Review – The Fantasticks

October 10, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩   Sweetly cynical

Bedlam Theatre
Wed 9 – Sat 12 Oct 2013

Sweetly cynical and taking all the right steps, the Edinburgh University Theatre Club production of world-record holding musical The Fantasticks plays at the Bedlam Theatre to Saturday.

El Gallo the puppeteer in EUTC's The Fantasticks. Alexandre Poole (rear) with Daniel Harris, Jordan Roberts-Laverty, Claire Saunders and Thomas Ware. Photo © Louise Spence

The Fantasticks tells of love thwarted and rekindled in a tale which knowingly echoes both Romeo and Juliet and the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.

With lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, The Fantasticks opened off-broadway in 1960 and by the time it closed in 2002 had become the longest running musical in the world.

Luisa and Matt, the lovers in the tale, live next door to each other. Knowing the perversity of children in the face of their parents’ commands, their fathers ensure they fall in love by manufacturing a feud between the two families.

Of course, being banned from each other, they are soon stealing kisses across the wall between their two gardens. The problem for the fathers is now how to get out of their ruse – so they employ the bandit El Gallo to pretend to abduct Louise, so Matt can save her and create a heroic reconciliation.

Crucially, The Fantasticks has a built-in low-budget attitude, with El Gallo providing the narration and orchestrating events with the help of a Mute (Hona-Luisa Cohen-Fuentes) who acts as a stage hand, sometimes conductor and the wall between the two houses.

The orchestra is all of a piano and harp, here giving solid and understanding support to the singers with Dan Glover on piano and harpist Sam MacAdam. Although, with the instruments on stage, a certain moderation is called for and there are times where the balance over-favours the piano.

Tall and strutting, Alexandre Poole makes an excellent El Gallo, striding about with a natural authority, but with a sympathetic air about him too. At its natural register, his voice has a tender, open feeling, particularly in the scene-setting Try To Remember, crucial to evoking life on the bare stage.

The winsome air of one in love yet happy to live in her own imagination
Claire Saunders as Luisa in the Fantasticks. Photo © Louise Spence

Claire Saunders as Luisa. Photo © Louise Spence

The rest of the characters are very much El Gallo’s puppets, with the Mute an ancillary puppeteer. Cohen-Fuentes’ keeps the role clear, but doesn’t quite attain that tricky collision of subservience and arrogance which could make it truly memorable.

The standout performance comes from Claire Saunders as Luisa. Just 16 and realising that, for the first time in her life, she is beautiful, Saunders has a delightful voice, but also a real presence on stage. She has the winsome air of one in love yet happy to live in her own imagination.

Jordan Roberts-Laverty makes a reasonable fist of Matt – the 20 year-old scholar returning home full of the joys of a biology degree and knowledgeable in the intimate dissection of violets. His voice doesn’t have quite the power needed to conquer the role and strains at times, while director Ian Culleton has rather failed in drawing the full potential of the character out in the early scenes.

The fathers provide a steady line of comedy, without overplaying it. Thomas Ware, all bent and decrepit as Luisa’s over-watering dad Bellomy and lunky Daniel Harris as Matt’s scheming father Hucklebee have the musical’s best knockabout tune in Plant a Radish – and make the most of it.

More comedy comes from Camilla Ginty as decrepit Shakespearian thespian Henry and Jodie Mitchell as his sidekick Mortimer, who specialises on death scenes. Both give good accounts of themselves, pulling out the playful and accentuating the comedy of their characters.

For all its apparent simplicity and attention to using its minimal staging to its advantage, The Fantasticks is a musical comedy which has rather more depth than many of the genre.

While Culleton might not have explored all of those depths, the surface comedy and the tunes are all there in what turns out to be a lively production.

Running time 2hrs 10 mins.
Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, Edinburgh, EH1 1EZ
Wed 9 – SAt 12 October 2013. Daily 7.30pm.
Tickets and details on the Bedlam website: www.bedlamtheatre.co.uk

Click here for the Fantasticks page in the Æ Amazon shop

 

ENDS

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