Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Facebook Don't

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 09

One could be forgiven for thinking that Facebook: The Musical would be about Facebook, that it would be a clever and insightful idea given Facebook’s current popularity, and that it would be an interesting show. Sadly, it did not quite fit this bill, due to falling far short of the marker.

Starting with a relay of ‘status updates’ about the five different characters to set the scene, the action did not take long to get going, but it was soon clear that the story didn’t have a lot of relevance to Facebook. In fact, it was almost possible to omit Facebook entirely from the show, and do it no real damage. The show was over long and tedious in places, and there was little real wit involved in the writing. More than one audience member resented paying £9.50 to be exposed to a plot which, though mildly interesting some of the time, was not the clever comedy the Fringe Programme seems to promise.

Despite the rapid deterioration of the Facebook element within the play, one could not truly declare the show to be a waste of time, and this merit entirely rests on the shoulders of the young cast. All five performers were accomplished actors and did amazingly well to maintain dwindling audience interest in the face of the rather shambolic plot. In particular, lead female ‘Rose’ and secondary female ‘Patience’ were both brilliant performers with very good vocal ability. The direction was executed well in places with some good ideas, and aside from the copious amount of samey ballads, the music was really very good, and suitably well received.

For an idea with such potential, it is a shame indeed that the Facebook part of the plot was merely a playground of concepts, with no real continuity. One might hope that the actors showcased here might look for a better outlet in next year’s Fringe, in order for their talents to thrive rather than be stifled, and perhaps a rewrite of the play would be beneficial.

Big Band make a Big Impression

Hull University Big Band
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 09
City Nightclub

Hull University Big Band have played at the Fringe for six years, and judging by their current success, continue to grow in popularity.

For the last three years at least H.U. Big Band have certainly upped the game, increasing audience and refining band talent, which produced a very entertaining gig indeed on Saturday August 15th. The musicians were full of energy and enthusiasm, and most were quite often ‘bopping along’ to the infectious tunes. All soloists impressed the audience with their ability, particularly drummer Dan England and sax player Matthew Newby. Both singers (Alex Haigh and Gemma Cross) were on top form - the rendition of ‘Bad, bad, Leroy Brown’ certainly had the crowd going. The set of famous favourites went down tremendously well, including old time classics like ‘In The Mood’ and ‘The Chicken’. The cheesy-yet-enjoyable highlight of the evening occurred in the pen-ultimate performance; during the sparkling rendition of ‘New York, New York’, the glitter disco ball was brilliantly lit right at the last chorus for a timeless big finish.

Congratulations to all involved, Hull University Big Band should be able to enjoy many more years service in the Fringe Festival if this particular ‘Swing in the City’ Gig is anything to go by.

Peak Opera sigh for the love of Buxton

Peak Opera
19th August 2009
Buxton Opera House

Peak Opera’s production of The Yeomen of the Guard was eagerly anticipated within the Buxton Festival camp. The show is a favourite of many, so Peak were under rather a lot of pressure when mounting their annual performance this year.

With any amateur production the audience must be willing to factor difficulties and restricted rehearsal time into their view of the show, and though Peak did well within their amateur confines, in the case of the chorus one could not help but feel even one extra day rehearsal of musical confidence would not have gone a miss. However, despite the odd worrying tendency to wander from Sullivan’s desired timing, the chorus did well to fill the stage with enthusiasm, and the Music Director was quick to reign the few musical discrepancies back in. Vocally the chorus were a little unbalanced, with a heavy tenor and soprano presence, but their acting efforts were well received.

The show went off well, sticking largely to the more traditional direction of G&S but slipping in new bits of business, which were (on the whole) easily detected and then largely accepted by the eagle-eyed audience. The direction was perhaps a little static in places, but was generally well executed and sometimes pleasingly effective, such as the sexual capers in ‘Were I Thy Bride’ and the quaint bunting-frilled dance to ‘Heighdy’.

