Jekyll & Hyde (Church Hill Theatre: 22 – 25 Nov ’16)

Stephen Quinn as Jekyll (& Hyde) Photos: Erica Belton

Stephen Quinn as Jekyll (& Hyde)
Photos: Erica Belton

“The talent neither stops at the singing, nor at the bounds of the principal cast.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I was part of an unfortunate, if very narrow, generation whose first encounter with Robert Louis Stephenson’s monstrous Mister Hyde was the opening of a terrible Hugh Jackman movie. As a result, questions of the duality of man, the nature of morality and the dangers of unrestrained passion didn’t really factor in for a while. It seems fitting therefore that EUSOG’s latest outing follows the pattern of contrast underscored by its source material: it’s a collection of both dizzying highs and curiously disappointing lows.

Jekyll & Hyde loosely follows Stephenson’s original work, with a few new emotional complications thrown in. It is a musical exploration of the ambition, suffering and fear associated not only with the fraught Henry Jekyll, but its effects on his friends, family and even the city of London itself. And to begin –  as usual – with the ability on display, it’s considerable. The singing talent in this show can’t be denied, ensemble included. Ellie Millar and Giselle Yonace in particular offer utterly breathtaking solos as Emma Carew and Lucy Harris, culminating in a duet that could shatter glass for precision.

And the talent neither stops at the singing, nor at the bounds of the principal cast. Special props go to Kirsten Millar as the world’s most entertainingly jovial prostitute; and to Jana Bernard, whose rare mix of graceful flexibility and natural showmanship lead to an array of angles that’d make an architect weep. Despite the occasional desync in a dance, the ensemble did their job with gusto and skill.

But any praise would be incomplete without hailing new face Stephen Quinn as the titular duo. Powerful voice aside, I found myself extremely taken with his portrayal of Henry Jekyll: he balances ambition, humanity and (perhaps most importantly) a genuine vulnerability during his two hour tenure as the good doctor, and it certainly stuck. Often, mild-mannered Jekyll is the more under-realised of the two, and it was refreshingly welcome to see such care put into his characterisation.

The question then, I suppose, is why this show only has three stars – and why have I personally left it unrated?

Despite the considerable strength of the cast, there are distinct elements of this show that detract from the overall fabric of the performance. Most glaringly, perhaps, is the way in which they handle Edward Hyde. At its core, there simply wasn’t enough contrast or intensity: often, the only difference between the two selves seemed to be his ragged choice of jacket, rather than any significant change in manner. The visceral glee, passionate brutality and utterly malevolent hedonism which typifies Hyde seems to get lost somewhere in the mix – and this is certainly not helped by fight choreography which is so floaty and strangely force-less that it occasionally comes off as comical rather than dramatic. Sitting next to the fantastic choreography of song numbers such as ‘Bring on the Men’, it seems worlds apart.

jekyllhyde3

And, most unfortunately, that fundamental element of violence and rage, which seems to be missing from much of the production, runs deeply through its other elements. Without that relish of cruelty, many scenes feel strangely bland for want of a contrast which just isn’t there. Combine that with mics which popped in and out more often than a first year halls cleaning lady and with variable volume levels, which would put Brexit indecision to shame, even when the show was at its strongest, then it was unsurprising that at times I could not hear a damned – or virtuous – thing.

That said, if you’re looking for a collection of entertaining and ear-pleasing song numbers, you’ll like what you get. However, if you’re wanting an exploration of human nature, brutality and debauchery, and a spot or two of vanquishing, then …. No. Upfront this is a strong production but it is let down by its emotional backdrop. For those who aren’t as pedantically focused on its content as I am, it’s certainly not going to sour your night – but walking home through the cold Edinburgh air I couldn’t help but think that Mister Hyde just didn’t show up.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 22 November)

Go Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group

Visit the Church Hill Theatre archive.

+3 Review: Penetrating Europe, or Migrants Have Talent (Paradise in Augustines: until 28th Aug: 21:35: 1hr)

“Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars:  Nae Bad 

Our host (Dave Strudelbar) for this evening’s episode of Migrants Have Talent bounds down the stairs before introducing the evening’s two judges: immigration officer, Nigel Nobson (Uilleam Blacker) as well as glamorous former illegal immigrant, Nigella Smith (Lesya Liskevych).  Nigella explains that she was talent-spotted after five years of cleaning the toilets at Television Centre. She cleaned toilets under her original name, she minor celebs with a new one, changed by deed poll. Together Nigel and Nigella decide who stays and who is deported, with the audience voting in the event of a tie.

