I walked into the Pyramid stage, being a horror fanatic, already in love. A pitch-black room. Red haze. Two dusky shades framing the live orchestra (headed skillfully by Alex Boulton). Between students chatting —excited to see their closest and most talented friends’ work, and parents eager to see their children in, arguably, one of the most difficult productions to take place this year, the atmosphere in the room was already emotional. A combination of the eerie movement direction, complex array of props, and a huge amount of tech, created a world as captivating as King’s original work.
We opened to ‘In’, immediately glued to our seats by the cast’s incredibly unsettling voices and moments of disconcerting audience interaction. Being quite so explicitly confronted with familiar teenage fears (admittedly pushed in a very ‘american’ manner) was genuinely spooky. We were plunged back into the insecurities, the endless world-ending crushes and the malicious bullies of adolescence. As someone who has watched a lot of American teen-drama films, I have to say co-directors Andie Curno and Lydia Duval really have captured the early 2000s trope of a teenage ‘high school’ experience through ‘In’ with total accuracy.
Carrie is introduced to us via the most beautiful voice. The clash between this and Freya Mactavish’s emotionally stunted acting immediately hits you. Her hunched back, lack of contact and general cockroach-like demeanour makes the heartbreaking ‘period girl’ incident even more distressing to watch. It is possibly the only time we see Carrie genuinely try to trust people, with something as (in her mind) as terrifying as her life. This bullying involves our non-titular protagonist Sue (Mia Crockart), someone we soon realise is actually the sweetest character in the show. The combination of so many 90s and 2000s media stereotypes of ‘popular girls’ and Mia’s naturally very dainty appearance (in her manner of speaking, dress and attitude) make it all the more intense when she is later banned from the prom. Her last chance to help Carrie is cruelly taken away, and Mia’s performance is breath-taking to watch. She truly embodies violent helplessness.
For those unaware of the storyline, crushing on Tommy (Killian Lines), Carrie goes with him to the prom as Sue’s replacement, where they share an angelic performance of ‘Dreamer in Disguise’. But, as all things King, this uplifting moment only created all the more of a devastating downfall later that night. And boy was it devastating.
Feeling the goosebumps raise on my arms during ‘Prom Climax’, I was truly experiencing Mia’s overwhelmingly misunderstood pleas, the student’s horrendous mocking of her, and poor Carrie’s final push into mass homicide. The ensemble perfectly reflected this beautiful horror. As each character was struck by a bloodied Carrie, one by on —a sight reminding me much of the ending from ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ —such turmoil took over that the previously excitable (and maybe slightly squiffy) audience were silenced.
If you aren’t already emotionally exhausted, the play continues, showing Carrie returning to her abusive mother for one killer ending. Previously, Cara’s singing has left us astounded, from her introduction of ‘and Eve was Weak’, to her tear-jerking performance of ‘I remember how those boys could dance’. Margaret’s character and Cara Staniforth’s work really is something else. In this final, overwhelmingly distressing blow of an ending, I felt gasps rumble through the seats around me as we watched a mother stab her daughter in the back. This grisly ending was punctuated by the sight of Carrie’s bloodied handprints on her own mother’s apron.
A special shout out to producers Laura McClung and Kate Matthews for continuously using white outfits to highlight the sheer amount —and scarily realistic nature— of the blood. I’m still slightly nervous to question where they got this quality and measure of ‘fake’ blood from…
Special kudos should be paid to Alex Boulton and his wonderful orchestra, especially their cellist. Endlessly providing a sense of foreboding, and a rollercoaster of a soundtrack.
Of course, there were some technical issues, as every show has on their first audience run: from spotlights not hitting, to microphones not working, to perhaps an odd line stumble. All I can say is that the actors’ were not reliant on their tech whatsoever, no matter how gorgeous and real it made the world. The lighting was gorgeous, but they could have absolutely done the whole show with no microphones at all, and still would have played-out perfectly.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this show. If you were able to go, you should count yourself lucky, since tickets sold like gold dust. I really cannot wait to see what next year has in store for LUU Musical Theatre society!
A final note: Stage Musicals Society are hosting a cabaret on the 20th of May in Pyramid. A lot of the cast of this gorgeous production are also in it! You can buy tickets here. You’ll definitely want to be seeing their work for yourself.
Words and photos: Sam Cooke