The principal line-up was strong; a charismatic Phoebe (Lucy Appleyard) and an oddly likeable Shadbolt (Gareth Edwards) were well partnered, both demonstrating good vocal ability and delivering confident and enjoyable performances. David Lovell’s Sergeant Meryll was a kindlier version than sometimes found, who sported an impressive yeomanly beard, though not as intriguing as the beard sported by Kimmo Eriksson when he wasn’t playing Leonard Meryll. Angela Lowe provided a Dame Caruthers who was formidable in her way, but not entirely unlike able; whether deliberately or not, she gave the character an interesting dimension of slight nervousness in her over active arm movements. Elsie Maynard (Alexandra Saunders) was vocally pleasing, but a little less animated than she could have been; this had the interesting effect of complimenting Chris Diffey’s enthusiastic Fairfax, but faced with Jack Point’s avid devotion, seemed to hint at a bored acquiescence to their match on Elsie’s part. Liam Geoghegan played Point straight and with enough merry wit to warrant the Joker’s profession, but his aptitude lay in the very humane portrayal of Point as a man suffering the pangs of unrequited love; he coped well with the inherent difficulties of playing a character who must bounce from the one extreme to it’s opposite. The handful of smaller principal parts were equally well played; no actor could be targeted as a weak link.

The set was effective and the ambiguity of its doorways could be forgiven in the face of their ability to traffic large numbers. The use of traditional costume was good, especially for Point, Phoebe and the Yeomen, though one or two costuming decisions were a trifle dubious. The cast as a whole could not be faulted on their enthusiasm or effort, and looked to be enjoying themselves.

The most memorable part of the show was undoubtedly the rather controversial decision to have Point assassinated. The audience might indeed have been unsure what to make of it, but it was certainly a shocking ending and brave decision, the sadness of which left more than one member of the audience significantly moved.
Peak Opera delivered an enjoyable performance, which housed some genuine talent.

Friday, 24 July 2009

You've Got To Pick A Celebrity Or Two!

Cameron Mackintosh's 'Oliver!'
Drury Lane Theatre, London
Thurs 16th July 09

Rowan Atkinson’s role as Fagin was highly anticipated from the off. The audience on the 16th July at Drury Lane were certainly keen for Atkinson’s arrival; a hearty round of applause directly followed the actors opening line. London loves a celebrity novelty.

While Atkinson was more than adequate as Fagin, he didn’t rejuvenate the role as much as he certainly could have; his delivery was a confusion of Ron Moody’s Fagin (19XX film version) and Atkinson’s infamous character creation ‘Mr Bean’. However, his natural flair for comedic timing enabled the talented young cast to bounce easily from him, and despite an entertaining rendition of ‘You’ve got to Pick a Pocket’, the audience was left with the impression that Atkinson was not cast on the virtues of his singing voice.

The show was as entertaining and colourful an evening as a top West End Show should be. The cast breezed through the brash chorus numbers, and the majority of the company could not be faulted for their efforts. Tamsin Carroll played the role of Nancy, and her dubious rendition of the climax of Nancy’s ballad could be absolved in the face of her sterling performance. Wendy Ferguson and Julius D’Silva were impeccable as the brilliantly funny Mr Bumble and Widow Corney; the bawdy focus on Ferguson’s ‘kittens’ was interestingly and amusingly displaced by the ample assets of Little Sally (Lynne Wilmot) later in the show. Showstopper tune ‘Who Will Buy’ stole the imagination of the audience through the whole cast pitching in their all and loving every minute, and the interactions of the cast with the intricate moving scenery gave the show that certain West End shine.

An enjoyable evening despite birds-eye view, Atkinson and his fellows seem to pull out all the stops and throw themselves heart and soul into the production. The faint tarnish on the polished production is unlikely to cause anyone unquiet in the face of the sheer energy and enthusiasm exuded from the stage.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Lee Tsang Show #1

Music Department Choir and Orchestra Concert
Hull University, City Hall
April 2009

City Hall is an impressive and distracting venue; there is always something to look at. Whether it is the performers, the ceiling or merely the bloke two rows in front eating sweets, it’s rare that an audience member would go without some menial visual entertainment. I’m not entirely convinced this should be the dominant feeling of someone attending a ‘Concert Series’.

