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This day was probably one of the lowest ones of my stay at the fringe. The tone was set entirely by the shows I went to see. Skipping the trivia of getting up and mooching around the city, let's look instead at my motivation for going to the various shows. There was the first one - Insert Punchline Here - for which I'd read a reasonable review and which had attracted me with a poster showing a picture of Harold Shipman with the tagline "Doctor Doctor, there's a pillow on my face". It sounded like fun sketch comedy and it also had a gameshow aspect to it too. Worth a shot, I thought.
Then, there was a youth arts production of Sweeney Todd. I've recently obtained a copy of this show on CD and wanted to see the story played out so I could understand it better. Okay so they were only doing an hour and fifteen minutes of production, but it would be the best thing I could manage until finding a professional or semi-pro show to see. Plus, youth productions can be good. It was at this production that I formed my opinion of those people who put on typical Sondheim productions - they have to be bloody amazing, or self-delusional.
Then there was Kept. A new show for the fringe, whose writers had given it to a student company to put on as a world premiere. I had met various members of the cast and was told that this hour and forty five minutes was probably one of the worst on the fringe. I was also told that the cast were hard on themselves and the show - I wanted to see for myself and also to support the people I'd grown fond of during long sessions in the bar at C Main.
The day ran from bad to worse. The first show was okay enough, but the others set my nerves on edge. After Kept, its cast rushed back to C Main to see the show I'd already seen - Joe Stalin : The Musical. I joined them. That was my motivation for seeing Stalin a second time. I'll review it a second time... maybe more positively than I did on day 5.
After the shows were done, I went to the bar where they were having a "School Disco". This seemed such a good idea until I remembered why I never liked school discos in the first place. Apart from the fact that I went to an all boys school, these events are, basically, rubbish. Sure, if you're young and good looking you might find it a nice place to get temporarily close to an equally young and good looking counterpart, but frankly I'm neither and I was in the wrong place to be my usual self.
So, I wandered over to the bar of the Pleasance Dome, where I found more like-minded people. After a conversation at the bar led to my joining a group of strangers, we got chatting quite congenially and I found one of my company to be Katherine Jakeways, who was performing a show at the Pleasance and who I promised to attempt to go along and see. This I later did, but let's pretend you don't know that, since it spoils the story. Actually, there is no story, but let's pretend that you don't know that too... I'm not sure there's even a "you". Aaagh!
So, a good end to what was turning into an horrific day.
Show: Insert Punchline Here
Performed by: AMoC Productions
Where: Gilded Balloon Caves 2
I managed to get a ticket for this at half price. Such is the pot-luck you can get when you buy tickets from the Gilded Balloon. As it happens, the show I saw was worth the ticket price I paid. They were a capable group of performers, and some of their sketches were pretty good fun. The lack of audience and the lack of any real panache in their script-writing was a bit of a let down. At the end of the day, they could have done a lot better.
Having said that, I did win a Rick Astley LP from them, though I had to return it, since I had no intention of carrying it around town with me.
I later met one of the cast and managed to find a nice way of saying that the performance was better than the show. In the end, they brought a show to Edinburgh successfully... I didn't!
Show: Sweeney Todd
Performed by: Youth Arts Leicestershire
Where: St Ann's Community Centre
I went from a show where the performance was better than a script (the last one) to a show where the script was better than the performance. The secret to Sondheim as I mentioned above is either to do it well, or not care about the end result. The problem I had here was a three-pronged turmoil.
At one point I wanted to grab one of the chorus and shout at her for singing sharp. I wanted to grab the whole chorus when they made "God that's good" sound like three blind mice. Most of all I wanted to shout at their musical director for bad casting and not enough drilling.
Yet, the physical side of the show was fine. They could enact it reasonably and were using their costumes, dance and the set to excellent effect.
In summary, they simply overstretched themselves. I hope they thought it as bad as I did... at least then I can be certain that there's no madness involved in the process.
Performed by: Collapsible Theatre Company
Where: C Too
Oh dear! Oh dear oh dear! One hour and forty five minutes of my life, trapped in a sparsely populated room watching a very poor musical. I feel sorry for Juliette from the Oxford Revue (the Oxford Revue were the front row, I was in row 2) whose experience watching the show must have been punctuated by my regular sharp intakes of breath.
As it happens, the play behind the musical was reasonable enough and the performances during the dialogue were pretty convincing. The problem with the writing was that every time they burst into song, I wanted to die! Perhaps that's unfair. Only MOST times they broke into song did I want the ground to open up and take me away from the torture I was enduring. About three songs were ok. It's easy to see how these songs may have sounded great to their American writers at the time, but the combination of bad lyrics and cliches nearly murdered me and I know American writers can do better - look at most of the world's greatest musicals.
Here are some of the things that were wrong with this show in staging, performance and writing:
If they took all the music out, this would probably be a better show. As it was, it drove me mental, rose my stress levels and made me take my breath in far too many times. The good news is that I'll never have to see it again!
Show: An Evening with Joe : Stalin The Musical
Performed by: Cambridge ADC
Where: C Main
Let's look at what this show had:
When I first saw the show I didn't know how to take it. Knowing how to take it, I sat back and enjoyed it. Maybe there were 20 lines I would have removed from the script. Compare that with 20 I'd have kept in "Kept". Maybe there were a few "in jokes with myself" gags in there from the writer. So what!? It was just great!
Spent £29.25, saw 4 shows - one was even good. At the day's end:
Total shows seen: 57
Total shows performed: 10
Total spent: £392.25
>> Day 20
27 August 2003