There are five contestants. Actor Iaroslav Tsigan’s character is from Ukraine. He traveled to Britain on false Polish papers. A likeable character, his honesty fails to impress the stern judges. Interwoven with the talent show format are the stories of two young people, who relate how it is to travel and cross borders. One is going east to Ukraine for an adventure; the other west, by land and sea, to join family already in Britain.

These paired stories, delivered solo with other cast members playing the role of various officials, are the most effective part of the production.  The contrasting experiences and expectations of the two young people are increasingly moving. Actor Ira Sandalovych compellingly portrays a descent into fear. Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.

Most of the large cast are employed in the Migrants Have Talent sections.  Writers Blacker and Olesha Khromeychuk deploy a tongue in cheek style of satire that seeks to lighten what are, in reality, stories of genuine human suffering. At no point are we allowed to forget that not a million miles away from the Fringe, real people are really living through such uncomic tragedies. Still, this is above all a theatre piece. How effective (as opposed to affecting) is it?

The message is crystal clear. Humanity is common: borders and suffering man made.

If there is a problem it’s is one of counterpoint. Does the satire sparkle bright enough against the darkness of the immigrants’ tales? The lighting is handed well and sound, with the ensemble song describing cranes flying away to die in foreign lands (a poem from 19th century Ukraine) is truly beautiful in such a small venue.  However, with such a large cast, the staging does slip into awkward moment but, overall, this is a more than likeable production whose heart is definitely in the right place.
nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart   (Seen 23 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Vaudevillains (Assembly George Square: 4-28 Aug: 22.10: 1hr 10mins)

“Masterfully performed with moments of brilliance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Les Enfants Terrible are old hats at making great theatre, with many awards and accolades to their name. On paper The Vaudevillains sits right in their sweet spot of immersive, stylised, historical storytelling – so do they land the killer blow with this one? Almost.

Framed around the murder of the music hall owner before the start of “the show”, the compere (Oliver Lansley) declares that it must still go on, and each of the acts is then introduced and invited to plead their innocence through skit and song – in old fashioned music hall style. It’s a simple concept and powerfully delivered, but, disappointingly, not particularly unique or innovative.

It’s only when the skits start that creativity and individual talents come to light. Each character’s back story is complex and engaging – showing great writing on Lansley’s part – and it’s enjoyable getting to know more about each one. All performers play supporting roles in each of the other’s stories, allowing them to demonstrate their seemingly endless individual skills as performers. My favourite characters are the Cerberus Sisters (stripping Siamese triplets), given their unique characteristics, while for me the standout performer is Tsemaye Bob-Egbe, who gives a simply stunning rendition of her song as Mephisto –a real highlight.

Overall the skits are funny, bawdy with a good variety from the loud and brash to the whimsical and mysterious and everything in between. The pace keeps it entertaining without dragging, and despite being quite fragmented, the show has the sense of being a real team effort. Tomas Gisby’s score also deserves credit – he’s created some great stick-in-your-head songs that stay with you long after the show ends.

After the skits are complete, one expects some sort of Agatha Christie-esque finger-pointing and deduction in order to work out “whodunit” – indeed, I feel that this is what a lot of us were waiting for. However, when the big reveal occurs, I am in no way surprised by the outcome, and let out a small groan at the lack of creativity shown in this respect. I feel that this part of the show lets down the rest, and more work could be done to beef up the suspense.

Overall, The Vaudevillains is masterfully performed with some wonderful moments of individual brilliance and great storytelling along the way, but it is perhaps just a little obvious.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Paper Hearts the Musical (Underbelly Med Quad: 5-29 Aug: 18.40: 1hr 15mins)

“Potential to be a real best-seller”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

A musical about finding love in a bookshop sounds like pretty much all of my favourite things in one. And just like everyone’s favourite independent bookshop, the first thing that strikes me about Paper Hearts is how little space there is to move around in on stage.  Unfortunately in this case it doesn’t work in the group’s favour, and if they had been used to rehearsing in a larger space, the translation to this venue isn’t effective enough to overcome many of the obstacles faced by that challenge: the choreography looks clumsy, performers squeeze past each other when moving about and the musicians are a bit too dominant visually – it’s a shame that this is the lasting impression I have of this show rather than the artistic merits, of which there are many.

