Edinburgh Fringe 2012
The Boy Friend, Sandy Wilson’s glorious pastiche of the Broadway musical genre, is a longstanding favourite of am dram and student groups up and down the land. Set on the French Riviera in the roaring twenties, the piece offers a sparkling medley of songs and dance, and sets of coincidences not seen since Shakespeare was a lad.
This performance has an energy, freshness and enthusiasm which brings credit to the cast and shames some of the more professional offerings I have seen in Edinburgh this year. Its frothy, silly and timelessly stupid, like the characters it presents. And great fun. It is also uneven, sometimes rushed, and suffers as a consequence.
The Boy Friend is one of the great favourites of British amateur dramatics. Lots of roles, cheap to stage, and easy to sell, Sandy Wilson’s 1954 musical is a reverential and loving pastiche of the Broadway musical. Set on the French Riviera where the rich and famous send their daughters and sons to finishing school, the play is a celebration of song and dance, farce and frolics. Constructed on the most unlikely of coincidences and glued together by breathless pace and all-round silliness, the play is a perennial favourite and hardy annual.
This version of it has much of the boundless energy and enthusiasm required. the sixth formers work hard to bring the carefree abandonment of the musical to life. The cast offer a variety of contrasting styles, of frenzied activity, and sense of the farcical which the play demands. the set is limited but used to good effect. Particularly effective was the use of the stage and the auditorium together to provide a sense of breadth to a play which is not strong on depth. The cast work together well, and the overall direction has much to be applauded. Staff and students deserve our support for the efforts they make to get the play to Edinburgh, and for the exuberance with which they perform when they arrive.
Where it is less successful is in matching the variety of sizes, experiences, and voices of the sixth formers themselves. The cast can look very uneven, the voices can be too weak, occasionally too strong. The variety and quality of costumes didn’t help.There is a haste about this truncated version which makes it too breathless and rushed. For me, the dancing should have been more in evidence (a final dance could have been a more fitting finale), the singing less uneven.
This is a state school theatre group, a presence too sadly lacking at the Fringe in recent years. It is often the privately educated and privately funded who can now afford the Edinburgh run. The Fringe would benefit from increased presence of the state sector, and hopefully will find someway to encourage and enable more state school groups to attend.
If it doesn’t, then the Fringe risks becoming its own pastiche of the Boy Friend, light, frothy, privately funded, a plaything for the rich and famous.