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.