Chicago: Reviewed

Apparently, this entire Just So production was put together in just six weeks. It’s absolutely incredible that they were able to do so much in so little time: the music numbers are numerous, the set pieces are large, and the choreography is elaborate and physically demanding. To pull off even a halfway decent version of this musical in that amount of time would be tricky. Considering what a great job this team did, it’s easy to see that this was a labour of love.

There were certainly some hiccups due to the accelerated timeline. The music at the opening of the show was of questionable quality; the instrumentals improved greatly after the first five minutes, and remained largely on point throughout the rest of the evening, but the show did not start with its best foot forward. There were also a few technical glitches throughout the show — most noticeably at intermission, when the curtain rose and fell several times before finally deciding to close. There were also a few moments when actors’ microphones did not turn on until a few lines into their songs. The actors, admirably, never missed a beat in their acting and singing when their mics were on the fritz.

The set design was relatively simple, but clever: the musicians sat at the back of the stage with a platform on each side for actors to dance on. For the “Cell Block Tango” number, two large movable platforms with tall bars were brought onstage for the actors to dance with. It all worked perfectly for the purposes of the different scenes. My personal favourite stage item, however, was the big “Chicago” sign hanging over the stage; for most of the musical it acted as a backdrop, but in the “Roxie” number it flashed for emphasis every time Catriona Ferguson (Roxie) sang “Roxie!”, adding a great extra touch to an already great performance.

The costumes were typical of Chicago, with most of the women dressed very scantily (lots of fishnet tights). I loved the touch in “We Both Reached for the Gun” where the reporters were played by the actors who had just played the “murderesses” — they wore the same outfits but with large blazers over the top.

The choreography was, on the whole, excellent. Choreographer Caroline Gant did a particularly great job with “Razzle Dazzle”, filling the stage with sequined dancers as Coggin Galbreath’s slimy Billy Flynn showed Ferguson’s Roxie what a circus the justice system really was. The slinkier dance numbers suffered a bit, however, as some of the actors’ sashaying felt coached to the point of being mechanical. Both Ferguson and Catriona Kadirkamanathan (Velma) especially seemed to suffer from this, which is understandable considering how much they must have had to rehearse in a such a short time.

While they put a lot of energy into the big dance numbers, I must admit that my own favourite songs were the quieter, more contemplative ones. Elliot Seth Faber (Amos)’s rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” was a sobering scene, his raw and honest emotion contrasting starkly with Ferguson’s gleeful, selfish “Me and My Baby” right before. Kadirkamanathan shone in many of the bigger numbers (and made me laugh in “I Can’t Do It Alone”) but dazzled alongside Ella-Rose Nevill (Mama Morton) when they slowed down for their dancing-light, irony-heavy duet, “Class.”

In spite of its issues, this production of Chicago was a strong one. The actors took a challenging piece and really made it their own, and the final result was exciting and nauseating in all the right ways.

4/5 Owlies




Snore: Reviewed

Max Posner’s Snore is a 2011 play that focuses on a group of close-knit friends whose relationships fracture as they begin to face the travails of adult life. The play itself is full of comically absurd moments, eliciting laughs whenever the backstage team wheeled on a cumbersome toilet that provides a comic backdrop for emotional duologues between various couples. It’s best quality is Posner’s ability to mix the mundane with the profound and sometimes tragic, and Director Martin Caforio shows a keen understanding of the tone and style of his chosen subject matter.

Another strength of the production is the performances, which all combine youthful energy with a contemplative maturity befitting this transitionary period in the lives of the characters. Martina Sardinelli and Jack Detwiler as Nina and Tom give the show its emotional anchor. I found their relationship immediately believable and lived-in, yet unfortunately was disappointed as their relationship proceeded to break down and they shared less and less time on stage. While this may be the fault of the script, I felt as if there was not nearly enough explanation given to Tom’s lengthy absences (a case he’s working on is repeatedly brought up but is not given enough time to be properly fleshed out, jostling for attention with half a dozen inconsequential subplots).

Morgan Corby impresses in his first scene as Abe, an excitable ball of charisma and neuroses who conceals an aching insecurity that is revealed as the story progresses. However, just as with Nina and Tom I felt his character soon loses his way, becoming a rambling and often nonsensical component of an increasingly difficult-to-follow plot. Alongside these enthusiastic performances are gleeful cameos from Grace Thorner and George Watts as oddballs who, again, despite their noble efforts, do not seem to fit naturally into the script past their initial scene. Ella Dao as Ally was often too quiet and hesitant for her supposedly feisty character, though she certainly gained confidence as the play progressed.

As mentioned above, the script is sporadic and often neglects to conclude (or even initiate) arcs for certain characters. I couldn’t tell while watching the show whether the producers had decided to cut the script down so it would be more digestible, but I found a number of gaps in the plot and character development that left me feeling cold by play’s end.

Set is minimal, which creates a cosy, domestic atmosphere, but also begs the question of why scene transitions take so long. Every time a scene changes the audience is forced to sit through a few minutes of ambient music and stage dressers haphazardly pulling off coats, chairs or toilets. While the attempt is impressive, one feels it could be more efficient. This also sometimes bleeds through into line delivery; while some scenes crackle with the chemistry of the cast, far too many have lengthy silences and moments of obvious hesitation.

Overall, although the final product could be more polished and focussed, this is an ambitious and worthy effort for a first time production team. I look forward to what’s coming next from Lost Boot Productions … 

3/5 Owlies

Reviewed: The Children’s Hour

When it comes to Peachy Keen Productions, I’ve learned to set my expectations high and wide open. The drive of this company is not toward reproducing what has worked for them in the past, but toward exploring and inventing something new. The Children’s Hour, directed by Rowan Wishart and produced by Anenti Winter, is no exception.

