Joe Marinari speaks to Ed Blagrove about casting 130 children and teenagers to stage a musical at Oxford's New Theatre in just 10 days.

ED Blagrove is the director of Stage Experience’s Guys and Dolls Jr, which opens at the New Theatre tonight, as well as last year’s highly successful show Fame. Stage Experience aims to get 8 to 18-year-olds involved in semi-professional performances.

I ask Ed what drew him back to the New Theatre for a second helping. “Well, I enjoyed Fame,” he replies enthusiastically. “It was a nice mix of artistic achievement and getting to work with young people at a local theatre.

“And as the cast are very early on in their theatrical development, they are almost like a blank canvas, so I don’t make them develop as I want them to, I just help them develop in their own way. Acting is an art that comes from within. I just bring it out.”

Even so, trying to get 130 young people to get a complex performance together in 10 days sounds like an impossibility.

“Discipline can be hard,” he admits, “but working with a cast that young and large is the best and worst part. You just get so much energy from the children, especially that many of them. But there’s more than one way to paint a portrait — there’s hundreds of different methods, and I just try and find the one the kids prefer.”

But ask Ed, who lives in Abingdon, whether he prefers working with children or older teenagers and he chuckles and attempts to be diplomatic.

“It’s a bit of a politician’s answer, but I’m not sure. The ones aged 8-10 are fantastic because they come coded to learn and listen. They’re full of energy and want to be working every second.

“But the older kids are starting to become more independent and that’s great as well because it really allows them to start developing techniques.”

As Ed is only 28 himself, while not “down with the kids”, he does feel able to “communicate not dictate”, which helps when getting the show on the road. “Well 52 hours isn’t a lot,” he agrees, “but I’ve got a great team working with me, from stage hands and assistant directors to musical directors and many more. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Even so, breathing life into a musical that has been performed thousands of times, but without a big budget, professional cast, new vision or plenty of rehearsal time sounds like a tall order. So how will he keep it new and fresh? “Numbers,” he replies with a laugh. “You’ll rarely see this performed by 130 people. We also have an emphasis on sub-plots. I don’t believe in choruses, I believe each of those 130 should embody a character with their own motives and desires.”

Yet despite the huge task he faces, Ed is clearly relishing every moment. “If someone gave me a piece of paper and said ‘write your ideal job’, it would be directing at a local, resident company,” he says. “So I’m really pleased Stage Experience wanted me back because I know if I hadn’t done well someone else could’ve taken the director’s chair.”

As for the thrill, the smell of greasepaint can’t be beaten.

“Nowadays,” Ed laments “a blockbuster can fill the screen with tons of special effects, which will look fairly convincing but it can’t emulate real life. It can’t ever replace the energy and empathy of someone on-stage.

“3D cinema is big at the moment but I can’t really see why. Theatre always has been, and long may it continue.”

* Guys and Dolls Jr opens tonight at the New Theatre and runs until Saturday. Box office on 0844 8713020.