The Sorcerer, EUSOG (Pleasance: 27 – 31 March ’18)

Photos. Erica Belton

” A hoot from start to finish”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Nae Bad

 

As one who grew up when the D’Oyly Carte closed shop was in full swing this writer was perhaps somewhat of a trailblazer in being one of the first to take part in an independent production in 1962 while at prep school (the copyright on Gilbert’s words having expired in 1961). I was the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance, probably the one and only time this Bass part has been sung by a Treble. It was thus with almost a sense of ownership that I went along to see the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s presentation of the relatively unknown Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Sorcerer, set  in 1969’s Summer of Love. (Well, that was ’67 if you went to San Francisco, Ed.)

There is a long history of The Savoy Opera Group introducing topical elements into the songs and dialogue. However a “modern dress” production (albeit from the 60s) is rarer, more common in Shakespeare or Grand Opera, perhaps like the new production of Cosi Fan Tutte premiering at the Met in New York this very Saturday that is set in Coney Island ten years earlier.

So. A relatively unknown work. A hippy production (I show my age).  A student company. In a word, a risk. Did it work?

The costumes paid only a passing reference to 60’s fashion: the occasional mini skirt, Aline’s dress, floral crowns for the female company and the occasional floral shirt and scarf for the men. Not a single hipster bellbottom or Zapata moustache in sight. But actually none of this really mattered and was presumably a way of keeping down wardrobe costs. After all, this was essentially pantomime. And it was a hoot from start to finish.

The Sorcerer made its debut in 1877 and was the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration in which the two had complete control of the production. It was highly successful for its time, which encouraged the author and composer to continue working together and expanding the possibilities of satiric operetta. The Sorcerer introduced the comic duet, the patter song, the contrapuntal double chorus, the tenor and soprano love duet and the soprano showpiece aria that became staples of all the G & S productions that followed.

The Sorcerer also introduced W. S. Gilbert’s passion for satirizing the excessive focus of the English on class differences with a plot that turns the entire social order upside down. As the operetta begins, the villagers of Ploverleigh are celebrating the betrothal of Alexis, son and heir of Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, to the only maiden of suitable rank in the neighbourhood, Aline, daughter of Lady Sangazure. Alexis and Aline sign the marriage contract, but it appears that Alexis, despite the fact that he loves Aline, does not share his father’s outmoded notions that only men and women of equivalent rank should marry, without regard to such nonsense as romantic inclination.

Alexis has, in fact, hired a sorcerer, John Wellington Wells, to test his theories. Wells casts a spell and creates a love potion that is administered to all the villagers through tea poured from a large teapot during the banquet following the betrothal. All who drink it immediately fall asleep, just as Wells has predicted. When they awaken, he promises, each will fall madly in love with the first person he or she sees (shades, obvs, of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and why not of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club too?). Those who are already married are conveniently immune.

As we might anticipate, when the villagers awaken at midnight, chaos ensues. Sir Marmaduke himself, much to his son’s displeasure, falls in love with the lowly and elderly Mrs. Partlet, the pew opener. Lady Sangazure falls in love with the sorcerer himself, who spends most of the second act trying to elude her grasp. Even Alexis’ own betrothed, the lovely Aline, drinks the potion and falls out of love with Alexis and in love with the vicar of the village. Order can be restored only by the sacrifice of either Alexis or Mr. Wells …… But does it work out OK? Well, go and find out for yourself, but you can probably guess.

Did the players bring it off? Yes they did. Right from the start the opening ensemble inspired one in their confident, loud singing and homogeneity. I thought they were all miked up, such was the pleasing volume level, but, no, that was only the Principals. The chorus sang and acted enthusiastically, convincingly and were thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, particularly when the yummy potion took effect.

As for the Principals, I do question the choice of a female playing Alexis and dressed ambiguously with fitted shirt, trousers and cravat – again token costuming –  and Tilly Botsford handled the lower register singing only adequately, but acted convincingly. The finest singing came from Julia Weingartner’s Lady Sangazure with some hilariously over the top potion-induced amorous attention paid to the wickedly well played John Wellington-Wells (Angus Bhattaharya). The other Principals, Olivia Wollaston (a suitably pure Aline), Gordon Home (a well portrayed Pointdextre), Georgia Maria Rodgers (a frustrated adolescent Constance), Ewan Bruce (a suitably troubled and decent Dr Daly) and Niamh Higgins (a scream as Mrs Partlet) all drew us into the performance and had us rooting for them.

This was an evening of huge entertainment. Great singing, convincing acting, and tremendous fun. Everybody from Producer to orchestra member should take a bow.

 

nae bad_blue

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

 

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 28 March)

Go to EUSOG, the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group

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Romeo and Juliet (Pleasance: 6 -10 March ’18)

Eliza Lawrence as Juliet and Douglas Clark as Romeo.
Photo: EUSC.

