Grease is the Word

It’s the original high-school musical. An iconic story about adolescence during the 50s, just as America enjoys unprecedented economic success and sweeping social change, Grease explores what it’s like on the verge of adulthood. “In the 50s there was no such word as teenager. So this generation of kids created the term,” Danielle Hope tells me. She plays Sandy, a clean cut young lady whose life is turned upside down when she transfers to Rydell High School. She’s enjoyed a summer romance with Danny, played by The Wanted’s Tom Parker, and passions are about to reignite. Joining the mix, Strictly Come Dancing’s Louisa Lytton plays Rizzo – a straight talking girl determined to show everyone who’s in charge.

It’s a frenetic and colourful show, with a costume change every time Hope leaves the stage. There’s also plenty of rich dynamics amongst its characters. “For me, the most interesting relationship in the show is Sandy and Rizzo. It helps that me and Louisa are good friends in real life. We love to explore it. We have these off-stage things which we pretend have happened.” Her portrayal of Sandy blends high morals with an endearing naivety. It doesn’t mean the character is incapable of observing what’s happening around her, especially when her fellow teens are making snap judgements.

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Sandy starts the school as outsider. While she embodies a vision of purity promoted by the establishment, she also represents a norm her peers are rebelling against. “I think the bedroom scene especially shows this. Rizzo is really going for Sandy and the other girls are pretending not to notice it. Sandy never crumbles. She knows Rizzo is talking to her like that, but knows that she doesn’t mean it. So, the way she deals with it is really important.” At the finale, the character’s ‘coming out’ is far from capitulation to please her man. Instead, it’s the realisation of an identity she’s chosen for herself. “She can come out and kick ass. She is a strong woman. At the same time, she is still Sandy, she’s not going to let him get in her pants. She knows herself.” Hope sees the transformation as an affirmation it’s OK to be exactly whoever you are, and who you want to be. Sandy forsakes traditional expectations for a more authentic happiness. And let’s not forget, Tom Parker’s Danny attempts to change first.

The beauty of Grease is the breadth of ever-relevant issues it addresses. Alienation, rebellion, body-shaming, selfdetermination, pre-marital sex, failed dreams, sexism and bullying are all addressed with sensitivity and sincerity. The production presents a range of complex characters, each with their own dreams and foibles. None of them are perfect, but they all realise they can be better. The men all struggle with their own interpretation of masculinity, while many of the women struggle against society’s shifting preconceptions. “It is very cleverly written. That’s why Grease is good, as some of the themes can go straight over a six-year-olds head. But the adults can connect on a different level.” Every mature element is dealt with in an entirely family appropriate manner, which only reinforces the show’s universal appeal. You can take from it what you want. It can be a commentary on coming of age, an examination of 50’s gender politics or a barnstorming set of musical numbers. The songs will always remain timeless, the innuendo subtle and the mockery pointed inwards.

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Hope has been with this production of the pop culture classic since March, visiting nearly every major town that can sustain a theatre. “For me, the most stressful part of the tour is finding accommodation – every week you move house. It is exhausting, but I do love travelling. I have such a gypsy heart. And we’ve visited places I’ve never been to.” The tour ends on New Year’s Eve here in Brighton, and she admits it’ll be hard not seeing the familiar faces every day. But the experience has been a great one. “A year is a good time to be with one show. You get to explore it as best you can.” The future sees work on a live album, plus travelling to New York exploring the possibility of working on Broadway. She was thrust into the spotlight after winning Over The Rainbow, a BBC talent show seeking a lead for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2011 production of Wizard Of Oz. Although becoming an almost overnight star, she still doesn’t expect any special treatment. “You can have a big break, but you still have to work constantly. But, I know when I walk through the door on the first day of rehearsals, that I’ve earned that just like everyone else.”

Danielle Hope appears in Grease, which comes to Theatre Royal Brighton on Mon 11– Sun 31 Dec.

www.atgtickets.com/brighton

 

Words by Stuart Rolt

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