Moonshine: The Billy Grubb Story
by David Wrightam
Class Act Productions
Parkway Theatre, Cleethorpes
03 November 2023
In the final play of three, performed over a two-day period, Class Act Productions definitely saved the best until last. Moonshine: The Billy Grubb Story is clearly very dear to the heart of director Amanda Pearce who has worked on four productions of this play by David Wrightam. I can understand why. The play gives the young cast a brilliant platform upon which they can shine. The play is complex and involves a range of high emotions which if not handled deftly could be its undoing. I am delighted to say that this is not the case here. The robust young cast once again perform with energy and in this case, empathy. In a world where you can be anything you want, it is important to be nice above all else. Moonshine reminds us that this is not always the case for those who are different.
Billy Grubb is a young man in 1880s America. He is what may be described as a "simple" boy. He has learning difficulties and struggles in life having been starved of oxygen during his difficult birth. He lives with his loving mother and brutish, overbearing father Cora and Ethan Grubb. He is teased and mocked by the other young people of the town until he meets Flora and Ellie May at school, and forms a special bond with Flora. The story takes many twists and turns but is at times shocking and sometimes very powerful.
In the title role, Jayke Gray gives an exceptional performance as Billy. He really digs deep to connect to this beautiful soul who doesn't want to harm others and refuses to fight back when pushed or beaten. Gray manifests a delicacy that evokes sympathy from the audience but elevates that sympathy to another level altogether by the play's conclusion. I cannot say strongly enough how impressed I was by his performance. A series of strong performances, led by Gray are worthy of note. Abbie Dixon as Billy's momma Cora is also really impressive. She transmits a warmth and affection of a other for her "special" son so convincingly and is wonderful in this role. Billy's father, Ethan is played by Joshua Watson in a challenging role as the unforgiving drunk who blames much of the family's misfortune on their son. His domestic violence is redolent of the era, but none the less shocking when it is manifested. As Their neighbours, Will Smith and Abby Reece playing Jud and Martha Samuels give extremely clear and effective portrayals of a couple who have raised multiple children, are coping with the harsh reality of life as farmers and carry themselves with grace and humility. Georgia Scott gives a sterling performance as the caring and compassionate Flora who Billy relies upon until her departure to train as a teacher. Declan Rising is a magnificently benevolent Father Delaney, offering care and comfort to Billy as he retells his story and the whole ensemble succeed in adding colour and energy to the play as and when necessary.
Also featured in the cast are Adam Bennett, Jake Taylor, Eve Donovan, Poppy Webb-Jones, Rubee Street, Charlie Henderson, Charlie Walker, Lindon Rising, Oli Goodman, Ben Curtis, Olivia Ornsby, Charlie Ann Donoghue, Katy Jackson, Scarlet Hickson, Izzy Forman, Imogen Taylor, Charlotte Rea, Ayla Jafri and Aaron Parker.
Once again, the simple set suggests many locations within the action of the play and the costuming blends seamlessly with the period and provides a wonderful picture for the young performers. Special mention must also go to the many helpers behind the stage too as to bring three quality productions to the stage over two nights is exceptionally difficult and the director, producers, wardrobe department, props department tech team, stage management, crew and student welfare team and the parent chauffeurs, all play vital roles in providing the support to the young performers and being able to give them the platform to showcase their talents. Without them, the area would be far less rich creatively. I urge you to continue to support this talented company when they reappear next year and finally, congratulations to those students of Class Act who appeared in all three plays this weekend that is no mean feat and I tip my cap to you. You won't get many opportunities in life to do that sort of thing and you should enjoy it while you can. This is a special time for you.
Andy Evans 03 November 2023
All photography by Holly Chapman Smileshoot Photography copyright 2023.