Les Miserables by Captivate Theatre: At the Rose Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Review


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I know how difficult Les Mis is for a youth group, trust me.  But Captivate have been honing their skills on the Fringe with this show (different casts each year) for a while now so they should know how to go about it.

And they do.

The Rose Theatre is a welcome addition to our theatrical real estate in Edinburgh and when they sort out their technical teething problems it will be a brilliant venue.  Today’s was more succesful than the National Youth Jazz Orchestra gig that I reviewed earlier in the year, but it’s not quite nailed on yet.

But let’s forget about that, shall we, and concentrate instead on this stupendous production.  The nature of working a shared venue necessitates a parsity of set design but Director, Sally Lyall, has done a good job in utilising a bunch of grey wooden crates that come into their own at the barrier scene which works really well.  I also liked her devise for transporting the ‘souls’ of the many fatalities in this celebrated show off the stage and through the audience.

It’s a lovely visual leitmotif.

In general her direction is assured and light handed, but at times there is a tendency for ‘enthusiasm’ that I’d like better if it was dialled down to 9.  But in the quieter, more poignant, moments such as Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, I Dreamed a Dream, On my Own and Bring Him Home she creates an electrifyingly intense audience connection.

The ensemble is brilliant.  Every number they perform is welcome, solid, and really well pitched.

The orchestra (it’s not a band) is big, beefy and boisterous.  They do a fine job

But it’s the succession of excellent principle performances that really gets you.

I loved Conall Ross’ Marius (one of my favourite parts in the show) and I adored his Empty Chairs (for me the song of Les Mis).  He’s nicely soppy but engaging with it.  The scene with his comrades, prior to battle, where he declares his undying and sudden love for Cosette is really well done.

Cosette herself is simply wonderful with Naomi Anderson reminding me of a young Irene Allan (her delightful soprano voice really resonates with emotion).

The Thenardiers are both brilliant (but especially Georgia-Lee Roberts who would give Les Dawson a run for his money in any gurning competition), Eion Mullen though is also great.

Rosie Graham’s hapless Eponine gathers momentum throughout the show and she puts in a lovely understated performance.

Kara Chalmers is beautiful as Fantine and she totally hits the spot with her show-stopper moment.

The youngsters; Little Cosette (Isla Manson/Georgia Sim/Kayla Travers) and Gavroche (Tom Barclay or Seamus Cross – I know it wasn’t Andrew Gilbert as he used to be in my Youth Theatre) were also excellent.

But, for the show to really work, you need a strong Valjean and Javert.  Both were outstanding.  They bounced off each other convincingly and Benjamin Collins’ rendition of On my Own hit all the high spots with an assured use of falsetto.  That can be the death of many a Valjean; long before the Epilogue. Finlay McKillop sounds like an opera singer and is destined for good things in the future.  I would’t be surprised if he turns up at the Conservatoire.

Collectively, their excellent diction really helped move an extremely complex story along, at a fair old clip, in a very coherent way and that can be another real problem with Les Mis.

Not this one.

That was a 4.5 stars for me guys.  Enjoy your run.  The standing ovation at the end proved I was not alone in this view.

 

Birthday Cake: Review, Edinburgh Fringe, KCS Theatre


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KCS Theatre boast of six successive five star reviews from the Scotsman so the implication is that similiar will follow.  (I find it interesting that the Scotsman choose to review a London Youth theatre six years in a row but Edinburgh’s finest Youth tTheatre has not had a single review since the 1980’s but that’s an aside.)

However this is no five star show.  Presented earnestly by an enthusiastic cast it suffers a little from being presented in a conveyor belt venue where productions are rattled through with little or no chance for production design other than the most basic.  The story (described as a dark comedy) concerns at the stabbing of a teenager, Louie, that is presented in a series of flashbacks of his teenage life in which we discover his struggles with his sexuality.

The story is very difficult to follow and the acting, although pretty decent has a lack of real conviction.

Although an obvious friend of the company behind me found the whole thing hysterical I can’t say there was a single laugh out loud moment.

Startlingly average in my opinion.

At C Venues Level 3.

 

£¥€$ (Lies). Review. At Summerhall. (No spoilers)


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Belgian shockmeisters, Ontroerend Goed, are renowned for creating immersive theatre that freaks out its audiences.  I’ve never had the balls (or got in fast enough to buy tickets) to actually see them, but I was quick off the mark this year.

I’m very, very glad of that because this fully immersive metaphor for the 2008 crash is a compelling and unpredictable experience; part casino experience, part theatre part competition it’s brilliantly managed from the sound design through to the temperature control of the room.  Both contribute to creating an atmosphere that winds up the audience from the get go.

It’s hilarious and fascinating in equal part.

I don’t want to say any more for risk of spoilers.

It’s completely sold out so I count myself lucky to have experienced this monumentally clever and wholly original theatrical experience.

