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At South Dartmoor Community College the Hills and the Wickedens and Blackmans and
the hundreds and hundreds of performers and the happy audience are very definitely alive
with the ‘The Sound of Music’.

Over the years South Dartmoor Community College has built for itself an enviable
reputation for the exceptionally high standard of its annual productions. Here the school
production is a major event eagerly anticipated by students, staff, parents and relatives
and indeed the whole area. Each year the acting, music-making, singing, design,
costumes and lighting - indeed the whole panoply of production - is expected to reach the
highest levels. Nothing less would do. This year’s production of the ‘The Sound of Music’,
the Rogers and Hammerstein evergreen based on the true story of Maria and the von
Trapp family and their flight from the Nazis, is given a full-blooded and irrepressible
production and successfully builds on the College’s already outstanding reputation.

It’s not often that the costume design in a school production catches the eye - but here it
was impossible to ignore. I had to keep reminding myself that I was sat in a school hall
watching a school production. Dozens of perfectly costumed nuns were followed by a
parade of rich and brilliantly conceived designs, each perfectly fitted to the time and the
place of the action. I particularly enjoyed the witty costumes worn by the ‘chorus’. For
instance the four goats and the ‘lonely goat-herd’ were charming and very funny.

Also worthy of praise was the simple but functional set design that allowed an acting
platform for this huge company. Swift set changes were effected by well a drilled stage
management team and the lighting cleanly and clearly delineated spaces, times and
places. This was a show that never confused and was always eager to get about its

One of the hallmarks of a South Dartmoor production is always the sheer numbers of
people that they manage to get onto the stage. It’s not difficult to put a lot of bodies on a
stage but it ‘s very difficult indeed to make actors out of each and every one of them. The
‘chorus’ - for want of a better word - were focussed and went about the telling of their
stories with gusto and great good humour. The concentration was intense from the whole
company and each actor, from the youngest to the most experienced, knew exactly what
part they had to play and contributed to the success of the whole production. You relaxed
in their presence knowing that the show was in safe hands and that you were going to be
well entertained. I would have loved to have seen more of this mighty chorus but because
of the structure of the show this just wasn’t possible. The chorus lit up the action
whenever they appeared, each and every one of them central to the telling of the story. In
this production of ‘The Sound of Music’ the chorus was much more than a chorus - it was
show of a hundred stars.

The band, under the baton of the redoubtable Ralph Wickenden, was tight and accurate
and a joy to listen to. At times the singing was amazing and South Dartmoor Community
College has created a high level of skill in this area. What a pleasure to hear ‘Climb Every
Mountain’, one of the great songs of musical theatre, as it soared and inspired.

This year most of the leading roles were played by two different groups of performers.
This must have made for an incredible amount of hard work for all concerned and in itself
was a major achievement. To pick out individuals for praise is perhaps to go against the
wonderful company ethic that was the mark of this show, but undoubtedly some individuals
deserve special praise. Tom Stone successfully brought humour to the role of Max
Detweiler. Both Will Berger and Howard Scott were strong as Rolf, each giving a different
flavour to the role. Louise Elmes as the Mother Abbess not only sang very well but also
convinced as her character. Ronan Noble as Franz the Butler gave an assured and skilled
performance as did Lauren Redfern and Sammie Amery as Frau Schmidt the
Housekeeper. The two groups of von Trapp children were very different but each effective
in their own way. All the children created believable and varied characters that combined
and impressed, driving the drama and music forward in a manner natural of a family group.
I particularly enjoyed the performances of Alice Blackman, Ethan Catchpole and the
irrepressible Carla Stapleton and Sarah Cartwright as both Gretls, although all 13 (!) were
excellent in their roles. The role of Elsa Schrader was shared by Rosie Vizor and Anna
Zakrzewski. I was impressed by the way both of them played the truth of the character - a
difficult role because of the lack of sympathy the character naturally evokes.

If a show has stars - and this one definitely did - then they were actors who played
Captain von Trapp and Maria. Ian Matthews as Captain von Trapp was outstanding. Not
only did he sing beautifully but he maintained a stiff-backed formality throughout. A finely
judged performance that was entirely believable and truthful. He never gave into the
temptation to reach for the cheap laugh or allow his own ego to undermine the character.
A remarkably mature performance.

Which brings me to the two Marias - Holly Godsland and Sophie Garner. Both were
excellent but for very different reasons. Sophie Garner’s Maria was innocent, young,
impetuous and full of charm. The character of Maria has to be liked by the audience and
Sophie Garner brought this off with élan. Holly Godsland’s Maria was a mature and highly
skilled performance. Her singing was exquisite and her ability to dominate the stage and
tell a story displayed a talent I have very seldom seen outside of professional theatre.

At heart ‘The Sound of Music’ is about being true to oneself. The most successful
moments of this production happened when the company discovered that truth. It was a
tremendous evening out and quite clearly the audience had a terrific time. The production
team, in particular James Hills, Ralph Wickenden and Lin Blackman deserve massive
praise for their achievement, as does the company, all those others involved and South
Dartmoor Community College itself for having the vision to understand that great musical
theatre is a renewing and uplifting experience that cannot be equalled.

Nick Stimson
(Writer and Director. Associate Director Theatre Royal, Plymouth.)


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