National Operatic & Dramatic Association
  • Facebook
  • Twitter



19th April 2019


Echo Youth Theatre


Open, Norwich

Type of Production



Dan Rayner assist Jenni Newman and Cathy Wilson

Musical Director

Holly Graham and Artemis Reed


Georgia Finch, Lisa Rowe, Georgia Skipper


Author: Susan DuPont

What a lot has been achieved since your formation and first production last year. And what a transformation to the ‘acting space’ of Open giving so much more to the possibilities of what can happen here, many congratulations to all those who worked.

When I read the programme about numbers joining Echo and all those workshops held, I am filled with admiration at the amazing rush forward in the skills developed and the enthusiasm and talent encouraged to give such confidence to so many youngsters. Your large and talented team of specialists is something to marvel at and you all deserve many congratulations.

Your casting of ‘Hairspray’ as written with a mixed group of youngsters in this piece of ‘social history’ is remarkable as so many of the actors have not done anything before and yet they have perfected their skills so that the inexperienced do not show up amongst the more experienced (recruitment successful). I liked hearing that Lezley Sibanda-Mabaleka was quietly having a drink in the café after a boxing session in Open when he was approached and found himself as a first timer on stage playing Seaweed, and how he is loving it.

What a great Tracy from Kayleigh Gare, full of personality, flair, vocals and energy for the dance. And her family: an amazing performance from Harry Smith as mother Edna, have watched him grow up and develop and waiting for him to go to stage school. And I loved Toby Ellett as Wilbur, downtrodden and funny, but that number ‘Timeless’ with Edna was a show stopper. Friend Penny from Rosie Spencer was zany and so mobile in her dances, see that like many others she is on a course of musical theatre with Norwich City College. And her mother Prudy Pendleton was well characterised by Jenni Nicol who I have seen before.

To the TV Studio and a polished Corny Collins from Harry Wilson to set off the show. The Von Tussles Velma, Tilly Chitty, and Amber, Morven Renfrew, were personality plus as mother and daughter, and the wonderful smooth ‘Elvis’ from Link, Josh Oram, definitely had the popstar glitz and voice, no wonder that Tracy fell for him. Not to forget cameo role Jack Rudd as Mr Pinky. The projection and volume of singing and the slickness of those very 60s routines were just so good with all of this white cast in the TV show, definitely a great team effort and how it sparkled.

Meeting with Seaweed from Lezley, and Tracy getting involved with the ‘other side’, brought out so many other talents mainly from ‘first timers ‘on stage. Seaweed showed the vocals and movements that must mean he should do more productions and not waste talent. And sister Little Inez from Lauryn Wood was another personality plus. As for Nelma Lemos as Motormouth Maybelle, well what a voice of blues and soul, fantastic to hear and great personality! And this side of the fence again sung out and moved but in a different style, quite exciting as complimenting the white studio, and when all joined in, well!.

And when we had the big company numbers, well the stage exploded with song and dance and super-energy, what an experience to be in the audience and a part of this atmosphere, no wonder that Echo keeps attracting the youngsters so that ‘you can’t stop the beat’!

Excellent band under MD Artemis Reed, singing MD Holly Graham. Choreographers Georgia Finch, Lisa Rowe, Georgia Skipper got them all moving in time and at speed. Director Dan Rayner, assisted Jenni Newman and Cathy Wilson, made the youngsters appreciate the period and the social history as well as having fun in developing the characters. And seeing all the technical and production skills to fruition Dave and Jo Myers, Joe Loveday, and Matt Cross. Well done to all involved and you must be so proud of all those youngsters and what has been achieved.