Seance. Review, Summerhall


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I saw Fiction at last year’s Fringe by the same creators (Glen Neath and David Rosenberg).  It was a mega creepy aural experimental show in a blackened out Potter Row and I loved it.  So I was full of anticipation for a Seance in a blacked out shipping container.  Whilst it’s creepy it’s by no means terrifying,  not by a long shot.

Some may be freaked by it.  Not I though.  Having said that it’s clever and brilliantly sound designed.  So, for a fiver, you get something good, just not great.

Sasquatch, The Opera: Review. Summerhall.


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To describe this as bonkers is approaching understatement.  Ina production desperately let down by both lighting and design teams Roddy Bottum’s opera is still a great success.  The sound, in particular, is so all  over the place that it’s hard to follow the storyline but that doesn’t matter so much as the band is brilliant, the score outstanding and the performances excellent.

Two keys, (one is Bottum), a drum machine, Tympani and two trumpets make up the ‘orchestra’ and the synth led score is simply brilliant, certainly not what I expected from a metal band member.  It’s nearer early Human League than it is Faith No More.

Certainly it left some audience members cold with several walk outs, but the rest of us (notwithstanding the shoddy tech) loved it.

Go see.

Nina – A Story about me and Nina Simone. The Traverse Edinburgh Fringe, review.


 

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This is an ambitious theatrical piece but I wonder if it was playing in the wrong place to the wrong audience.

Because the audience is 99.5% white.  We’re all middle class.  We’re mainly liberals.

I want to see this show in Alabama.  In Mississippi. In Detroit.  (as a fly on the wall) Because Josette Bushell-Mingo’s anger, pride and passion for this first lady of Jazz infused political outcry is great.  But I am not her constituency;  much as I might want to be.

It’s part play, part gig and brilliantly defines the anger and political influence of dear departed Nina Simone.

The design is, at times, with the use of an ingenious metal back cloth, absolutely stunning.

 

The band; Shapor Bastansiar on keys, Shaney Forbes (fuck me he’s good) on drums and Jair -Rohm Parker Wells on double bass are electric (but acoustic); but sadly the afternoon we saw Josette the vocal delivery was a big fight as her mic seemed underpowered.

As for Josette. Her voice is amazing.  Her performance is amazing.  The gig part of the show is amazing.

But the point of it.  The politics. In Edinburgh in August?  I’m not convinced.

Josette, if you read this, (I don’t suppose you will) I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.  It’s a brilliant production I just think it could have more impact, rather than luvvie appreciation in other more relevant places.

 

Into The Woods. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Assembly Hall, The Mound, review. Edinburgh Fringe 2017.


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Many lovers of Stephen Sondheim’s classic, Into The Woods, were disappointed with Disney’s movie version as it strayed too much off point. Not me, I liked the way Disney popularised a bloody difficult show.

But RCS is big enough, and talented enough, to go back to basics and stage an authentic labyrinthian production with so many characters, so many sub plots, but one whole, that demands a faultless ensemble to deliver (and a faultless band/orchestra).

This delivers.

The show itself is a blockbuster, with many great numbers and much classic Sondheim nuance, noodling and conundrumery.

In the world of musical wordplay Sondheim has no equal.  This is his masterpiece in that respect.

It might not reach the heights of his MUSICAL masterpiece, Sweeny Todd, but it ain’t far behind.

And if you want to put the next generation of Scotland’s (in fact beyond Scotland) best talent through their paces this is an inspired choice.

My one complaint is that the man behind us appeared to be breathing through some sort of oxygen mask and proved a great distraction but hey ho, you’re not going to say ‘Gonnae no dae that?’ to a man in an oxygen mask; are you?

At the interval we perused the situation.  He wasn’t in a mask he was just, you know, a show spoiler.

So we moved to shite seats, with a restricted view and poorer acoustics, but no sub-soundtrack of Holby fucking City.

Anyway, to the show.  Decent design.  Great lighting (whyever not, as Grant Anderson designed is in the chair).  Outstanding band. And brilliantly choreographed.

But, at the end of the day it’s about the ensemble.  There’s essentially 17 main parts and several secondary roles.  In a perfect ITW you need a 17/17.

This wasn’t that, but I’d say 14/17.

And the key parts delivered big style. (There seems, from the programme notes to be some doubling up of parts so apologies if I have called names wrongly and I will correct if need be)

Abigail Stephenson as Little Red Riding Hood steals the show in her skippy, dippy, innocent but vicious rendering of the role. Eu Jin Hwang pulls off the Baker’s role sympathetically.

Philippa Cassar is excellent as Cinderella and I liked Andrew Sowrey’s Steward.

Caroline Lyell is brilliant as the witch.

It’s an absorbing engrossing production in a great venue.  Go see it.