Curtains

August 9, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Swishingly good

Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152): Fri 5 – Sat 13 August 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin.

The Edinburgh University Savoy Operatic Group make a great showing with their production of Kander and Ebb’s musical comedy whodunnit, Curtains, in Paradise at Augustines for the first week of the Fringe.

This is the one about the naff musical-within-a-musical Robbin Hood!, whose star is murdered on opening night, and the detective who locks the cast into the theatre to solve the mystery – but ends up solving a lot more.

Ottilie Hill-Smith and Thaddeus Buttrey. Pic Eusog.

With all that is going on, from murder mystery to performing “badly” and playing new scenes as if they were being improvised, some pretty heart-felt romances along the way and some properly great numbers, this is a peach of a show for a talented company to get its teeth into.

In Eusog’s hands it is ripe and juicy in all the right ways, thanks to a strong cast and tight direction from co-directors Katie Slater and Patrick Hall, an inventively minimal set by Hester Irving and solidly supportive lighting from Matias Krook. All supported by a responsive band under MD Falk Meier.

upstaging

Of course, with an opening number like Wide Open Spaces, the closing number of Robbin Hood! with Ellie Anderson as diva Jessica Cranshaw intent on upstaging everyone in every scene – despite being unable to sing, dance or remember a line – the early emphasis is on comedy.

The company get it just right. Anderson throws herself around with remarkable (but almost believable) comic dexterity, while the rest of the cast get on with covering for her and making sure that the number hits the notes it should.

Thaddeus Buttrey and Hannah McGuinness. Pic Eusog.

It’s this mixing up of genres, which continues throughout the show, that makes exciting to watch (if the company get it right), and challenging for the company balance.

No sooner has Cranshaw thrown herself at her bouquets, than she has thrown herself at the floor in a crumpled heap. Dead. Like Robbin Hood!, whose opening night notices are inventively dire. But before it can close, and the poorly paid cast escape back to Broadway, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi comes to solve the murder – and demands they all stay put.

If the ensuing murder mystery is pretty obvious, Rupert Holmes’ book has enough red herrings to make it interesting. But the real treat is for musical theatre fans, who get to see the usual backstage stereotypes provide some depth to their characters.

hymn of rage

Beth Cunningham as producer Carmen Bernstein, Tom Hindle as financier Oscar Shapiro and Aine Higgins and Rupert Waley as the show’s writers, the estranged Georgia Hendricks and Aaron Fox, get the first real blast at a big number, with the splendid hymn of rage against theatre critics – What Kind of Man? Cunningham is particularly strong here, but all four deliver.

The fallout from the late and unlamented star’s death is handled well, introducing bickering cast members and creatives.

Gordon Stackhouse and Tom Hindle. Pic Eusog.

Gordon Stackhouse is primly English and stiffly camp as director Christopher Belling. Hendricks and Fox air their dirty washing in public as the company fight over who should replace Cranshaw – Hendricks knows the numbers, but Minnie Cross’s spiky Equity rep Bambi Benet says Ottilie Hill-Smith’s languid understudy Niki Harris should get the part.

The arrival of Thaddeus Buttrey as Frank Cioffi puts an end to all the in-fighting. Buttrey is nothing less than magnificent, from the moment that it turns out at the Lieutenant is an amateur theatre buff himself and launches into the show’s big memorable tune: Show People.

From there on in, Buttrey’s Cioffi is like a musicals version of Columbo – popping up at the last moment with a “but” to put the cat among the pigeons, or add a new line to the show which just might make it better. From being a peripheral character, the production begins to revolve around him.

There are great performances all over the place. Hannah McGuinness is a spot on stage manager Johnny. Seamus Coyle puts in great moves as cast member Randy. Zak Baker is suitably unctuous as critic Daryl. Cameron Currie has a great voice as leading man Bobby, although he is miscast as the show’s choreographer in the production’s only real mis-step; still, he throws himself around with gusto.

EUSOG open the curtains on this musical-comedy-whodunnit and, while it may swither between genres, they plump for a show that is singularly strong and entertaining. One for all the Show People out there.

Running time: Two hours 30 minutes (including one interval)
Paradise in Augustines (Sanctuary) 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL (Venue 152)
Friday 5 – Saturday 13 August 2022
Daily: 16:05.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Thaddeus Buttrey and company. Pic Eusog.

ENDS

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