Edinburgh Academy: Wed 5– Sat 8 Apr 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson
Harnessing the skills of another clutch of ludicrously talented young performers, Forth Children’s Theatre’s production of Bugsy Malone is almost ridiculously enjoyable.
With so many stalwarts of FCT bowing out last year, this is an opportunity for a new generation to come through (albeit with some recent graduates behind the scenes).
Alan Parker’s adaptation of his film, with songs by Paul Williams, is an inspired choice for a comparatively young cast, since its send-up of the tropes of the gangster movie, featuring custard pies and ‘splurge guns’, was originally performed by a cast of children, and always works best with younger performers.
However much may have changed onstage, some things remain hearteningly in place. A particular strength of recent FCT shows has been the choreography, and Natasha Rose’s here is exemplary, with the big chorus numbers making excellent use of the space and the company.
The split-second timing on So You Want To Be a Boxer? is a thing of wonder, while Bad Guys is so beautifully synchronised, without losing anything in infectious energy, that you just want them to do it again the moment it has finished. Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, meanwhile, features a tap-dancing troupe without drowning out the words, which is an achievement in itself.
Another reason why this is such a good choice for relatively inexperienced performers is the way the featured numbers are shared out. The title character of Bugsy certainly does not dominate – indeed, his romance with aspiring singer Blousey can seem like a sideshow compared to the gangland feud between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan.
restrained and emotional
That does not happen here, with Bugsy played by Oliver Snodgrass with a winning charm and comfortable stage personality that make him a thoroughly likeable figure. Evie Thomas-Yates is a believable Blousey, with her featured songs being unusually restrained and emotional. She keeps her ‘big voice’ back for the last chorus of Ordinary Fool, meaning it is all the more effective.
It is unusual to see this degree of sophistication in Bugsy, and while it does mean that it loses a little in terms of hell-for-leather drive, it does have many positive results. The atmospheric, shadowy lighting that accompanies wannabe dancer Fizzy’s rendition of Tomorrow, beautifully sung by Orla Bayne, has a touchingly gloomy quality.
There are glitches in the staging – but the faulty timing with telephone conversations can be put down to the cast being entirely from a generation who have probably never even seen a landline, let alone used one. It may even be intentional, like the pratfalls that are so convincingly done that some of the audience think they are genuine accidents. Without going as far as the traditional cheesy cymbal crash, there should be a way of reinforcing some of the humorous moments without sacrificing the thoughtful professionalism.
And there is a great deal of that on show. First-time director Ben King should be congratulated, not least for the way scenes flow into each other with the minimum of fuss. There is a genuine pace to the show without it ever getting frenetic. There is a similar lack of hurry to the music, which can sometimes succumb to an ugly sugar rush; MD Gus Harrower leads a fantastic band that propel the faster numbers forward, but are not afraid to lay back on the beat in slower tunes, with a corresponding increase in atmosphere.
no weak links
There would never be room to mention all of the performers – suffice it to say there are no weak links in the huge cast, not even in the accents that defeat so many. After a while, it is easy to become blasé about the standard on stage, but King and his team have obviously worked tirelessly to bring out the best in a succession of talented performers.
Enda Gormley’s Fat Sam is a joyous creation, with Moray McConnachie’s Dandy Dan a suitably dapper antagonist for him, and Andrew Gill giving Knuckles an unusual degree of sympathy.
Laura Johnston’s chanteuse Tallulah does her featured number more than justice, with Harmony Rose-Bremner, Gracie Briggs and Eilidh West supersmooth as the nightclub singers. Evie Brassington and Emily Jardine give the hapless detectives bags of energy, with Brassington in particular showing spot-on comic timing.
Frankie Cusack’s leading of the aforementioned boxing routine is as good as it could possibly be, and Leonardo McCorkindale extracts maximum humour from his trainee Leroy, a part that consists largely of the word ‘no’. The various gangsters are all performed with skill, and their soap-firing guns work particularly well.
bringing the house down
Show Business, which is not in the original film, is not always included, but it is heartening to see it here, with Roisin Caulfield going over the top to just the right degree as the primadonna Lena Marelli. And, of course, there is the extraordinary Calum Caulfield, hardly more than a baby himself, bringing the house down as Babyface.
Bugsy Malone’s final number can sometimes degenerate into self-indulgence, but it is a mark of director King’s control that here it is a combination of the sombre, the uplifting and the genuinely thought-provoking; not only that, there is a more definite resolution to Bugsy and Blousey’s story than is usually the case. Which is only to be expected in such a beautifully crafted, energetic and fun production.
Running time 2 hours including one interval
Edinburgh Academy: 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL
Wednesday 5 – Saturday 8 April 2017
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets from: https://forthchildrenstheatre.wordpress.com