Tag Archives: fringe 2013

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: Merrily We Roll Along

First and only Sondheim of the season.

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FRINGE RUN: 12/8-24/8 (not 18th) @ 10:10; Greenside [£5]

Who, Where and When: Red Oak Theatre; Greenside; Saturday 17th August 2013; 10.10am

The Show

One should be under no illusions about Sondheim. His work is genius, but it’s not easy to get right. Merrily We Roll Along follows the life of composer Franklin Shepard, starting at the end of the story as his success crumbles away around him when he realises that on the way to fame and wealth, he has lost the people he cares about the most. The story then travels back in time, reversing the decisions Franklin makes, and ending at the start, where he and his closest friends have nothing but optimism.

As is always the case, Sondheim’s musical score is exquisite, with multi-layered harmonies and a huge range of songs incorporating both lyrical numbers, and more dialogue-based elements. Tying the whole score together, the title song “Merrily We Roll Along” is used to designate the movement back in time.

The story as a whole is typical of the “American dream” genre of American art. In this particular case, some of the American dream rhetoric is challenged (that about wealth and fame being the highest form of success) while others (doing what your heart desires no matter what) are underscored as morally good. Certainly, if this is Sondheim commenting on his experience of success, he implies that his fame as a composer is not as important to him as the musical works he has produced. However, I doubt Mr Sondheim is strapped for cash yet he censures Franklin for making decisions which bring financial gain at the cost of his art.

The Cast

Unfortunately, I feel Stephen Sondheim is in the same category as Jason Robert Brown – best not attempted by amateurs. Although this cast did well to perform the music, I felt there was significant depth missing in their acting performances. I didn’t really believe the depth of the friendship between Franklin (Henry Adams) and Charley (Andrew Horton) – I mostly wondered what they could possibly have seen in each other. Franklin was too business minded, and Charley too geeky, and so they seemed to fundamentally have nothing in common. Equally, though Mary Flynn (Rosie Archer) is supposed to be in love with Franklin, she mostly came off as lonely and desperate, rather than devoted. I felt the direction left this whole show a cast of caricatures, which trivialised the deep and powerful emotions running through the musical score.

There were also significant problems with audibility at times as not all of the cast had mics. Although the central cast were afforded amplification, there was no such grace given to the supporting chorus or peripheral characters and as a consequence there were a lot of lines which were not clear over the volume of the live band. It would have been a better decision to either mic everyone, or no one, rather than having a mixture.

The band, I must say, were brilliant, and I really enjoyed being able to see the musicians on set. I have seen shows of this difficulty suffer from lack of a conductor, but that was not the case here.

Overall

This is not one of Sondheim’s most innovative or exciting musicals, although it is not without merits. However, I was underwhelmed by the performances of this cast. A less difficult show might have seen them produce very good theatre. As it is, this is little more than mediocre. The band, should, however, be congratulated for being the highlight of the show for me – I actually think I spent as much time watching the musicians as the actors!

Notable Songs

  • Franklin Shepard Inc – Charley (Hard)
  • Not a Day Goes By – Beth (Medium)
  • Good Thing Going – Charley (Hard)

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: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

A return to the world of musicals inbetween trips top two operas.

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FRINGE RUN: 13/8-26/8 @ 20:10; Paradise in Augustine’s; [£12.00/£10.00]

Who, Where and When: EUSOG; Paradise in Augustine’s; Tuesday 13th August 2013, 8.10pm

The Show

When the advert says “Tony Award Winning Show”, you should always beware that this can be entirely false advertising. In this case, it was the cast in a revival run that won the awards, and not, strictly speaking the show. Frankly, that’s no surprise. Although the script was peppered with the astute comedy you’d expect from a show based on the Peanuts comic strip, it has no real substance.

The show is constructed essentially as a sketch show linking reenactments of the comic strips by theme, and using songs where appropriate to move the action along. There is nothing really innovative, or exciting about the show, and the lack of central plot leaves nothing behind after the laughter has faded. Ostensibly, Charlie Brown goes on a journey to find out if he is a good man, but there is no real development of this theme in the show, and his journey just ends with Lucy telling him he is one before the curtain falls.

