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First review: Liquid History at Royal Albert Hall

Music and original theatre took centre stage at London’s most iconic venue – and Act Two rocked the show.

Wednesday 20 March. After weeks of planning, rehearsing and perfecting, the orchestra tuned, the choir cleared its voice and the actors waited in the wings. An audience of thousands – parents, friends, members of the public and arts professionals – waited expectantly as Liquid History, 2019’s Music is for Life presentation from the Merton Music Foundation, prepared to launch.

And then, to the strains of Gary Barlow’s Sing, the Hall erupted. From the beautiful voices of hundreds of Merton schoolchildren in the massed choir, to the harmony of the concert band and guitar and string ensembles, spirits soared. This was going to be a fabulous evening.

The musicians guided us through a rousing selection of music including a mash-up of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye, the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean and a Mary Poppins medley. To close the first half, and introduce the theme of water, The Rhythm of Rivers, represented a voyage around the world “driven by the rhythms of different musical cultures and celebrating the lives of people who depend on rivers for their livelihood and sustenance”.

After the interval, the concert’s second half featured the world premiere of Thames Tales, a compelling original story and script by Andy Alty, directed by Katie Turner-Halliday, with music and lyrics by Pete Churchill and Adam Saunders.

Inspired by seeing a dilapidated statue of Old Father Thames during a London bus journey, Andy started to wonder what would happen if the old man decided to hand over his crown and trident to a much younger person – his granddaughter, Naomi. The story Andy created charts a journey of duty and generation; rebellion and reconcilliation; people, tradition and environment; love, loss and change.

From the second Keel Watson, playing Old Father Thames, took to the stage and filled the space with his booming bass-baritone, the audience was spellbound.

Keel Watson as Old Father Thames

Every performance, every single character, resonated with an audience of every age. The songs enchanted us (Walk on the Water), stirred our emotions (The River Runs On), delighted us (The People on the River), and had us reaching for the tissues (A Song to Call My Own).

The confidence and creativity of WCTT’s Young Actors blossomed on this huge and prestigious stage. The cast produced a stunning display of professionalism and sheer talent. Each company member showcased a complete commitment to the story, whilst hitting every single mark in terms of the script, the staging and the characterisation. The solos were awe-inspiring, the movement on stage was precise and meaningful, and the ensemble pieces were executed with perfection.

Thames Tales was simply sublime.

And the story stayed with us. Although it’s steeped in lore and legend, Thames Tales teaches us a lesson for right now. If we don’t start listening to our environment, if we don’t heed the warnings nature is giving us, our future is in peril. Members of the cast proudly took part in the youth strikes for climate action – and performing Thames Tales for an audience of thousands has made their voices heard even louder and clearer.

A triumph on the night; but the real legacy of this poignant river tale is its potential to inspire change, from the confidence of the company to the environmental conscience of the audience.

Complete the Troubled Waters trilogy

Thames Tales is the first in a trilogy of original performances from WCTT’s Young Actors Company.

From Friday 29 March, Act Three presents To Walk on Water, set in 2039, when a man walks on water for the first time in over 2000 years.

And from Friday 5 April, Act One will debut Lemon Heaven: in a far-off country consumerism is king and the latest craze is lemons.

Both shows take place at New Wimbledon Theatre’s Time & Leisure Studio and all funds raised from ticket sales go straight back into the company, helping to keep the youth theatre open and free for all members to attend.