Review: Disco Inferno proves to be hot stuff

Disco Inferno: Ilkeston Studio Players and Kirk Hallam Community Academy, Ilkeston

“Get ready to hit that floor and burn, baby, burn”. Lurid flares and freaky coloured disco pants abound in this Faustian jukebox musical set in the long hot summer of 1976 and the disco music craze, writes Mark Raven.

Not that all of the music is disco, but for those of us of a certain age, it’s all memorable and the very young cast of The Studio Players worked hard to make this a “night to remember” in their production last week. The story centres around Jack (played here by James Woods) who trades his soul in exchange for fame and fortune as a pop star, only to lose his loved ones and friends. His tale of rise and fall is interspersed with songs from the era in this highly rated musical, which combines a comedy script, larger-than-life characters and an eclectic score of hits from an unforgettable era of glitter, flares and platform shoes.

The set was dominated by the vast interior of the Disco Inferno Club where most of the action takes place and was designed to make the audience feel like they were in the club rather than looking in as casual observers.

Jack also takes the role of narrator which further removes the fourth wall and James Woods competently handled the transition from “here and now” to “there and then”. The stage was very open throughout avoiding the need for long and cumbersome scene changes and the creative use of the cast to move chairs etc as part of the action meant that it ran

seamlessly.

The most immediate impact was visual from the stunning costumes – I had forgotten how colourful and extravagant fashion was back then - and we are straight into the hits with a full cast rendition of Celebration / Night to Remember, led by Heathcliffe (played by Harry Straw), a self-obsessed pub singer with a chip on his shoulder bigger than the turned-up collar of his jacket.

The vocal performances were supported by a competent band which did not overpower the young voices.

In particular, the costumes of Lady and Marmalade (the temptress and seductress of poor Jack) were straight from the heat of hell itself. In these roles, Georgie Grainger (Lady) and Fay Miles (Marmalade) were confident and menacing and their seductive exploitation of Jack led the story on to the (almost) damning conclusion. I

Alongside Jack, were strong supporting roles from his friends, the dopey but loveable Tom (here represented in slapstick style by Drew Noon) and the Club DJ Terry (convincingly portrayed by Jamie Binch), together forming a comedy double-act which counterpointed both the darker side of the story and the regular intervention of pop and rock classics from the era.

Although I am not by any means a connoisseur of this era of music, I knew all of the hits and the audience grew more enthusiastic as the show progressed. Jamie Binch as DJ Terry contributed well to building

atmosphere with some ad-libbed audience participation.

First half highlights for me were Crocodile Rock, sung here by Heathcliffe, and the three boys doing the Village People medley, which really began to liven up the crowd.

Alongside the “boys” were supporting female roles, in particular Maggie – (Tom’s kiss-avoiding girl) ably played by Hannah Prince and Jane (Jack’s girlfriend) played by the talented Phoebe Pritchett,

whose pitch-perfect performance, particularly on I Will Survive really demonstrated the strength in the cast.

For the rest of the main parts, Julia Tilley as the Mephistophelian Duchess treated us to the Arthur Brown classic Fire, with business partner Nick Diablo (Megan O’Sullivan) in a fine supporting role as the Gok Wan of the underworld.

In addition, Aimee Parker as Kathy, the long suffering girlfriend of Heathcliffe managed the subtle character traits switching from the vulnerable to the ruthless in a heartbeat and Bethan Lewis as Lily. Credit must go however to the whole cast and production team.

By the end of the well-deserved curtain call, the audience were dancing in the aisles to the title song of Disco Inferno with the whole cast back onstage in a lively finale fitting of such a great

show.