Gang Show 2022

November 2, 2022 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★☆☆   Shining

Festival Theatre: Tue 1 – Sat 5 Nov 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Edinburgh Gang Show is back, on song and up on its dancing feet – but in a brand new venue as it takes to the Festival Theatre stage while the King’s is being refurbished.

And what a sparkling, joy-filled, funny, tuneful and inventive piece of work it is. Maybe not as polished as some years – some of the technical issues will no doubt get ironed out over the next few days and others (mostly to do with the size of the venue) won’t. But it is still a splendid piece of entertainment.

The Junior Gang in the opening number – Back in Business. Pic: Ryan Buchanan.

The Gang Show is one of the few places where you can see proper Variety style entertainment. If the Edinburgh Gang have been a trading in contemporary ideas of music and comedy for almost a third of its 62 years now, it is still based on the 90 year-old format of Gang Show founder, Ralph Reader.

So there are songs. Some sung some straight, like Charlotte Dickson’s rendering of Carole King’s Beautiful which is, well, beautiful. Or Matthew Knowles’ take on Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables which evokes the sorrow of the original without taking the night right down.

Some, such as The Historical Song, are completely borrowed from elsewhere. In this case Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, which is changed to list a whole bunch Edinburgh figures who have been around at some point in the Edinburgh Gang Show’s life.

cute bits

Then there are the cute bits, when the Junior gang take over the stage. If it were perfect, it would be somewhere between awe-inspiring and disturbing. As it is, the sixty or so performers are so obviously supportive of each other as everything goes almost right, that your heart goes straight out to them.

Some of the cast in Born got Boogie. Pic Ryan Buchanan.

The biggest element of the production are the song and dance routines, however. These feature main gang on stage, all 120 or so of them, singing and choreographed as a body, sometimes with solo singers and often a group of key dancers who bring a new dimension the lyrics.

So, early in the programme, there is GSHS – Gang Show High School – a medley of school-based numbers ranging from musical theatre (13), to proto-punk (the Ramones’ Rock’n’Roll High School), rock (Alice Cooper’s Schools Out for Summer) and country pop (Taylor Swift’s Fifteen). All delivered with the necessary verve and understanding.

It would be easy to focus on the soloists: Elsa Beard, Mackenzie Woolard and Pippa Belfall. After all, that is how we perceive our mass pop product. But in Edinburgh Gang Show land, it is the whole ensemble that you have to look at, both for effect and for performance and effort.

ex-husbands

EGS director and author of many of the sketches, Andy Johnston, rightly gets much of the credit for the rejuvenation of the show when he took over in 2003. He is behind many pieces here – best of all a skit about Mary Queen of Scots’ ex-husbands, which is knowing in many different ways and neatly evolves into an ensemble performance of Ex Wives from Six.

Dancers in the Step Back in Time number. Pic Ryan Buchanan.

But this year, more than ever, it is co-dance directors Louise Williamson and Jemma Crawford who should take a bow. They have a done wonders with the main cast and have used a smaller group, who are clearly specialist dancers, to great effect. Perhaps the highpoint of the whole night is when the smaller group lead the company in a mass tap routine in We Were Born to Boogie.

Finally, in that roll call of Variety, there are the skits. Comedy routines with jokes that are as old as the hills. These work best when they don’t try too hard and are delivered with authority. Huge props then, to the inspired youngster in charge of the song-sheet, Animal Magic. She worked the huge Festival theatre like a professional and had the Cubs in the audience in stitches.

This is no Gang Show like any that has gone before. In normal years, more members return to the cast than there are new recruits. But in this post-hiatus year, when EGS steps out onto Scotland’s biggest stage for the first time and it needs that stability more than ever, the majority of the company are first timers.

Joy

What hasn’t changed is the sense of a coherent company on stage, creating memories and having the time of their lives. It is that joy, which transcends any minor hiccups, coupled with a company that is pulling together and stands tall to support its individual members, that creates yet another cracking success.

Well worth a look, whether you have an affinity with the scouting movement or not.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2022
Evenings: 7pm; Sat mat: 2pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Finale. Edinburgh Gang Show 2022. Pic: Ryan Buchanan.

ENDS

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  1. James Macdonald says:

    A little harsh to say that none of the odds were in gang shows favor.(new theatre, 89 new members, didn’t have as much time and we’re still recovering after 3 years of not doing it!)

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