Tag Archives: 4 stars

Review: Made in Dagenham

Full of youthful vigour in tackling a valuable and important topic.

FRINGE RUN: 10/8-12/8 @ 15:00; Paradise in Augustines; [£10.50/£8.50]

Who, Where and When: Norfolk NYT; Paradise in Augustines; Friday 11 August, 15:00

The Show

Made in Dagenham tells the story of the female workers at Dagenham’s Ford factory who went on strike in 1968 over equal pay, bringing the issue into the political sphere. It’s based on the film of the same name.

The story moves at a good pace (some cuts may have been made in this production  to limit run-time), and there are some fantastic musical numbers, including a dancing Harold Wilson. The group numbers are clear and powerful.

It lacks the panache of similar shows such as Billy Elliot, but nevertheless tells a moving story through an excellent score.

The Cast

This was clearly a young cast, and there were a few wobbles to begin with. However, as they hit their stride, they really shone in both the singing and acting. There were some very moving performances in the second half in particular.

Overall

Much like Billy Elliot, Pride and the film that inspired this show, the story of the strikes is one that needs to be made accessible to a new generation, and this show does a fantastic job of just that. Add in a talented young cast, and you’ve got a lovely afternoon ahead.

Notable Songs

  • Wassname – Clare (Intermediate)
  • The Letter – Eddie O’Grady (Advanced)

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Shakespeare for Breakfast

Kicking off this year’s Fringe reviews, we start with a trip out for breakfast on Shakespeare Island.

Shakespeare for Breakfast

Image from edfringe.com

FRINGE RUN: 31/7-25/8, not 12/8 @ 10:00; C; [£8.50/£6.50]

Who, Where and When: C Theatre; C, Chambers Street; Saturday 2 August 2014, 10:00

The Show

Shakespeare for Breakfast is a Fringe regular, and this is my third visit. Each year, the group present a different show complete with plenty of comic Shakesperian and pop-culture references.

This year’s show deviates from previous years as the cast have not decided to go for a straight adaptation of a single play. Instead, many of the tropes and characters from some of the most famous plays are woven together into a new story about the evil characters trying to change the plays to become the heroes. I won’t say much more for fear of giving the plot away.

Overall, the story was straightforward, and funny, but it didn’t quite have the charm of the play adaptations in previous years. Amongst those I went to the show with, this was a controversial opinion with some suggesting it was better! However, the writing was still sharp as a tack with plenty of laughs on all levels.

The Cast

I don’t really have a bad word to say about this year’s cast. The play was performed with enthusiasm, which meant even the most weak of jokes still found giggles. There was quite a bit of dual casting, which was part of the comedy, and this only strengthend the performances.

Overall

As always, you can’t go far wrong booking this show, especially as there is a free cup of coffee or tea and a croissant thrown in. If you’ve seen it in years before, you may feel it’s not up to usual standards, but I wouldn’t let that put you off a thoroughly enjoyable morning.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: The Messiah (2014)

As has become tradition for me and my friends, 2014’s theatre-going opens with the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union’s Messiah. For 127 years, ERCU have been performing this work at the Usher Hall on the 2nd of January, and I’ve been every year for the last five years.

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Where and When: Usher Hall; Thursday 2nd January 2014, 12:00

The Show

There is little that I can add to the myriad of essays, books and reviews which have been written about Handel’s Messiah over the years. The Messiah is the archetypal oratorio and possibly one of the best known choral works of all time. It is performed constantly around the world in various forms and is part of the central canon of vocal and choral repertoire. ERUC usually perform the work more or less in its entirety as published in the Watkins-Shaw edition.

This year, there were some cuts, notably, The Trumpet Shall Sound was not sung in full, which was a disappointment. In Part II, items 34 (Unto Which of the Angels said He at any Time) to item 37 (The Lord Gave the Word) were not performed, and in Part III, item 49 (Then shall be brought to pass) to item 51 (But Thanks be to God) were also omitted.