Lillian Hellman wrote the play in 1934, but this production feels fresh and contemporary with musical interludes by Kat Reynders and Anenti Winter, a brightly painted pop-up book of backdrops (à la The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil), and some remarkable performances.

Karin Sophia Johansson and Georgia Luckhurst lead the pack as Martha and Karen, two schoolteachers whose lives are ruined by accusations of a lesbian affair. The subtlety of this friendship between two women exhausted by the competing demands of rowdy children, a delusional aunt (Molly Williams), and a relentlessly cheerful fiancé (Connor Norris) holds everything else in place—at least until Sophia Kiely takes the stage. Kiely is almost too convincing as Mary Tilford, the manipulate child tyrant who starts the rumor about Martha and Karen. Anyone who has ever dealt with an impossible (would I go too far to say “evil”?) brat will shudder at Kiely’s wheedling, whinging, and chilling shifts of expression.

While these three are locked in opposition, the rest of the cast is working just as hard: standouts include Gabrielle Green as the ill-used Rosalie, Molly Williams as faded actress Mrs. Mortar, and Heather Tiernan and her tartan skirt as the formidable and inexplicably Scottish (no complaints) Agatha. 

Visually, the production is a mixed bag. Kat Reynders’s ‘60s costumes are the standout; the cohesive ensemble of jewel tones and carefully coordinated textures create a powerful sense of the world of this story—a world so detailed and specific it extends even to the beautiful paper-doll publicity illustrations by Sasha Man.

The set, unfortunately, has less of an eye for detail. The cardboard pop-up book is extremely ambitious and, at its best, magical. It is also bulky and prone to malfunction, which detracts from the effect. More importantly, though, it seems to belong on a different stage from the ordinary furniture in the foreground, and fails to feel like an extension of the space occupied by the characters. 

I also have to say that, while this script is excellent, its queer aspects are slightly unsettling to me. Doubtless The Children’s Hour was groundbreaking in 1934, but today I have my doubts about a play in which the only queer character takes her life after being snubbed by her friend, and the people who spread the rumor about the lesbian affair have to apologize, not for being vicious or prejudiced, but merely for being incorrect. Still, there is something to be said for preserving these moments in the history of queer culture and thinking about how they translate into new contexts—and there is even more to be said for a play in St. Andrews with twelve female roles, real period costumes, and creative decisions which are strong, if not always slick.

3/5

Orphée and Eurydice: Reviewed

Although I am admittedly not a die-hard opera fanatic, I was intrigued by the opportunity to see OpSoc’s unique take on the classic tale of Orphée and Eurydice, which used an excellent new translation by students from Professor Julia Prest’s “Translating French Opera” module. The plot is fairly straightforward: the grief-stricken Orphée journeys to the underworld to rescue her dead lover, Eurydice. Orphée must lead Eurydice back to the land of living without looking back at her—or she will be lost to her forever. 

Director Amy Addinall gave the opera a modern twist using a contemporary army setting, and by casting Orphée as female (Tabitha Benton-Evans). In the world of theatrical productions, reinvention treads a fine line—get carried away and it overshadows the story, don’t go far enough and creative changes lack purpose. On this occasion though, the adaptations only enhanced the opera and were cleverly incorporated through details such as camouflage army attire, military-style trench coats, and a gunshot to punctuate Eurydice’s death.

This allowed the indisputable main strength of this show to shine: the impressive vocal performances of Benton-Evans as Orphée, Millie Haldane as Eurydice, and Catriona Kadirkamanathan as Cupid. Benton-Evans was barely off-stage for the majority of the production, and she mastered the large repertoire of her role with poise and assurance. The chemistry between her Orphée and Haldane’s Eurydice was magnificent, and the comedic moments when Eurydice was exasperated by Orphée’s refusal to look at her were well executed. Especially impressive were the segments where Benton-Evans and Haldane were singing in harmony with impeccable tuning and clarity of diction, something which is very challenging and should be commended. Both Haldane and Kadirkamanathan dealt with tricky high soprano melodies with ease and captured the essence of their characters in their performances. Singing prowess was not confined to those in the lead roles—the chorus stayed in tune throughout and their vocal projection was admirable, especially given the absence of microphones. The band were also brilliant and there were few, if any, missteps in their playing. It was clear the band and the company had rehearsed together extensively beforehand, as they were beautifully in sync, a feat which can be attributed to musical director Fanny Empacher.

However, the first half did seem to plod along lethargically after the emotive opening number, and I did struggle to remain engaged—though that was probably largely due to the music being appropriately sombre after Eurydice’s death. This could have been offset with more interesting blocking, or some lighting or set changes, although I respect that it is in the character of operatic productions to refrain from extravagant tech or choreography. Given the simplistic blocking, the chorus needed to bring a high level of energy and make full use of facial expressions to convey the emotion behind the lyrics they were singing, and unfortunately this was missing at certain points. Similarly, there was a particularly noticeable disparity between those who fully committed to the portrayal of the menacing figures from the underworld and those who did not, which did detract somewhat from the drama of Orphée’s quest.

Nevertheless, given that this show was put together in the space of three weeks, and probably on a very tight budget, this was a truly exceptional effort from all involved, and the end result showcased the talents of the cast. Will I see another opera again in the near future? Maybe not; but seeing a well put-together production such as this one is always an absolute pleasure.

4/5 Owlies