Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Sharp, witty lyrics in this delightful pastiche on the role of the reviewer.
Squeezing myself into the packed throng at Greenside’s new Nicolson Square Upstairs venue, I was curious as to why so many were brandishing notebooks and pencils. The Reviewers hasn’t exactly been mobbed by the people it pokes fun at but producer Jenny Kohnhorst told me afterwards that word is apparently starting to get around, which probably explains the scribbling masses present this Monday lunch-time.
Stung by the Fringe critique of her 1984 angst ridden, generic student musical, Keira Cochrane vows to become Queen of the Royal Mile and get her own back on the spineless scrawlers. And so ‘Spawn of the West End Reviews’, headed by this cold, calculating would-be maker and breaker of reputations, tries to turn Edinburgh into a miserable place to be during Fringe month. Unlike the pure and unsullied scribblers for this and other publications though, Keira sells stars – for money and other unmentionable favours. So when the Critic with No Name rides into town with objective critique and promotion of good theatre as his governing ideologies, it comes down to who secures the most likes in a trial by posting.
This collaboration between librettist Adam Wells, composer Elizabeth Charlesworth and a bunch of Nottingham University’s finest, is a light and highly amusing parody (pastiche, even) of the mayhem that is the Fringe reviewer’s life. Companies are desperate to get star ratings, (come on, darling, it’s worth at least four), and writers are equally anxious to see review quotes splattered across flyers and billboards, headlined on websites and tweeted to anyone with a phone. It makes for a tense time for all.
But with this pretty simple plot, we reviewers were going to need some really witty lyrics to keep us from dozing off or, worse still, panning the show. We got them, by the bucket load. I lost count of the cheesy, the satirical, the ironic and the sardonic one-liners that had me (and my fellow scribes) suppressing laughs for fear of missing the next witticism. OK, a lot of the songs sounded like each other but this wasn’t supposed to be Wagner – the music was there to support the singers and allow them to get across the lyrics containing the guts of the story. Which they did.
This being a musical, we reviewers also had a right to expect people to hit most of the right notes. Whilst one or two soloists found themselves a bit exposed, Lyle Fulton as the Critic With No Name had a fine tenor voice and an exquisite sense of comedic timing. Madeline Hardy as Keira Cochrane seemed happiest when singing and produced a rounded soprano sound. Her spoken word was less clear, however, leading to one or two lines disappearing into the ether.
But the stand out star and vocalist was Aimee Gaudin who played Laura, the potential love of our splendidly nerdy Critic With No Name – perfect pitch and tone every time and the ability to hit the back of auditoriums far bigger than this one. And, boy can the girl act.
I’ve been bashing out reviews here and in other places for quite a while now, which is what attracted me to take in this piece. So, what’s the verdict? For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it, hugely. I had fun – it made me laugh at myself which is always a good thing. I don’t know if I write a decent critique, but I do my best to remain objective about what I’ve seen and call it as I see it. Yet at the end of the day what I write is just my opinion and this normally takes a day or so to feed its way back to the performers, if they bother to read it at all.
The most important feedback performers get comes from their audience. It’s spontaneous which for me makes it the best verdict. This house was very generous in its applause and was somewhat reluctant to leave, always a good sign. On that basis, it’s a must for every reviewer (and there are over 1400 working the Fringe this year), and anyone else who wants a fun hour.