The Cast

The Choral Union themselves were, as always, outstanding. I happen to know a few of the members, and I know that they have very few rehearsals for this concert. Instead, there is an acquired level of knowledge from the annual performance, and a lot of hard work by individuals.

This year’s guest conductor, James Lowe, is usually an orchestral conductor, which led to some interesting experiences for the choir. He did decide to take an interesting interpretation with the choral elements. Many of the arias were taken (to quote a choir member) “at quite a lick”, and no where was this more obvious than in the Hallelujah Chorus, which did not have the usual dramatic changes of tempo. I’m not sure I liked it, but there are few rules with a work such as the Messiah about how one should interpret performance directions!

Overall, the soloists were a weaker group than in previous years. The bass, Andrew McTaggart, was the least notable, showing neither outstanding talent for baroque oratorio, nor a distinct lack thereof. The same could not be said of the mezzo-soprano, Louise Collett, nor the the tenor, Jamie MacDougall. Neither seemed vocally suited to this work. The mezzo-soprano performed with so much vibrato I was unable to tell at points if she intended to sing a trill, or was just wobbling a lot! Despite her rich tone, Ms Collett also failed to properly sing over the orchestra in the lower passages. The tenor was, I suspect, closer to a baritone, and thus lacked the rich, honey sweetness needed to really excel in this work. On reading his biography, I was given to understand than he sings a lot of German lieder, and I feel this would suit his talents rather better.

On a brighter note, however, the soprano, Emma Morwood, was outstanding. Her vocal vibrato was beautifully controlled allowing her to sing the intricate runs, trills and turns of Handel’s score with precision and expression. For the first time, I truly enjoyed all the soprano arias, rather than slowly zoning out as the twittering obscures the technical genius of the composer. I can only hope that she enjoyed her experience sufficiently to want to return and perform in future years.

Overall

Once again, a lovely New Year day out with friends, enhanced by the picnic lunches and traditions of this event. This is, perhaps, the weakest of the performances I have seen so far given the conductor, soloists and cuts, but that does not detract from the wonderful chorus, excellent musicians and remarkable music.

Notable Songs

All the arias in the Messiah appear in graded and diploma lists, and should form part of any classical singer’s repertoire. Rather than listing them all, I recommend purchasing a vocal score and exploring these great works yourself.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: RSNO – Oundjian Conducts The Planets

The first review of the season from the Usher Hall, taking our seats in the gods for Britten’s Simple Symphony, MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 3 and Holst’s The Planets.

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Where and When: Usher Hall, Edinburgh; Friday 4th October, 7:30pm

The Music:

As always with classical concerts, the first half of this performance was supporting choices before the second half’s main event. Opening the evening was Britten’s Simple Symphony, a fitting choice for a season which covers the centenary of the composer’s birth. The Simple Symphony is scored entirely for strings, and the second movement is entirely pizzicato. The first, third and fourth movements were lovely, but it is this second movement that was the standout aspect of this work, demonstrating what can be achieved simply by combining many very quiet sounds together. It is a lovely example of mid-twentieth century creativity as the rules of music were discarded and should most definitely be heard live for best effect.

The second supporting choice was the UK Premiere of MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 3. I have to admit the words “UK Premiere” filled me with trepidation, and I was right to be cautious. This piano concerto certainly showed instrumental creativity, with the piano’s full range  used to great effect. There was also a fabulous range of percussion included. However, the problem is one common to many contemporary works – there was too much going on and nothing was fully developed. None of the themes were allowed to become anything, and instead the music jumped from one idea to another with little sense of congruity. Perhaps this was the point – a statement on the fast pace and underdeveloped nature of modern living. I don’t know, because after a while the effect became all too much and it was hard not to drift off in my own world and stop listening. There’s something to be said for sonata form – following the process of theme, development and recapitulation do make music much easier to listen to and engage with.