The story follows Atticus Smith (Adam Small) – a book store manager and hapless writer – who is determined to finish his novel, even though his store is very quickly going out of business and is set to be bought by a corporate giant. But of course, there’s a convenient young writers’ competition he could enter and win to save the day. So far, so so. Throw into the mix a difficult relationship with his father and a chance meeting with the consultant set to take over the bookshop and an intriguing plot unfurls.

What I particularly enjoyed about this show in terms of narrative are the clever parallels between Atticus’s own life and the characters in his book, and the relationship he as a writer has with those characters. Even though the book is set in Russia in the 1940s, Atticus channels his situation through his leading character and inadvertently ends up resolving his own problems.

From a performance perspective, bizarrely it’s the Russian scenes that come across as the most genuine and accomplished, and these are the most enjoyable to watch. Much of the rest of the performance, however, feels very rushed. From the opening scene where characters are introduced, to Atticus’s break-up with his girlfriend, meeting someone else, having a huge argument the next day and winning a writing competition, it all seems quite superficial. There are lots of lovely ideas in there, but, much like the stage, everything is a bit too crammed in.

Liam O’Rafferty’s music and lyrics are tight, with several great original songs. Hot is a fun and sassy number with great personality, Shame is a cutting and comedic look at the flaws of the two central characters, and title song Paper Hearts has a real West End ring to it. All songs featured within the Russian scenes have great folk authenticity, so musically this show has a lot going for it.

I’d love to see Paper Hearts come back as a longer, more developed piece, and performed in a different venue that gives it room to breathe. It has the potential to be a real best-seller.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Spring Awakening (Paradise in St Augustine’s: 5-13 Aug: 21.30: 1hr 30mins)

“I’d encourage anyone into musical theatre to go and see it “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

With the band clearly visible on an otherwise bare stage, looking cool and every inch the 00s rockers in white t-shirts, EUSOG’s interpretation of Spring Awakening feels more like a concert than a traditional musical. The full (Broadway) version runs over two acts and well over two hours, but this is a stripped back, 90 minute version, which I have to say I prefer. It centres on the songs as vehicles to express emotion, with narrative, dialogue and choreography seamlessly fitting in around them. As a performance it’s compact, it’s flowing, it gets to the point and stays there, and to me one of the real triumphs in this production is how each number and scene overlap and blend, rich with energy, tenderness and life.

While musically Spring Awakening may not be as powerful as other rock operas like RENT, this cast do a fantastic job of squeezing every drop of emotion out of each song to make each lyric really hit home, and William Briant’s band let rip with rousing and powerful accompaniment throughout. The company perform every chorus number with great vitality, from the loud The Bitch of Living, to the very delicate and uplifting The Song of Purple Summer. The harmonies are great, the blending on point, and individual solo lines delivered with aplomb.

Some of the acting was a little shaky: Wendla’s rape and Moritz’s suicide didn’t ring as emotionally true as the rest of the performance, but this is a young company dealing with very difficult material, so we must cut a little slack – sometimes the professionals slip-up too.

It’s the power and energy of the cast that make this show a real treat though, demonstrating talent and professionalism far beyond what one might expect from students. Nitai Levi has astonishing control and presence as Melchior, Greg Williamson is a wonderfully pained Moritz with a great pop-rock voice while Isabella Rogers is also beautifully understated as Ilse. Caroline Elms and James Strahan capably perform all the adult roles between them, with great changes in character and authority to make them believable. A special mention to Strahan for his quick turnaround from the emotional funeral scene to playing a completely different character literally seconds later.

