Review: Goldington Academy’s Sister Act proves Heaven is a school that embraces the arts

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Goldington Academy students in Sister Act. Image: Goldington Academy
Goldington Academy students in Sister Act. Image: Goldington Academy

What was an invitation to watch the recent production of Sister Act by Goldington Academy, has turned a standard review into a record of how important it is for schools to embrace the arts in their curriculum.

We’ve written about productions by Goldington Academy before. They put on Grease last year, which raised the bar with what state schools are capable of. So, as we took our seats for Sister Act at The Place Theatre we had heightened expectations.

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

If you didn’t grow up with younger musical-mad sisters and just one TV in the house, there’s a chance you won’t know the story of Sister Act made popular by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film of the same name.

Delores, this time played by Zuzanna Jankowska, is a 1970’s Detroit club singer who hasn’t got the best choice in men. Her boyfriend turns out to be a gangster and she witnesses him commit murder.

Delores is sent into witness protection awaiting trial to act as a witness and put the gangster behind bars.

Soul sister - Zuzanna Jankowska as club singer Delores. Image: Goldington Academy
Soul sister – Zuzanna Jankowska as club singer Delores. Image: Goldington Academy

The police, believe the safest place for her is a convent and after the initial culture shock, she learns that not everyone in the world is there to take advantage of her, while the nuns learn that not everyone outside of their church community is a ‘sinner’.

The clash of Delores’ loud, uncouth personality and her love for the ‘devil’s music’ of Motown, against Mother Superior’s (Bea De Serpa Pimental) reserved and strict authority, makes for an interesting story arc that both performers grasp with both hands.

Zuzanna plays up to the role perfectly. And she does so with apparent ease, thanks to her larger-than-life stage presence and powerful voice, poking and testing Mother Superior’s patience with every curse word, complaint and soulful rendition of club songs.

Bea, on the other hand, is forcefully limited in being able to act with the same vigour, she’s playing a senior nun in full habit after all.

But that doesn’t hold her back and even uses it to her advantage, showing shock and outrage at Delores’ troublesome lost soul with incredible and hilariously animated facial expressions that steal the show all on their own.

As with any musical, there’s plenty of foot-tapping and the whole ensemble supports the main cast perfectly, performing the music of Alan Menken and lyrics of Glenn Slater that capture the sound of Motown and the struggles of city life perfectly.

Discovery

But it’s not just Delores that’s on a voyage of discovery.

While she learns about respect, friendship and love for herself and others, her sudden placing in the convent impacts the nuns, despite Mother Superior’s best efforts, and turns their world upside down.

They open up and recognise that their faith becomes stronger when they embrace the pleasure of the music Delores shows them music can be seen as a gift from God and they can honour him by embracing this exciting genre of music.

This gives the audience a heartwarming lesson that we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things or embrace opportunities that come our way.

Each character, even those in the ensemble, goes through an incredible evolution thanks to these two very different worlds colliding, none more so than the young Sister Mary Robert (Sophie Hartley-Booth).

As innocent as they come, Mary Robert is brought out of her shell and finds a powerful voice within and the purpose and plan that she believes God has for her.

Bea De Serpa Pimental (Mother Superior). Image: Goldington Academy
Bea De Serpa Pimental (Mother Superior). Image: Goldington Academy

Through her passion for music, Delores shows Mary Robert that she too is a force that can do good in this world, a role that Sophie performs brilliantly and powerfully. I’m not ashamed to admit that her solos left a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat.

But it’s not just the story of Sister Act that tells us it’s ok to sing along to the music that moves you and it’s ok to dance like no one is watching.

The students performing themselves are proof that by stepping out of your comfort zone, you may even find your own version of God, soul, and happiness, whatever that may mean for you.

We all know how trying new things can be frightening, especially when young, but these students have jumped head first into a production that some may have found a little, to use younger vernacular, ‘cringe’.

From the boys singing about the folly of young love to the girls singing Latin at the tops of their voices, they’ve all shown how important the arts in schools can be, and how they can raise spirits, confidence and attitude at a very important time of life.

