Edinburgh Gang Show 2018

Nov 21 2018 | By More

★★★★☆     Spectacular

King’s Theatre: Tue 20 – Sat 24 Nov2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Epic in scope, local in coverage and inclusive in its effect, the 59th Edinburgh Gang Show is a wonderful spectacle.

While the production is still largely a showcase for the talents, teamwork and togetherness of literally hundreds of Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies, the production is – as always – of much wider appeal. There is very little to touch it in terms of variety, undoubted skill and sheer unpredictability.

The Opening. Pic: Ryan Buchanan Photography.

You would be tempted to think that director Andy Johnston spends the whole year working out what is going to be in the show, if it wasn’t for the fact that he seems to be directing something else every other week. And after 16 years at the helm, he would be forgiven for running out of ideas. Instead, he just seems to be getting into his stride.

Certainly the combination of familiar and unfamiliar songs, mash-ups and rewritings is frankly dizzying. Possibly most extraordinary of all is a reworking of a Tony Awards opening number, here featuring Honor Dobbie. Starting by harking back to a number from last year’s show, it starts out worryingly self-referential (including a name-check for a certain Thom Dibdin) but builds into a huge production number that is truly eye-popping.

What is noticeable throughout is that there is a large group of talented dancers that are able to lead the numbers, and that dance director Louise Williamson’s choreography is able to show them – and the larger ensemble – in the best possible light.

Perhaps some of the comedy numbers seem a little more dated than might be ideal, despite the topical references. The obligatory panto take-off does drag somewhat, despite the vocal talents of Alice Bailey and Sophie Martin.

wonderfully silly

Johnston’s belief that if a joke is worth doing, then it’s worth doing again in the second half, is probably an unfounded one. However, the sketches are always discharged with enough commitment and energy to succeed, and the wonderfully silly community singing near the end does at least feature a songsheet – which is not usually the case at the King’s these days.

The Opening. Pic: Ryan Buchanan Photography.

The real heart of this, however, is in the musical numbers. Parts are wedded resolutely to tradition, particularly in the opening and closing of the show, with use made of material by Gang Show originator Ralph Reader and songs that are coming to be closely identified with the Scottish version.

Along with numbers such as Andra Day’s Rise Up and This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, that will be familiar to many, and some older, even better known songs, are many that are far less expected. If anyone in the King’s has seen the musical version of Frozen, it couldn’t have been on this side of the Atlantic; Dear Evan Hansen or Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 are even less recognisable.

Yet judicious programming and bags of energy make it all work. There are odd problems with sound and audibility, but these are largely compensated for. Once again, some of the younger performers, in a wonderfully chosen and staged rainbow-themed segment, teach their elders a thing or two about singing together coherently.

There is plenty of skill on show all around, however. There are certainly some notably strong voices that impress hugely and, once they learn a little more about light and shade, will be even better.

how to sell the drama

Matthew Knowles displays admirable power on a number from The Producers, while Ruby Mauritzen, Emma Clarkson, Ellie Cochrane and Ailsa Maclean have real presence and stagecraft in their featured numbers.

The junior gang in Like a Rainbow. Pic: Ryan Buchanan Photography.

Cameron Kilgore’s Waving Through A Window is a particularly good example of how to sell the drama in a lyric, and his performance on an Evan Hansen/Hamilton mash-up with Katie Kistruck, Andrew Knowles and Ava McCaffer brings the first half to a suitable climax. Lewis Boyd, Surana Das and Cameron McKenzie’s featured performances in the second half finale are wonderfully unselfish and appealing.

Tatiana Honeywell has a solo in both halves – her take on Rise Up is a comparatively understated, thoroughly effective take on a song that seems to attract full-throated wreckers. Her version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, meanwhile, is a revelation. It is a song that is already familiar in several very different interpretations – hers is emotional yet restrained, thoroughly mature and completely involving.

Throughout the show there is a genuine warmth and fizz to so much of what is going on, reflected in the tremendous efforts of MD Andrew Thomson and his band.

In purely technical terms, so much of this is extraordinary – most directors would faint at a cast a fifth of this size or a tenth of the costume changes. Yet this pales into insignificance compared to the effect, which is celebratory and utterly joyous.

Running time: two hours 35 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 November 2018.
Evenings: 7pm; Matinee Sat: 2.15pm.
For tickets and details:  Book here.


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Comments (2)

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  1. audrey knox says:

    First time to the show thoroughly enjoyed it!

  2. Jack Ross says:

    Thank you for your kind comments, the show is amazing to be a part of and I promise you will enjoy it! (I’m a meerkat in the auditions sketch BTW)