Simply the best West End experience for musical students from local schools

Students dance along to the performance Pic: Mann Bros.

Ever since she was very young, Grace, 14, from Tower Hamlets, has been a singer, with a passion for music and theatre. She had watched many local musicals productions, but she had only been to see a live West End musical once.

Last week her dream to be back in a West End theatre came true when, with hundreds of other children, including many others from Tower Hamlets, as well as Hackney and Croydon, were able to watch a performance of Tina Turner the Musical at the Aldwych Theatre for only £10 and take part in a pre-show workshop with the cast and creative staff.

Pupils aged 14 and over from 22 schools in 17 different boroughs learned the secrets of how Tina Turner the Musical came to life. They discovered all the backstage careers that support the show, as the crew brought “backstage out here”.

Zara Macintosh performing Turner’s iconic hit “Simply the best” t Pic: Mann Bros.

Grace and her friend Nadia, from Bow School in Tower Hamlets, watched as Natalie Kirby from the theatre hair department showed students how to place the iconic Tina Turner wig on actress Zara Macintosh’s head through a magnet. She also said that every night the show uses a total of 138 wigs, which drew gasps from the students. Students also found out about sound, lighting, set automation, and stage management.

“Ever since I was young, I was always singing so I knew that I had a passion for singing and musical theater,” said Grace, “I watched a lot of musicals, but to see it live really showed me where I wanted to put myself.”

Nadia said that it’s a special occasion for her to be in a West End theatre. She said: “If you are here, you should remember it.”

Students enjoying the performance Pic: Mann Bros.

Phoebe White, drama teacher at Clapton Girls Academy in Hackney, said: “Some of the students have never been to the theatre.” 

Starting the workshop, show producer Tali Pelman told the students: “When we let audiences in the house before every performance, we say ‘we are ready to open the house.’ The whole point of today is for you all to feel that this is your house, too.”

The show’s distinguished director Phyllida Lloyd, best known for directing the musical film Mamma Mia, told Eastlondonlines: “We have a massive problem of starvation for talent in theatre.”

“Theatre buildings can feel forbidden…It’s expensive,” said Lloyd, “It’s important we create more pathways for theatre… give them the opportunity to see.”

Karis Anderson playing Tina during the show Pic: Mann Bros.

Pelman said that starting from next year they will hold six small workshops about each of the departments involved in the making of Tina Turner the Musical – stage management, sound, lights, hair, wardrobe, set automation – during which pupils will take on a more active role.

“We are also inviting careers teachers to get involved so they have the insights needed to guide students on their journey when the time comes for them to leave full-time education,” said Pelman.

The school outreach initiative was part of the recently launched ‘Theatre for Every Child campaign’ supported by the Society of London Theater (SOLT) and UK Theater.

SOLT said in a press release that the goal ahead of the 2024 elections is “for politicians to commit that every child will attend the theatre before they leave school.” 

Co-CEO of SOLT & UK Theatre, Claire Walker said: “We believe every child has the right to experience and enjoy our country’s world-leading theatre. Despite amazing work that theatres do up and down the country, access is not equal. This is not right.”

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