MTSoc 24-Hour Musical 2015 – Felix Report

Summer term rolling around again can only mean one thing: exams. No, hang on. Two things. I’ll try again.

Summer term rolling around again can only mean two things: exams, and the Musical Theatre Society’s (MTSoc) 24-hour musical. One of these is an intense, high stress period where everyone involved goes in feeling massively underprepared, sits through the whole thing still feeling massively underprepared, then staggers out the other side not entirely sure of how they’re still alive. The other is, of course, the 24-hour musical. Yeah, you thought you knew where I was going with that one. You were wrong.

Either way, 24-hour is typically a hectic blast of musical theatre that does its very best to kill everyone involved, and then still somehow sucker an audience into turning up and sitting through the results. The end product could, quite literally, be anything. None of the cast, band or crew know what the show is going into this, making the big reveal at 19:00 on Friday evening an event in itself. Obviously people guess the show (or find out through nefarious means), but it’s all a big surprise. In theory.

This year, the reveal was made even larger than usual thanks to the MD stitching together a reveal video, using archive footage alongside clips of the show. As shots from the miners’ strike in the 80s rolled, followed by news footage of Maggie Thatcher, it quickly became obvious where this 24 was headed. The shot of a group of miners clustered on stage belting out ‘Once We Were Kings’ provided the confirmation nobody needed: it was Billy Elliot.

For better, for worse, for sheer insanity, we were going to try our hand at Billy Elliot. God help us all.

It all develops into a bit of a blur after that. The cast were given their scripts, and a detailed timetable of where they were meant to be and what they were meant to be doing every minute until the show was supposed to go up. Yes, that included when they were supposed to sleep, to the minute. And no, the show was never going to go up on time. Don’t be ridiculous.

With that, the cast were packed off to their singing/acting/dancing rehearsals, while the band were prepped and set up for their rehearsals. The crew, meanwhile, disappeared for a crew curry. As rehearsals got rolling it became clear that, for want of a better word, this show was a particularly ambitious undertaking, something the directing team had wasted no time telling everybody within earshot over the couple of months running up to the show. Trying numbers like ‘Solidarity’, one of the most tightly choreographed numbers in musical theatre, showed the scale of what we were trying to pull off, and with a dramatically reduced length of time to do it.

At some point during this, the crew returned from their curry, scooping up the lighting plan and cracking on with taking items out of storage and putting them in the ceiling (a favourite pastime of all technicians). Time swept rapidly onwards, as new numbers were rehearsed for the first time and then hurriedly memorised during the rehearsal for the next one; the costume team sprinted around checking everyone had brought the items they were supposed to; and the tech team continued their inexorable march towards a stage that was visible to an audience. And also not covered in metal shavings, courtesy of the (still ongoing) redevelopment works.

Sometime around 02:00 (maybe 03:00, it’s a bit fuzzy), things started to come together. A run of ‘Solidarity’ produced something truly special that left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. A feeling that maybe – just maybe – we could pull this off started to infuse everyone (apart from the crew, who were a little distracted by one of the lighting designers falling ill and having to go home). As morning broke, and several cast members who nipped out for a quick shower at home found themselves locked out of the building, there was no let-up in proceedings. The choreographer had her first break of the night, before diving straight back in. Everyone started to brace themselves for the first full runthrough of the show with the band and cast together.

The crew, meanwhile, carried on making noises (some of them intentional) in the Union Concert Hall, as the sound team rolled in and started setting up while the lighting rig was fine-tuned and focussed. Miraculously, everything was still running to schedule by the time the sitzprobe started. It’s an unwritten law of theatre that nothing (least of all a 24-hour musical) will ever run to plan, let alone to time, but somehow that was precisely what was going on.

Obviously, at some point that all had to come to an end, and here (at last) came that point. No-one’s yet worked out how everything slowed down, but slow down it did, as everything started to overrun to the point of needing to cancel the technical/dress rehearsal because there simply wasn’t enough time before curtain up. With the house still a mess, and barely an hour until curtain up, the decision was made to run the most important numbers, and throw in some tests for the more complicated moments of tech.

Trying to rehearse over the clattering of a small army of people clearing away any and all junk in the room, before covering the place in chairs can’t have been easy, but the cast, band and crew managed it.

And then, a mere half an hour late, the show started. The audience swarmed in and took their seats, filling the house, and the projection to open the show started. From there, everything flowed near-perfectly.

The whole thing felt like the opening night of a show that had had almost an entire week to get in and get setup, off the backs of months of rehearsal. It’s testament to the hard work of the production team, the sterling efforts of the cast and band, and the ceaseless work of the crew (after the curry) that it all came together in the way it did, and it ranks as quite possibly the best 24-hour musical the society has ever done.

I’m probably not the most qualified person to make the judgement, but whatever. It was great. It was absolute hell during the majority of that period, but at the end of it, it was worth every minute. Except for the 20 I spent curled up on the floor of a meeting room, staring blankly into space as the enormous quantity of caffeine I managed to consume finally crashed its way into my bloodstream. That bit, I could probably have done without.

Jack Steadman, for FELIX.
Reproduced with permission.