Kino Teatr, St Leonards

Rod Webb went along to see the musical A Billion Ways and was blown away.

A Billion Ways is a massive achievement; an idea sparked off in February this year leading to three night’s performance of a full-blown musical in November. And the way Rob Hill, the creator and songwriter, managed to make use of real life to weave his magic is inspirational. 

The initial impetus for the musical came from a front page in HIP about the Youth Strike, but that itself, of course, was responding to the demonstration by local students – whose slogans like “The seas are rising and so are we” went into one of the songs, Youth Strike. 

PIC: Peter Mould

The musical goes straight to the heart of how we both distract ourselves with unimportant things like shopping, and deceive ourselves by pretending what we do is right. This might sound obvious, but the trick is the way he makes us face this stark reality. 

Talking to Rob, I felt he has a wonderful way of illuminating what we all know but can’t express and it’s this extraordinary talent that enables him to create a hugely enjoyable show while also conveying a complex message. In the musical he does it using a family and friends to represent the conflicting views and behaviour of society.

Musicals usually rely on a lot of razzmatazz, bombarding the audience with sights and sounds. This production is what you might call low tech: no stage, no theatrical lighting, music on a backing track, uneven volume from the ‘unplugged’ singers. But, for all this, the audience was riveted throughout. It was only in the first few minutes that I even noticed the uneven sound.

Attention was maintained by quick changes of pace, the standout songs, the attention to detail in how the actors inhabited the stage and the wonderful dialogue that glued it all together – natural and engaging, funny and poignant.

PIC: Peter Mould

But we have to go back ten years to Rob’s career in public relations to understand what sparked it off. His PR company was involved with the movers and shakers of the energy world where he believed he was helping big business clean up their act; but this slowly morphed into ‘greenwash’, helping them make “unsubstantiated and misleading claims about the environmental benefits” of their actions. 

Ten years later, that front page, dramatically highlighted for him how our personal choices come with a moral price tag. Our youth wanted to change perceptions; he’d write a musical about changing perceptions! 

Intention turned to reality by chance meetings throughout 2019, from ex stand-up comic script writer, Sally Holloway, to award winning director Dominique Gerrard – as well as a host of other amazing local talent, such as musical director and co-songwriter Pete O’Donnell.

And not forgetting the actors: Chloe Thompson’s delightful personality and spontaneity kept the audience engaged; Robin Hayter’s conflicted dad kept things from becoming too sentimental; Joanna Roffey shone as mum ‘doing her best’ to please everyone – and then coming out with the unexpected; Kelcie Black brilliantly played a geeky girl without being a geeky actor; Lisa Halmer-Pope delivered speeches you actually wanted to listen to; Ashley Sharpe managed to mix comedy and drama; and Rachel McCarron glued everything together with her commanding presence – whether comedic Angie or brisk secretary, Petra Prince.

•  Music will be available for download before Christmas, any school interested in putting on the musical should contact Rob Hill.

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