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Sell out shows

The creative energy at Eastbourne College reached an all-time high last week as pupils performed two contrasting productions in just ten nights – the musical, ILYB (I Love You Because) followed by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Local Eastbourne residents, parents, staff and fellow pupils were treated to colourful, polished performances every night.

ILYB is a New York set musical originally written in 2006 for just six performers, but in this interpretation the Birley Centre stage was filled with a cast of 47 pupils drawn from every year group. An acknowledged flimsy plot was fleshed out with witty dialogue that zipped the audience from one catchy number to the next at a rapid pace. The ensemble cast were led by a superbly accomplished and affecting central performance from Matt Ginno as Austin, a nerdy greetings card writer, and well supported by Ellie Wicks, charming and vulnerable as love interest Marcy, whilst Fergus Piper and Beth Stephens demonstrated terrific musicality and razor sharp comic timing as Jeff and Diana. In support, similarly well-judged performances were smartly delivered by Tom Page and Bex Towey.

The Auditorium was imaginatively reinvented by the design of Laura Neal, using a raised stage, laid out as a bright and colourful cartoon map of New York, creatively lit by lighting designer Stuart Pratley from Glyndebourne. The scenery was backed by vivid and highly effective film sequences of the famous streets and skyline crafted by Matt Derbyshire of Smokescreen Visuals. A lively band led by Musical Director Nick Parrans-Smith kept things moving, as did the vivid choreography of Kirsty Hamilton Reid and Hannah Lockyer of Rambert Dance Company.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night retained the original script but was subtly edited by director Paul Lowden into a wonderfully festive 90 minutes of dynamic, energetic, witty and at times poignant drama. Presenting the play in traverse staging appeared challenging but the cast relished the opportunity that such close proximity to an audience presented and ensured that everyone was drawn into the nuances of a madly complex plot.

Feste [Chris Bridal] smoothly segued from ‘Wonderwall’ to ‘Puppy Love’ via the more expected Elizabethan lyrics. Lottie Carter was remarkable in her assured presence as Viola, in love with Will Dickens’ smooth operator Orsino. Jasmin Deans [understudy] and Sarah Hill-Smith enticingly captured the confusion and passion of love’s enchantment as Olivia. The centrepiece of the comedy was the conflict between James Tomlinson’s toweringly pompous Malvolio and Bertie Beeching’s mastering of the grotesque Sir Toby Belch, led on by the wily and witty Maria [Dammy Sokale]; but perhaps both were upstaged by an extraordinarily subtle and adept performance of great pathos from David in his first ever stage performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Christmas trees and Christmas jumpers abounded. The final tableaux of all the cast regaling the audience with Christmas songs as snow fell was magical.

These productions showcased the depth and breadth of artistic, musical and dramatic talent at the College. Led by a dedicated team of staff and professional theatre practitioners, the pupils brought both the contemporary Birley Centre and the more traditional College Theatre alive with their creativity, energy and enthusiasm.