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

Light touch gives a big shake


Stage 2

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


IT is a proud boast of Stage 2 that however little stage experience its members may have had before joining, they will find themselves in a show if they want to be in one – because nobody is left out.

It is a philosophy that has served director Liz Light utterly brilliantly for two decades – and certainly it is one that is handy if you are planning to turn the second half of this four-hander by John Godber and Jane Thornton into a seething sea of 80 party-goers.

Stage 2's last two productions were Under Milk Wood and A Midsummer Night's Dream. They, naturally, were also subjected to the Light touch which ensured that no one had ever seen them remotely like this before. But neither provided such a heaven-sent opportunity for a party with lots of music and dancing – and parties are what these remarkable youngsters are good at without giving a hint of the hours of rehearsal that inevitably have gone into creating them.

But Shakers adds another dimension, because Shakers is definitely a grown-up show. So we find our four young waitresses, around whom the show is built, and to whom the programme gives a rhyming and rhythmical listing as Carol, Adele, Nicki and Mel, variously engaged in a detailed description of an abortion and lamenting the inadequate size of condoms. A young man, meanwhile, casually observes that he “wouldn't mind having a bash” at a young woman on the other side of the Shakers area and helpfully accompanies the remark with gyrations that show us how he would cope with the ambition if it were ever to be fulfilled.


But this is Stage 2, the youth group that goes boldly and utterly successfully. The abortion moment had the first-night audience gripped in rapt attention and sympathy. The Durex detail and the macho moment received the laughter for which they were aiming. It would have been easy to have pitched them wrongly, into a wall of horrified silence. Liz Light ensures that her young charges never suffer that sort of embarrassment. She knows their undoubted abilities and although she stretches them remarkably, she never pushes them too far.

So here is yet another Stage 2 triumph – and one that shone even more brightly on the first night because the projector, operated by the youngsters themselves and intended to show an amusing moment in the girls' toilets broke down and provided only one-third of the intended picture. Dismay could have thrown a lesser group out of kilter. This lot took disaster in their stride and in so doing did not surprise me in the slightest. This is what Stage 2 does.

This is a Shakers set in Liverpool, and the immediately noticeable bonus is that the waitresses – Elizabeth Halpin, Laura Cummins, Helen Carter and Chloe Jones – have such a mastery of the twang. But this is merely the top-dressing. In the riotous final scene, there are confrontations with obnoxious customers and these are handled quite splendidly, with a mixture of dignity and flaring fury. The four girls, clearly the mistresses of their chosen hobby, never put a foot wrong.


The other members of the huge company do not have the chance to disport themselves as liberally as the waitresses do, but in the maelstrom of music and movement it is impossible to single out anyone and pretend that you have found a weak link. Stage 2 doesn't do weak links. It may have them when rehearsals start, but they are history by the time the curtain opens.

So we have big musical numbers that are given an appropriate accompaniment, clubland-style – except that these are dancers attuned to the teamwork that is necessary to get so many of them just right  for  the crowded, carefree  but so-disciplined choreography  by Adrian  Richards and Océane Li-LeDantec – achieved in a kaleidoscope of colour and brimming with energy.

It even goes on right through the interval. There are a few moments when energy is entirely committed to a one-man dancing display. This is when the remarkable Adrian Richards comes swivel-hipped and rubber-limbed to his high-speed and riveting responsibilities. He will be joining the National Youth Theatre shortly and then go on to the Central School of Speech & Drama.

And because the essence of the show is teamwork, it would be a wasteful and laborious process to try to list everyone who contributes to its vibrant buzz. But I must mention a little half-pint in an orange dress. Emma Staunton (Sharon) is a happy young dynamo, repeatedly justifying the opportunities she is given and in a pleasing partnership with Siobhan Twissell (Tracey, the girl who has sunburn problems).

Yet again, Liz Light has transformed a show to accommodate the needs and the talents of her youthful charges. It's a sparkling delight. To 24.7.10.

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