Leonard Bernstein’s iconic show, West Side Story, danced into Epsom last week as the Playhouse hosted a production of this much-loved musical.

Local operatic company, Epsom Light Opera, took on the difficult task of bringing fresh quality to a show that first opened in America in 1957.

In a week where the Evening Standard reported how London knife crime “had hit its highest level ever recorded”, the timing of this show could not have been more relevant; the tragedy of urban gang warfare as pertinent now as it was sixty years ago.

The story follows the hostility between two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, as they fight for supremacy of New York’s West Side. The all-American Jets, full of suspicion for their Puerto Rican enemies, reflect a Trumpesque xenophobia, fearing loss of jobs and national identity. But catastrophe only fully occurs when, in a mirroring of Romeo and Juliet, two people from the opposing sides fall in love.

The show’s two leads, Tony, played with a gentle maturity by Michael Leopold and Maria, portrayed to sweet, innocent perfection by Danielle Kerley, succeeded in bringing passion and depth to their forbidden and ultimately doomed, love. As the scenes swapped smoothly from tumult to romance, the juxtaposition between the beauty of their love and the ugliness of the streets was clear and fed a sense of imminent disaster.

It was never going to be easy for a troupe of untrained youths to dance effectively in fight scenes, but what some lacked in technique they made up for aplenty with enthusiasm and energy. Of particular note was Jet leader Riff, played by Matthew Howes, who had the unenviable task of “playing it cool” while having to spur on his fellows into conflict. His main rival, Bernado, depicted as an impassioned, spirited hot-head by Richard Qureshi, delivered the horrifying material with admirable distinction.

However, it was Charlie Qureshi’s Anita who stole every scene in which she appeared, being painted with precision as a fiery energetic tornado with a flawless Latin accent. Her near-rape scene made for uncomfortable viewing and led seamlessly into the devastating and moving finale.

Of the production as a whole, Epsom Light Opera managed to achieve a show that included the full range of emotion from laughter to tears with effective staging – the dream sequence was especially startling – and well sung musical pieces.

The only slight criticism from this reviewer would be the over-long delay in the music starting for several numbers. The orchestra were brought in too late on a few movements, leaving awkward pauses between speech and music. But this minor disparagement could not detract from a thoroughly entertaining and slickly presented performance.

On the strength of this show, ELO’s follow-up musical, Hot Mikado, next April, will be well worth seeing.