Edinburgh Gang Show 2015

November 18, 2015 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆     Fresh

King’s Theatre: Tues 17 – Sat 21 November 2015
Review by Hugh Simpson

The 2015 Gang Show at the King’s provides more than its quota of fun and entertainment, being reassuringly familiar yet refreshingly original.

Director Andy Johnston and his team have obviously worked tirelessly to ensure that the expected contents are present but still remain fresh. From the opening, impressively sung by Gabby Cremona, there is the expected mix of songs both familiar and obscure (sometimes with lyrics suitably tweaked), dance routines and traditional comedy.

The Opening. Photo: Scott Parker

The Opening. Photo: Scott Parker

The music-hall feel to the comedy routines is reinforced by the frequent local or topical references, some of which are carried over into the songs. Muppet songs Bein’ Green and Halfway Up The Stairs, performed winningly by Ruairidh Williams and Andrew Hamilton, are rewritten to reflect the fortunes of Hibs and Hearts, a motif that recurs more than once.

Similarly, a comedy item set in Edinburgh Castle contains some effective local colour, not least in the observation that lazy jokes about trams are well past their sell-by date. The young performers in this sketch attack the material with great energy and gusto, even if some of the material may be going right over their heads – something that cannot be said for a King Arthur routine that does not really work, relying a little too much on misfiring political jokes and lines filched from the Camelot song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

There is much more life in an extremely peculiar German dance number that also borrows from Python and Spamalot, featuring the fish-slapping dance and a rewriting of Finland, together with a couple of songs from The Producers. This is a perfectly judged number – staying just on the right side of xenophobia, and designed to appeal to the widest possible age range.

return of the Tunnock’s

This determination is carried over into the song and dance routines that are obviously where the show’s heart truly lies – even a sketch about Scottish superheroes (which features the return of the Tunnock’s teacake costume and a similar Irn Bru outfit) has a character called Musical Theatre Man.

Edinburgh Castle Sketch Photo Scott Parker

Edinburgh Castle Sketch (no Tram jokes here!). Photo: Scott Parker.

Throughout the evening there are a parade of featured soloists, and after a while it becomes easy to be blasé about the quality on display. A Bruno Mars segment features the tuneful Cameron Lambert on Just The Way You Are and the energetic Michael Cantle on Uptown Funk, while Claire Denvir’s touching take on Rainbow Connection provides a clever counterpoint to the more comic Muppets numbers that follow.

A Eurovision segment features an emotive Andrew Knowles on Rise Like a Phoenix and Stephanie Cremona skilfully leading the ensemble on A Million Voices. Hannah Kistruck and Kayleigh Johnstone’s duet on Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down is a perfect example of two singers working together ‒ which is also the case later with Jennifer Bunch and Kirsten Johnstone on Kiesza’s Stronger. Jessica Lyall and Logan Kean’s closing duet is another beautifully judged piece of singing.

Hannah Knowles’s impassioned rendering of Queen’s No One But You near the evening’s end is one of the best things in the show, being emotional and personal without going over the top.

impassioned

The most overtly musical theatre-themed segment comes at the close of the first half, where there is tremendous ensemble backing for the featured soloists. Cameron Kilgore’s impassioned reading of Bui Doi from Miss Saigon makes what seems at first glance a strange song choice for the show perfectly natural. Megan Day’s singing and leading of the tap-dancing on Brotherhood of Man also shows genuine talent.

The Junior Gang. Photo: Scott Parker

The Junior Gang. Photo: Scott Parker.

Two songs from the comparatively unsung recent Memphis close the first act with a bang; the tremendous Helen Hunter’s Underground being matched by Lucy Cowie’s astonishing power on Steal Your Rock N Roll.

When music and comedy are combined the result is particularly strong. As well as the ‘German’ segment, there is an energetic salute to ‘Scottish lassies’ and an animal-filled audience singalong.

Particularly striking is a whole section devoted to the story of Little Orphan Nicola Sturgeon, opening with Kirsty McGillivray’s plaintive Maybe, which gives way to a version of Hard Knock Life, translated perfectly as Gey Hard Life. Michael Denvir’s Nicola, as well as being beautifully befrocked and coiffured, displays great timing throughout, and egged on by a larger-than-life Alex Salmond, sings very well on Opportunity (here recast as Opporchancity in clear tribute to Francie and Josie). Ending with a chorus version of Tomorrow, the whole routine is oddly touching and really quite unusual.

joie de vivre

Despite the obvious talents of the soloists, the real strength of the show comes in the ensembles, which are energetic, vibrant and great fun. The huge numbers of performers on stage – at times approaching two hundred, not all of whom can be future musical stars – must make dance director Louise Williamson’s job almost impossible, but the togetherness of the routines is just as impressive as their undoubted vitality. The sheer joie de vivre on Life’s A Happy Song would be enough for several shows.

The younger cast members’ featured section on songs from Smile and Teen Beach Movie is particularly notable for the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the party, but the whole-cast ensembles are no less impressive. The closing medley of Call It Alba, Caledonia and Highland Cathedral descends a little into empty sentiment, but once again the sheer numbers involved and the effort they put in is what has the most impact. Particular mention must go to indefatigable MD John Duncan and a band with real punch and swing.

The whole massive undertaking runs smoothly and seems just about the ideal length. Sure, there are odd mis-steps, problems in the singing from time to time and even the occasional wardrobe malfunction, but these are so comparatively rare that they just highlight the immense effort put in by everyone onstage and backstage, and how much enjoyment they give to everyone.

Running time 2 hours 30 mins including 1 interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 November 2015
Evenings 7:00pm; Matinee Sat 2:15pm
Tickets from http://www.edtheatres.com/gangshow

Æ has also published a selection of images from the show.
Images for Act One are here: Gang Show 2015 Pictured
Images for Act Two are here: Gang Show 2015 Act 2 in pics.

The Finale 2015. Photo Scott Parker

The Finale 2015. Photo: Scott Parker.

ENDS

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