None of these failings in the show itself should detract from the fact that the original source material is excellent and as a result is not an unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. However, the show leaves no lasting impression and is easily forgotten. It’s regular revival can be attributed primarily to the small cast and simple staging, as well as a nostalgia for Peanuts. If there was a deeper point or message it was too well hidden.

The Cast

The EUSOG cast were a mixed bunch. I’m given to understand some of the parts have been double cast, so the second cast might be stronger. I was also given no cast list, and the EUSOG website did not give one either.

The actor playing Charlie Brown did a sterling job in the opening as he responded to various voices off stage. This nuanced portrayal of the unconfident Charlie was sustained throughout the performance. The actor’s singing was good and could be heard clearly for the most part.

The two women taking the roles of Lucy and Sally also did a very good job of characterisation, and both sung well. Lucy’s tendency to sing deliberately off-key was both well executed and a tad grating by the end of the show (though I think this is how the part is normally played). Sally was by far the strongest vocalist to the point where her voice stood out in group numbers.

The other three, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy, were significantly weaker. All of them sung songs during which some or all of the words were completely lost because of their inability to project sufficiently for the space. Their acting and characterisation were good, but not enough to make up for many words being inaudible.

Overall

The show itself is light and enjoyable, but is by no means Broadway’s finest hour. More importantly, the cast suffered heavily from a lack of microphones on a very deep and acoustically dead stage. This was not the right venue for this show, and it demonstrates the importance of the getting the right relationship between the group, their show and the venue. If you are a fan of Peanuts or like that genre of humour, you will likely enjoy this show, but otherwise I found little to recommend it when there are many other much better shows around.

Notable Songs

  • The Kite – Charlie Brown (Medium)
  • Red Baron – Snoopy (Medium)
  • Suppertime – Snoopy (Medium-Hard)
  • New Philosophy – Sally (Medium)

Rating ♥ ♥

Review: Hansel and Gretel

The first opera of the Fringe this year.

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FRINGE RUN: 12/8-24/8 (not 18th) @ 17:45; Space @ Surgeon’s Hall (53); [£14.00/£11.00/£7.50]

Who, Where and When: Opera Holloway; Space @ Surgeon’s Hall; Tuesday 13th August 2013; 5.45pm

The Show

This production was a new translation of Humperdink’s German opera Hansel und Gretel. I always prefer to see operas in their original language as productions as translations never quite sound as good when sung, and in the age of supertitles, there’s really no need to sing in English. However, Hansel und Gretel is normally performed in English, and this translation (by the director Christopher Moon-Little) is certainly up-to-the-minute in its cultural references.  The staging too has been directed in a very contemporary way. For this reason, the show is likely to be very accessible to older children, teens and other opera novices.

The music for this show is excellent, and I enjoyed a number of the arias. Humperdink’s pacing has the most common opera problem (one that many films face too) – strange pacing. The introductory scene is very long, although there is a wide variety of music, and singers that lifts it. However, the climax is very Witch heavy and has little musical interest and variety or drama to sustain what is a very long section. This, as in many other operas, is made all the longer by the well-paced action throughout the middle section of the work.

I enjoyed this opera, and it is a great “starter” opera – rather like a sweet Rosé is often the introduction to the rich and varied world of wine. There is plenty to inspire the audience, and this creative new staging and translation. I’d have rather heard it in German, but then I’m a geek!

The Cast

There is much to admire in this cast – full of strong voices. The leads playing Hansel (Katie Coventry) and Gretel (Jenny Stafford) created a wonderfully believable sibling relationship switching between love and hate. I also really enjoyed the characterisation employed by Fiona Hymns as the Dew Fairy and Krystal MacMillan as the Sandman.

Although her vocal performance was excellent, I think there were some weaknesses in Sarah Denbee’s acting performance as the Witch. Unlike the other characters, I was concious of the fact she was acting – her performance lacked a depth of conviction which left her character a little shallow and fake.

The musicians were also excellent and deserve recognition for their flawless performance.

