Sunday, 24 August 2008

Showstoppers: An Improvised Musical, A Brilliant Success

'Showstoppers: An Improvised Musical'
Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Considering myself a critic who, though still young, is particularly hard to impress, I sceptically handed over my ticket and settled into an Edinburgh University Lecture Theatre. After all, £3 isnt too large a sum to waste.

A fake phone call later, I was enthralled. After audience participation compiled an intreiging list of themes, settings and styles, the team of six actors trouped into action, aided by their 'writer' to stage right. Opening with a Rogers&Hammerstine-esque scene on the side of Mount Vesuvius, the team brilliantly and creatively worked their way musically and in dialogue through a story of revolution, ending in a James Blunt style finale in the face of the famous historic eruption. Particularly noteworthy was the use of props and costume, which was hardly any. The set consisted of two moveable crates, and the costumes largely of scarves and hats in red over outfits of black. Simple, but VERY effective.

I know what you are thinking, because I thought the same. How could the troupe, good actors as they may well be, improvise a musical on the spot depending on what the audience fancy? I have no answers for you. Refusing to believe I would enjoy myself, I spent the first twenty minutes of the show trying to figure out some sort of system behind their madness, but in the face of sheer improvisation experience, I simply had to render myself a fan and sit back and laugh!

My personal favourite song in the whole show, was when one of the two female peasants, a bread seller, was directed by the off-stage writer to perform a song in the style of Andrew Lloyd-Webber about Olives and Bread. She simply topped the bill, her brain working so fast you could almost see the steam, coming up with lines like 'they said bread would make you fatter, so I invented ciabatta!'. Even a botched key change within her song was quickly put to rights when the writer cleverly declared it to have been his mistake, and took it out of the show.

If anyone gets the chance to see this show in the dying days of Edinburgh Fringe 2008, then I would recommend it above any others I saw. If not, then I for one am hoping they return next year to amaze and thoroughly entertain an audience!

Cluedo Solves Youth Theatre Crimes

Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Youth productions cannot always be depended on for a strong cast with the ability to entertain. I went into 'Cluedo' unaware that it would be a youth production, but as soon as I became aware I became uneasy. This cast however, pulled out all the stops and I felt it was an hour and a half well spent in their company.

'Cluedo' was a musical take on the popular family board game, with all the traditional characters as suspects of a murder, being interviewed by a mysterious Inspector Cluedo. The musical infused creativity with existing well known musical numbers, pulled from their original shows and given a new and interesting home. This was an effective tactic, and songs such as Reverend Green 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' and Colonel Mustard enjoying 'P-O-S-H Posh', and it allowed the actors to suplement their characters with a musical background of types. The recurrent chorus number was Chicago's 'Cell Block Tango' which worked particularly well with the spotlight and freezeframe system of the interviews.

The actors themselves, though some notably amateur, others were rather impressive. The cockney Mrs White, the american Cluedo and Colonel Mustard all sported brilliantly maintained accents congruent with their acting ability, and Professor Plum and Reverend Green contrasted just enough to show the well capable merits of both actors.

With a larger venue and audience, this show really could have a good future. Keeping many members of this cast could even work long term, though as a performer myself I am always amazed when half the cast do not realise the importance of smiling graciously when being applauded. Anyone who is in Edinburgh, this production is definately worth your time and money.

Gavin and Gavin: An Acquired Taste

'Gavin and Gavin'
Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the home of comedians big and small alike, the hard decision is always how to decide which show to see. The choice to see 'Gavin and Gavin' was based on favourable reviews by reputable newspaper The Times. I would like to meet their reviewer, as they must certainly be a unique sort of person.

Performing in the downstairs Sportsmans Bar in the Gilded Balloon meant the sisters Sharon and Loretta Gavin were faced with a small venue, and at this particular showing the audience was less than half full. I can appreciate that a hard audience can make or break a comedian or two, but I refuse to believe that the audience were anything other than usual.

The interesting 'style' of comedy employed by the Gavin sisters is most definately an acquired taste. Smaller, younger, unmarried Gavin was the easier of the two, as she mainly narrated the blatantly pre-conceived and pre-written script. Skinny, married Gavin was verging on painful to watch and listen to. The main gist of the comedy was crude. Very crude. Crude in a tasteless, excrutiatingly embarassing sort of way. Crude in a way that makes Very Rude feel embarassed. Crude in the kind of way I can imagine even a football or rugby team wouldnt enjoy unless they were tanked to the eyeballs.

Dont get me wrong, there were some enjoyable parts of the show. Like when Married Gavin was particularly bitter about the lack of audience enthusiasm and was making fun of them. Otherwise, the story was vaguely well conceived - something about growing up in an Irish family in London, filled with annecdotes about Irish family life. Perhaps this might have been a little funnier if it hadnt been for the fact that my companion, irish born and bred, punctured the whole scenario by remarking to me that most irish families were infact, nothing like that any more. Perhaps it was before my time.

If you are in Edinburgh and particularly fancy a sister act of comedy, then I suppose Gavin and Gavin might be your only choice. Alternatively, if you are a very drunk, loud and loutish sports team of some form, please do pay rather a lot to see it and let me know if you enjoy the vulgar humour. Anyone else, I recommend steering clear.