“It is a funny, light, innocent, and bright show with an incredibly talented cast and crew…

An immersive, enthusiastic, and joyous musical, TDTC’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is not one to miss.  

Impressively directed by Archie Collins, assisted by Hannah Thomas and Annaliese Goff, the show follows six students, three adults, and four of our very own audience members throughout a spelling bee. Collins’ use of blocking is masterful in introducing and developing the characters and creating dynamic visuals for a relatively straightforward story. The acting is some of the best in Durham and is truly essential for this show to work. The production team, led by Tim Millard and assisted by Adams Yeung, are truly incredible and really understand the show. The set is phenomenal, helping to create the immersive atmosphere of being in a school gymnasium. The tech highlights this incredible set, and the lighting choices in particular (James Duxbury, Theo Nellis, Madeleine Evans) are stunning throughout. The choreography, by Hannah Kisiala and assisted by Misha Joshi, truly matches the spirit of this show, keeping with its quirky and fun nature. At moments some of the vision feels slightly stifled by external factors as there is limited stage space to dance on, and some dancing feels awkward due to the lack of sound from the band (in many numbers a keyboard is the only instrument that can be heard) however the energy of the cast makes this hardly noticeable.  

Rona, perfectly executed by Lucie Fletcher, opens the delightful spelling bee with a call-back to her own win back in the 3rd Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Fletcher has an unforgettable voice and tone, her vocals in the opening and throughout the show setting her apart as one of the best singers I have seen on the AR stage, alongside a warm and welcoming maternal characterisation which is perfect for this character. The rest of the cast’s talent cannot be understated as their cohesion as an ensemble is extraordinary, whilst maintaining very clear and consistent characterisations of themselves as individuals throughout the show. Cora Frith-Fletcher as Meg and Alex Knipe as Douglas have a strong comedic presence that is so enjoyable throughout the show. Regan Hunter as Logainne and Dylan Jimenez as Leaf are hilarious and impressive vocally. Their command of the stage keeps the audience in fits of laughter after they perform their songs and take their turns in spelling. Also keeping the audience in stitches is Charlie McKie as Chip, with his song ‘My Unfortunate Erection’ being absolutely hilarious as well as vocally impressive.  Issey Dodd as Marcy is an acting standout. Very early on she establishes the dedication and smarts of her character whilst also wanting people to see her as something more than her academic pursuits. Dodd’s song ‘I Speak Six Languages’ is an impressive feat and is one of the best numbers in the show, with amazing vocals and dancing.  

Jonas Stringer and Hannah James are truly outstanding in this show. Hannah James as Olive, is flawless. Her acting is so genuine, her physicality is perfect, and the youthfulness and joy of the character floods the stage every time she’s in the spotlight. The audience absolutely falls in love with her sweet, yet powerful voice, which leaves us wanting more of her story. Jonas Stringer as Barfé is delightful and his character development throughout the show is so impressively done. Their friendship dynamic is adorable and is an audience favourite. Although primarily a comedic show, a highlight of this show is the ‘I Love You’ song, taking the audience by surprise with its vulnerability. Olive’s mother (Lucie Fletcher) and father (Charlie McKie) appear in a vision of sorts, both of them attempting to assuage her hurt feelings from their absence. The harmonies, acting and tech combine to create the most special and intimate point in the show. James, McKie and Fletcher must be applauded for their command of emotional expression through unreal vocals and acting ability.  

This show is an absolute must see as it engages the audience in a way that has not been done in Durham before. It is a funny, light, innocent, and bright show with an incredibly talented cast and crew. Get to the Bee – I mean Assembly Rooms – before it’s too late!!  

By Rhyen Hunt

TDTC’s ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ will continue to show at 19:30 on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th of February, as well as 14:30 on Saturday the 24th, in the Sir Thomas Allen Assembly Rooms Theatre

Photo Credits: Tone Deaf Theatre Company