Notable Songs

  • Sandman’s Song (Medium-Hard)
  • Dew Fairy’s Song (Medium-Hard)
  • Mother’s Song (Hard)

Overall

Despite my dislike of operas in translation, I couldn’t help but enjoy the light-heartedness of this version of Hansel and Gretel.  Any weaknesses in performances by the cast were not sufficient to distract from the overall quality of the music, acting and singing. I imagine families will really enjoy this production, as will both opera lovers and opera virgins. If you’ve not been to see an opera before, I can’t recommend many better places to start than this production.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5/5)

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: Putting It Together

The second of Trinity College London’s Fringe Shows this year, which they also invited me to review.

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FRINGE RUN: 7/8 – 10/8 @ 20:45; Paradise at the Vault (29); [£7.00/£6.00]

Who, Where and When: Trinity College London/The Dance School of Scotland; Paradise at the Vault; Wednesday 7th August 2013; 8.45pm

The Show

There’s not much in the way of the show to review. Three actors performed a linked set of speeches, songs and dance, each centred around a theme. I was impressed with the variety of content, and the way in which the scenes were linked. It certainly inspired me to look more at Trinity musical theatre exams in the future.

The Cast

The first performer, Dylan Wood, chose the theme “As Blue as the Pacific” which was a series of speeches and songs telling the tale of a man spending time in prison. His dancing during “Cool” (West Side Story) captured both the flavour of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography and the feelings of his character of being trapped in the prison cell. I’m not sure I loved the interpretation of “Purpose” (Avenue Q), but overall this was a strong vocal performance. The extended monologue about a fork was superb – Dylan shows real talent as an actor.

Our second act of the night was Caitlin Muir on “Battle of the Sexes”. I really enjoyed the opening number, a duet about the titular war. Unfortunately, Google has, so far, let me down in my search for the title and origins of the song (if anyone reading this knows, please do comment below!). I really enjoyed Caitlin’s speech about her husband’s fat arse, which elicited plenty of laughter from the audience. However, I don’t think the songs chosen did justice to her voice, which was had very little belt to it, and would probably be more suited to operatic soprano roles than musical theatre ones. Both Caitlin and Amy, the final performer, were overly nasal which spoiled voices which otherwise have great potential.

The final theme of the evening was “The Single Life” performed by Amy Maltman. Her dancing was great, although she perhaps over-sold “Gimme, Gimme” (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as it isn’t quite such a cheerful song in its original context. Her dancing was excellent, and this was brilliantly reprised with her efforts on “Ring Them Bells” (A Kander and Ebb song from Liza with a Z).

Overall

The performance as a whole was a mixed effort with some excellent performances, but a number of much weaker ones too. Given the age and stage of the performers this was an admirable effort, but too inconsistent to be awarded the highest ratings. All the performers this evening have plenty of potential, and I hope that they will all keep honing their skills in the future.

Of course, you can’t judge this production by any one review (even this one) as there are different performers scheduled every night of the run who will doubtless have different strengths and weaknesses. No matter who is performing, you’ll hear more than enough musical and theatrical gems to be glad you went.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥

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)

Review: I Need a Doctor: The Unauthorised Whosical Adventure

In honour of the 50th year of the Doctor, a whole new adventure comes to Edinburgh…

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FRINGE RUN: 2/8 – 26/8 (not 14,20) @ 14:30; Pleasance Beside (33); [£11.00/£10.00]

Who, Where and When: Stormy Teacup Theatre; Pleasance Beside; Friday 2nd August 2013

The Show

Being a somewhat dedicated Whovian, spotting I Need a Doctor: The Unauthorised Whosical Adventure in the theatre section was my Fringe planning discovery of the day. We made it only by the skin of our teeth, but it’s not the Fringe if you’ve not “only just made it” at least once!

A smile-inducing voicemail message preceeds calls from various Doctor Who stars (well impersonated, I presume, by Jamie and Jess) declining the offer to be in the show by way of introduction. This is followed by the first scene whereby Jamie (James Wilson-Taylor) receives a “cease and desist” letter from Stephen Moffat and as a result has had to rewrite the whole show to avoid using any BBC Copyright terms. This provides a number of funny jokes, but thankfully avoids becoming overused. There are some lovely references to other musicals including Wicked and Les Miserables which will please theatre geeks in attendance.

The songs are brilliantly done, and I still have the theme song of “I need a Doctor” as sung by Jess (Jessica Spray) running in my head days later. I particularly enjoyed the Bossa Nova version of the Doctor Who theme tune as played by the tireless keyboardist (who, sadly, I don’t know the name of).

