clever piece of wrong-footing by the writers because you suddenly realise each of the historical tales is a parable about how the townsfolk treat outsiders and how the suspicion shown to newcomers is what creates the curses. And it’s how those stories have been interpreted through the ages as well as how we view each other that causes present-day bad behaviour.
The parallels to modern global society are unnerving and the message of “You are what you do – not what people say” couldn’t be more relevant and contemporary.
If the story is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, there are more than 20 songs that are both joyous and fresh. Noisemaker have created some witty and memorable numbers that the 28-strong cast perform with energy and enthusiasm. Indeed, this spirit marks the whole production. This is a company that is clearly enjoying every minute and director Kate Golledge makes full use of this gusto, allowing every performer to revel in their various roles.
The seven Legend Trippers quickly establish their individual quirks and identities, led by a confident and instantly likeable Oliver Furze as LT. So pleasing are Hannah Wheatly, Milo Panni, Bill Stanley, Daisy Mortimer, Ben Lewis and Chi- Megan Ennis McLean as the others that you fall in love with the characters easily and you can’t help but feel their story demands sequels and spin-offs in some form.
Bully Heath (Ed Conroy) also has a strong team behind him with George Lammiman, Oliver Adams, Meg Russon, and Matilda Marcus as the loyal hangers-on. Emily Atkins is excellent as the enigmatic Asha (with a crystal-clear and haunting singing voice), Joseph Lucas convincing as the incomer Samir and Charlotte Dunn quickly becoming an audience favourite as LT’s worldly-wise little sister Peg.
Musical director Chris Poon leads an extremely able group of musicians, with some of the performers on stage also playing musical instruments at key moments. Darragh O’Leary’s choreography is tight and peppy, filling the stage with boundless vitality.
Diego Pitarch’s eye-catching design allows parts of the set to be easily moved around for each scene, with panels containing historic script which can be illuminated with images appropriate to the legends being retold providing a striking backdrop.
Legend Trippers is an exciting and engaging new work and the NYMT have set a gold standard in its premiere performance. Happily it isn’t a show that would ever work with adults playing the parts and is likely to become a fast and firm favourite with schools, colleges and youth groups everywhere.
Runs until 17 August 2019 | Image: Contributed