Fringe Online 2021
Hear ye, hear ye! There is devilment afoot in Summertown as the villain, Stroke, with a moustache to match, has arrived to take over the factory and become the master of the village. His villainous intent is a legacy that shall be continued by his son, in cahoots with the local doctor, and together over 30 years, they and their children attempt to hoodwink the people of this fine town and exploit them mercilessly. Fortunately, the villagers are more than up to the task over 5 episodes to thwart such villainy!
I have watched this a couple of time because it is just delightful. Using special needs actors, because that is who they are, the enthusiasm and the joy of each performance is the charm and delight of it. This has been gone into with such gusto that the pieces of obvious incongruity can be forgiven.
The narrative is a stock affair with no real surprises. A villainous man who has designs on making money, an accomplice – the fantastically named, Dr. Killjoy – is partly hoodwinked by him and partly his willing sidekick has come to town for the factory. The village, curious as to see who has arrived in tehri midst slowly realise the intent and our villain is faced with an array of wonderful characters destined to combine together and win the day – from Maggie/Wee Maggie, to PC George/Bill to Angelina Buckwith. We are taken from the late 19th Century through to the First World War as the sons and daughters of our original characters take on the storytelling mantle of their parents. It is a fine idea. The storyline is stock melodrama, and it suits this cast beautifully. I am sure there was plenty of laughter and enjoyment – with tears, tantrums and many, many sessions of encouragement – as they got to take their emotion to the extremes of the characterization required to sell the whole thing.
And the acting! Well, melodrama is perfect. The actors sell it to you with tremendous gusto. It is simply enchanting as each of them gives the performance of a lifetime. It is unfair to point out individuals as you get the feeling that this is a cast who have been largely supportive of each other as there is a camaraderie and togetherness that comes across. I would however suggest that one character has a series in them – Angelina Buckwith. The rest of the cast could ably support her as she tours the world solving criminal enterprises and thwarting masterminds.
Where this raises itself from the indulgent awws and sighs of look at how much they are enjoying themselves to awe in terms of craft is the technical detail alongside their engagement with the process. The creative use of the Queen’s Park bowling club to stage the ball is masterful. The attention to the detail with green screen, fading in and out, the lying on the railway tracks of Wee Maggie and Dr. Killjoy are highlights but overall, it is just a fantastic way of combining art with the ability of the cast. It gives this a feel of creative investment rather than an afterthought. The titles take us to Pathe and the care and attention of each shot takes us beyond the minor Zoom issues – we can forgive the modernity of each house that does not always fit with the times in which they are performing – especially TV screens and current stars of a certain Glasgow fitba team. The zoom recordings when they use multiple voices are great. The ensemble nature of their work is shown off to such a tremendous effect.
It is often easy to get caught up in the moment with performances of special needs actors and dip into condescension. We treasure not their creativity but their naivete in performance which means we miss something. That which we miss is their contribution to the whole creative process. Here the combination of director, writer and technical support have their team in the spotlight because they have harnessed their team’s creativity; they have not given to them but included them. It gives as a very successful contribution to art. It is simply not yet another worthy project filled with the ability to wonder at just how lovely they all are but to celebrate how they enjoy a creative process and put us all to shame with their commitment to it. I loved this, have told plenty of people all about it and would thoroughly recommend you take your creatively critical eye and go and learn what it is like to emerge from lockdown with your art intact.