I arrived to meet Alex Wilson and Nick Armfield, committee members and co-directors of this year’s musical, behind a queue of razzmatazz-lovers acquiring tickets for West Side Story. They both appear surprisingly chipper given that the interview confirmation arrived in my inbox at 4.30 am, after an “all-night tech run”.
Central Hall Musical Society operates almost antithetically to other performance societies, such as DramaSoc. Where DramaSoc may have a play weekly during term, CHMS focuses its energy into one annual opus. But they don’t rest on their laurels. “We want to make this the destination musical society” Nick tells me. At the moment their membership mostly exists from within the talent pool of performers, but they are looking to expand, and broaden their public appearance. “One of our biggest things this year is to move it away from being a society based around one thing a year, which is definitely what we are the moment”. Yet in attempting to become more inclusive, there is always a fine line to be trodden between quantity and quality. “Certainly whilst we want everyone to audition, there is a very high level of production, which is what we’re there to do. But we do want everyone to be involved in the society; just because you don’t necessarily sing as well as the next person doesn’t mean you can’t help in some way”.
It seems as though CHMS are committed to maintaining a high standard of performance, whilst encouraging those who may not necessarily want to perform to become involved. “We want to create a program of events open to all people, which will mean that anyone, not just people who want to watch musicals, can be involved… The show’s going on at the moment so you can talk to any one of us and there’s also a committee meeting every Wednesday. So you can get involved in the annual musical, but also get involved in the elections” urges Nick.
It is quite clear that all of this is purely administrational – the vision of the society is far from the imminent realisation of the pair’s theatrical vision. It is not until I enquire about their personal relationship to CHMS that their eyes light up, and it becomes clear why the weeks of arduous work are worthwhile. “I think the best thing will be opening night, with an audience, to see something you’ve worked on for a year – we’ve worked a whole year on this show – it’s huge”, Alex glances at Nick, who quickly agrees. “I think that the best thing is having a cast of 35, an orchestra of 20, and a production team of 15. So many people, and yet every single one does their job to the highest level possible. They all care, which is what I like. It’s not just us coming up with an idea and trying to make them do it, people are invested in this show. The way that everyone puts themselves at the front of the line going “yeah, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this to the best of my ability”, more than likely at the expense of their course. It’s the way that everyone takes it on and says “I’m going to give this 100%”, which I just love.”
Musicals often have the tendency to perpetrate themselves as frivolous and insubstantial, but behind the entertainment value there is hard work, and lots of it.