Posted: 09 Feb 2018 04:13 AM PST
Church Hill Theatre: Tue 6 – Sat 10 Feb 2018
There is plenty of talent, both on stage and off, in the Edinburgh University Footlights production of Fame – The Musical, up at the Church Hill Theatre to Saturday.
When you can hear it, this is a production which shines gloriously. However the orchestra really needs to get its own talents under control, as it has a tendency to swamp rather than serve the stage; while the production team doesn’t always have the courage of its own convictions.
The main thing here, though, is telling the story of the group of students who attend to the Performing Arts academy in New York, from the moments of receiving their letters of acceptance through to their graduation as the class of ’84.
And in that regard, this is a bright, energetic production. Choreographer Caili Crow has the measure of her dancers who deliver her well-used motifs with flare. Director Caitlin Powell has strong ideas, too, such as the semi-immersive pre-show, with the cast throng in the auditorium before curtain up establishing their characters.
On stage, the quality of the individual performers – whether they are in the named roles or are simply part of the chorus or the dance ensemble – is never less than solid and, in a couple of instances, quite exemplary.
Characterisation is well-delivered through the musical’s big numbers and the main individual characters are suitably established. If Powell makes good use of the less-confrontational amateur version of the show, she doesn’t always get her actors to develop their characters as they might.
The pairing which stands out is that of dancers Iris – initially seen as aloof but discovered to be from a poor background, and street dancer Jack. Hannah Barnetson as Iris and Liam Bradbury as Jack, who can’t read, find a real way of expressing the evolution of both relationship and their individual characters through their dance performances.
They are well supported by the dance ensemble, it must be said. The trio of Anna Steen, Nicole Stanton and Lauren Robinson provide key ensemble work in which ever style Caili Crow throws at them. And Trevor Lin excels, particularly, in odd individual moments such as the opening scene where he is seen practicing in front of the class mirror.
Carmen provides the backbone narrative of the show, and Joffroy gives a strong acting and vocal performance in the role. Her dancing is noticeably tentative, however, and is somewhat at odds with the self-confidence of her character.
establish the nuances
When it comes to the singing, Hoult as Serena has the benefit of having the show’s two best numbers. Having done much to establish the nuances of her relationship with the serious Nick, who is more intent on extending his art than having a college romance, she gets Lets Play A Love Scene.
Hoult’s account of the number hints at what she is capable of, despite straining against the orchestra to be heard. But she really shines through in Think Of Meryl Streep, conveying a real understanding of the words while nailing her phrasing and delivering with real power in what is the first outstanding performance of the show.
Galloway goes great guns in the ribald Can’t Keep It Down – providing plenty of outrageous sight gags. That the character lacks a serious backstory is down to this version of the script, but Galloway does what he can.
The whole production revels in its big set pieces – sometimes to the point of losing those interesting moments of transition. If that means that the roles of the teaching staff are slightly less accentuated than they might be, it does leave the very excellent Mhairi Goodwin with plenty of room in the role of English teacher Miss Sherman.
Goodwin hits her performance of These Are My Children with pin-point accuracy, creating one of those “something-in-the-eye” moments. She gets both Miss Sherman’s own feelings of inadequacy and the fierce passion she brings to her job. That, and a glorious delivery which never loses its nuance as it grows in its power.
Bright and celebratory, this is a production which delivers on flair and is great to look at, but doesn’t always find the subtlety available to it. Get a more even balance between stage and pit however, and it would be more than half way there.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
Posted: 08 Feb 2018 11:22 AM PST
Bedlam: Wed 7 – Sat 10 Feb 2018
The energy and commitment of Tom at the Farm at the Bedlam are more than enough to overcome some less convincing moments and provide a compellingly dark spectacle.
The Tom of the title is an advertising executive who goes to his unnamed partner's family home, to attend his partner's funeral after his sudden death. He soon learns, however, that his partner's mother Agatha has never heard of him, and is unaware her son was gay. Agatha's son Francis did know about his brother, but soon lets Tom know in uncertain terms that it would be better for him to conceal the truth.
What starts off as a seemingly realistic depiction of small-town homophobia soon spirals off into a brooding tale of secrets and repression – part psychological thriller, part soap opera, part hyper-stylised Greek tragedy, part something else that is just ineffably weird.
To be fair, this largely arises during Tom's peculiar habit of speaking his thoughts aloud in between the dialogue. These Strange Interludes add another level of artifice that Yann Davies (Tom) and director Joe Christie never quite deal with. While they are undoubtedly meant to be jarring, they do need to be reconciled with the action eventually.
Christie's combination of stylisation and naturalism is largely sure-footed, however, and he coaxes performances from the cast that are (with a couple of caveats) very impressive. Davies may be altogether too fresh-faced to entirely embody the more urbane urbanite side of Tom. His portrayal is otherwise compelling, with some difficult emotional shifts handled with a great deal of truth.
Peter Morrison similarly does not always carry off the hulking menace of the conflicted Francis, the horny-handed son of toil capable of ripping a man's face apart. However, the energy and desperation in his performance hang in the air as strongly as the (somewhat overused) smoke. Admittedly, that smoke does tend to mingle with the audience's breath on one of those defiantly sub-zero winter evenings at the Bedlam, where hats, coats and multiple layers are an absolute necessity.
Tilly Botsford (Agatha) has that perennially difficult task for a young performer in playing a much older part. We are told that she is losing her mind to age and religion, but that does not quite come across. What is totally successful is the way she inhabits a character riven by grief and confusion.
Kathryn Salmond's Sara is supposedly a much younger character, but if anything appears older than Agatha simply in the way she holds herself on stage. Salmond's performance is accomplished, however. She overcomes the drawbacks of a character that is dramatically and thematically troublesome (as well as providing real problems with the language switch).
Iona Tangri's set is a notable success. It features several discrete acting areas without becoming over-fussy, and makes the Bedlam stage appear far larger than it really is.
Technical manager Elissa Webb also deserves great credit for a beautifully realised production. Huw Jones's sound design is a particular strong point – although there are a couple of moments where important dialogue is rendered inaudible.
There are things about the narrative that do not quite cohere, not least its odd length. The full length play that does not quite justify an interval may be all the rage now, but here – as so often – there are unavoidable hints that judicious pruning would have made a one-acter of real tautness and tension. Instead, it falls short of greatness, although it will surely be seen in the UK again, and the EUTC deserve credit for staging it.
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Read an interview with director Joe Christie here: Joe at the Helm.
The script and film adaptation are available to buy on Amazon:
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