Review: Footlights’ ‘Oklahoma!’ @ Exeter Northcott

Footlights captured the hearts of their audience as their outstanding performance of ‘Oklahoma!’ took over the Northcott theatre in a whirlwind of excitement and bustle on Wednesday afternoon. With over 100 students involved in the cast, band and production team combined, this is Exeter University’s largest theatre production of the year. All their effort in perfecting every minor detail of this show certainly paid off and is absolutely something they should all be proud of.

I will begin by commending the star duet Olivia Koplick and Harry Lynn who played Laurey and Curly. From Koplick’s convincing display of the headstrong, female lead to Lynn’s casual and self-assured demeanour, these two performed a moving interplay of comical playfulness and sweet affection for one another, which had the audience rooting for these lovers throughout.

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Jacob Hutchings assumed himself well to the role of Jud Fry, with his impressive presentation of the clueless, conflicted, and sometimes aggressive nature of this character. Additionally, Lucy Harris delivered a brilliant performance of the comical female figure Ado Annie Carnes, often leaving the audience in fits of laughter, which provided a welcome break from the sinister undertone of this show. These are only a few names amongst a fantastic cast across the board, and their amazing standard of both acting and singing made this show thrilling to watch from start to finish.

The most striking element of this production is the incredibly detailed and well-timed choreography. By combining various dancing styles of ballet, barn line-dancing and astounding acrobatic flips, choreographer Kathryn Pridgeon produced a thrilling display of both large, vibrant dance numbers and moving ballet duets. Overall, the dancing ability of all the cast was impressive, particularly evident in the ballet sequence of Laurey’s dream. Although the dance duet between Laurey and Curly felt slightly clumsy, this could be easily fixed by increasing Lynn’s confidence when carrying out the lifts.

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This complex choreography was matched perfectly with the exquisite music which brought the theatre to life. Sometimes it was difficult to hear the cast over the music, but this is understandable considering the overwhelming number of instrumentalists in the band. I had the pleasure of interviewing the musical director, Harry Smith, who expressed how one of the best parts of his role has been the opportunity to collaborate with the creative team, cast, and band “who are exceptional as people to work with”. He has worked with the director, Sarah Dean, in “retaining what people love about Oklahoma!”. He loves how varied the music is throughout in comparison to other musicals and his favourite piece is the Overture, describing it as “an iconic piece of music”. I would have to agree that the music is incredible and the band in this production have absolutely done it justice.

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The brilliant production team displayed an impressive attention to detail when constructing this turn of the century, Mid-Western American town. The set designer, Jack Crundwell, succeeded in building “the largest, and most ambitious, student-made set Footlights has seen in recent years.” They used derelict wooden huts which were moved around throughout the production in order to reshape the environment and perfectly reflect the atmosphere of every scene. Along with this, the technical elements of lighting and atmospheric effects, carried out by the stage manager, Katie Wood, and Co-Lighting Designers, Jonathan Lane and Jonathan Taylor, contributed to constructing the hot and dusty environment of the Mid-Western territory. I must also congratulate the costume team for their incredible work in creating so many wonderful costumes for this large cast. From the vibrant, colourful dresses to the blooming, ballet tulle skirts, they produced an astounding array of costume changes which added to the overall excited tone of this musical.

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This musical combines a sinister undertone of romantic rivalry and violence with jolly small-town community life in an extraordinary way. With their continuous enthusiasm, vibrant musical numbers, and brilliant Mid-Western American drawl, the cast of Footlights carried off an excellent performance of ‘Oklahoma!’ which I would strongly recommend to anyone.

Jess White

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