The second half was filled entirely with The Planets and what a treat it was. There’s nothing like hearing the swell of the orchestra as they reach the pinnacle of Mars to send a tingle down your spine! Often the movements are heard out of context. I enjoyed hearing the complete work in the order Holst prescribed as there is a surprising sense of continuity as well as contrast from one movement to the next. Neptune was the most surprising as the ladies of the RSNO chorus sang the ethereal closing melody of the work from behind the grand circle, walking away as they sang alone. The effect left the audience mentally floating out into deep space, and marvelling at the wonders of the universe.

The Orchestra:

A marvellous performance by the orchestra and chorus, and a special note for the four gentlemen of the percussion section who were kept fit moving from one instrument to the next. Jean-Yves Thibaudet played beautifully for MacMillan’s piano concerto, and kudos to his page turner – a job I do not envy! All of them were kept in line by the marvellous Peter Oundjian who gave a lovely introduction to the evening’s works between the Britten and MacMillan.

Overall:

A great start to what looks like a fantastic season. The programme was well-balanced and appealing to all ages. It was especially lovely to see a large number of children and families in the audience. I didn’t love the MacMillan, but I can appreciate the technical skill of the work. The Britten and Host works were wonderful.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Dark Road

The Royal Lyceum’s 2013-14 season gets off to a World Premiere start with Ian Rankin’s debut play, Dark Road.

Dark Road

Where & When: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh; Friday 27th September 2013; 7.45pm (Preview show)

The Show:

It will come as no surprise that Ian Rankin’s theatre debt is a tense crime thriller set in Edinburgh. However, this is the only predictable part of this show. Isobel McArthur, the first female police chief constable of Edinburgh, is considering retirement after 30 years service, and this brings her to recall the case which made her career. Alfred Chalmers was convicted of murdering four young women in 1988, but as the play progresses, it seems she is not as comfortable with the outcome of the case as it might have seemed. Through reviewing the case files, Isobel becomes increasingly convinced something is not right, and this is compounded by the actions of her daughter and colleagues.

I don’t wish to give away too much of the plot, but it has some great twists and some startling moments (it’s been a long time since I’ve heard shrieks in the theatre from the audience!). The action is well paced, and the dramatic conclusion resolves the story very well.

There were weaknesses in the script, as is to be expected from a writer who is new to this genre. However, I think Rankin could go on to write excellent theatre, and possibly even better television and film scripts. He certainly has a flair for the kind of edge-of-your-seat drama needed, but has not had to compromise on the complexity of his characters to achieve it. Perhaps some roles were more incidental, but then this was really a play about the strange and co-dependent relationship between the cop and the criminal.

The set had some teething problems, but given that this was a preview, it was forgivable. However, the set was complex compared to the Lyceum’s usual style, and perhaps this was overambitious.

The Cast:

Taking the lead role of Isobel, Maureen Beattie captured her character’s depth, complexity and human fragility well. There was a high level of subtlety in her acting that was clearly communicated to the audience, drawing out a sympathy with her that made the shocking moments all the more hair-raising.

Sara Vickers as Alexandra and Robert Gwilyn as Frank provided excellent supporting characters, although neither were as well-developed in the script as Isobel, and consequently had less to work with. I did enjoy Phil Whitchurch as a deeply insane Alfred Chalmers. The other characters were all more cameos than anything else, but all were well acted – especially the lighter moments provided by Nicola Roy and Jonathan Holt in their roles as Janice and Brian, the young police officers.

Overall:

If you don’t take this too seriously, and enjoy it for what it is, Dark Road is a great night out at the theatre. The story is engaging, the staging provides some real jump-out-of-your-skin moments and the two central characters of Chalmers and McArthur keep you gripped to the end. Shakespeare, it is not, but it is definitely more enjoyable than many other new works at the Lyceum in recent years which have tried to be intelligent, but fail to captivate the audience. I look forward to the TV adaptation in the future that this script is crying out for.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

 

Review: Hairspray

The opening of the 2013/14 theatre season at the Playhouse was bright, colourful and bursting with joy.