“A very appealing production “

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Outstanding

 

Can Romeo and Juliet be refreshing? Deffo.

For a start, as with Heineken, there’s the beer. Verona’s birra is Mastro Matto’s; in 1594 quite possibly a thriving business for either the house of Montague or of Capulet. Beer is liberally served in this production. The Prologue opens Act 2 truly blattered, heels in hand. The invitation to the Capulet party is ‘Pray come and crush a cup of wine’ [… or bottle of lager].

Downstage right and centre there’s a café. Mercutio and Benvolio are often in there, sitting down with a beer and talking lewd. You can forget how this high romantic tragedy starts way down low and mucky with the bawdy Sampson thrusting women –  ‘being the weaker vessels’ –  to the wall. However, no chance of that in this production: the Prince and the Friar are women, the Nurse is on man-topping form and Juliet is a very self-possessed #MeToo 16 year old.

Romeo sits ‘off’, to the side of the platform stage, appalled yet entertained, as Mercutio summons Rosaline’s ‘scarlet lip’ and ‘quivering thigh’. He’s then up on the platform, facing forward, for the balcony scene with Juliet behind him at the front of the main stage. It’s a terrific, captivating effect, each speaking to the other but straight at the audience as well. A window on wheels turns around to frame, alternatively, either the inside or the outside of Juliet’s room. This works well as an occasional framing device and is typical of Director Finlay McAfee’s ‘eye’ on his audience and how it will see and interpret the action.

What with body bags on a stark blue- grey set, Love looks ‘death-mark’d’ from the start, but this is not, I felt, a certainty. There is more immediacy and irresolution in the course of this production than in many, which is always appealing in a play whose awful end is common knowledge. The fighting –  tricky when Health & Safety shrinks rapier to titchy (plastic?) dagger – relies on fist, boot, and head bashing which looked sufficiently dangerous to make you realise how fatal accidents are so often juvenile and hot-headed. Mind you, Romeo’s dispatch of Tybalt is definitely murder.

Michael Black as Benvolio with Douglas Clark, Romeo.
Photo: EUSC.

Eliza Lawrence is Juliet and does indeed ‘teach the torches to burn bright’. (Probably not accidental then that Mercutio and Romeo play around with an LED lenser.) This Juliet may be sweet but you can believe that her suicide is the result of an extraordinary love and not momentary despair. Douglas Clark plays  Romeo with the same verve and assurance that he brought to Alan in Equus three years ago. That does make his wrecked helplessness with the Friar at the news of his banishment close to unbelievable but this is still (another) outstanding performance. Kirsten Millar’s programme profile says she is ‘immensely excited’ to add another old lady to her ‘eclectic portfolio’ and you can only admire her cracking truthfulness! Esmée Cook is a Friar whose diction over the whole piece is admirably steady, which helps in a play that can pitch and yaw from one scene to the next. Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller’s Capulet has attractive style – his jacket and shoes combo do half the talking – until he slaps his Juliet right across the face. Bam! And Will Peppercorn as Mercutio poses the usual problem: once he’s dead what’s to do without all that wit and energy? The draining effect of rainfall upon Romeo’s sleeping-bag in Mantua is actually genius!

As well as the yoof n’beer, it was Romeo sitting on the bed tying up his trainers after his few hours with Juliet that confirmed it. This is a very appealing production of Romeo and Juliet. Its effects may appear natural but are the result of new thinking and creative rehearsal. The musical score by Madison Willing – electro brooding Michael Nyman strings with grim rumbles – does ‘Tragedy’ proud, whilst the casual modern dress even gives it something of West Side Story. The Capulet ball, simply yet ingeniously staged, could have been in the Pear Tree. Does it serve Mastro Matto’s L’Ultima?

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 March)

Go to Romeo and Juliet at the EUSC

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+3 Review: Dad’s Army Radio Hour (Pleasance Dome: 4-28 Aug: 2.40: 60 mins)

“Like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

This joyful show teased smiles from even the flintiest faces in the Queendome audience. The theatrical concept of ‘watching a live radio recording’ is not one I will ever be a fan of, but here the simplicity of the staging is entirely justified. With words this good, and performances this sharp, little more is needed.

The public appetite for Dad’s Army is seemingly limitless. Like Only Fools and Horses, it is one of those rare TV programmes that people are willing to watch infinite times. This does not mean that a stage version of Dad’s Army is a guaranteed hit: in fact the stakes are raised to get it right and do justice to something held so dear in so many souls (consider the fate of the recent film version). But from the moment David Benson and Jack Lane speak, we know we’re in hugely talented hands. They cover the entire cast of dearly-loved characters effortlessly, like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease. More than ease: there is a grace and good-spiritedness about both performances which makes them a genuine pleasure to watch, and which reminds one of why we fell in love with the originals. There are many treasurable moments, but particularly striking is Benson’s bullseye John Le Mesurier, whilst Lane’s effortless switching from a repressed, frustrated Captain Mainwaring to a good-time floozy, with barely pause for breath, is a delight.

