Reviewing a show by young people is always a potential minefield. If you go for the ‘aaahh factor’ you run the risk of being accused of being patronising and if you review as a professional adult show you risk getting accused of being hard-nosed and unsympathetic. So it is something of a tightrope walk reviewing the Coop Juniors Theatre Company in their latest Christmas Spectacular at Snape Maltings.
One has to admire the Juniors for their ambition. Mounting a large-scale lavish show in the run up to Christmas with a cast of over 100, mainly children, is no mean feat. It’s also commendable that the company manage to give young people the encouragement and opportunity to appear on stage, especially young lads who, despite the Billy Elliott effect, are still often under-represented.
Despite the sheer scale of the event, the concept itself is simple. A medley of numbers showcasing the dance skills of the area’s youth fill two and a half hours. There is a mix of ballet, tap and modern against a backdrop of musical styles. There’s undoubtedly a lot of talent, energy and enthusiasm here but the sheer variety actually proves to be something of a drawback. The show lacks a clear narrative to drive the evening, each scene being self-contained with not a segue in sight. The variety of musical styles, while perhaps deliberate to allow for as wide a range of dance as possible, also detracts from the sense of cohesion. Some of these diverse musical styles work better than others. The festive numbers do instil the required Christmas cheer but some of the other musical choices don’t fit as comfortably into the format.
There are some highlights during the evening, the big band inspired In the Mood, an evocative mock-Romany number, and the Mary Poppins classic Step In Time all work well, as does the seasonal Christmas Finale. Others, such as the Cheryl Cole tribute, are danced well but seem an uncomfortable fit with the remainder of the evening.
The staging is, as we have come to expect, spectacular, although the multilevel set seemed to be under-utilised at times, resulting in less than fluid scene transitions. Some sound issues do mar, with over-amplification causing some individual performances to be lost in the vast Maltings concert hall.
Overall one is left in admiration of the logistical achievements and individual numbers, rather than celebrating the whole event. Perhaps it’s a case of less is more and the temptation to include every conceivable genre isn’t always the best option.
The talent is there and should be admired but inevitably let down by the adult steer.