Lauren Robinson

Chicago

06/02/20

The Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

You have to hand it to Edinburgh University Footlights. This talented student company never shies away from taking on ambitious productions and few shows come with more ambition fitted as standard than Kander and Ebbs’ 1975 masterwork, Chicago. But, down go the lights and on troop the players, dressed to the nines, and supported by a full orchestra, playing to a packed and highly appreciative crowd.

This is, of course, the story of Roxie Hart (Rebecca Joyce), a young woman who ruthlessly guns down her lover when he threatens to walk out on her. The cheek of the man! She soon finds herself in the Cook County Jail, where she discovers that being a notorious killer can pay off, provided you have the right management.

Her main rival here is Velma Kelly (Lauren Robinson), currently riding high after the recent murder of her husband and sister, and being groomed for a career onstage by Matron “Mama” Morton (Niamh Higgins). She tells Roxie that, in order to get ahead, she needs to find five thousand dollars to pay for a lawyer – and lawyers don’t come any slicker than Billie Flynn (Matthew Storey). But, as Roxie and Velma struggle for supremacy, they soon realise that they’ll need every ounce of sass they possess in order to stay newsworthy.

The show gets off to a fabulous start with Robinson – the absolute standout in this show – delivering a terrific performance of All That Jazz¬†and, from there, the pace never lets up as a whole series of Kander and Ebb earworms explode onstage. Joyce gives us a memorable Roxie, making us care about her not so lovable character, while Storey has plenty of swagger as Billy Flynn. There’s a lovely sequence where Higgins wanders through the audience singing When You’re Good to Mama with absolute authority. Hats off also to Alex Andsell, who manages to milk the sympathy as Roxie’s much-put-upon husband, Amos, performing a cracking rendition of Mr Cellophane and then apologising for taking up so much of our time!

But of course, Chicago is – more than anything else – an ensemble piece and it’s in those big dance numbers that amateur productions can so often come unstuck. Not the case here, thanks to the slick choreography of Florence Hardy and that superb big band, bashing out a whole string of memorable songs. Becca Chadder handles the directorial reins with aplomb, yet the programme informs me she’s ‘never directed a musical before.’ Really? Well, she’s done a first rate job here and I’m pleased to be told that she’d like to repeat the experience.

Sadly, we’re late onto this, so you only have a couple of opportunities to catch up with it. If you can grab tickets for one of the final performances, I’d urge you to do so. Let’s face it, we could all do with a little razzle dazzle in our lives.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Education, Education, Education

 

14/11/18

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

This quirky little play, originally devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble, is the perfect vehicle for the EUTC, offering a real opportunity for these talented students to show their acting chops.

It’s 1997, and it’s Tobias (Max Prentice)’s first day at Wordsworth Comprehensive, where he’ll be working as a German language assistant. But this is no normal day: Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister last night, and there’s a strange emotion pervading the staffroom. Could it be… hope? Might the ‘education, education, education’ mantra that’s propelled Blair to the top job actually translate into something real, like new textbooks, or permanent classrooms, or reduced class sizes?

Whatever. It’s still a school day. The bell still rings; there are still lunch duties and lesson covers – and the small matter of ‘muck-up day,’ as the Year 11s seize their opportunity to cause consequence-free chaos: they’re leaving this afternoon. And, amidst all this, there’s Lauren: troubled, angry, vulnerable Lauren (Lauren Robinson), who wants to go on a history trip to York, but who’s been told her past behaviour precludes her from such treats.

This is a lively, energetic production, with all actors (except Prentice) dual-rolling as staff members and pupils. Tobias’s outsider’s eye exposes the vagaries of our education system; he’s a positive, engaging character, a Brit-o-phile, more gently observant than sharply critical. The performances are all strong, but standouts include Fergus Head as ineffective head teacher, Hugh Mills, and Lauren Robinson as the self-destructive teen mentioned above. Robinson in particular excels at portraying a heartbreaking mix of fragility and bravado, the all-too-recognisable frustration of those who have too little autonomy.

The Brit-pop music provides a dynamic aural backdrop, and the high-octane dance moves and scene transitions all help this small cast to convince us we’re in a busy, bustling school. There are some sombre moments: Tobias’s flash-forward narrative reminds us that, although Blair did indeed inject a lot of much-needed money into the system, and things did improve considerably, this too has now passed: schools are academised and closing, begging parents for provisions, dropping ‘frivolous’ subjects from their timetables.

Don’t get me started. This one’s personal for me. I was a teacher for twenty-two years; I left because of what the job became. I’ve been a foreign language teaching assistant too (in Germany), so this play really speaks to me.

But even if your own experiences are vastly different from these, this is a piece well worth seeing. What happens in education affects us all.

And this is fun. So, you know – win, win.

4 stars

Susan Singfield