Big things to come

The importance of teaching the arts in schools is often discussed. Sadly, as state schools suffer from government funding cuts, they have to challenge their priorities and make difficult choices.

It’s not always easy to put on productions let alone offer subjects like dance, drama and music fully.

On the other hand, Bedford’s high proportion of private schools have access to greater resources to teach the arts and put on productions, something they certainly make the most of.

But they also have programmes to share those resources across all of Bedford’s educational establishments from lending stage props or an extra pair of hands for productions and more.

Soul sisters - Zuzanna Jankowska (Delores) and Sophie Hartley-Booth (Sister Mary Robert). Image: Goldington Academy
Soul sisters – Zuzanna Jankowska (Delores) and Sophie Hartley-Booth (Sister Mary Robert). Image: Goldington Academy

Goldington is an occasional recipient of this help, and gratefully so, but the reason they’re able to put on productions of such calibre is down to the school’s faculty recognising the importance of embracing the arts in the first place.

Not only do they have an excellent and skilled drama teacher in Mrs Millington, but headteacher Mr Galbraith also encourages the whole Goldington community to embrace anything that enriches his students’ lives.

And when it comes to the arts, there’s undeniable proof that is happening for Goldington students.

Zuzanna Jankowska recently won the Woodfine Lousada Challenge Cup for the best junior singing performance at the Bedfordshire Festival of Music Speech and Drama and has been awarded a DfE scholarship at the prestigious Wells Cathedral School.

Sadly the scholarship won’t cover all her fees, so she continues to look for further funding or sponsorship, as well as opportunities for paid gigs to fill the funding gap.

If you’d like to help give this talented young lady a boost, email us and we’ll connect you with her.

Bea De Serpa Pimental is also doing incredible things. She tells us she has an agent who is always sending her on auditions and she too has enjoyed recent success at the Bedfordshire Festival of Music Speech and Drama.

And then there’s Sophie Hartley-Booth who was recently Highly Commended in the Bedford Independent Everyday Heroes Awards and, as well as winning numerous other awards, has appeared in West End productions and Warner Bros and Netflix feature films.

Speaking to all three of these rising stars after the show was invigorating. They’re all so full of passion, excitement and hope and I truly believe that whatever path they choose, the sky will be the limit.

The importance of the arts in schools

I don’t single out these three because the rest of the cast didn’t also perform brilliantly, they all gave it their all and many of them gave stand-out moments, including Sam Squirrel, Gianluca Grassi, Nevaeh Blackburn and Rueben Chiew.

However, the point of highlighting these successes is to show that schools that support the arts really do inspire youngsters to find a path that matters to them.

State schools need the funds to offer diverse curriculums so their students can find their voice, purpose, and reason to look forward. Budgets should not be so small that they force teachers and governors to choose between different pillars of culture.

The arts, sports, and academia should be treated with equal importance. If only we lived in an ideal world, right?

(cl and cr) Sam Squirrel and Gianluca Grassi. Image: Goldington Academy
Image: Goldington Academy

The balance of public and state school-educated actors is an ongoing debate, with many household names debating for a mix of stage and screen performers from all backgrounds, so our society is fully represented.

When asked what could happen if only the schools that could afford it offered drama and related subjects on their curriculum, actor James McAvoy said it would be a “frightening world to live in”.

He added, “As soon as you get one tiny pocket of society creating all the arts, our culture starts to become representative not of everybody but of one tiny part, and that’s not fair to begin with, but it’s also damaging for society.”

Perhaps this debate deserves its own column, but seeing Sister Act, performed brilliantly by the students of Goldinton Academy has parallels with making sure our younger generations have a chance to sing, dance, and act to their heart’s content.

As Headteacher Mr Galbraith said after the show, “Drama and dance and art and music provide so much of the colour. It allows children to thrive, find themselves, and experience things that you might just be taking with you for the rest of your life.”

Exactly what that lost club-singing soul and those spirited nuns who found her have taught us.

Transparency: Paul Hutchinson has a
personal connection to Goldington Academy