Interview – The Medics’ Musical: West Side Story

Every year, a group of fourth year medical students collaborate to put on a stage production, known as the Medics’ Musical. This year, they are performing West Side Story, and Impact sat down with a few of those involved to talk about the experience.

Meeting before their rehearsal, the group are friendly and enthusiastic about the production. I ask how and why each of them got involved. “How? I auditioned, got the role,” jokes William Petrou-Nunn, who plays Action. “But why? Because there’s not much to do when you’re here all over the summer, and it was something out of my comfort zone, something new, which should be quite fun to do.

“it’s a really good fun job, and a really good way to meet people and make friends”

The rest of the group agree. “I did it because I’ve got a bit of a background in singing but not at all in acting or dancing, so it was something completely different,” says Alex Ferriman, who plays Tony. Katerina Konstantinidi, who plays Maria, says she had seen other fourth years participate in the past, and thought it looked like fun. “I used to do a fair amount of singing, and did a little bit of drama at school, and I did quite miss it, so it seemed like a nice opportunity to get involved with that again”.

This is the second time around for the show’s director, Duncan McGregor. He laughs about repeating fourth year: “I actually directed last year’s show, and decided it was so much fun I’d repeat a year so I could do it again!” Joking aside, it was the atmosphere of the show that brought him back: “I did enjoy last year’s and though it would be fun to do it again, and it’s a really good fun job, and a really good way to meet people and make friends”.

For the musical’s producer, Rhys Irving, it’s something he’s been looking forward to for a while. “It’s something that we’ve known about right since we were in first year, and it’s quite a big deal, we all know about the Medics’ Musical”. He’s done some organisational projects in the past, but describes this production as “a good opportunity to get into something real”, and have fun alongside it.

“Last year they did a fantastic job of putting on The Pirates of Penzance”, this year it’s West Side Story

Irving’s role as producer is mainly organisational, sorting out the admin for the production, liaising with the theatre and being in control of the budget. He works to coordinate the material side of the musical with the creative aspect that McGregor, as director, is in charge of. “As director I would say the role description is along the lines of ‘the creative lead’,” McGregor explains. He is “responsible for the artistic direction of the show” and works alongside the musical director and choreographer to creatively direct the production.

So, the musical is West Side Story. Why was this chosen? McGregor and Irving explain the limitations of amateur theatre; “you are quite restricted in that you can’t choose anything that’s currently on in the West End or being done by a professional group touring, so your options are somewhat limited”. They also wanted to do something more well-known to the general public. “Last year they did a fantastic job of putting on The Pirates of Penzance, and I think we wanted to aim ourselves at a wider market, and potentially something more people have previously heard of, and know some of the material to”.

“there are themes of love and happiness, alongside themes of hatred and rivalry”

Another major factor was the inclusivity of the casting potential. “It’s actually really difficult to get a musical that’s very inclusive”, McGregor explains. “A lot of musicals are very male-dominated … or, there are a few that are the flipside, that have a very, very female-dominated cast, though much fewer”, but rarely are musicals created with “a good split of male and female roles”. What with the large amount of interest in getting involved, “we don’t want to say no to people because ‘sorry, there’s only three female roles’, or whatever. So West Side Story, it’s not totally evenly split but it’s got a good split that’s allowed us to be as inclusive as possible, which is one of the main things”.

“politically, it’s still relevant”

The major themes of the show are also important to the production. We discuss the Shakespearean inspiration behind the musical, and the attempt to emulate that type of tragedy on the modern stage. Konstantinidi points out the divisions and separations that are prominent in the story: “there are themes of love and happiness, alongside themes of hatred and rivalry, and you do see those interplay”. Ferriman agrees, describing how McGregor has focused the cast on “portraying this divide between these two rival gangs”, using symbolism to show “the physical presence of the divide”.

McGregor also notes the political parallels between the time in which the show was created and the events of today: “These were themes of racism in the 1950s in New York. It may be different groups and different people driving those divisions, but those divisions are still there. So actually, politically, it’s somewhat still relevant”.

The poster for the Medics’ Musical production of West Side Story.

We move on to discuss the challenges with putting on a production such as this. “The dancing!” Petrou-Nunn says, and Ferriman agrees: the most challenging thing is “probably the dancing. Just where my limbs are in space”.

Time is also a huge constraint, though. “A lot of people don’t clock that we’ve been on full-time placement from July,” McGregor says, “and these guys have been putting in a huge amount of effort to put on a musical alongside that. So the time commitments, certainly as now it’s getting very close to the show, it’s an overriding, a very difficult aspect”.

This in itself adds another challenge, according to Irving. “I think that also comes with putting quite a lot of pressure on, because I know how hard everyone has worked on it, and I know the amount of time people have put into it, there’s a real intangible pressure to actually perform and get this right”. The others agree, and it is clear how much they all care about the project, for both themselves and the friends they have made doing it.

“It’s going to be a phenomenal show”

So what have they enjoyed most about the experience? “I’ve met a lot of new people, which has been really nice,” Konstantinidi says. She explains how a merger between two courses a few months ago means there are a lot of new faces around, so it’s been a good opportunity to meet people and socialise with those they might not have had the chance to spend time with before. Petrou-Nunn agrees, and says despite the pressures of the time commitment, the project has been great fun, and well worth it.

Now the key question: why should people come and see their production of West Side Story?

“I think I would say because the sheer effort that these guys have put in is truly astounding, and it’s phenomenal to see what 30 or 40 medics can do alongside full time clinical placement to the degree that they’ve done this.” The whole group agrees. “It’s going to be a phenomenal show, and it’ll be better knowing how much work they’ve put in.”

Konstantinidi adds that the musical itself is worth getting the chance to see. “There’s a lot of songs that people might have heard before, some really fun tunes and also some really beautiful tunes”. She mentions the live orchestra, and says she believes “the music in this particular musical is just so lovely, that even just for that itself, it’s just great”. But that’s not the only thing; “people have really tried to develop their characters and really thought about them to put them across with their acting, so it’s going to be a really nice show”.

I am also reliably informed that a favourite among the medics, Professor Michael Randall, will be making an appearance onstage, which may help draw in a few more viewers.

And, as Petrou-Nunn points out, “you get to watch a good musical for 8 quid”. “It’s on your doorstep,” McGregor adds; “it will be a good night out, and it still has quite a high talent level for a relatively cheap price”.

The Medics’ Musical is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre 25th-27th October 2017. Tickets are £8 for students and under-16s, £13 for adults, and can be booked here.

Isobel Sheene

Featured image courtesy of ‘Piano Piano!’ via Flickr.

Article image courtesy of The Medics’ Musical.

Image use license here.

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