The University Choir, conducted be Lee Tsang, were impressive in number but disappointing in volume; either more than two thirds were miming, or the acoustics in City Hall leave a lot to be desired. Various members of the choir (especially in the tenor section) could be singled out for their own personal volume and enthusiasm, but as a whole, the effect was unbalanced – perhaps the orchestral accompaniment was simply too loud. The Orchestra played well, both pianists (Eva Budniak and Fei Fan) were impressive (to watch as well as hear), and Nathaniel Seaman’s composition was enjoyable, if a little odd. Musically, the second half of the concert was pleasant, but lacked the entertainment value of Choir members yawning and fidgeting. Congratulations must be duly awarded to the Music Department for sustaining my fickle interest for as long as they did.

ISA Almost Culture Night

International Students Association
Hull University
April 2009

The I.S.A Culture Night 2009 was very much like the I.S.A Culture Night of 2008, and 2007, and one might suspect, every other I.S.A Culture Night to have taken place in the University. It seems, however, to be this odd combination of ‘samey-ness’ and Eurovision that fills the Middleton Hall year after year, and so it must posses some positive attraction.

The night was filled with performances from various University Societies, showcasing their cultural talents. Starting with a tediously long sketch from the National Hindu Students Forum and climaxing with the ever colourful Malaysian Society, the show and performers varied in talent and ability from the strangely compelling to the downright confusing, but the audience seemed to thrive, enjoying every moment; newcomers ‘The Melting Pot’ seemed to be a particular hit. Though as a body the audience may not have entirely understood everything, heckles and ‘hilarious’ in-jokes crowded the auditorium, and despite the rather hectic atmosphere it seems to have been a successful night.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Gormenghast Intriguing

Hull University Drama Department
March 09

Mervyn Peake’s 1946 work Gormenghast proved an interesting choice for a Drama Department production.

The story followed the life of one Titus Groan, from his birth until his desertion of Castle Gormenghast. Titus’ fortunate life is paralleled by an ambitious ‘kitchen boy’ Steerpike, who chooses to break his mould and claw his way to power in the corrupt and largely insane household, leaving behind him a trail of destruction. I think perhaps the script relied too heavily on the audience having some prior knowledge of the story, as many of the resolutions, plot turns and even an incongruent character remained unexplained. It was distracting that the sound effects often drowned the actors, but at a push it might be supposed that this added to the chaotic and hectic spirit.

The set and costume for the show were exceptional, and the hidden on-stage orchestra contributed brilliantly to the eerie gothic element of the play. Several students made a great impression on the audience – in particular, Zoe Tempest-Jones’ portrayal of the erratic Fushia and Samuel Lannacombe Oliver’s disgruntled Barquentine captured one’s wandering interest, and Ian Farnell’s capital performance as Prunesquallor could only be faulted in that the character did not have more stage time. In the most part the cast worked well as a unit, though it does persistently disappoint in Drama Department productions that an otherwise talented cast must be punctured by the limitations of one or two oddly cast actors.

The professionalism of the Drama Department at their Mainhouse productions, particularly in Front of House and publicity continues to be impressive. Gormenghast was an interesting evening – a certain lingering air of confusion only mildly affected the entertainment.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


