The Stage
Thursday, April 15, 2004, Established 1880, No 6417

Student Showcase
Webber Douglas Academy Showcase
Chanticleer, London

This seasonís best-attended showcase saw 22 graduates given nearly two hours in which to strut their stuff, featuring two ensemble numbers, two song sequences and 39 monologues, most with the addition of a silent stooge. There were also two powerful double-acts.

The first of the latter came in the form of a dark comic interplay between Rupert Friend and David Hayler as Harold Pinterís inept hitmen from The Dumb Waiter. Friend, with flowing locks and fine cheekbones, later gave us a splendidly aristocratic libertine, while Hayler became a tough Essex lad entering with his dog Roy. Although not a real dog, the scene was played with such clever comic timing that the man-biting pooch was vividly larger than life.

Jacqueline Wilder and James Harrington combined to give us a tantalising glimpse of a Terence Rattigan wartime comedy - she the pert WAAF corporal, he the debonair man about town. Wilder also caught my eye as an apologetic but strongly projected Ayckbourn girl, while Harrington was the slightly camp Roger in A Room to Let - bitter and angry but resigned.

Tim Bell kicked off the solos with his punning London gnome, drolly waving a little fishing rod but even more wicked as demon David, an unkissable voyeur watching Gas Station angels undress.

In the first of many screen scenes, Daniel Pott became the cynical American medic from Band of Brothers, while also personifying Alan Ayckbournís holiday-hating John, gesturing his contempt for caravans.

Natalie Dormer was a slick, efficient businesswoman in her opener, giving us the wow-factor with her sexy Sharon Stone turn from Basic Instinct - cool, sassy and laid-back, with a powerful physical presence.

Trainspotting gave Muzz Khan a great opportunity as the muddle-headed Spud but he was more at home as Ali from the Indian subcontinent in an Asian version of Hobsonís Choice.

Capra comedy proved elusive for James Alper in a James Stewart role but he was happier in a bathrobe as a Cockney version of the would-be innocent Jimmy from Pulp Fiction.

Any producer with plans to adapt The Wide Sargasso Sea would be wise to audition Alicia Patrick as the Creole heroine, exactly as I had pictured Antoinette when I read the book. I also enjoyed her sassy clubland girl, aggressive with the F-word.

Enchanting in a sari came Amelia Saberwal, whose graceful carriage and expressive Indian dance gestures were very different from her terrific turn as Maggie the Cat, complete with perfect Deep South accent in an aria of rising anger.

Will Michelle McCaw get typecast in Jane Horrocksí roles? A cheeky beauty contestant with pink furry bows and glamour to match, she played the part to perfection but can also do disillusion and resentment, as with Ian Gibsonís Amy, a brilliant dance student who hates dancing.

Strongly focused as Lynn in The Sixth Sense, Lemba de Miranda had more fun as a Beverly Hills babe earning 300 bucks a week eyeballing film stars at a major studio.

ĎJust back from Bombayí came Jason Ebelthiteís Giles, a backpacking nerd whose gap year included a dose of dysentery. His film agent came over as a razzle dazzle Ďem audition for the Billy Flynn role in Chicago.

Naomi Bentleyís schoolgirl in a gymslip, with a burgeoning interest in boys and kissing, was a million miles from Simone, her bright-eyed, passionate East Ender from Che Walkerís Been So Long - a young actress to watch.


Casting director

Naomi Bentley

David Hayler

Ksenia Zaitseva


Mezzo Rebecca Jo Hanbury had shown up strongly as a showbiz hoofer in an Annie duet with Oliver Thor Darson and was an equally bold American as Sarah from Beau Jest, so it was intriguing to watch her as a Welsh waif in a duvet, hoping that Swansea would prove bigger and more challenging than her Neath backwater. Darsonís solos were equally contrasted - the leather-jacketed Wayne in search of irony in Ben Eltonís Popcorn and the drink-sodden, cynical Byron from Bloody Poetry.

Showcase reviewers should be even-handed but it is hard not to raise a special cheer for the dazzling Ksenia Zaitseva, first as Ostrovskyís seductive Lipochka - tall and sexy in chemise and white stockings and packed from head to toe with alluring joie de vivre - then a superb Laura from Stars in the Morning Sky. She was slender and sassy as the glamorous Muscovite hooker exiled in the sticks - in a word, magnificent.

In his old Harrovian way, Richard Keith was also a magnificent Cantabrigian and the clipboard-carrying Campbell in two of Ian Gibsonís character sketches.

Alex Tregear, with a red bra and leopard-skin top, was a delightfully foul-mouthed Essex girl, or a tidiness freak as Ayckbournís Lucy, sharing life with her invisible friend Sara. But her finest moment came in her Miss Saigon duet, a plaintive soprano to Naomi Bentleyís mezzo - big showbiz stuff that won both an enthusiastic round of applause for their musical versatility.

Claire Hamiltonís mature Lee, bruised by marriage in Marvinís Room, was tellingly matched against her ponytailed Fiona, reflecting on love in an extract from Debbie Issitís Matilda Liar.

There was equal diversity from Maria Golledge, first as a Welsh collegiate twice tricked into love by gay swains, then a thrilling Irish storyteller from The Weir that could have diverted us for the rest of the afternoon - what great theatrical talent in this 2004 graduate showcase, a terminal moment that leaves me to praise the stylish Cabaret dance opener and The Producers closer, led by vocalist Daniel Pott.

John Thaxter

Production information
Production information can change over the run of the show.


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