Matthew Storey



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



Things I Know to be True


Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

This thoughtful and bitter-sweet play by Andrew Bovell is all about family: the everyday sacrifices made by parents, and the difficulties experienced by their offspring when they try to escape those powerful familial ties.

Rosie Price (Maddy Chisholm-Scott) is midway through a backpacking tour of Europe, when something goes horribly wrong in Berlin. Devastated, she heads back to Australia, to 25, Windarie Avenue, the family home. Here, Bob (Matthew Storey) presides over his immaculately tended rose garden, where he’s spent all his time since taking early retirement. His wife, Fran (Amelia Watson), continues to put in long and punishing shifts at the local hospital, where she is a nurse.

Rosie’s early return from her travels brings her siblings to the house to ask a few difficult questions – though it soon becomes apparent that they all have their own problems to deal with.  There’s Pip (Erin Bushe), currently going through a messy separation from her husband and children. There’s Ben (Liam Bradbury), desperately trying to make his name in the cut-throat world of big business, and there’s Mark (Matthew Sedman), who is contemplating a life change that will have repercussions for the whole family.

This is an accomplished piece from these student actors, with Story and Watson managing – with the aid of some expertly applied makeup – to convince us that they’re actually a couple in their 60s. The direction by Marie Rimolsronning and Alice Foley is assured, and the elaborate set works well, creating a sense of the seasons passing as the various story strands unravel. If the play’s first half feels a little overlong and would benefit from some judicious pruning, the second half is leaner and more powerful.

There’s only one notable misstep, where Mark is obliged to deliver some lines from ‘up a tree.’ Somewhat let down by the scale of the props, he looks like a comical giant, so that the gravity of the scene is compromised. It would work so much better if he were to remain grounded!

There’s a tragic and genuinely heartbreaking conclusion: it’s this climactic moment, where Bob’s seemingly indominatable composure is finally and irrevocably shattered, that lingers in the memory.

4 stars

Philip Caveney