A Festival of Song, Dance, Music and Comedy, Strode Theatre, Street

HOW does a college campus theatre celebrate 60 years of entertaining the community, providing fun, challenges, companionship and education for generations of people and looking from a rich past into the future with determination and excitement?

That was the question facing Strode Theatre’s manager Fares Moussa and the committee behind the anniversary showcase, performed twice on Saturday 14th October with its “cast of thousands.” The idea was to involve all the groups that regularly use Strode Theatre. It was a huge undertaking, involving not only 12 groups of singers, musicians, dancers and actors but filmed interviews and extracts to be screened as the sets were changed.

The performance started with Rossini’s overture from The Barber of Seville, played by the Mid Somerset Orchestra under their conductor Hitoshi Suzuki, followed by young musicians from Crispin School’s Jazz Orchestra performing, with great skill and attack, a semi-improvised version of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man.

The colourful Avalonian Free State Choir, conducted by Sally Pullinger, brought international song to the evening, and were followed by Strode College music students playing some Beatles arrangements. The first half continued with a devised piece by students of Taking the Space, demonstrating the importance of live performance and theatre to communities and nations. Then there were varied dances from Topaz, the dance school that is the successor at Strode to the Joy School of Dance and the Benham Academy. The students, who demonstrated what is being achieved by various age groups, are working towards their next production, Madagascar, to be staged in 2024.

The first half ended with performances by Strode Theatre Productions, a home-grown umbrella organisation that brings creative people from all disciplines together. The current projects, all designed as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations, include performances of HMS Pinafore from 27th to 29th October, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf from 14th to 16th December and Alex in Wonderland, a gaming pantomime based on Lewis Caroll’s immortal story, which will be on the Strode stage from 22nd to 31st December. Members performed Never Mind the Why and Wherefore from Pinafore and Queen of the Night from Alex in Wonderland.

The soaring tenors and sonorous basses of the Glastonbury Male Voice Choir, celebrating its own centenary this year, delighted the audience with songs from Simon and Garfunkel, Robbie Williams and Elvis Presley. Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society started life in 1930, and after changes of name and venue, are looking forward to returning to the Strode in 9 to 5 next April. For the showcase, they performed three songs from their recent production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Then it was the turn of the musicians of COSMIC, the Centre of Somerset Music Club, and they chose a medley of Beatles music, followed by The Best of Queen. Street Theatre Company all but brought the house down with a scene from their recent production of The Vicar of Dibley – the one where the Rev Geraldine arrives in the village and is greeted by the parish council and given a unique explanation of the issues with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

Students from South West School of Dance, founded 25 years ago at the theatre, proved that it’s much more than dance they learn, as they performed snippets from various shows they have performed and are rehearsing, including Let it Go from Frozen.

There were thanks, congratulations and messages from seven of the talented Strode alumni who have gone on to professional careers in the entertainment industry. The finale was From Now On from The Greatest Showman, and provided an opportunity for the entire company to come and sing, from the stage and the auditorium.

A long night, and hugely enjoyable for the packed audience. Look out for the rest of the anniversary shows at the theatre, which, like most other theatres across the country, are battling against funding cuts from government, county and local councils and the cost-of-living crisis.

If the prodigious talents of many of those on stage are any clue, this is an investment well worth making.


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