Hairspray-show

Where and When: Edinburgh Playhouse; Tuesday 3rd September 7.30pm (Run ends 14 Sept)

The Show

Having seen the film of Hairspray (which I wasn’t overly impressed with) I wasn’t certain whether I’d like the show. I was pleasantly surprised. The film comes over as brash and silly, but on stage, the bold strokes in which this story is painted are just enough to get over a very real and important point about social acceptance while still allowing the audience to have a whole lot of fun.

The basic plot takes place in 1962 and follows the rather “larger than average” Tracy Turnblad who has ambitions to dance on The Corney Collins Show on TV. While planning how to manage it, she meets some of the black kids in her school and begins to question the racial segregation which is considered normal. Comic capers ensue, and a happy ending is had by all. It’s a little bit like someone smushed together Show Boat, Grease and the great British Pantomime tradition (complete with the Dame in the form of Edna Turnblad) and then topped it a little bit of Sixties technicolour. Despite this strange combination, the story works. It’s not too silly, it’s not too brash, it’s not too moralising – it’s just right.

The musical numbers are a standout highlight of this show and one of the reasons for it’s success. Shaiman and Whittman write fantastic songs which manage to pastiche many great 60s hits while still allowing the music to be fresh, innovative and unique. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they were invited to write the music for Bombshell, the fictional musical in the US TV Show Smash.

My final note is that although there’s an “everyone get up and dance” moment at the end of the show, this is very clearly after the curtain call. This small detail made me very pleased because it allows the audience to choose whether to give a standing ovation, rather than being forced into one. It’s my petpeeve to attend shows where I am not given that theatre-goers’ right not to give a standing ovation. However, this production pitched their ending beautifully, allowing me to remain seated during the curtain call, and then stand to join in with the dance break.

The Cast

Surprisingly, the opening night in Edinburgh of this tour featured not one, not two, but six replacement cast members, including the understudies for both Tracy (Nikki Pocklington) and Edna Turnblad (Daniel Stockton). In fact, my ticket-broker-come-musical-theatre-encyclopedia companion took most of the interval to work out how there could be six replacements on stage, but only five swings in the cast (the answer being that Tracy’s understudy is a “walking understudy” meaning she has no other role in the production due to the requirements for the actress to be large – you learn something new every day!). Of course, most of the audience would have no idea, and it certainly didn’t show that this had been the debut performance in their role for several of the actors.

The highlight performance of the evening was, for me, Lauren Hood as Penny Pingleton. Penny is a geeky and awkward character which would be easy to overact, but Ms Hood’s performance was spot on. Paul Rider was also a gorgeously entertaining Wilbur Turnblad opposite the understudy for Edna, Mark Hilton. The weakest performance of the night, sadly but expectedly, was Lucy Benjamin. Although her acting of the part was lovely, and her physicality was good, her singing was rarely singing – very raspy, breathy and strained.

There were some technical issues which also detracted from the largely excellent performances. The balance of the sound was often poor, making it difficult to hear the words to the songs. There was also one glaring costume problem – Edna’s finale dress was clearly intended to be pink (to match Tracy and Wilbur’s costumes), but instead it was a strange, clashing shade of red. I sincerely hope that this was due to costume damage, and not a directorial choice!

Overall

This is a lovely, upbeat musical best seen at the theatre rather than on film. It’ll definitely be appealing for teenage girls as well as adults, making it a good family choice. The lively music will be ringing in your ears long after you leave the theatre, and the moral of the story, about being true to what you believe is right, is one everyone could use a reminder of now and then.

Notable Songs

  • Good Morning Baltimore – Tracey (Medium)
  • I Can Hear the Bells – Tracey (Medium)
  • You Can’t Stop The Beat – Tracey/Chorus (Medium)

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Pippin

A return to Morningside’s Church Hill Theatre for a second American High School Theatre show.

