When the performance comes together on show night what meets the eyes of the audience is rather contrary to the panic and carnage that the cast members have had to undergo for months, weeks, days, hours and even seconds before the curtain is lifted and bright eyed ‘theatre kids’ hit the stage. In this article I’ll be spilling all the backstage drama and what it truly takes to be in the theatre. And it’s a lot more than blood, sweat and tears. 


As you may know Surbiton High School throws an exceptional musical production (typically held at the New Wimbledon Theatre) every year, with a cast of over 100 senior students from year 8-13 and a handful of girls and boys from the preparatory schools. This musical is not your typical school production with spontaneous toddlers crying or little fingers up little noses and the deafening silence of when a student forgets their lines. Oh no, this is an all singing all dancing. All clapping and all whooping, professional and restlessly rehearsed to perfection production. 


Surbiton unleashed the talent of all of it’s thespians when they performed their first musical ‘Bugsy Malone’ based on the 1976 film. However it only got better with age, they became bigger and brighter each year. Ever since I was 9 years old I was an avid participant in these productions with the first musical I performed in being Annie at the Rose Theatre in 2016. Dressed in rags with tatty bunches and mud on my cheeks I knew that I was made for the stage and intended to audition every year. Not only was the musical the highlight of the year for those involved but also for each member of school and every person who filled the auditorium with eager faces and strained eyes that squint for their brother, sisters, children, friends and grandchildren. 


Following Annie, was Grease, then High School Musical, Wind in the Willows, Chicago and finally Little Shop of Horrors. 

Little Shop of Horrors took place on the 18th, 19th and 20th of November. Taking part at the Richmond theatre the production entailed the story of a deadly encounter with a blood thirsty plant situated in the most seemingly innocent and unlikely of places- a florist on Downtown Skid row in LA during the 60’s. 


Little Shop of Horrors has perhaps been the most highly anticipated musical we have performed yet after the productions absence last year due to COVID-19. This mean that we were all itching and as excited as ever to be back in the studio rehearsing again. From the moment rehearsals began each and every person leapt into action as legs and arms where thrown left, right and centre in a frantic bid to chew and swallow every little bit of choreography that was fed to us (despite having 3 months until the show). Three months may sound like a while to you, but to anyone thinking this. I ask can you learn 8 dances (one of which is six minutes long) and 10 extremely harmonised songs, work out stage positions and fix your costumes. Not forgetting to make a set and sort out lighting.  All with a cast of 100 loud and giggly teenage girls. Now I bet three months doesn’t sound so long anymore eh?  


Well, to us it sure isn’t and we definitely felt the effect of this deadline on the 17th of November, just one day before opening night. 

Just days before the cast were swimming through rehearsals with phrases like “ we’ll sort it out nearer the show” and “don’t worry we’ve got all week” and even “I don’t have a costume, but it’s ok the show’s ages away”. Actually it wasn’t ages away… it was THREE DAYS AWAY, and we weren’t ready but we didn’t know it.


The entire cast assembled at 9:30 am at the Richmond Theatre ready for an all day rehearsal and we found the set unfinished, the stage too small the lighting un queued, the songs a tad wobbly, the stage unfamiliar and the list sadly goes on.  


I promise it’s not all doom and gloom and the outcome on the night always out weighs all the stress and tears that is poured into creating the spectacle (especially from the incredible and tireless drama department and back stage team who deserve a lot more than we could give them credit for).  It’s extremely hard to describe the overwhelming feeling of joy and amazement that you experience when singing and dancing under the bright and colourful lights with eruptions of applause and laughter that come from a live audience. But as Colin Powel (former United States Secretary of State) said “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” 


I guess the thing people notice most when they go to the theatre is the actors right? Well it’s only expected as it’s all you can see. You’re not supposed to see all the furrowed brows back stage holding scripts shakily, or the sweaty crew leavening pieces of 126kg set up and down whilst trying not to crush or decapitate anyone. But it’s those nervous and sweaty people that make the show float. They’re the feet beneath a swan on water that carry us forward. The Surbiton High Dance and Drama department made it all happen. The Directors and Producers Chris Griffin and Garry Ekins worked harmoniously with Sarah Drew, choreographers Rachel Ward and Evie Evans. Each working restlessly to make sure that us as the students were able to perform on an extremely professional stage with extremely professional lighting, set and music. 


With our first on stage dress rehearsal on the day of the show despite nervous giggles and a few mishaps things were startling to resolve themselves. Hair was firmly held in place with gallons of hairspray and our faces were caked in layers and layers of stage makeup eyes popping, lips glossy and smiles shining we were ready for our first dress rehearsal on stage. Perhaps it was the nerves or the pressure we had put on ourselves but the show pushed on smoothly settling the nerves that had been bubbling beneath the surface for the first show that evening. 


So back to our dressing rooms we ran, giddy with excitement and sat in our dressing rooms waiting for the show to begin. Soon enough it was seven thirty and we were about to go on stage. I hoped we were ready, I didn’t know if we were ready…… 


We were ready.