Hull University Drama Society
December 2008

An early start from the Cinderella cast at only thirteen minutes late, the colourful entrance hall and new venue had already offered a glimpse of good things. It was an ambitious project from The Drama Society, and the audience (mainly students, but a good sprinkling of children) waited with bated breath.
Unfortunately for the cast the audience was not a particularly enthusiastic one, which always flattens the pantomime atmosphere slightly. One man entirely undeterred by this was Tom Perry as ‘Buttons the Butler’. His natural talent for ad-lib allowed him to cope seamlessly with everything from rowdy friends in the audience, to the most miserable heckler ever, and even to the set actually falling down on him (‘I’m the Butler, not the bloody joiner!’). He was well supported by the gloriously camp ugly sisters, played by Michael Peacock and Jack Smith, who were a classic comedic duo, and they together with charismatic Tristan Ambrose (Prince Charming) and quirky Kit Hargreaves (Dandini) helped comprise one glittering half of a rather mixed cast.
To another extreme, ‘Cinderella’ encompassed a dodgy pig, a dodgy hole in the set which pretended to be a fireplace, and a dodgy witch who was only allocated one dimension of forced and scathing evil. The chorus, though enthusiastic, were underused, and Emily Bray’s beautiful and haunting solo song was sadly accompanied by dodgy choreographed poncing. The gratuitous crotch flashing from several characters was bizarre (if a little amusing) and it was slightly odd that the cast couldn’t afford two copies of your favourite free union magazine for their ‘in joke’.
The set, although quite obviously recycled from ‘A Clockwork Orange’, fulfilled the basic pantomime requirements, right up to the tin-foil-chic ‘door bell’. Costumes were colourful and well suited to Panto, though it continues to shame Drama Soc as a whole that there is always an anomaly or two in each cast whose costume insists, rather blatantly, on not fitting its host.
Perhaps the key is that pantomime is only as good as it is bad, and Cinderella was certainly an entertaining evening. The show seemed to be a hit with children, who noticed nothing unusual in the anti-climactic ending, and record audience members prompt one to hope the Drama Soc have recouped a decent revenue. Cinderella made a pleasant night out, which left audiences with the comfortable feeling of having been entertained by close friends having a laugh, and enjoying themselves.

Drama Dept Panto: An exhilirating tour-de-force!

'Jack and the Beanstalk'
Hull University Drama Department
December 2008

The Drama Department Christmas show this year was ambitious. Pantomimes, though always popular with children, often find dual appeal a difficult task. ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ combated this well by using traditional pantomime clich├ęs, but raising its theatrical eyebrows suggestively to tailor to the student filled audience.

From the traditional throwing of sweets to the golden “he/she/its behind you!” the audience revelled in the ridiculous atmosphere. The fantastical (and no doubt painfully expensive) set and brilliant costuming served to add that sparkling element to the magical spectacle, which even Jack’s questionable lack of trousers only slightly compressed.

Pantomime Dame Joel Redgrave eased his way effortlessly through a timeless performance, which was complimented nicely by the token stupid-yet-loveable character of Ned, played by James Townsend, and the exultant classic villainy of Ryan Govin’s Lord Lame. Jess Bannister was, as the Giant’s wife, perfectly Disney, in pleasant voice and good natured rhyme, and those in charge of scene changes and technical cues are to be commended for an almost seamless production.

Due to the exemplary quality of a lot of the show, the discrepancies marring the glossy production were few. A curious audience member might well wonder why the Town Crier worked in the Dairy, why the entire cast attended their own weddings dressed as pirates, and why, for some unknown reason every single person in the cast and band needed to have a ‘funny’ nickname in the programme. In the acting ability of the cast, any complaints the audience might find were trivial, though it seemed ‘Silly Billy’ (Samuel Lannacombe Oliver) took rather a long time to settle into his role, and ‘Jill’, though picturesque, was slightly below the calibre of the rest of the buoyant cast – perhaps more due to the limitations of the ‘typical useless pretty girl’ part than any fault of Claire Greenwell’s.

Musically, the band excelled, and cannily even managed to wend their way onto the stage, in one of the show’s quirkier moments. There was only one horrifyingly chilling episode, when Jack and Jill vocally tortured classic Pogues tune ‘Fairytale of New York’.
Overall, Director Paul Smith’s pantomime experiment was a success, happily encompassing tradition, the customary drama department enthusiasm, and a good working script. A satisfied audience might even call it ‘an exhilarating tour-de-force’.