Review: From Goldington Academy to Rydell High student-led performance was greased lightning

Grease Goldington Academy, Sylvie Storey as Sandy. Image: Goldington Academy
Sylvie Storey as Sandy. Image: Goldington Academy

I don’t think you can say the word ‘Grease’ to anyone and not get at least a hint of recognition about one of the world’s most-loved musicals.

So, it was quite exciting to hear that the students of Goldington Academy were putting on a stage version of the film.

Over four nights at The Place Theatre, Bradgate Road, the school delivered everything you would have expected and hoped for.

Colourful costumes, eye-catching choreography, and of course passionate foot-tapping sing-a-long songs that almost all of us know by heart.

What’s extra remarkable about this production, however, is that the multi-year production was pulled together by the students themselves.

Ably led by their brilliant new head of drama, Caroline Millington, everything from lighting to choreography, set design to costumes, stage crew to music, was very much a product of the students’ own talents.

A 1950s Californian High School

The story of Grease, for the few that don’t know, is set in a 1950s Californian High School and follows the romance between goody-two-shoes Sandy and rebel-without-a-cause Danny.

The pair fall in love during the school summer break and in a twist of fate end up going to the same school when their senior year begins.

Their worlds collide as they decide if their love for each other can overcome their very different backgrounds.

Being set in the 50s and, naturally, a family show, those differences are somewhat toned down.

Danny’s T-Bird gang appear tough but are still little boys at heart. The Rizzo-led Pink Ladies have a bitchy air about them, but are all friends and even help outsider Sandy integrate into their gang.

While Sandy gets plenty of support from girls at the school, Danny is seemingly alone, clearly still madly in love with Sandy but unsure of how to put his feelings across, messing it up at every turn – a victim to his hormones and commitment to “be cool” at all costs.

As the story progresses we see the pair evolve from smitten teens to young adults in love, willing to give and take and accept each other’s differences so they can enjoy the things they love about each other.

Goldington Academy production of Grease (l-r) Sam Squirrell, Gianluca Grassi, John Little, Jake Rosborough and ensemble T-bird, with Pink Ladies Hannah Carter and Caitlin Weatherill Images Goldington Academy
(l-r) Sam Squirrell, Gianluca Grassi, John Little, Jake Rosborough and ensemble T-bird, with Pink Ladies Hannah Carter and Caitlin Weatherill Images Goldington Academy

A 2020’s Bedford secondary school

While the storyline itself takes place over the entire senior year at Rydell High, it’s moved on brilliantly by some of the world’s best-known musical numbers, and the students of Goldington Academy didn’t disappoint in their delivery.

‘Summer Nights’ and ‘Greased Lightning’ roused the audience as the entire cast sang and danced their hearts out, but it was the solo performances that really stole the show.

Sylvie Storey’s (Year 10) performance of Sandy was superb, but even more so when you consider this was the first time she’d appeared on stage.

‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ is not an easy song to sing, and Sylvie had big shoes to fill, but she sang it beautifully. I’m not ashamed to say I even had a shiver down my spine at its crescendo.

Sandy’s love interest, Danny, was also played well, this time by acting regular Sam Squirrell (Year 10), his performance as the aloof teen, struggling to choose his gang or his girl hit the mark.

School, and growing up, aren’t without their own supporting cast in real life, and Grease emulates this perfectly with the T-Birds and Pink Ladies as the show’s supporting cast.

Caitlin Weatherill (Year 11) had just the right attitude and humour you’d expect from Rizzo, Megan Rogerson (Year 11) warmed us all with the heart of Frenchy, Hannah Carter (Year 11) delivered the perfect amount of sass for Marty, and Emily Laird (Year 11) was delightful as the naive Jan.

Goldington Academy production of Grease. (l-r) Emily Laird, Jake Rosborough, Caitlin Weatherill, Megan Rogerson Images Goldington Academy
(l-r) Emily Laird, Jake Rosborough, Caitlin Weatherill, Megan Rogerson. Images: Goldington Academy

As for the T-Birds, well, it was hard to remember that Oliver Reynier (Year 10) as Kenickie wasn’t a 1950’s teen himself, delivering the rebellious, petrol-headed T-Bird exactly as he should be.

The supporting T-Birds, Gianluca Grassi (Year 9) as Sonny, John Little (Year 8) as Doody, and Jake Rosborough (Year 11) as Roger brought humour to the proceedings with well-timed jokes that created laughter in all the right places.

A lifetime of memories

I don’t have the space to mention every cast member, but each of them really did bring something to a performance that would not have been the same without them. However, there is one that I can’t avoid mentioning.

Zuzanna Jankowska (Year 10) stood out from the start as a background T-Bird, giving it her all during the opening number, but she then turned up as a rollerblading Teen Angel and then as dance champion Cha Cha.

Each role was passionately played and it was clear she took each one as seriously as the other.

Grease Goldinton Academy Zuzanna Jankowska as the Teen Angel. Image: Goldington Academy
Zuzanna Jankowska as the Teen Angel. Image: Goldington Academy

I really wasn’t expecting anyone to be on rollerblades, but as the Teen Angel she glided around the stage singing “Beauty School Dropout’ flawlessly, and as Cha Cha she danced her heart out, just as a dance champion should.

A special mention should also be made to Roksy Willmott who played Sandy on alternate nights to Sylvie Storey but who we did not see perform.

Principal Frances Galbraith spoke after the show of his “pride” at everyone finding their place at Goldington Academy and it’s clear this is true.

While the audience saw the fruits of the student’s labour on stage, there was a hive of activity backstage too.

The lighting crew, the props, the live band, and the efficient and expert stage crew were all student-led and they all too deserve just as much recognition as those on stage.

“There are so many opportunities that a big whole school performance like this gives to students and the wider Goldington Family,” said Mr Galbraith.

“It’s a celebration of what we are trying to do at the school, which is really becoming a part of the community and punching above our weight.”

Head of drama, Mrs Millington agreed, “That’s what I’ve found at Goldington. It’s really supportive and they understand the work that goes into creating a show like this.

“The kids have worked so hard for a long time and they’ve had such a brilliant attitude towards it, always being so upbeat all the time and really enthusiastic.”

Grease Goldinton Academy production of Grease. The whole cast. Image: Goldington Academy
The whole cast. Image: Goldington Academy

Speaking to Sam and Sylvie afterwards they told me the whole production had been great fun, and that was certainly evident in their performance with each of them clearly having a brilliant time.

Despite being from different school years, backgrounds, and friendship groups, the collective effort they’ve all put into this show, both on and off stage, has bonded them just like the teenagers of Rydell High bonded over the unlikely romance of their friends.

For many of the cast, this was their last Goldington Academy performance as the Year 11’s will have moved on by the time the next show is cast, there were tears from many during the curtain call.

Wherever those year 11’s end up, and whatever show the younger years take on next, the memories of being a student at a 1950s High School with their 21st-century friends will be with them forever.

Transparency: Paul Hutchinson has a
personal connection to Goldington Academy