The story runs through a delightfully Whovian (if Scooby Doo-vian!) plot, but while the Doctor and his Companion are vanquishing the monsters, Jamie and Jess’ friendship seems to be underpressure…

The Cast

Jamie and Jess not only do a fabulous job of bringing life to the (Non-BBC Copyrighted) companion Fiona McFeisty (Jess) and the Slime Monster, the Doctor, the Master and a few others besides (Jamie), but they also genuinely appeared to be good friends trying to put on a show together. I can’t fault their boundless enthusiasm or their acting as its their personality which brings life to all the comedy.

Notable Songs

If only there was a hope of a few of the songs being released, but alas that might induce a real cease and desist letter. So, I can’t list any notable songs, but why not be inspired to write your own Who-inspired tune?

Overall

This is an excellent family show and an excellent fan show with two charismatic actors who seem set to carry of this show to great applause right to the end of their run. In fact, I’m almost tempted to go back this weekend to see how the script has evolved to incorporate the latest Doctor Who news. If you’ve come to the Fringe for postmodern theatre, edgy issues or shocking theatre, this is not it – but there’s definitely something in it for everyone else.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5/5)

Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman

From the writers of Cabaret and Chicago, Kander and Ebb have produced yet another dark, twisty and surreal musical. The group performing are students from UCL.

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FRINGE RUN: 1/8 – 15/8 @ 12:20; C minus 1 (34); [£9.50/£7.50/£5.50]

Who, Where and When: UCeLswhere, C minus 1, Friday 2nd August 2013, 12:20pm

The Show

Being a huge fan of Kander and Ebb’s most famous shows and their general musical style, I looked forward to seeing one of their lesser known works. Kiss of the Spider Woman takes its inspiration from an Argentine novel. This is reflected in the music which makes wonderful use of the Latin American sound to create vibrant song and dance numbers that lift an otherwise depressing story.

The first third of the show felt a little disorientated, and I was struggling to follow what was going on initially. I’m not entirely sure if that was the show or the cast as they got into their stride. However, once it got going, the plot moved along at a good speed and the musical numbers came thick and fast.

The biggest flaw with this show is that the subject matter is exceedingly heavy, to the point where the musical numbers are unable to lift it. There is also not the happy ending seen in Chicago that makes you forget that you just watched a show about women on death row. In Kiss of the Spider Woman, it’s too hard to escape that you’re watching a prison drama about gay men and Marxist revolutionaries. I wonder if this is because although the main characters do sing at times, the central singing role is given to a figment of Molina’s imagination.

The Cast

Given that this was a student production, the cast did a great job. This musical deals with deep adult themes, and many of the leads really captured the sense of both the story and the style in which it was told. Particular mention must be made of Stephanie Epperlein as Aurora as this is a hefty role with lots of singing, and her performance would not be out of place in a professional production. Of the two cell mates, Ben Whittle was a stronger Molina than Thomas Chesover as Valentin but they developed their relationship through the play well (though the latter did, perhaps, have a touch too much of the “Kurt Hummel”s about him…). The notable exception to the directorial choices was that of the Warden played by Jack Oliver Aaron. The character performs a role similar to the Emcee in Cabaret, but the director of this show had him played as aggressive. I felt he would have been more intimidating had he been played as calmly evil.

Notable Songs

  • And the Moon Grows Dimmer – Aurora (Medium)
  • I Do Miracles – Aurora/Marta (Medium)
  • You Could Never Shame Me – Molina’s Mother (Medium)
  • She’s a Woman – Molina (Medium)
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman – Aurora (Medium)

Overall

Kander and Ebb’s thirteenth collaboration is good, but not excellent. While their wonderful musical style captures the Latin American vibe, the source material lets them down. There are no happy endings for the characters as in Chicago, nor is the tragic end left to the imagination as in Cabaret. Kiss of the Spider Woman ultimately leaves you feeling quite down and has no glimmer of hope, which is not what you want from a musical. Overall, the cast were competent but not outstanding. There were some very talented performers which lifted the show, but not enough to overcome the misery of the show itself.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ (3/5)