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FRINGE RUN: 16/8-20/8 (Not 17) @ Various; Church Hill Theatre (137); [£5]

Who, Where and When: American High School Theatre; Sunday 18th August 2013; 4.15pm

The Show

Pippin is a fantastic example of a post-modern semi-surreal musical theatre. The show takes influence from the Italian Commedia Dell’arte which influenced everything from Shakespeare to the Pantomime. The basic principle is that characters are charicatured and slightly abserd. This is the case in Pippin, where the story is told by the performing company, and the journey of the central character takes him to meet a range of personalities. It is surprising how similar this seems to the Bernstein operetta Candide in content and physical style.

What makes this show so brilliant is that it is very flexible. There are many smaller parts, so although some leads do have a heavy burden, the ensemble of secondary characters is large and varied. This makes it a surprisingly good choice for a High School Theatre group, as well as being capable of wowing audiences on Broadway by adding performers trained by Circ du Soleil.

I really enjoyed the story which is simple, but gripping, and comes to a dark and challenging conclusion (which I won’t spoil, lest you are able to see this show some day). Every character Pippin meets on the way is colourful and entertaining – from his overly matcho brother (played in this cast by a female actor, which only added to the hilarity) to his dear batty grandmother.

The Cast

Although young, the cast, by-and-large, rose to the challenge of this show. Some vocal performances were perhaps a little too weak. The girl playing Fastrada struggled with the demanding songs and was unable to hold her pitch accurately at times, and the actress playing the grandmother was clearly very nervous despite her wonderfully entertaining acting.

However, all of the cast threw themselves into the mood of the piece which was really the most important aspect in this show.

Overall

Pippin is a fantastic show, and deserves to be remembered as part of musical theatre’s greatest. In particular, the nature of the piece makes it extraordinarily accessible for a wide range of theatre groups (I could imagine it would work well for mixed-ability theatre groups such as Chickenshed). The story is engaging and funny (the hallmarks of Mr Schwartz of Wicked fame) and the characters lively. One can only hope that the Tony Award for Best Revival-winning Broadway production is given a West End transfer and a long run in the UK.

Notable Songs

  • Corner of the Sky – Pippin
  • Simple Joys – Leading Player
  • Spread a Little Sunshine – Fastrada
  • And There He Was – Catherine
  • Extraordinary – Pippin
  • I Guess I’ll Miss the Man – Catherine

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

 

Review: The Okavango Macbeth

The second of the university performing groups on my list this season.

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FRINGE RUN: 12/8-18/8 @ 21:30; Spotlites @ Merchant’s Hall [£9.50/£8.50]

Who, Where and When: Edinburgh Studio Opera; Spotlites @ Merchant’s Hall; Wednesday 14th August 2013, 9.30pm

The Show

This is a new chamber opera (yes, there is such a thing) first produced in 2009 in Botswana and has been performed several times in Edinburgh. The plot takes the outline of the Shakespearian story of Macbeth and transplants the action into a troop of Baboons in the Okavango delta, Botswana. The work has lyrics by Alexander Macall Smith and music by Tom Cunningham.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show itself. The story is largely very well paced, although I missed the traditional final number in an opera that conveys either the moral or the aftermath. I think the omission of this element is deliberate given the subject matter, but I felt it was a little too abrupt.

The show uses actors to portray all the animals, with most of the cast playing the baboon trope from the middle of the first act to the end. There were some wonderful examples of physical movement which really gave life to the animals that were simply designated using stylised props or single garments. The three human characters were also excellently written with distinct characters.

There were a number of excellent solo arias, and some surprisingly catchy group numbers. Cunningham uses reoccurring themes throughout the show to bring a sense of continuity that was very effective. I would love to see a full orchestral arrangement of the score for this show; it is currently only produced for piano.

