Sunday, December 4

Sister Act – Pendle Hippodrome

North West End UK reviews both professional and amateur shows, but when reviewing Basics Junior Theatre School production’s, it is hard to distinguish which one it is as the talent and delivery is that of a professional performance year after year.

Sally Murtaugh and her late husband Dennis founded Basics 35 years ago and the theatre group has delivered an annual performance since 1987 to present day, this is the first time Basics have produced Sister Act. Andy Cooke has been the principle at Basics for ten years and I have had the honour of reviewing several of his shows, one of the most striking themes throughout the years of watching the performances is the sense of pride and belonging to a family which ripples from the students to each and every member of the production team.

Andy informed me that this year hadn’t been the easiest rehearsal process with the good old COVID still hanging around, and the fact that he had dozens of his students off studying for their GCSE’s and A-Levels. Andy Cooke truly believes in all his students past and present and this shines through every time I see one of his shows. Basics are true professionals and have outstanding performers for their age, with many success stories to be told of past students who have gone on to be successful in the theatre world and some of which are currently in successful West End Musicals. There were quite a few professionals in the audience who had travelled up from London’s to watch the new prodigies take to the stage. These young people put their heart and souls into their time at Basics and the team develop each student’s potential to the maximum.

The youngest member of the cast Hughie Higginson (Pride of Britain Winner) aged 12 years old is still undergoing chemotherapy whilst he has been rehearsing with his Basics family stated he feels blesses to have so much support and talent in one room. The sense of family is apparent with many team members being past students and parents’ past and present.

Sister Act is a big and bold show with an undeniably feel-good sensation with a 70’s vibe and disco ball fever. First released as a film in 1992 Whoopi Goldberg made the role of Deloris Van Cartier iconic and set the bar high for anyone following in her footsteps. In 2006 Sister Act premiered in the theatre and has continued to tour in theatres around the world to date having many professionals either burn or flourish in the role.

In case you have never seen the film or show the storyline is around Deloris Van Cartier (Tilly Clapham) is an aspiring singer in Philadelphia, where she is auditioning to perform at her gangster boyfriend’s nightclub. Deloris believes that Curtis (Owen Bradley) is going to introduce her to a big producer but is upset when he tells her she is not ready. Hurt and rejected, Deloris decides to break up with him, but when she goes to find him, she accidentally sees him kill one of his cronies. Deloris runs to the police, who place her in hiding at a convent until Curtis is brought to trial. At first, Deloris feels as though it will be the worst thing in the world, living in the constraints of convent and the historic Mother Superior (Grace Gilbert), but once she is gets involved with the nuns’ choir everything changes. The nuns help give her a bigger purpose in her life, showing her a genuine love and affection that was missing prior to her arrival at the convent.

©Andy Ford

Tilly Clapham who played the iconic Deloris Van Cartier has been in Basics for ten years with this being her third leading role in Seniors. Tilly currently attends drama college in Manchester and aims to continue her musical theatre studies in London where she hopes to have a career in the industry. It is always hard to play such an iconic bold and larger than life character of Deloris, however Tilly nailed it!

From the moment Tilly opened the show she had me believing the role of an alcohol fuelled moll mixing in the underbelly of a gangster’s world, you quickly invest into her character and intriguingly watch as Tilly softens the character to become a sister in every sense in the convent. Tilly is clearly set for the West End as many of the Basics students are, Tilly shown a maturity beyond her years as an actress and her vocals where pitch perfect with just the right amount of pizzaz and energy to not overplay the role. Brilliant performance with great stage presence throughout from this young lady.

Grace Gilbert played Mother Superior a role I often dismiss as having the biggest impact in Sister Act, but this 17-year-old drama student certainly caught my attention throughout. Grace delivered a performance that would match any current West End professional, I was captivated by her impeccable delivery of the role as it was flawless. Grace’s acting skills are magnificent on its own but partner that with her remarkable vocals and musical range demonstrates that she is already a well-rounded performer worthy of any stage out there. Grace’s rendition of ‘I Haven’t Got a Prayer’ had me totally enchanted by her talent, this lady is one to watch and another prime example of the brilliant training Basics provide for students to reach their potential.

Two other standout performers where Avalon Keenan who played Sister Mary Robert and Trixie Higginson who delivered the role of Sister Mary Patrick both veterans at Basics have worked their way up the ranks to become phenomenal performers. Avalon displayed her aptitude and versatility when her microphone failed during one of her big scenes where she sings ‘The Life I Never Had’ which was followed by a well-deserved rapturous applause. Avalon belted out her vocals like a true professional and shown great self-assurance throughout the technical failure. Trixie’s acting skills and characterisation was faithful and accurate to the original character, but she added such depth, energy and joy to the role I applaud her interpretation and delivery. 

There was so much talent on one stage it is hard not to mention them all individually, each person delivered their own outstanding role to create a top class show that leaves you wonderfully uplifted at the end. The males Owen Bradley, Luke Esden, Oscar Williams, Luke Holmes, Felix Snowden and Harris Rafferty, I applaud you all for playing the good, bad and the righteous roles so magnificently.

Philip J Hindle (Pip) Basics Director has pitch the performance perfectly it’s not overplayed or underplayed, and he has brought out the full potential of the production by the exceptional attention to each character’s detail and delivery.

A show isn’t as show without the production team and Choreographers Helen Cheung and assistant Lydia Cooke have done a sterling job on movement and dance throughout this show – timings were spot on, and the visual displays of movement and dance is just breath-taking. Andrew Mitchell’s musical direction was impeccable as always, Sally Murtaugh Co-Founder and wardrobe mistress’s along with Kelly Holt and Paulene Woodhead’s costume design was spectacular making the show a visual sensation.

Well, another year and another successful show for Basics, as always, I was blown away with the incredible talent of the young cast and the professionalism of the whole show. I would recommend this production to anyone in the area or even out of the Burnley area, I drove a 100-mile round trip and I can honestly say it was well worth it.

The show continues for the rest of the week so don’t miss out and grab a ticket whilst you can – I promise you won’t regret it.

Well done to all involved may Basics success continue, and the students love for theatre carries on fulfilling their dreams in the world of showbusiness.

Reviewer: Katie Leicester

Reviewed: 11th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★