“Dreams don’t die but keep an eye on your dream.
And before you know where you are,
There you are.”
– Stephen Sondheim
After my good friend Nat and I sped walked onto a bus, we finally arrived on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh. Nat has never been to the fringe before, so it was a pleasure to be the ‘expert’ of these streets… for about 2 minutes, as I realised I still had to rely on Google Maps to get to anywhere I needed to go. I sat down on the stairs of the C Studios eating my tuna pasta meal deal from Tescos, prepping for my first show of the day, and Edinburgh fringe trip:
1. Merrily We Roll Along (with BB Theatre Productions)
(directed by Lloyd White, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth)
When I watched BB Theatre’s production of Assassins last year I became addicted with the show. The company wowed me with their elaborate set and fantastic performances across the board. So, you can imagine when I found out that they were doing a production of another Sondheim classic, Merrily We Roll Along, I rushed to the fringe website and bought my ticket instantly.
The production was in a smaller theatre this time, making the story of three friends torn apart across the decades a lot more intimate. The way the theatre was laid out was that the band was behind the action, so the actors had to have microphones attached to them so we could hear them. Unfortunately, on the day I came to see it the microphones were acting up which lead to some lines being upstaged by the faulty technology. The set design was minimal, with numbers splayed out across the stage and actors spelling out the years each scene was set in (for those not familiar with the show, the musical is most famous for the story being told backwards). However, I was sat in the middle of the audience and unfortunately could not see most of this. I understand that each performer/production has a strict time limit to switch shows and so things must be kept simple, but I felt there could have been a more creative way of showing years turning back without the back audience feeling left out.
In terms of performances, across the board, they were all vivaciousness and welcoming. I thoroughly enjoyed Sian Price-Mitchell’s Mary, who gave the role tremendous energy and spirit, which gave her performance such warmth to the role. I must give props to Charlie Booker who filled in the lead role, Frank, last-minute as the original actor was hospitalised. Booker gave Frank a good sense of depth and nuance that persuaded me that he was not a cold hearted writer-turned-producer, which would have been an easy choice. I want to give shout outs to Emma Carver (Gussie), Austin Marshall (Joe), Lucy Smith (Beth), and Matt Cooke (Ensemble) for their great performances also. Whilst there were some weak American accents in some cases, which made scenes sometimes off-putting, this was a rare case and I could enjoy the rest of the show.
I recommend this show for those who want to see some iconic musical theatre done well. Performances are heart-warming, the lighting is subtle but effective, and comments how fame can really change people. As a fellow thespian, I shall bear this message in mind.
Caption: Some well-done Sondheim. Can’t wait for the next one.
Merrily We Roll Along’s last performance is August 12th at 12.10pm at C Studios (3rd floor).
Whilst listening to the 2012 Merrily We Roll Along cast recording (the songs are so darn catchy), I map my way to the next theatre. I am sitting there for a while, after writing up my review for Merrily, trying to find a good way to spend my free time. Listen to a podcast? Try and find more shows to go to? Listen to more musicals? I chose the last option. I snack on the chocolate buttons I bought at the airport the night before, wondering what awaits me at 4.25pm…
2. The Alchemist
(written by Ben Johnson, adapted by the Caterham Repertory Theatre Company)
This classic Ben Johnson farce was adapted for contemporary audiences by the Caterham Repertory Theatre Company. I only realised this was a company of sixth-formers until that morning, and I admit I was apprehensive in writing the review. Why should I, a theatre student, criticise other (hopefully) future theatre creators, when they are just starting out and finding their feet? I do realise though that this could be patronising for these actors, as they might want just as honest feedback as other shows. If everyone was nice to me whilst I was training I would never have improved, and I am still trying to improve to this day.
The set only contained two moveable racks of cloth as their ‘backstage’, with an old-fashioned suitcase, and a coat rack with multiple costumes, it could have easily made the theatre space look empty. However, because of the huge cast, the stage always looked full and enticing. The ensemble work, especially with the lovely instrumental work by Jessica Calcutt and Alice Fish, helped ease the audience into the world of the play. There were a few instances where actors bashed into the set, and whilst I do think it was partially due to the lack of space provided for these actors, it was distracting and took me away from the piece.
Josie Branson was a wonderful multi-roller, making each role distinct and displaying such flamboyancy and frivolity. The male leads, William Ward (Face) and Ross Furley-Smith (Subtle), had good chemistry and their relationship on stage was enjoyable to watch as the events of the play began to unfold.
Primarily what I thought brought down the piece was that there was a lack of texture and tempo. Everything seemed to be either stern yet calm or high energy, with no blending or balance in between, making the stakes at the end of the piece quite low in comparison with what might have happened at the beginning. It made the play hard to follow because of constant fast pace not allowing the audience to process what is going on, which is not completely the actors’ fault but more rather the director’s (who I could not find the name of). There was also a few slip ups on lines, with actors occasionally interrupting other actors, which was quite distracting.
Whilst this fresh-faced company displayed a great potential to be a slick, highly energetic production, as we fellow youth theatre alumni know there were still areas that could be significantly polished. However, we still enjoyed doing what we were doing, and these actors have a lot to learn from the experience, but should still enjoy the moment whilst they can.
Caption: Some light hearted fun. Youth theatre for life.
The Alchemist’s last performance is August 12th at The Space (SpaceTriplex) at 4.25pm.
Realising that The Alchemist was only 50 minutes long, I decided to save money from buying shows and use up my free time by working on my reviews in Starbucks. As I sipped away on my mocha I typed up my reviews, editing as I went, until I reunited with Nat for a Margherita pizza at one of the street vendors nearby. We celebrated the start of the trip with our first Jack Daniels cider (which was lovely by the way, highly recommend). Reflecting on what we saw, we headed off to our final show of the night:
3. Kate if You Wanna Go Butcher
(written and performed by Kate Butch)
Kate was in a small little section of a bar, hidden in the deep depths of the Laughing Horse. The show was packed with vibrant audience members, some of which were familiar faces to me and to the performer. The evening contained Comic Sans filled Powerpoint presentations, lip-syncing, and reflections of Butch’s childhood.
Kate Butch has incredible, and natural comedic flair to her performance, making me cackle at every punchline. I am somewhat disappointed I did not win the cassette tape she gave out at the end of the show, containing an entire recording of the performance as I would have loved to listen to the show again.
Butch embraced the intimate space to its maximum, having such relatability that the audience laughed, ‘awwed’, and drank (the drinking was because of Butch’s drinking game of how many gimmicks she used throughout the evening).
From the music to the presentation skills, to the verbal delivery, Butch packed everything she could in an hour’s worth of stand-up and had the audience leaving generous donations at the exit. I am excited to see what the future holds for Butch, as I hope to see her next year to maintain the title of ‘the Comic Sans of Drag’.
Caption: I will forever cackle to All Star.
Kate if You Wanna Go Butcher is running until the 27th August (albeit the 15th and the 23rd), starting at 9.15pm at the Laughing Horse @ Espionage.
And my first day at the fringe is complete, with 13 more shows to go (I may have miscounted in the last post) I look forward to a day of improv comedy and new original dramas. However, for now, I will sleep. Do keep updated with tomorrow’s blog post by following my twitter page, or following this blog directly and get email notifications as to when I post.