Credit: Chloe Dootson-Graube

It’s rare to enter a rehearsal room two weeks before the opening night of a play, and feel confident that they’ll pull it off. But, after meeting the cast of Carrie: The Musical, I know they will. Not only was the atmosphere incredibly positive and the crew so prepared, but, on seeing the opening number of the show, I was blown away by the talent of the cast. Carrie: The Musical, is being put on in the Oxford Playhouse from May 18th-21st, which in itself is an impressive feat for a student production for they are usually staged in smaller Oxford theatres. Here is how the cast and crew are getting on:

What is Carrie: The Musical about?

Ellie Cooper (Director): Carrie is a musical version of the Stephen King horror film, where there’s a teenage girl who is bullied and isolated and has a very religious mother and she is really, really ostracised by her peers. At the start of the show she gets her first period and with that comes telekinetic powers and so we’ve been describing it as Matilda but with blood and gore. 

How have rehearsals and the whole process been going?

Ellie Cooper (Director): This began in 2020, we sent the bid off to the Playhouse right before the pandemic. Since then it’s gone through many transitions with different team members, and we’re finally doing it now, so it’s been kind of working away in my brain for a while. I think that the thing about a Playhouse show is that there are so many moving parts, you have to have such an amazing team, because one person can’t oversee everything. And what we’ve built is this really strong production team at the core. 

Tiggy Jones (assistant choreographer): It’s been so much fun, it’s been the best process ever. Hands down the loveliest cast and crew.  The cast has been amazing, we threw a lot at them, especially at the end of last term. Everyone was so tired but were so receptive to everything we asked them. It’s amazing because there are some amazing dancers in the cast, in addition to people who have never danced before or who were uncomfortable dancing on stage. That’s the best bit about choreography, them becoming more confident and comfortable with doing it. 

Beth (Fitz) Fitzpatrick (musical director):  The ensemble has been great because everyone has been really excited about it. Everyone has been so willing to learn. It’s been fairly smooth sailing. Obviously we’re getting up to the time and we’re nitpicking, but then by nitpicking, sometimes things can take a step back, like if we’re really working on choreography, maybe people forget the harmonies and it’s always like ‘no, no no!’, you need to drill in both so it’s hard work. 

Eleanor Dunlop (playing Margaret White, Carrie’s mother): I have only kind of rehearsed so far with Harriet who plays Carrie because we have most of our scenes together, which has been really fun actually, because it means that I’ve had a really nice relationship with Harriet, and we’ve done a lot of work together, but it means I can also come into these kind of [larger group] rehearsals, and be able to watch as a bit more of an objective outsider. But it’s been really nice. Watching all of the cast come together and getting to see everyone else perform has been really exciting. Margaret is quite a complicated character, I’ve been really enjoying it! All of my favourite songs when I listened to the soundtrack before auditioning, were Margaret’s songs. She’s a very overbearing mother, she has got quite a problematic relationship with her faith and that kind of leads her to do terrible things.  

Mina Moniri (Stage manager): When we get to the Playhouse is when my main job starts. I source a lot of the props, how the set changes move, the transitions between scenes, making sure everyone is where they’re supposed and making sure all the light and sound cues are where they need to be in the score. Especially for this show, I’m in charge of the ‘magic’, and the blood pour, so it’s a lot of logistical stuff and practice for that. Carrie has magical telekinesis powers, and obviously we have to make that work on a live stage and surprise everyone, so that’s been one of the main challenges to make it look good.

Vanessa Silva (Choreographer): It’s been great. One of the things that I really try to do as a choreographer is make sure that everyone can join the show because I have a background in dance and I know that dance can be a very inaccessible world and it’s always my goal to make sure that we’re creating an accessible space and that anyone from any background, even if they have no dance experience, can be a part of it.  And frankly, they’ve all been killing it. You would never know that everyone’s coming from different backgrounds of experience. What we do is we just teach choreo as though no one has ever danced before and we make sure that we’re going at a pace where everyone can keep up. 

How are you feeling so close to the performance?

Eleanor Dunlop (playing Margaret White, Carrie’s mother): I’ve only played ensemble characters so far in Oxford, I was a narrator in Persephone, but ensemble in the two plays last term, so this is my first lead or named character. This will be my first time singing solo music in front of an audience that big, which is quite scary but also exciting. I can’t wait to have an audience for everyone to perform to, because I think it makes such a difference with their energy as well. 

Mina Moniri (Stage manager): It’s looking amazing so far. It’s coming together. It’s one of those things where we have been prepping for a very long time and for something like this, especially a Playhouse show, you do need a significant amount of preparation. We are where we want to be at this point, it’s not always like that. 

Vanessa Silva (Choreographer): They’re in great shape, they’re just a cast of professionals. But, it’s really exciting actually, to finally be seeing things come together. We did our first full run today (May 7th) and to see everything you know in chronological order, to get to see the emotional arc of the show was beautiful and I’m just so proud of them and I can’t wait for other people to see it. 

What is the music like?

Beth (Fitz) Fitzpatrick (musical director): There’s about 30 songs. There’s quite a lot of talky bits, but there’s not a lot of breaks for the band. The prom sequence itself is one big song, but it’s made up of lots of smaller chunks. It’s like 15 minutes of pure playing, even when they’re talking or singing. I’m conducting the band on the night, which should help with sorting out vamping and queuing singers. It’s a seven person band, excluding me because I’m not really playing anything. We’ve got two pianos, two guitars, a bass guitar, kit and cello. 

I love the opening number, because it really sets the tone, in a kind of angsty high school way, but not the angsty high school of Heathers or Mean Girls, but in an entirely different way. And it’s brilliant seeing the ensemble just explode on stage, it’s wonderful.

Why should people come see Carrie: The Musical?

Beth (Fitz) Fitzpatrick (musical director): It is a show full of excited, talented, beautiful people, who are giving their heart, soul and their body to every part of this show. And, it’s going to look and sound amazing!

Tiggy Jones (assistant choreographer): It’s a really relevant plot about being a teenager, being a human, mob mentality. It’s a great story, a horrible and terribly sad story, but it has got some gorgeous moments in there of real kindness and the actors are incredible. 

Eleanor Dunlop (playing Margaret White, Carrie’s mother): I’ve been in a lot of shows where I’ve kind of told people ‘You should come see the show, it’s going to be really good!’, and yes I meant it, but I genuinely feel like people need to see this. There are certain people in the cast who deserve to be seen, like Harriet, who is playing Carrie. Her voice is just incredible, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on the West End in a couple of years. Vanessa’s choreography is amazing and the whole cast is pulling it off.

Vanessa Silva (Choreographer): Come see Carrie because it’s a punchy rock musical that anyone can in some way relate to. It hits all the hard themes of wanting to be seen and wanting to fit in, but also it’s really fun. It’s kind of an emotional rollercoaster in the best way, and I feel like throughout this process I’ve learned so much and I really hope that audience members will come and they’ll enjoy it and they’ll take something away from it. 

Mina Moniri (Stage manager): We have magic and we have a bucket of blood being poured on stage, what else do you want?

‘Carrie: The Musical’ is on from May 18th-21st at the Oxford Playhouse. Tickets can be found at : https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/carrie