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David V Goliath: Corn Exchange, Witney
Audiences will be rocking in the aisles — at least that’s what the producers of new rock musical David V Goliath are hoping. With its catchy, toe-tapping tunes, which embrace a variety of musical styles, this promises to be a lively, spirited show suitable for anybody from the age of six upwards.
“One of the strongest things about the show is the music,” says director Robin Martin-Oliver. “There are 13 songs, and every one is a strong song, with a slightly different feel to it. It’s great music, very singable tunes, easy to grab hold of. There’s not a weak song in it.”
But behind the entertainment is a serious message. Librettist Lee Wyatt-Buchan and brothers Sandy and Aldie Chalmers, who wrote the music, were keen to tackle an issue that they feel is a major problem among today’s youngsters — of bullying, both in and out of school, and how to tackle it.
“We particularly wanted it to have a message,” says Aldie. “It was very important to us that it had a theme and wasn’t just entertainment, although there’s a strong emphasis on entertainment as well, but with a strong anti-bullying message.
“Hopefully people will put it on in schools, watch it, and as a result people will take steps if they are being hassled, or if they were in fact the bully, they might back off a bit.
“It’s a really strong message for people in every walk of life,” adds Lee. “It really is a universal issue.”
The musical is based on the familiar story of David and Goliath, but with a few twists.
David is a shepherd, who is proclaimed as the chosen one to replace Saul as king, but he’s not sure he wants this honour as this will interfere with his dream of rock stardom.
Meanwhile, Goliath and his gang of Hoods are busy causing mayhem across the town, and are not best pleased at hearing that their new king is to be a shepherd boy. Goliath is out for revenge.
“The twist to Goliath is that we suggest that he is also being bullied,” explains Lee. “So the opening sequence is Goliath entering, with a voice-over of bullies. We do the exact reverse with David — he’s more open about everything, dealing with the situation and talking to people, whereas Goliath’s very insular.
“There’s two things going on here, because David’s got to deal with the fact that he’s going to become king, and that’s a real struggle for him personally, and he’s also got to deal with the current king, who doesn’t take the news that well. It’s not really a bullying relationship, but it’s quite a volatile relationship between the two.
“So everything happens at the same time — he’s got these issues with becoming king, but he’s also being bullied, so it all dovetails and becomes a real challenge.”
Serious stuff, then, but it also offers some great opportunities for an enthralling, action-packed piece, with white-masked Hoods, David’s brothers (who metamorphose into sheep), Saul and his wives, Saul’s guards, David and Goliath themselves, and a black sheep, which Lee describes as “the guiding force through the piece — it could be the conscience, or the guardian angel, or both of those things”.
“The black sheep is a kind of alter ego for David, and it’s a projection of how he’s feeling, and how he makes his decisions,” he says.
The cast are all talented local youngsters, many drawn from the Stagecoach School that Robin runs in Witney, and they are backed by musicians from the increasingly popular Witchwood School of Rock, which was founded by Lee and Sandy in 2009.
“The main roles — David, Goliath, Black Sheep — are all double cast,” explains Robin. “We’re trying to make them very individual performances, so the different nights will have a slightly different feel to them. And I think that’s great, because we’ll keep it fresh and we’re also honouring their ability as it is at the moment.”
Directing the production has, for Robin, been an absolute joy. “It’s been very collaborative. Lee and I had a lot of meetings, where we’ve just discussed it and played with ideas, so it’s been very organic.
“I think it’s an immensely privileged job to be in the performing arts, working with these kids, who may be stars one day. And even if they’re not, you’ve given them an experience which will stay in their memories.”
The cast had a chance to give some of the songs a trial run at a concert on March 30, but soon they’ll be performing them for real, after four months’ hard work.
After that, the team are hoping to take the musical into schools, and eventually into other theatres.
As Sandy says: “It really feels like the beginning of something. We’ve had some great feedback so far, and it’s just growing and growing.”
David V Goliath is at the Corn Exchange, Witney, from April 28 to May 1. For tickets, call 01993 869141 or visit shrillproductions.com