It’s such a shame EUSOG’s run ends this weekend, as I’d encourage anyone into musical theatre to go and see it – it really is a masterclass in getting the basics right. If I could, I’d go again.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: [title of show] (C Cubed: 4-29 Aug: 21.20: 1hr 30mins)

“The company’s voices blend beautifully to create some lovely moments”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I always get excited when a new and ambitious theatre company decides to put its own spin on a show that only received limited success its first time around, in order to try and find that winning formula. In this case, Cobbles and Rhyme attempt to give a very minimalist makeover to [title of show], which, though enjoyable, unfortunately ends up languishing in musical theatre mediocrity.

[title of show] is by nature the anti-musical – intentionally flying in the face of the fourth wall and big production values, using just a keyboard, a bare stage, four actors and and four chairs. This makes it perfect for translating to Fringe venues, and with some clever staging Cobbles and Rhyme effectively create sympathetic intimacy and a stripped back feel that really suits the show’s themes.

However, beyond this it is a shame to see that some of the basic flaws in the musical itself were not addressed, making it at times painfully obvious exactly why the show wasn’t a huge hit on Broadway. Granted, this is probably more down to terms within the performance rights than the company’s ability, but I can only critique based on what I see.

It takes the best part of 25 minutes and six songs to get past the “Let’s write a musical/I don’t know what to write” stage, and throughout the first half of the performance I felt like I learned next to nothing about the personalities of each character. It is only towards the end in Awkward Photo Shoot when tensions start to emerge and priorities conflict that we really discover their mettle, and it’s a shame this occurs so late. This is a show that just needs to get to the meat faster and stop being quite so self-indulgent and self-important.

Musically, it’s ok – there aren’t really any standout numbers, though closing tune Nine People’s Favorite Thing is quite hummable as you exit the auditorium. Complex harmonies are well delivered throughout and the company’s voices blend beautifully to create some lovely moments. The cast certainly give it their all, even though for me it’s the supporting characters of Heidi (Heidi Parsons) and Susan (Charlie Walker) who outshine their male counterparts with stunning vocals and gripping stage presence.

Overall it’s nice, it’s funny and it’s well sung, but I think it lacks that killer punch to have a really big impact at the Fringe.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Growing Pains (Underbelly, Cowgate: 5-28 Aug: 16.30: 1hr)

“Oozes a quality that is rare and valuable”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

There’s a lovely tradition at the Fringe whereby all companies performing at a certain venue are permitted “standby” tickets to other shows at that venue: once all paying ticket holders have been admitted, any empty seats are then up for grabs – if there are any. For this performance Underbelly companies didn’t just fill the few empty seats: staff were frantically laying out two extra rows at the back to cope with a level of demand I’ve never seen before. Within about 10 seconds of the performance starting, I could understand the hype.

As is so achingly trendy at the moment, Growing Pains is written like a performance poem, with rhyme and rhythm, ridiculously clever wordplay, and a lot of witticism. It’s brutal, honest and unflinching in its portrayal of a young man growing up on an estate in Salford and wanting to make it as an actor. Energy is red raw from the get go and you can tell this is going to be an intense and emotional hour.

Central character Tom introduces his friends, portraying each with clear physicality and accent, and we get to laugh at their banter and endeavours to get served at the local pub while underage. Later on we see those same friends grown-up, stuck in a rut and stifled in small-town mentality that Tom so desperately longs to break away from.

Tom Gill gives absolutely everything in this production – from emotive, heart-wrenching pleas to his dad, amusing turns as his Caribbean neighbour and a posture-perfect well-heeled yuppie, to more puns on London tube stations than you can count and a stripped back and haunting break-up scene with an ex-girlfriend: it really is a one man tour-de-force. For me, it’s 2016’s Johnny Bevan.

Oh, and it’s also a musical. With poetic lyricism that effortlessly floats in and out of song it only seems right to blend the two, and it just works. Not in a corny, musical theatre I’m-just-going-to-burst-into-song kind of way, but in a genuine expression of music being the only way for Tom to be able to communicate what’s going on in his head. It’s funny. moving, and incredibly well performed.

However, it’s not perfect – there are several odd little skips, jumps and glossings over within the narrative that could be made clearer or more cleverly interwoven without the need to go to a blackout – but everything about it oozes a quality that is rare and valuable and definitely worth buying a ticket to. Just ask anyone else doing a show at Underbelly.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED