She The Musical

'She' in Cheltenham 2012: The Final Chapter Part One

More than a year and a half of collective efforts of the 'She' cast and crew was reflected in four days and five Cheltenham performances in February 2012. The first UK production, featuring two different casts, a chorus, a live band, and dancers, was received with enthusiastic reactions from both the audiences and critics, which combined with creative passion of the artists added up to more than a satisfying experience.

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Clive Nolan: I am still buzzing from the 'She' shows last week. What a journey it was, to bring my musical to life, and I can only thank every one of those involved for making it a brilliant experience. I think we did something we can all be proud of, and it just shows what can be possible. Specials thanks must go to David Clifford for his superb efforts in directing 'She': it might have been his first experience as director, but it should certainly be not his last! People keep asking me what I 'really think' about these shows, and my answer is the best proof I can offer... I hope everyone of you will stay with us, and get involved with our next big adventure... 'Alchemy'!

The Cast

Agnieszka Swita (Ayesha), Christina Booth (Ustane), Alan Reed (Holly), David Clifford (Leo), Peter Hughes (Billali), Soheila Clifford (Rehani)

Agnieszka Swita: It was a magical week - incredibly intense but truly rewarding. Reliving the story again and again… four consecutive night was fantastic and I wish we could carry on forever. The theatre felt like a house really; after a while you simply know every corner, every door, even every cup in the kitchen backstage. Great to get together with core people - you just know they will be  consistently amazing in everything they do. Fabulous to see new performers joining us on stage. I was particularly happy to meet a member of H. Ridder Haggard's society who came to see the show and loved it.  I had the time of my life and look forward to the next 'She' shows in Holland in September and Leamington Spa in December.

The Understudies: The Matinee Cast

Victoria Bolley (Ayesha), Becky Carter (Ustane), Chris Lewis (Holly), Ben Perkins (Leo), Peter Hughes (Billali), Katie East (Rehani)

Victoria Bolley: I thoroughly enjoyed every show, but obviously my highlight was the matinee as I got the chance to do my thing! It was a dream come true being able to sing alongside some amazing musicians. Everybody worked very hard and invested a lot of time, money, and effort, so it was lovely to finally be able to do what we all love. Can we do it again please?!

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Chris Lewis: So we finally hit the stage after months of work. I got to attend the Playhouse for technical and dress rehearsals as Holly because Alan couldn’t get there. I grabbed this opportunity with a combination of joy and enthusiasm. I soon learned that the professionals had no edge to them whatsoever and were just great fun to work with. Clive, Agnieszka, Mark and Claudio stayed at our house at different times which bought its own rewards - wine and great conversation till the early hours. Then - curtain up. All chorus stuff at first - then Matinee!!! Working with mega talented fellow understudies, it was a dream come true for me and I hope I have made friends for life here.

The Band

Mark Westwood (guitars), Scott Higham (drums), Claudio Momberg (keyboards), Kylan Amos (bass)

Scott Higham: "She shows were amazing in Cheltenham. All of the cast & crew performed at their highest level, with focus and professionalism in every performance. We all had so much fun... Can't wait to do it all again soon!"

Claudio Momberg: The week in Cheltenham was a week I'll never forget, it began with meeting several fantastic people, the local Cheltenham team was a truly marvellous group of people I hope to meet again really soon, the same with several other new friends I made throughout my stay there, 'all good people' from the States, France, Holland, Argentina, helped it to be an unforgettable time. We all spent a few days sorting all kinds of technical difficulties, specially the fact of the very very little space we musicians had to get our instruments on, plus several very scary moments onstage. It was fortunate that nothing serious happened, and we ended up enjoying it greatly. All four shows ran smoothly, and as we were getting more comfortable up there, we were gaining more confidence and played better night after night. It was very different and very pleasant for us to perform the Matinee show, doing the same show with all different voices, but they worked out in a great way. Seeing the audience pleased, and in the end, even seeing Clive pleased was really a triumph, and I'm sure this will be only the beginning of a fantastic journey, to get Clive's musicals to the next level.

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The Chorus

Becky Carter, Ben Perkins, Bexx Goodman, Chris Lewis, Gillie Bower, Helen Ayres, Helen Bucher, Jane Lyllystone, Katie East, Michael Rowe, Natalie Morgan, Ollie West, Paul Rowe, Peter Hughes, Peter O'Brien, Ron Milsom, Sarah Rowe, Soheila Clifford, Steve Bower, Sue Finch, Victoria Bolley

Bexx Goodman: Working on 'She' was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences of being on stage I've ever had. Clive is such a talented man and I feel so privileged having had the pleasure to have worked with him. As a member of the chorus I always felt involved with what was going on, both on and off stage! It was an experience I won't forget anytime soon and I'm so looking forward to 'Alchemy'.

