Edinburgh Fringe 2018
High-octane vocals and movement from a group of very talented musicians.
To a rammed theSpaceUK Triplex to catch the final show (in this year’s Fringe at any rate) from Bristol Suspensions, a fifteen strong, high octane a cappella group based down at Bristol University. Turns out that it’s also the final, final show for around half this group as well, as they’re moving on next year, presumably to start repaying all that student debt they’ve accumulated, some of it perhaps wisely invested in this trip to Edinburgh.
And what final performance this proved to be. Packed with energy and passion from the off, this group really know how to play to an audience and how to use every inch of the stage on which they are performing. You can see why they were winners of The Voice Festival UK in 2016. Every note is pitch perfect, as you might expect. And both the ensemble and the solo voices had a clarity that helped them tell a story with each of the songs in this impressive set.
Particular credit should go to Rachael Mailer for an exquisite rendition of Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road – the expression, pathos and melancholy in her voice was first class in what was a challenging arrangement from Dan Mailer. And Mailer himself deserves plaudits for his charismatic, witty narration and for adding such depth to the harmonies with his rounded, resonant bass.
Voices aside though, there are a number of things that make this crew stand out from the rather crowded space that is university a cappella.
Firstly, movement. This was an hour of consummate, creative choreography. Every inch of the stage was used. Tableaux were inventive and precise. Movement appeared effortless but, with the numbers on stage, it must have taken a lot of rehearsal to ensure that there was never the slightest hint that anyone was going to crash into anyone else. It was brave of choreographer Sam Walter to pack this amount of dance into a show like this, but his charges did him proud.
Secondly, this was a cappella with a storyline, one that managed to be dry, droll, self-deprecating and amusingly cheesy, especially when we hit the denouement. None of the usual “quick mumble and onto the next number on the playlist” here. We had a full-blown soap opera charting the various “love interests” bouncing around the group with cast members playing nicely worked vignettes in between each number with the aforementioned Mr Mailer always on hand with witty asides.
Finally, musical variety was also a strong point of this group. The rather loose interpretation of the “love” theme saw them cover a range or artists, including Coheed and Cambria, Little Mix, Netta, Pussycat Dolls and Stevie Wonder in addition to some rap and reggae tossed in for the fun of it. I suppose a quizzical eyebrow might be raised at the inclusion of an arrangement Foo Fighters The Pretender but, hey, why let a storyline/theme get in the way of a good song.
It’s often nice to see a show at the end of its run. The cast are generally well into the piece by then, are much more relaxed and that often comes through in the performance, no more so than here where the cast’s evident enthusiasm for their music and for each other ensured that we got a great performance and those who were leaving had a great send off. Uplifting music from a group that is well worth seeking out.