The problem with calling a show 4 One Night Only is this. What happens if the audience has such a good time that a suggestion to do additional performances, perhaps with alterations to the line-up (always dependent on people’s availability as much for the actors as it is for the audience) and/or the running order, is responded to with overwhelming positivity? It’s a nice problem to have – they’ll just have to come up with another name. Many of the people present, including yours truly, never really had much of a reason to pay a visit to the Academy Theatre in Barnsley. For one thing, it isn’t in Barnsley proper, but in a village called Birdwell, just off Junction 36 of the M1, around 4 ½ miles away from Barnsley station.
Birdwell did have a railway station of its own at one point, but this was closed down even before the Beeching cuts. Sylvia Young, founder and principal of the performing arts school that bears her name, apparently stayed in Birdwell as a child evacuee at some point during the Second World War. The Academy Theatre, part of the Take 2 Centre (comprising the theatre, a performing arts academy and ‘Chatterbox Nursery’), seats 172, very tightly. Front row is good from what I could see but other than that there is very little legroom, and no armrests between the seats, such that I found it quite impossible to do “a jump to the left / And then a step to the right” during ‘The Time Warp’ from The Rocky Horror Show. The seats in the bus station at Barnsley Interchange were more comfortable. Incidentally, Academy Theatre is not the largest venue in the village: Birdwell Venue claims a capacity of 450.
So why Birdwell? 4 One Night Only’s host, Danielle Steers, critically acclaimed for putting in a magnificent performance of (amongst other songs) the Meat Loaf hit ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ eight times a week in Bat Out of Hell The Musical, had, she told the audience, been performing there, her local theatre, since her school days. The word ‘homecoming’ wasn’t used but there’s no denying that this was (kind of) what this event was. She’d done a West End show, attended (separately) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Meat Loaf and HRH The Duke of Sussex, and now, in her home venue, she’d brought along some co-stars – (in no particular order) Rob Fowler, Sharon Sexton and Simon Gordon, for a great time. There may or may not have been one or two locals in the crowd who hadn’t seen ‘Bat’. But I suspect even they will have heard and read enough about it to get the gist.
A technician referred to only as ‘Peter’ seemed to be (as far as I could deduce) controlling sound and lighting all on his own. I would, ordinarily, tear into the use of backing tracks – two and a half hours of them is a bit much, even if the quartet’s vocals were in fine form. But there was no mention of there being a band, let alone a musical director and orchestra, so there’s no let down to speak of.
The weakness is mine rather than anyone else’s, but nonetheless I am reaching saturation point with hearing tunes from The Greatest Showman. But, like the British weather, this was one of those concerts where nothing lasted for very long – and there was very little that was unfamiliar here to those who likes their musical theatre. It was all there, really. There were blasts from the past, including ‘River Deep Mountain High’ from The Commitments, which Sexton was in when it played in the West End, and ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar. Both Fowler and Gordon had entered the 2012 ITV show ‘Superstar’, a series in which Lloyd Webber set out to find someone to play Jesus in an arena tour, a casting process by public telephone vote that was eventually won by Ben Forster.
Tunes from musicals that West End theatre audiences are looking forward to were featured too, notably numbers from Dear Evan Hansen and Waitress, with Sexton putting in a poignant rendering of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ from the latter. A couple of tunes from Rent, and a big finish in the form of ‘One Day More’ from Les Misérables were among showstopping crowd-pleasers. Oh, and then there were numbers from Bat Out of Hell The Musical: someone had apparently tweeted that they hadn’t seen Gordon play Strat despite several visits to Bat, and this was their chance to (sort of) rectify that. Some excellent banter between the actors added extra enjoyment to an already sparkling performance. Nobody asked me to participate in a raffle they had going, but some posters, a beanie hat and what looked like a rucksack from my vantage point went to some worthy winners. Worth the seven hour round trip? Yes, I’d say so.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.