Review: Spelling Bee – Musical Theatre Society

Musical Theatre Society’s latest production takes us back to those cringe-ridden days of adolescence with an unashamed brashness and humour. In presenting us with some of the darker sides of growing up face on with laughter, charm and song, the production spells for a night of light-hearted triumph.

Walking in, we are met with a stunning set that truly immerses the audience within the 25th Annual Spelling Bee. For, we are not only watching a theatre production, but we are also the audience of a live action spelling bee.

Making us forget for a second that we’re here to see a theatrical production, four audience members are brought upon stage to take part in the spelling bee shenanigans. This interaction between performers and audience, performance and improvisation is what makes the production so electric: the performers and on stage band are ready to respond quickly and accordingly to these unsuspecting spelling bee competitors. Joesph Callaghan’s ability as Vice Principal Douglas Panch (one of the show’s two presenters) to respond so comically to such acts of improvisation helped add to the ‘live’ feel of the night.

It was a testament to the play’s combination of these elements and the cast’s quick-wittedness that one of the funniest moments came when one of the audience members was asked to spell a particularly difficult word, to which he spells ‘P-E-N-I-S’. Continuing in this fantastically absurd vein, Ronan Pilkington’s performance of an overly, urm, excited boy scout who sings ‘my unfortunate erection, is ruining my perfection’ caused an eruption of knowing laughter from the audience. The performance gets its kicks out of forcing us back into the horror of our teenage selves, and seeing the funny side of our teenage nightmares.

But Spelling Bee isn’t all about song and giggles. Beneath the humour and its over-theatricality, lies many of the pains of growing up. Feelings of inferiority, parental pressure, friendship and loneliness are all tackled in the performance, and ‘The I Love You Song’ performed by Rachel Hutchison where she pines for her absent parents is a particularly touching moment.

Punctuating the performance like a much-loved chorus came the ‘Goodbye’ song, which produced an abundance of audience laughs due to its combination of humour and musicality. The house band at the back of the stage acted as the performance’s foundation; always full of energy, the band helped keep the cast and audience energised with their raucous performance.

So, in a night that was tackled issues of teen angst in undeniable reliability and humour with a cracking soundtrack, how do you spell the outcome of Musical Theatre’s Spelling Bee?


Juliette Rowsell

(Image: The Guardian)


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