The Cast

Although this was a university student group, some of the vocal performances were exceptional. All the primatologists (Jerome Knox, Rachel Timney and Laura Reading) were excellent, capturing the mixture of comedy and sincerity needed. Gemma Summerfield was fantastic as Lady Macbeth. (As I suspected, from her performance, Ms Summerfield is an RCS graduate.)

I was initially unconvinced about Ben Tambling as Macbeth until he sung his solo aria in Act Four, when he was really able to show off the upper part of his range. Not only is he a promising tenor, but he could be a promising countertenor.

Some of the ensemble cast were substantially weaker, and I felt some more work could have been done on the style of the singing – there were a few voices that crept towards a musical theatre rather than operatic sound. However, the group numbers were very well balanced and the musical performance was otherwise virtually flawless.

Special mention must be made also of the physicality of the whole cast. Everyone played at least two animals (other than the primatologists) using their bodies as the primary means of communication. Hours of work must have gone into perfecting the movements which were all utterly convincinh. I retain a soft spot for the owl which reappeared to indicate night falling throughout the show.

Overall

Although this was clearly not to the standard of a professional production, the show itself was fantastic, and I hope that it becomes part of the canon of operatic repertoire. The young actors in this production all showed promise, and I hope that they go on to develop their talents further

Notable Songs

There are a number of good arias, but the opera is only published as a whole.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

This was first of a couple of American High School Theatre productions I’m planning to see over the festival. I’m particularly keen to see this show as a number of the songs are listed in the LCM Musical Theatre Exam suggested repertoire.

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FRINGE RUN: 5,6,8&9/8 @ Various; Church Hill Theatre (137); [£5]

Who, Where and When: American High School Theatre; Church Hill Theatre; Friday 9th August 2013, 8.15pm

The Show

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is not a light hearted show. It’s a show about AIDS, and it documents the stories of various victims of the disease. This isn’t a show with a plot – it bears more relation to a cabaret than even a “concept musical”. Songs break up a series of monologues telling the tale of AIDS victims. We start with the “classic” victims – the gay man, the prostitute. Throughout the show, we also see victims of blood transfusions, and maternal transmissions.

What is most striking about this show is the lyrical nature of the monologues. They have an almost Shakespearian quality with very rhythmic language, and a smattering of rhymes. I’d be keen to see a printed copy of the book just to know how the speeches were laid out on the page. In terms of performance, the style of the language made the speeches just stylised enough to stop this show just being a misery-fest which would cause the audience to shut down rather than engage with the issues.

The songs were catchy, and emotive. All of them work as stand-alone songs, although “My Brother Lives in San Francisco” is particularly closely related to the preceeding monologue. I liked some of the songs more than others, but all of them worked really well to lift the show without making light of a serious topic.

I don’t know if the staging of this production was new, or similar to the original version, but the use of projected images was excellent and the dancers were fantastic.

The Cast

The cast of this production were a mixed bag. Some of them were excellent. I particularly loved the group performing “My Brother Lived in San Francisco” – the song almost moved me to tears. Overall, the singers were good, but these are big songs, and I felt the show probably needed more mature voices to really bring out the full potential of many of the songs, such as the rootsy and gospel-esque “Angels, Punks and Raging Queens”. The limited band (just a piano) was also not enough to carry some of the more upbeat numbers such as “Celebrate”.

There was also a very variable quality in the acting. This was a very young cast, and none of them would be old enough to remember the AIDS crisis (in fact, I suspect the show itself is older than most of the cast). The show is full of difficult and complicated emotions, and although the actors all did admirably, many of them were unable to capture the full depth of the speeches. An older cast would likely have been able to tackle this work more convincingly. Some performers were excellent, though tellingly those were the ones given more light-hearted sections.

