Julius Caesar


Debating Hall, Teviot Row House, Edinburgh

It’s a fascinating concept – Shakespeare’s classic play reimagined as a gangster epic.

Imagine those stirring soliloquies as delivered by a young Robert De Niro or Al Pacino – the senate represented by mob mosses and wise guys, bustling around the tables of a crowded nightclub while a live band blasts out spirited jazz. That’s what we have here and, fortuitously, the baroque setting of the Teviot’s debating hall proves to be the ideal location. EUSOG have never lacked ambition and this production, directed by Devki Panchmatia, may be their most confident offering yet. There’s a powerful buzz tonight and extra seats have to be added at the last minute to accommodate an enthusiastic audience.

In this version, Francesco Davi plays the titular role as a swaggering Don, appearing to general acclaim while a fawning Mark Antony (Julia Lisa) hangs on his every word and wastes no opportunity to ingratiate himself. But Cassius (Tom Wells) is growing tired of obeying the whims of a man he perceives as a ruthless dictator. He enlists Caesar’s old friend, Brutus (Haig Lucas), as his co-conspirator. It isn’t long before they have enlisted the services of others with similar intentions and a fateful date is set: the Ides of March, where Caesar will meet with bloody retribution..,.

I’ve always felt that the play is oddly weighted, the first half culminating in one of the bard’s finest scenes (and, as performed by Julia Lisa, it’s certainly the high point of this production). The final third feels more ramshackle, condensing years of civil war into a few brief skirmishes – and there’s also the impression that some of the longer interactions could benefit from some judicious editing. I know, I know. A bit late to bring it up now!

Unfortunately, the play starts later than the advertised time and the interval stretches on for so long that the hard-earned momentum evaporates and the cast have to work really hard to recapture it. It must also be said that the decision to stick rigidly to those wise-guy accents means that it’s not always an easy matter to follow every character’s dialogue. Those audience members who know the speeches by heart will have no issue with that, but it’s a while since I last studied the play and, occasionally, I find myself struggling.

Still, there’s much here to admire. Victoria White’s costume design is impeccable and Luca Stier’s set convincingly evokes the atmosphere of a nightclub. Isabelle Hodgson offers up a sneering, duplicitous Casca, while Tom Cresswell manages to shine both as Cicero and in his brief appearance as Cinna the poet.

The strobe-lit fight scenes are effectively done, while Panchmatia manages to keep a large cast moving around the crowded stage with great efficiency. And of course, it’s always heartening to witness a young company showing total commitment to a challenging project. Here, EUSOG deliver a Julius Caesar like no other.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Jesus Christ Superstar


Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh

I’m by no means a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber (and I’m an atheist to boot) but I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Jesus Christ Superstar. Back in 1971, the ‘rock opera concept album’ (as it was originally styled) had a revered place in my vinyl collection and was played on a regular basis, much to the consternation of my flatmates. I genuinely believe that Webber’s rock inflected melodies and Tim Rice’s acerbic lyrics are one of the great musical partnerships of the seventies. It’s an ambitious show for a student group to take on, but EUSOG are good at rising to a challenge and, in this stirring, gender-blind production, they attack the familiar material with their customary brio.

Of course, at the the heart of the musical lies the adversarial relationship between Jesus (Roza Stephenson) and Judas (Hollie Avery), but there are plenty of other opportunities to shine and director Izzy Ponsford ensures they are not ignored. There’s a stately performance from Gordon Stackhouse as Pontius Pilate, a man haunted by the fact that his name will be forever associated with the murder of an innocent. Sofia Pricolo handles Mary Magdalene’s plaintive ballads with aplomb and actually manages to coax tears from me during I Don’t Know How to Love Him. As Herod, Joey Lawson offers a jaunty, crowd-pleasing turn, complete with flashy tap dancing, while Theo Chevis and Kathleen Davie convince in their chilling double act as the priests, Caiaphas and Annas.

But more than anything else, JCS is an ensemble piece, so hats off to the huge chorus of disciples and acolytes, who breathe life into this Biblical extravaganza. Emily Bealer’s exuberant choreography is perhaps the standout of the production, but the music is excellent too: a twelve-strong band under the joint supervision of Emily Paterson and Falk Meier, providing note-perfect renditions of all those memorable songs.

It’s also nice to see a EUSOG production in the comparative luxury of the Church Hill Theatre – we’ve seen them perform in a variety of locations and this is the best venue so far.

I leave humming one of my favourites songs – Could We Start Again Please?- having been thoroughly entertained.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Click To Connect


We’ve seen many enjoyable musicals from this talented student company over the years, but in 2020 – for pretty obvious reasons – they’ve had to make some radical adjustments to their usual approach. With all the cast members stuck in their own spaces, they’ve decided to embrace those limitations and the result is Click To Connect, an original play/movie musical filmed as a series of Zoom meetings. If this sounds underwhelming, don’t be misled. Others have tried this approach and foundered, but I’ve rarely seen the format appropriated with such brio.

The script, co-written by no less than five authors, concentrates on four relationships. Amy (Lucy Whelan) has recently broken up with her long time boyfriend and is now living with her parents. She contacts her friend, Sam (Nicola Alexander) and confesses the real reason why she is now single. Lex (Annie Docherty) and Kelsea (Leonie Findlay) are ex-partners, who’ve set up a double-date with their respective new interests, Mia (Kristen Wong) and Tom (Attir Basri) but, once the chat is underway, things don’t quite go to plan. Finally, Sadie (Rachel Cozens) is living away from her husband, George (Sebastian Schneeberger), and things have gone somewhat awry. Can their once-strong relationship be salvaged?

There are some breezy, melodic pop songs to kick things into action and nicely judged performances from Whelan and Alexander provide the piece’s strongest moments. I also love the way that Zoom’s limitations are cannily incorporated into the storyline – a warning that we are going to be kicked off after a set time (because we haven’t paid to use the service for longer than 40 minutes) is deftly employed and there’s even an attempt to simulate the inevitable dodgy wi-fi signal for one character.

Click to Connect is a timely example of how artistic ingenuity can overcome severe limitations and EUSOG have certainly risen to the challenge with aplomb. Of course we all look forward to the times when we can head back to the Pleasance to watch their next venture, but until then, this will do nicely.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Sweet Charity


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




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