Setting A New Standard - The Directory Group

Setting a new standard

Theatre review by Henry Ascoli

Flashdance, by Performance Preparation Academy at The Electric Theatre, Guildford

Energetic, expressive... Electric.

A wealth of young talent took to the stage in this dazzling revival of a daring musical.

High-octane dance routines, intense drama and enchanting song filled the air as Performance Preparation Academy put their own stamp on Flashdance, based on the real life story of Maureen Marder.

Construction worker by day, flash dancer by night, ambitious Alex Owens harbours aspirations to enrol at a prestigious dance school. Forced to endure social stereotypes and personal struggles every step of the way, Alex is pushed to the very brink, but when it comes to the crucial moment, will she find her feet once again?

Beth O'Meara's impassioned performance in the lead role painted an emotive portrait of Alex, her strong stage presence expressed through breathless dance routines and beautiful song.

James Hudson proved another fine casting in the role of Nick Hurley, the steelworks manager who has his heart set on Alex. An assured performance allowed James to explore every aspect of the role, his duet with Alex - 'Don't stop' - one of the many highlights of a superb production.

Louis Rayneau produced a suitably sinister performance as no-hoped Jimmy who, with his life spiralling out of control, resorts to desperate measures in a bid to save himself - stepping out of the shadows in the chilling 'You can't keep me down'.

Harriet Harper immersed herself in the role of Hannah Owens, a chain-smoking gambling addict fiercely loyal to her talented daughter but still suffering from the loss of her husband some years before.

Fresh from a memorable performance in 'Cabaret', Andrew Patrick-Walker revelled in the role of the devious Dr Kool, eager to add to his roster of erotic dancers by any means possible.

Meanwhile, Shona Manderson captured the vivacious Jazmin to perfection, immersing herself in the role of the Latino dancer, and stealing the spotlight in an electric rendition of 'Manhunt'.

Indeed, many of the musical numbers served to emphasise the striking contrast between the life of a Flashdancer - vibrant and expressive, and that of the erotic dancers – exploited and trapped.

Yet, as ever with PPA, it was the collaborative efforts of such a talented cast and backstage team which proved powerful - superb choreography, swift scene changes and a simple yet effective set design laying the foundations for a powerful production.

Many of the more intimate scenes were played out within metal blocks, open on one side to create the sense of a ‘window’ into the lives of the characters and key locations – Alex’s ramshackle room, the seedy club packed with erotic dancers.

The mood and atmosphere of the performance was not only dictated by the dialogue, but by the costumes – in particular, we are allowed an insight into Alex’s mindset by her choice of attire – from baggy jumper to dazzling dress.

By reimagining some aspects of the original story to accommodate the specific talents of the cast, Director Christopher Howell and his team allowed PPA to create arguably one of their most ambitious productions to date and showcasing potential future stars of the stage.

Perfect proof of PPA's burning desire to succeed, from the spark of an idea to an explosive on-stage presence - setting a new standard.

Performance Preparation Academy, 01483 503373, www.ppacademy.co.uk , @PPAcademyUK

The Directory Group covers the following areas within Hampshire and West Sussex: Petersfield, Clanfield, Hayling Island, Cowplain, Waterlooville, Denmead, Purbrook, Widley, Farlington, Cosham, Drayton, Havant, Rowlands Castle, Emsworth, Southbourne, Westbourne, Bosham, Portsmouth, Alton, Alresford, Bentley, Four Marks and Meon Valley