Ollie West: Being heavily involved in the local music scene and a member of Drama groups for years 'She' was an amazing opportunity to see the merging of two cultures. A huge learning curve in flexibility and tolerance. Having got to the end in one piece I wouldn't have missed it for the world. True professionals - all who took part - and a pleasure to be with. Can't wait for the next time.

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Behind The Scene Team

Clive Nolan (Musical Director), David Clifford (Director/Producer), Dave Whitlock (Lightning Designer), Dorothy Frances (Choir Mistress), Fernando Gomez (FOH, Camera), Graeme Bell (Backstage Hand, Artwork), Iain Richardson (Bckstage Hand), Iann Cann (Technical Manager), Magdalena Grabias (Internet Liaison, FOH), Marcel Haster (Video), Mike Barwick (Set Designer), Neil Palfreyman (Photography), Mandy Godding (Expressive Director), Paul Cooper (Technical Manager), Penny Hemms (Choreographer), Sarah Clark (Costume Designer), Steve Jemmott (Stage Manager)

Fernando Gomez: What a great time I had!!! A lot of things to be done, a lot of people involved. Musicians, singers, crew... A fantastic team. It's so strange when you see this kind of things from "the other side". You don't really have the chance to get involved in the story while you are thinking in taking photos, or filming, or going for the bunches of flowers, or preparing the merch desk for the intermission! Anyway, the singers were putting so much on stage, that in every single performance, I couldn't avoid having tears in my eyes during 'Closer', or feeling the anger in 'Cursed'. Those are the moments that I really fell it down to my bones.

Some special moments: meeting the creepy Natalie backstage (she was awesome with all that make up!!), meeting the fantastic Mrs Nolan (Clive's mom) and walking her in the hall, having some weird choreographies with Magda during the last show. I have to say thank you to all of them, they were fantastic!

Paul Cooper: The Cheltenham premiere of 'She' was a superb success. The cast were amazing throughout the whole process, with a great show by the understudies for the Saturday matinee. The other members of crew were dedicated to making Clive's vision a reality, and indeed drinking the post-show bar dry of Peroni and the local bar dry of funny coloured shot trays. They did incredibly well on both counts. I'm already looking forward to 'Alchemy'.

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The Audience Perspective

Chris Coquet (H. Rider Haggard Society, Cheltenham, UK): Having been a great admirer of H. Rider Haggard and his books for many years I eagerly awaited the arrival in Cheltenham of the musical stage adaptation of one of his greatest stories, 'She'. I must admit that I was half expecting the music to overwhelm the vocals but I found that I'd been unduly pessimistic and in fact each complemented the other very well. Knowing the book as I do, I found it quite easy to follow the story unfolding on stage and, although of necessity an abbreviated version, it was much more faithful to the original than I had expected. The cast all gave excellent and convincing performances aided by very good vocals, music, costumes and scenery and these were all well appreciated by a 'full house' ranging in age from 8 to 80. I shall now have to explain to other members of the Rider Haggard Society about the great evening they missed and strongly recommend that they don't make the same mistake with the sequel, 'Ayesha; the Return of She', when Clive Nolan finds time to adapt it like 'She', hopefully with many of the same cast.

Timo Groenendaal (The Netherlands): Thanks to all for a wonderful performance. A stunning conclusion to a long road in which we gladly played our modest part. It looked so good, and to see everything take shape and fall more into place as a story was interesting. Marijke and the boys also enjoyed the performance and we played the whole musical through on the way home.

Susanne Brauer (Germany): A whole new experience to see and hear 'She' on a theatre stage. The costumes and the whole theatrical surrounding made the epic music of Clive Nolan's rock opera even more impressive. Agnieszka Swita was an incredibly beautiful queen, that due to her acting and powerful voice left no doubt in the force and ruthlessness of Ayesha. David Clifford in Clive Nolan's former character was not only a great singer and actor but also quite an amusing sight together with Alan Reed.

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One of the scenes I was really curious about was the death scene of the queen and I wasn't disappointed. One of the most impressive scenes in the show, I think. The two new characters Billali and Rehani fitted in better than I thought. Especially Billali was a huge enrichment for the show. He brings a lot of life into every scene he is in and a lot of his impact is due to Peter Hughes, who's brilliant acting and deep voice support the main characters constantly. The young Rehani was another positive surprise. I think it was a good move to let someone new tell the story of Ayesha because it also showed the dedication and connection the tribe had to their queen.

As a guest of the Saturdays performance I had the opportunity to also attend the matinee, where the understudies were performing. And in the end they found some incredible voices for the understudies. And for me this performance proved that this show itself has a huge potential and could also work with a changing cast. It was a bit of the shame that the musicians were a bit hidden in the background, but I think the idea of putting them into the stage setting was great. And up there they did a great job as usual! All in all as a musical fan, I can say that 'She' is working great as a real musical and that it could, I also think it should, have a future on more stages. The world needs to see this!


Compiled and edited by Magdalena Grabias
Photos by Neil Palfreyman, Fernando Gomez, Marcel Haster
March 2012