Scouts! The Musical at The Other Palace

I never bothered joining the Scouts, in part because I wasn’t interested in any of the outdoor activities they liked to do (and, funnily enough, in adulthood I spend time sitting indoors watching shows), and in part because I didn’t like wearing uniform for school, so I didn’t want to spend any more time wearing another kind of uniform, however honourable the Scout one may have been. As far as this production goes, the pre-show is a pleasant icebreaker, putting the audience in a suitably positive mood with upbeat live instrumental music. This turns, once the audience has all filed in and it’s time for the show proper to get going, into an incredible display of actor-musicianship. There’s one backing track in the mix, but otherwise guitars and drumsticks, and much more, get passed around with borderline military precision: the beat goes on.

Scouts the Musical
Scouts the Musical

The ‘Scout Games!’ (the exclamation mark is important, y’know, like ‘Moulin Rouge!’, or that village in Devon called ‘Westward Ho!’) involve a series of challenges – all of which are relatively easy to stage, funnily enough. There isn’t, for instance, an obstacle course set up, or youngsters going mountaineering. What this production does go for, alas, would be giving too much away, suffice to say Scout Leader Dylan (Kemi Clarke) puts in an impressive performance naming different types of Scout badges at breakneck speed. I estimate, very roughly (I wasn’t keeping a tally), several dozen in a couple of minutes or so.

The show earns the badge of being a musical without a love triangle, though this naturally has much to do with the age profile of the majority of the characters. The pace and rhythm of the lyrics reflects the ambition and vigour of the youngsters – even Luke (Rob Gathercole), the most reluctant Scout in the group, only needs light encouragement. The Scout movement these days is open to all, such that issues around personal identity are neither here nor there, and indeed there are rounds in the Scout Games! in which a boy goes head to head with a girl.

The elephant in the room is that element of audience participation. To test my own usual hypothesis of patrons sitting in the front row at their own risk, I took a seat in the front row to see what might transpire (seating at this particular venue is unreserved). Some big kids (as I shall call them) were pre-selected from the audience, and I was oblivious to this process, enjoying a pre-show drink and having a scroll through social media. I therefore offer no comment on how extensively they were briefed, although they were all up for the somewhat innocuous tasks set before them. As for the rest of us, a subtle invitation to clap along to an upbeat musical number was about as ‘participatory’ as it got.

Charlotte (Emily Kitchingham) has her reasons for unduly influencing the competition’s proceedings, and while the outcome of good triumphing over evil could be seen from a mile away, I still found myself riveted by the Scout Games! final, which has a plot twist significant enough to ensure the ‘right’ person wins. A sweet but not saccharine subplot involving Ayesha (Sydney Spencer) and Joe (Joel Nash) sees a grievous wrong owned up to and ultimately remedied, a lesson in morals and ethics without ever being remotely preachy about it. A very modern musical for very modern audiences, it’s the sort of jolly and agreeable production sorely needed in these stressful and difficult times.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Scouts from around the world have gathered to compete but when someone threatens to sabotage the competition, it is up to Joe and Ayesha to put aside their rivalries and use their newfound skills to save the day!

Director, Bookwriter & Co-lyrics: Sam Cochrane
Composer & Co-lyrics: David Fallon

Scouts! The Musical
22 June – 9 July 2023

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