The finale number was very well staged, with the cast coming into the audience and giving everyone red ribbons, and shaking all our hands to thank us for supporting those who live with AIDS. A retiring collection was made for AIDS charities, and I believe they were able to give at least £4500 from the donations and ticket sale profits.

Notable Songs

  • Angels, Punks and Raging Queens – Female (Medium)
  • And the Rain Keeps Falling Down – Male (Medium)
  • My Brother Lives in San Fransisco – Female (Medium-Hard)

Overall

I loved the show itself, and I am keen to get hold of what music and script that I can as it’s a fantastic resource. However, I’m not sure the cast were really able to tackle the full depth and complexity of the show – something that is highlighted by the fact that the dancers were the best performers by far.

However, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in 1989 and 1990 when this show was first performed in the US. With a full band, and professional actors, it must have been heart-wrenching and challenging. I hope that this show and its songs continue to raise awareness of AIDS long into the future. We may be able to manage the condition in the Western world, but people still, ultimately, die of AIDS.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ [Show 5, Cast 3]


A Final Note…

For more information about AIDS and support for anyone living with AIDS and HIV, or caring for someone, contact Waverley Care. This performance was also supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, who work with the theatre community in the US to help raise awareness and provide support.

Review: A Concrete Jungle Full of Wild Cars

Thanks to Trinity College London, the sponsoring organisation for this show, I was offered two free tickets in exchange for a review. The show wasn’t on my original “must see” list, but the Fringe is all about the unexpected!

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FRINGE RUN: 3/8 – 10/8 @ 19:10; The Space on the Mile (39); [£8.50/£6.50]

Who, Where and When: Trinity College London/Wac Arts; The Space on the Mile; Wednesday 7th August 2013

The Show

A Concrete Jungle Full of Wild Cars won the 2012 Trinity International Playwriting Competition in the category “a play for teenage audiences”. Written by an author of Sierra Leonian origins, the play follows the arrival of three teenagers who have been sent from Sierra Leone to London in the mid 1990s to keep them safe from the civil war.

The most outstanding aspect of this play was the use of language. Characters spoke in both Sierra Leonian creole and in English with a wide range of accents. This rich linguistic variety helped to transport the audience right into the cultural melting pot of London and highlighted key information about the characters quickly, which is vital in a short play (this one runs to 50 minutes). Music was also used to great effect, with a simple folk tune used throughout the story to bring the two worlds of Britain and Sierra Leone together.

In terms of plot, this show is clearly aimed at a teenage audience. The supernatural element of the charm bracelet which Zina is given lifts a story that might otherwise be very dark, and makes it more accessible for teenage audiences. Although the play touches on issues around immigration, child soldiers, and even peer pressure and teenage drinking, it never feels like an “issues” play – it’s just a good story about characters you care about, told really well.

The Cast

Although the cast were largely young, I was exceedingly impressed with the standard of acting. I absolutely loved Elizabeth Alabi as the creole-speaking Gran – a vibrant performance. Sophia Thomas also performed wonderfully as Zina, capturing the conflicted emotions of a young migrant with sensitivity. There,were some weaker performances, Simone Thomas’ Aunty was a little too tentative, and Lula Mebrahtu as Kosey lacked some of the subtlety of the actors playing his sisters.

Overall, however, the cast certainly lived up to the excellent script. The accapella singing was excellent, and there was some brilliant West African dancing too. All in all, impressive performances, and much better than many others I’ve seen at the Fringe over the years.

Overall

The script was excellent, and the cast lived up to its demands without difficulty. I enjoyed the simple but effective plot, and went away humming the catchy African melodies sung by the cast. I do, however, wonder if this show did not attract large audiences (and better reviews) because it is, ultimately, a play for 12 to 16s. There isn’t the depth and complexity in the script that the subject matter demands for this to really challenge and engage what is, at the Fringe, a largely adult audience. However, I hope that the cast continues to enjoy performing and that this play is picked up by schools and youth theatres in the future, as it certainly deserves to have a long life.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)