Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Staging massed ranks of delight

Our Day Out

Stage 2

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


AT times, it is chaos – but it is disciplined chaos. Director Lucy Bailey has mustered a cast of thousands – well, 80, but what a pleasure it is to be overwhelmed by them! – and each one of its components clearly knows what he or she has to do.

Crowd scenes? Ask Stage 2: its young members – oldest, aged 20; youngest, 10 – come fully primed and agog to go. And every small portion of the crowd, every individual youngster, is involved, aware, a vital part of the whole. Stage 2 carries no passengers. It's a joy.

And it's all happening on a coach trip to Conway Castle, with a pause at a zoo on the way. Author Willy Russell – who strangely doesn't rate a mention in the programme – has plenty to say about deprived kids from soulless estates, and here we find them depicted so deftly, so naturally, so beautifully.

And sometimes, when the chaos of free spirits is at its height, there is a freeze – and everyone becomes a marvel of immobility. Again, it's the discipline, no question.

It's the discipline that makes things look so easy – as when one of the younger girls is piggy-backed at a gallop by an older lad, up the auditorium steps, stage left, and then down again. It is the discipline that ensures that when heaven knows how many of them have to get back on the coach by disporting themselves on a central staircase of six steps, they do it with the smooth inevitability of a hippopotamus on castors.


This is such a team effort that it would be invidious to name names – though having said that, there are a couple of special cameos involving Bored Girl 1 and Bored Girl 2 that strike at the discouraging disaffection which afflicts young people so often. But we won't name names, just offer a silent thank-you for reminding us so vividly of what life outside the theatre is all too often like for the junior generation.

From the tiny waif who opens the show – and who later makes it clear in a well-accomplished confrontation that she doesn't want to go home – to the older members who represent the staff on the coach outing of the Progress class, (and at one point stage a stand-up argument between letting kids enjoy themselves and keeping them in order), there is no one who prompts a quibble.

There's a chorus of 34, singing their hearts out to stirring effect. There is an unseen legion behind the scenes. There are even more looking after front-of-house.

This is Stage 2, grasping the nettle that is live theatre and releasing the butterflies of talented imagination. This is Stage 2, and Stage 2 never lets you down. To 23-07-11.

John Slim 

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