It’s been a crazy day.
Golf, driving lessons (more later) and at the end of it the latest Forth Children's Theatre festival show. Their 29th and the first with no hand of my dad involved.
The Director, Claire Stewart, speculated in her programme notes that parts of it would have given him ‘the tingles’ and there can be no doubt that she called that one right.
This show is actually so impressive that it makes you step back and re-evaluate this theatre company. But please don’t expect what follows to be unchallenging.
FCT has staged 58 productions and it’s fair to say they’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly with a very strong leaning to the former. But, folks, The Lords of Creation? Everyone screws up sometime.
This show though? This was FCT on steroids.
A Cockerney setting.
FCT loves Cockerney – great excuse to do ‘accents’
However, it had a bleakness that was, unusually for FCT, not offset by a few gags and a singalonga happy chappy come on it’s not all that bad, number. (Doin’ the Lambeth Walk and all that.)
No, this was tragi-comedy without the laughs.
This was bleak.
But, hey, was Robbie LS looking for laughs?
He wrote a very focussed morality tale about good v evil in which (of course) good wins – well, the Victorians were a bit predictable.
Technically this was the most accomplished show in FCT history (perhaps Oh, What a Lovely War had more technical innovation but the lighting, sound and set in this show were awesome.) I sat in the back row and heard every word.
The choreography, I don’t know if you’d call it that, movement might be a better word, (see previous reference to lack of Lambeth Walks) was so considered and impactful as to punch you.
Aggressive, in your face.
Low, moody eyelines prevailed and worked fantastically . At one stage the chorus lined the auditorium, turning and looking pointedly and uneasing the audience. I loved that.
The costumes were probably the best I’d ever seen, so themed, by colour especially and such high quality. They contributed greatly to the sense of time.
The band? How insulting to call them a band. This was an orchestra. Their role in this performance was fundamental and flawless. At times I thought it must be a CD playing, it was so flawless. And boy, you guys owe a debt of gratitude to your sound man for mixing it all so brilliantly!
So, turning to the show itself. I’ll caveat the rest of my views with a question, a challenge I suppose, and one that I wasn’t alone in asking!
Was this show ‘on-brand’ for FCT?
At the interval I thought not. Even after it, and despite how good it was, I’m still asking myself that.
As Thom Dibdin said in his review in The Edinburgh Evening News the material causes problems for a Youth production, and I agree with him. In the first act, at least, it seemed to me that it had been a little too unremitting in its gloom and too heavy on reliance upon the principals’ performances. The second act (nearly) changed my mind. Mainly because the highlight of the show ‘Murder Murder” opened the act, drew your breathe away and established the chorus as a vital part of the energy of the show. And the chorus is fundamentally what FCT has always been about. I’d be sad to see that go.
FCT need never consider a festival production of Waiting for Godot. (musical or otherwise.)
It was a small cast by FCT standards – only 33 – and I wondered, for a while, if less was really more, but the second act reassured me.
All of this sounds a bit negative, but the experience was far from negative. Because, cutting to the chase, this was singularly the most impressive FCT performance I have ever seen.
I’ll have to revert to superlatives now. Hannah Scott was awesome, just collosal in her performance as the hooker with a heart, Lucy, she very nearly stole the show. But let’s be honest, how could she? She was supporting Matthew Smith who played both Jekyll and Hyde with a maturity that has to defy his age. (I have little doubt that he will fulfil his ambition of singing on the West End because he is a major talent.) It so happens I also saw him in lighter mode at the Holy Cross Players Panto and he was a hoot.
Every single principal was on the nail, but ultimately it comes down to direction and I have to say Claire Stewart has once again performed a PB.
Whatever your views of the script/libretto (and in our group they were mixed) what Claire Stewart drew out of this group was simply brilliant. “Murder Murder” was one of the finest moments I have ever experienced in a theatre.
As a whole I feel the show is flawed. It’s a bit too bleak, and lacks light and shade during a lot of the, quite long, first half storytelling stage but every opportunity to squeeze a bit of interest out of it Claire Stewart took.
Overall verdict? Outstanding