EUSOG

Sweet Charity

08/08/19

Paradise in Augustines, Edinburgh

Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity is a genuine oddity, a brash belter of a musical that first hit Broadway in 1966, right at the dawning of the flower power movement. It has a delicious  edge of hippy nuttiness about it and a plot that seems to have been generated by a malfunctioning software programme. It also features one of the bleakest endings to an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that I’ve ever witnessed. So it seems a brave choice for EUSOG’s Fringe show, with the potential to go spectacularly wrong.

But the students rise to the challenge with their usual aplomb, delivering a high-octane, multi-coloured workout for the senses. Charity Hope Valentine (Tilly Botsford) works as a ‘dance hostess’ at the Fandango Ballroom, a seedy club in New York. She’s always on the lookout for the next big spender and eternally hopeful that one day she’ll find true love and escape from the clutches of Herman (Kirsten Miller), the club’s hardhearted manager.

But when Charity’s latest squeeze pushes her in a lake and makes off with her purse, she begins to suspect great things are not waiting just around the corner. Then she gets tangled up with fading Hollywood star, Vittorio Vidal (Rupert Waley) and, shortly afterwards, finds herself trapped in a lift with the neurotic Oscar (Ewan Bruce). Maybe this time things will work out okay… or maybe not. Ever have one of those days?

Botsford (who we’ve seen in a whole variety of roles over the past few years) is a constant delight in the lead role, singing and dancing her way through the story with evident glee and making us believe that such a ditsy character really could function in the real world. But this is more than just a vehicle for her talents. The vibrant ensemble dance routines are a joy to watch, particularly a frenetic rendition of The Rythm of Life led by Daddy Brubeck (Anna Phillips).

If you’re in need of a little more pep in your life, head down to Paradise without further hesitation and grab yourself a fix. It’ll light you up like a flashbulb.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Oliver!

 

29/11/17

Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

Ah, Oliver! Beloved by schools and youth groups, its jaunty sing-a-long-a-songs and larger-than-life characters mean that we often forget what it’s really about, the squalor and violence of Dickens’ London romanticised beyond recognition: all cute kids and bright handkerchiefs, the focus on the (frankly dubious) rags to riches element of the tale.

EUSOG’S version, directed by Erica Belton, works hard to avoid this trap. Of course, this being a student production, there are no sweet little eight-year-old performers who might need protecting from the grim realities of Victorian poverty, and so we’re free to see the savagery of the poorhouse in an electrifying opening scene, where the desperate inmates swarm through the auditorium towards their meagre meal, a starving horde reduced to zombies, caring solely about sustenance, and fighting for their share. Little wonder that Oliver (Yann Davies) asks for more: even his tiny helping of gruel has been snatched and devoured by others; he’s starving and has nothing to lose. His recklessness makes sense in this context – he’s not new to the workhouse; he knows his request will not be welcome – but this is a moment of rebellion born of deprivation.

I don’t need to outline the story – the musical’s ubiquity means there can be no surprises with the plot – but there are new interpretations of some of the characters. Fagin, for example, is played with wit and empathy by Kathryn Salmond. She shows the softer side of the avaricious old leech, ensuring we see that he is also a victim of a cruelly unfair society.   Reviewing the Situation is an absolute triumph, revealing much about the man.

Ashleigh More’s Artful Dodger is also interesting. More is an arresting performer: cheeky and lively and engaging as can be. Dodger’s heartbreak over Nancy’s death is beautifully bleak.

Grace Dickson (Nancy) also deserves a mention. She strikes just the right balance between strength and vulnerability, making us believe in and understand her doomed relationship with the evil Bill Sykes (Saul Garrett). I’m crying when she sings As Long As He Needs Me: willing her to leave, although of course I know she won’t; wishing she lived in a world where there was somewhere else for her to go.

Not everything about this production is perfect: perhaps more could have been made of the Sowerberrys’ scene, and of the stark contrast  between Oliver’s life so far and the luxury and opulence Mr Brownlow represents. Then there’s the inherent problem of a story where the hero is the least interesting person in it, almost a cypher, on whom we can project our own emotions and through whose eyes we see events unfold; this works well in Dickens’ novel, but is less successful on the stage.

Still, none of this prevents it from being a resounding success; it’s a lively, thought-provoking interpretation, with strong performances throughout. The choreography is very good indeed, and the orchestra plays beautifully (the violins are particularly memorable). This is definitely a show worth seeing, and it’s on until Saturday, so get yourself a ticket and go along. A note of caution though: take an extra sweater. The temperature in the Pleasance is positively Dickensian.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield