Sol Noya is delighted by a night at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre with Collingwood College Woodplayers.

Tonight I ventured out into the coldest night so far and up the hill to the Mark Hillery Arts Centre to watch the Woodplayers’ Michaelmas Showcase – and I’m very glad I did. The programme promised “a night of theatrical entertainment” and it delivered outstandingly to the full house with a varied showcase, featuring acting, singing, and dance numbers to show off the versatility of the twenty two-strong ensemble.

Director Tara Munnelly made the most of the cast’s strength in the full-ensemble numbers: ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked for opening the show and ‘Freak Flag’ from Shrek to close. Both numbers alternated short solos, a great chance to feature cast members who didn’t have their own songs, with full-cast choruses. My only qualm is that there weren’t any more full ensemble numbers – both were a joy to watch and the audience was visibly struggling not to sing and dance along. Both went very smoothly – only a few hitches and beats off here and there and the choreography was not always very polished, but overall quite impressive considering they’d been put together in only two weeks. The harmonies arranged by musical director Josh Powell sounded absolutely beautiful and the acoustics certainly helped.

The solos and duets were as impressive as the group numbers. The three soloist ladies, Amie Page, Isla Brendon, and Emily Bates, all exhibited their impressive acting chops through their various facial expressions, the blocking and choreography. Though it was a shame that Page’s solo ‘Dead Mom’ was overpowered by the backing track at times, her acting conveyed what was going on so clearly that it was almost hard to realise we could barely hear her. Luckily, the issue was solved by the time of Brendon and Bates’ performances – Brendon in particular had outstanding volume control during her song, ‘Pulled’. Emily Bates’ performance of ‘The Girl in 14G’ must be highlighted for its sheer versatility – it’s a rare performer who can go from La Traviatato belting to a capella in the span of two minutes. The duets, ‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘A Boy Like That/I Have a Love’ were also lovely, and in both occasions the singers’ voices blended together very well. However, it would have been nice for the choreography and blocking to have the singers interacting more to match the emotion conveyed in ‘Sun and Moon’. Luckily, the other small group song, ‘Sincerely Me’ made up for this with the chemistry between the three performers.

The show also featured two acted pieces: a monologue from Frankenstein, where James Southall played a very convincing monster despite not wearing a costume and carrying minimal props, and a duologue from Miss Polly’s Institute For Criminally Damaged Ladies Puts On A Show. Southall exhibited impressive facial expressions and body language, conveying the cold the monster felt from the moment he shuffled onstage. He captured the monster’s madness perfectly, through screaming as well as portraying a truly disturbing mixture of sadness and glee. Amie Page and Emily Lea’s duologue started out fairly lighthearted, showcasing both girls’ comic timing, and became more serious as it went on, allowing them to show off their ability to subtly convey their characters’ difficult backgrounds. The dance number, ‘Get’cha Head In The Game’ from High School Musicalwas an interesting choice to keep the energy from the previous numbers going, but it clashed a little with the other numbers and ultimately felt a bit out of place for me. However, making it a tap number was certainly a creative decision.

A decision that worked very well was having a member of the cast, Alex Comaish, host the evening. It would have been easy for Comaish to outshine the ensemble or vice versa, but they complemented each other very well. His comedic timing was excellent, and he perfectly alternated jokes about the numbers, life in Durham, and Collingwood. Finally, the programme gives special thanks to the technical team and I have to agree. The microphones were mostly faultless and the lighting was effectively used, especially during the Frankenstein monologue where the lights helped indicate the cold of the Arctic setting.

Though the showcase was just over an hour long, it flew by. It was fun from start to finish, with the audience cheering enthusiastically throughout. It’s only a shame that this was a one-night affair, but from the quality of tonight’s show, the Woodplayers’ next shows are not to be missed.