Thursday, July 18

Grease – Edinburgh Playhouse

Think you know Grease? Think again. This production takes Rydell High back to its gritty roots and it’s never been so refreshing.

Forget your memories of Travolta and Newton-John politely bopping away in pastel pinks, Nikolai Foster’s Grease’s origins appear firmly rooted in the sardonic gritty teenage drama that Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey originally wrote. Here, the teenage hormones flow quicker than burger sauce, the cuss words come thick and fast and hand-jiving is a very serious business, indeed.

Now sitting somewhere between a homage to Americana and a raw Westside Story, Douglas O’Connell’s set design includes all key components of the era, reveling in Americana. One can’t help but feel a little High School Musical creep into the giant Rydell High with the bright red tracksuits. It’s a mishmash homage to the actual 1950s and the 1950s popular culture chooses to remember, and it completely compliments the production. And, Grease Lightning herself makes an appearance and is used well throughout and is nicely placed amongst the blocking, commanding the stage without stealing the scene.

Although many know the show for the exploits of Danny and Sandy, this production is a firm ensemble number. With Arlene Philips’s razor sharp choreography the whole group zing through dance numbers with impressively tight movement. Meanwhile, they’re vocally top notch. The large expanse of the Edinburgh Playhouse requires a high level of sound engineering to carry over the thousands of seats, often resulting in a volume level comparable to a live gig. Conditions such as these often leave performers even more vulnerable but not the cast of Grease. Every final note of every number ends in impressive unity – sheer technical brilliance on display here.

Unphased by this context is Hope Dawe who, despite as cliche as it sounds, really does bring the house down with ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’. Audience members will doubtlessly make comparisons to 1978 musical, but here they delivered an exceptional solo performance worth the ticket price alone. Hawe’s approach is an absolute joy- especially from a young performer making their professional debut. Meanwhile, Ben Middleton steps into the fore as Danny Zucko, giving the character a reticent, ‘cooler’ spin than perhaps other portrayals choose.

Supporting Sandy are Marty (India Chadwick) and Rizzo (Rebecca Stenhouse) though their showstoppers put them on the same footing as Sandy. Chadwick’s Freddie My Love is sublime while Stenhouse solos give ample opportunity for the performer to demonstrate their enviable vocal control. Amongst the burger palace boys, the ensemble revel in Nikolai Foster’s direction, though at times, perhaps too much. Kieran Lynch’s ‘Those Magic Changes’

Though these professional performers are by no means high school teenagers, a lot of them are in the early stages of their career. And, some of these phenomenal performances show that the future of musical theater talent in the UK is in exceptionally safe hands.

It’s silly, frivolous, and wonderfully executed.

Audiences can see this production at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 29th June.

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 26th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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