Edinburgh Gang Show 2023

Nov 15 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Riding high

Festival Theatre: Tue 14 – Sat 18 Nov 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Boasting a cast of (nearly) thousands and as much entertainment as you could wish for, the Edinburgh Gang Show 2023 hits the odd wrong note but in the end its sheer momentum brooks no argument.

Long-serving director and writer Andy Johnston has been joined as director by Louise Hunter, but the format – while tweaked – is thankfully largely unchanged.

The Opening – Right Where We Belong. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Like many productions that depend on a cast of youngsters, the Gang Show was badly hit by the lack of continuity, and the absence of opportunities to gain stage experience, caused by Covid before the return in 2022.

This production also, more perhaps than any other, also suffers from the switch to the Festival Theatre. Not only because an audience that would pack out a smaller venue looks more sparse here, but also because the theatre is less suited to variety than the King’s, where that format is embedded in the very bricks.


At the Festival Theatre, comedy sketches can become a little lost in the less intimate space. This is not helped by the comic items being oddly distributed in the running order – the two such offerings in the first half coming consecutively – and most of the humour flying over the heads of the younger members of the audience.

The jokes are, as always, a little long in the tooth, and anyone attending would be forgiven for wondering if Nicola Sturgeon was still First Minister; credit, however, for a couple of gags that could only have been written in the 24 hours before curtain up.

The Circus Comes to Town. Pic Ryan Buchanan

A Play That Goes Wrong-style scene has the appropriate level of coarse acting and falling over, while a sketch featuring multiple Barbies and Kens has a tartanified version of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie and the obligatory audience-participation songsheet.

Lara Brechin and Ellie Tullis are an engaging pair of Edinburgh Zoo pandas on a rewrite of So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music, while a tongue-twisting version of Barnum’s Museum Song about Scottish musicians (and a couple of ringers) is performed with dexterity by Blanca Binnie, Tara Boynton, Pippa McNeill and Karlah Middlemass.


Elsewhere, there is a stress on song and dance, with dance directors Louise Williamson and Jemma Crawford not only making good use of a strong collection of featured dancers but also utilising the full Gang impressively. An ensemble version of Pick Out A Simple Tune from Half A Sixpence, led by Maria McDonald, is an outstanding piece of sustained choreography and singing.

Gang Show featured dancers. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Throughout, the band under MD Andrew Thomson are tuneful and unflagging, and the balance of sound is noticeably good. Some of the vocal soloists are notably more confident than others but all invest their songs with emotion, with everyone singing through the lines rather than succumbing to the temptation to belt everything out as so many younger performers do.

There is a clever balance between older and more recent numbers from both musicals and the pop world, with Matthew Knowles’s emotional take on Sam Ryder’s Fought & Lost rubbing shoulders with Tara Boynton’s imposing version of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.


Joey Breeze leads a stirring rendition of Seize The Day – a song much more often seen in shows like this than in Newsies, the musical it comes from – and Rohan Arnold provides a charged run-through of Electricity from Billy Elliot. Emma Snowdon helps open the show with an excellent rendition of the Muppets’ Right Where I Belong.

A Christmas-themed scene may be arriving a little early for some, but Ewan Arnold, Isabella Mooney and Annalise Tervit provide tunefulness amongst the tinsel.

The Gang Show 2023 ensemble . Pic Ryan Buchanan

An excursion into ‘rock’ can often spell disaster for musical theatre, but Lewis Boyd and Ava Smith’s heartfelt rendition of the Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris and Ellie Tullis’s vibrant version of Twisted Sister’s I Wanna Rock have considerable charm, while the ensemble finale of the Go-Gos’ We Got The Beat has real energy.

There is the occasional problem with the switching of mics, but the technical hitches only go to reinforce what an extraordinary undertaking this is. When a recalcitrant curtain causes problems during one of the Junior Gang numbers in the first half, the crew just carry on building the stage for the next number while the youngsters – as extraordinarily spirited and energetic as always – perform beside them.

joyfully infectious

The glee of the youngest performers is one of the things that makes the Gang Show so joyfully infectious. Yes, both halves could probably do with one fewer musical number, but by the time the finale – led by Ali Breeze and Flora Scott on Ralph Reader’s Got A Lot To Be Thankful For – comes round, complete with Caledonia, Highland Cathedral and The Crest of a Wave, it is difficult to feel anything but unqualified optimism about something that is always the same yet always different.

A show with fewer soloists and a less ridiculously-sized cast would be slicker, but it would also miss the point spectacularly. The Gang Show continues to give opportunities to literally hundreds of youngsters each year, and is all the better for it.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes (including one interval).
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson St St, EH8 9FT
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 2023
Evenings at 7.00 pm; Matinee Sat 2.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Finale – These are the Good Times. Pic Ryan Buchanan


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