Four scripts are performed, two at each performance. When the production tours, it would be great to see this cast perform the episode Mum’s Army somewhere in the mix. It’s the one where Mainwaring falls in love with another woman, and comes within a razor’s width of leaving his eternally-unseen harridan of a wife. It was one of Dad’s Army‘s rare excursions into genuinely moving pathos, and in amongst all the laughs it would be the icing on an already sumptuous (upside down) cake.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Mark Farrelly (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Meeting At 33 (Pleasance Courtyard: 7-18 Aug: times vary: 45 mins)

“A hugely hopeful experience”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars

Theatre-making terms like “verbatim” and “immersive” are all too frequently euphemisms for “lazy” and “misjudged”. Not in this case. Second Circle have created a beautiful piece of work that handsomely rewards forty-five minutes of your time. The concept is deceptively simple. In a Salvation Army meeting hall nestled opposite the Pleasance Courtyard, we take a seat in a circle of chairs arranged for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There is no special lighting, sound effects or set. We are simply there, experiencing in the raw the self-confrontation that is the AA hallmark. It is thrillingly unclear who is an audience member and who is an actor, and this creative tension gives the experience much of its zing and engagement. Throughout the meeting, different actors (giving superbly naturalistic performances) share their experiences of alcohol addiction. This allows the production to explore some powerfully emotive themes, from humanity’s self-destructive impulse, to the distinction between religious faith and ‘mere’ spirituality, and even the way that recovering addicts, despite having something so deep-rooted in common, are sometimes painfully at odds with each other. If all this sounds highly intellectual, it’s not. The issues are conveyed through feeling, not thought, and our attention is held throughout.

In a piece so resolutely about the need to overcome ego, it would be inappropriate to single out particular performances among the cast of eight. Irrelevant too, since they are uniformly fine. It is however worth saying that Hannah Samuels, who created, directed and performs in the show, announces herself here as a theatre-maker to watch. Also worth saying that, if the concept of the show sounds too ‘heavy’ for some, it’s actually a hugely hopeful experience. And this is for the simple reason that the show offers true hope: that which has been earned by a courageous, coruscating and necessary trip to the interior. All that’s left standing is truth.

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Mark Farrelly (Seen 7th August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

CASTING CALL! EU Footlights Sister Act: Auditions: 30 March – 1 April

 Sister Act transparent.png

***** CASTING CALL *****

Following a 20-year break, Edinburgh University Footlights returns to the Fringe in 2017 with a production of Sister Act and has issued an open call for auditions.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome faces both old and new over the course of audition weekend! We are seeking a diverse and enthusiastic cast to work on this exciting new project.

Based on the 1992 smash-hit film of the same name, Sister Act is written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, with original lyrics by Glenn Slater and original music by Alan Menken.

Show Information

The story follows showgirl Deloris Van Cartier, who witnesses a brutal murder and finds herself having to be put in protective custody in the most unexpected place – a convent! Disguised as a nun, Deloris clashes with both the highly-strung Mother Superior and the newfound holy lifestyle imposed upon her until she finds her calling.

Tasked with inspiring the choir, Deloris revitalises both the church and community but, in doing so, blows her cover and before long, her murderous ex-boyfriend and his gang are in pursuit. Intent on hunting her down, the mob find themselves up against Deloris and her formidable new Sisterhood.

Featuring a wide variety of strong characters, from the shy and timid Mary Robert, through prim but caring Mother Superior, to flamboyant and fabulous Tina and Michelle, this musical has a part for everyone! The show’s leading men are equally diverse, including sweet, hopeless-romantic Eddie, a closet soul-diva Monsignor O’Hara and a gang of comedy mobsters intent on seducing the nuns.

In the habit of producing fantastic annual term-time shows, which include the recent Urinetown, Guys and Dolls, and Rent, Footlights cannot wait to hit the Fringe this year bringing a show filled with soulful music, comedy genius and heartwarming friendship.

Audition Info

Auditions for this production will be held Thursday 30th March – Saturday 1st April, with callbacks on Sunday 2nd April. Weekly rehearsals will begin shortly after up until May, and will recommence with an intensive period from 3rd July up until the show, which runs from 14th – 20th August.

Anyone who would like to request an audition slot should sign up (here).

For more information about the show, auditions and the roles available, visit (here).

Auditions will consist of a 10-minute vocal session, (warm-ups; range test; a song of your choosing suitable to the show) and a 1-hour movement workshop.

Sister Act Auditions

WHEN?

