Edinburgh Fringe 2018
With a plot based on real-life stories, this new musical aims to demolish preconceptions about human trafficking. Billed as a modern-day adaptation of Cinderella, a teenager is kidnapped after a party and forced into sex slavery. This is Human Rongs debut at the Fringe. Founded in 2017, the aim of the company is “To confront abuse of human rights of any shape or form through the prism of art, offering audiences an easy access to information about ongoing social injustices in the world”.
The first thing to strike the audience, on entering the theatre, is the five piece ensemble of piano, two guitars, woodwind and percussion, sitting upon a beautifully lit stage. After a brief introductory speech, which conveys the passion this new company have for achieving their aims, the musical begins.
The young cast of eight are clearly committed to this performance – all acting with enthusiasm and energy. The vocals are of a good standard, with diction generally clear, pitching good and harmonies well-rehearsed and effective. The musical accompaniment is of a high standard – with an exceptional, supportive pianist who conveys great rhythm and dynamics, bringing life and energy to the score. The piano not only accompanied the singing but was also used as incidental music for scene changes. Music was cleverly used to change the mood of certain elements of the performance – playing most effectively as background to the spoken dialogue at times. Given such a range of instruments on display it may be beneficial to consider utilising the guitars, woodwind and percussion a little more throughout the performance, as they seemed to play only intermittently (though to very good effect), for a few of the musical numbers.
The staging made good use of the space and the two main dance pieces had interesting choreography, incorporating lifts, and were well performed. The pace of the performance was generally varied to good effect, though some of the scene changes may benefit from being a little slicker, to prevent the action from dipping too much in the blackouts. The table, used in a couple of scenes, seemed to dominate the stage at times and may have benefitted from being smaller. Lighting was used most effectively throughout the performance.
Unfortunately, the duration of the current performance provided insufficient time to develop the characters fully, to convey emotional depth, or to expand on the true stories upon which this performance has been created. The story moved at such a rapid pace that it had to skim over themes that would benefit from further explanation and development. The ambitious script attempted to cover so many challenging elements – violence and slavery (at home and in a brothel), falling in love, kidnapping, police corruption and family betrayals – which proved a difficult task for a 55 minute performance. As a result the plot lacked depth, seeming to cover these elements in a very simplistic fashion. The script may benefit from greater focus on fewer issues, or from expansion into a longer performance. The clever concept of the Cinderella story may also benefit from greater clarity as currently it peters out fairly early on in the performance, with only a few, early, similarities that are recognisable.
The musical score covered a range of different styles, helping to vary the pace and interest, though possibly at the expense of creating a sense of cohesion to the piece. There were a couple of musical highlights – notably the song at the party, with a melody bouncing between the men and women working particularly well, and Cece’s early solo. Generally, however, the tunes were not particularly melodic and – though this may have been intentional – the outcome was that they were not particularly memorable. There were occasional creative and inventive lyrics, though some that seemed overly simplistic with contrived rhymes may benefit from review. In general the songs were effective in serving to move the story along, though the script may benefit from providing a smoother transition from dialogue to song at times.
Human- trafficking is a challenging topic to tackle in the form of a new musical and it is a brave idea to see the potential this vehicle may have as a method to raise awareness. The idea of portraying the story as an adaptation of the Cinderella tale seems very innovative – with the title of the production one that certainly catches attention. Unfortunately, I do not think today’s audience left the performance knowing any more about human-trafficking than they did before. I suspect, like me, they were also puzzled by the title of the show and how the performance linked with the tale of Cinderella.
This production is likely to benefit from further development if it is to become “A Fair Tale”. In its current form it appears that it is trying to cover too many elements in too short a performance time. The lack of necessary depth creates a very real danger that it is viewed as a superficial, simplistic attempt to explore a serious topic. However, the commitment of this young company is admirable. With further work there is potential for this production to develop into one that may achieve their commendable aims. A brave attempt to tackle a serious issue, from an ambitious, enthusiastic and passionate young company.