Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This acclaimed comic musical is back for its second year at the Fringe, playing to packed houses. The story of five students exploring the first days of their new university lives – awkward conversations, dire drinking games, embarrassing fancy dress, and a web of secrets and lies – Fresher the Musical is a slick, fast-paced comedy with fun songs and a lively cast.
Sally Torode’s book is slick and fast-paced, the characters, scenarios and issues easily recognisable to the students in the audience, but enjoyed by the older and non-student members of the audience too as many of the jokes were universally funny. Rupert’s posh street slang is particularly well written, especially his raps which really are what he would call ‘excellizzle’. Mark Aspinall’s lyrics were funny and apt – the act of setting them to music making such banalities as ‘why am I talking such crap?’ into comic gems, and the music was catchy, fun and well performed.
The actors are great individual performers who have created an effective ensemble bond. Dan Buckley’s Rupert was perhaps the best received by the audience, and indeed he is an inspired character brilliantly rendered (his comic delivery is superb), but this should not detract from the high quality performances of the other actors, who all contributed equally to make this a very strong ensemble. Natalie Bush’s Ally is a pleasing caricature of a spoilt rich girl, but she still manages to retain our sympathies, as do they all. James Darch’s Basil has perhaps the most emotional turmoil to deal with, which he delivers in a tempered, understated way that elicits the audience’s respect as well as sympathy. Alexis Gerred plays Tuc, the character who is essentially pivotal to much of the action of the story, with an excellent sensitivity to the different layers of his personality, and without ever overplaying him or taking the focus from the others. And finally Hayley, possibly the most likable character, is played by Grace Eccleson with such warmth and conviction that when she gets the happy ending she deserves there were cheers and applause from the audience.
Andrew Beckett’s sparse but effective scenery has all the garish uniformity of university halls of residence – the coloured boxes for each character’s belongings filed in a corresponding coloured shelf a neat idea that visually epitomises the characters in the set. The costumes were thoughtfully chosen, the fancy dress outfits for each character were particularly clever and funny.
The show plays pleasingly with the genre, an excellent example being the moment when Dan Buckley as Rupert says ‘I have to make her mine – but how?’ and the lights snap to a single spotlight on him, as the first bars of music begin and he looks soulfully outwards before starting his big number (complete with a very funny top hat and cane dance). The show succeeds in entertaining, but also in invoking the familiar feelings of awkwardness and unfamiliarity that is in the inevitable start to university life. It is fun and funny, and the genre of musical theatre allows a fresh and sympathetic angle on a familiar theme. Last year Fringe Review gave Fresher the Musical 4 stars, a rating I concur with. It uses familiar stories and techniques and some innovative ideas to create an entertaining show, the writing and performance are consistently slick and funny: it is a very good example of its genre.