  • Thursday 30th March (5.30pm – 11pm)
  • Friday 31st March (5.30pm – 11pm)
  • Saturday 1st April (11am-11pm)

WHERE?

Venue – Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ

Auditions Facebook event page.

Download audition materials and casting information (here).

Sister Act @EdFringe’17

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, Grand Theatre, Nicolson Street, EH8 9DW (Venue 53)

Monday 14th – Sunday 20th August 2017

Evenings: 4pm (6pm)

+3 Review: The Marked (Pleasance Dome: 3rd-29th Aug: 13.30: 1hr)

“Remarkable theatre worthy of standing ovation”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

With an intricate set and haunting musical score, it’s clear from the off that this is a show that pays close attention to detail and creativity. And while, on the whole, this focus creates some remarkable theatre worthy of the standing ovation it received in this performance, for me at times it does border on being a little too artistic for its own good.

The story is fairly simple: homeless Jack (Bradley Thompson) is unable to sleep, as dreams of his aggressive, alcoholic mother haunt him. But he is able to overcome his demons by helping Sophie (Dorie Kinnear) – another homeless person he meets on the streets – from winding up in the same situation thanks to boyfriend Pete (Tom Stacy).

Told in a very visual way, we get to see into the darkest depths of Jack’s mind: the buried secret he’s been living with for so long, and the struggle he has to go through just to be able to help someone else. In terrifying flashback sequences, Jack becomes a child puppet and his mother a domineering masked figure whose eyes bleed while she brandishes a wine bottle, and in the most gut-wrenching of these she actually smashes the bottle on his head. The music, lighting and other effects come together in these moments to create a gripping dramatic intensity, made all the more stark by the slick changes back to the “real” world and its emptiness.

Through clever use of a repeated street scene (demonstrating the relentlessness and drudgery of homelessness), we see Jack’s journey – from tripping over faceless individuals he’s too scared to look at to start with, to their smiles and humanity at the end when he finally wins through. It’s a really powerful story, and Thompson more than delivers with raw emotion in this physically demanding role. Credit also to Kinnear and Stacy for every other character they play between them, as well as their handling of masks, puppets and various props.

While the visual and technical aspects of this show are absolutely outstanding, one of my main niggles is the appearance of the life-size talking pigeons towards the end (no, I’m not making this up). At this point in the show a bit of light relief is exactly what is needed to break up the emotional intensity of the previous scene, but this device cheapens the production and wholly detracts from what otherwise is a complex and well-thought through piece. To me this is one example of where Theatre Temoin try a bit too hard to be too creative, and at times I would have preferred a little less focus on all the “stuff”, and more on the basics of the acting and narrative.

The Marked is a stunning and unique performance, but perhaps just a little overreached creatively.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 12 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Early Doors (Pleasance pop-up @ The Jinglin’ Geordie: 5-29 Aug: 12.00: 1hr)

“A stunning piece of site-specific theatre”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

After the general bustle of buying drinks, finding seats and, of course, choosing your pub quiz team name, Early Doors opens with an introduction to each character, performed almost like an African tribal chant, which makes it feel like we (the bijou, but sell-out crowd) are being truly welcomed into their community. It’s rhythmic and theatrical but never over the top, and sets the tone for the lyrical, poetic styling of the piece as one long fable.

Our landlord and landlady are a young brother and sister who inherited the place when their mum died. They start by sharing memories of her, and set the scene for a potentially fractious relationship between them. We also meet various other characters in the community: the pub quiz master, who can’t help but share some details of his ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife; the bouncer, who recalls the end of his relationship with one of the local punters; and the “village idiot” who brings the comedy to proceedings. The characters are flawed but lovable, and the ensemble cast do a great job of sharing their world with us.

As the show progresses we get hints of the tensions and relationships between different characters, which help bring interest and drive the story. I did feel slightly robbed in some characters having comparatively little action, while others seemed quite unconnected to the main narrative, so for me, a little further development to see clearer links between each would really make this show spectacular – but this is only a small niggle considering the quality of action and overall performance value.

The piece is performed with wonderful energy, and the writing – in particular the language – of every aspect is exquisite, giving just enough detail to hook the audience without verging on rambling. Yet while some of the transitions between each section are smooth and logical, it is a shame that in other instances the show progresses by simply having one character leave and another mysteriously appear for no apparent reason.

There are so many wonderful aspects to this performance – the characterisation, storytelling, and sense of really being “in it” really are top notch and encapsulate everything I love about the Fringe. I would have just preferred some clearer links between sections and less disjointedness between some of the characters to give the piece a bit more cohesion.

Overall, I raise a glass to Not Too Tame and this stunning piece of site-specific theatre and urge you to go and join them at the Jinglin’ Geordie for a pint, a pub quiz and an engrossing performance.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 August)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED