PPP: Oscar

March 2, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Perfectly formed

Traverse: Tue 1 – Sat 5 March 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

A funny, touching and tremendously acted musical, Oscar by Brian James O’Sullivan heralds the welcome return of Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint to the Traverse.

O’Sullivan also stars as the Oscar of the title – a successful composer for the screen who has taken himself off to an island retreat to write a piece in honour of his late brother, his erstwhile collaborator. His desire for solitude is undermined by the presence of Miriam (Kirsty Findlay), the owner of the cottage, who is also dealing with loss.

Brian James O’Sullivan. Pic PPP

O’Sullivan has repeatedly proved himself one of the most commendably versatile and reliably engaging presences in Scottish theatre (not least in various previous PPP offerings) and has certainly deserved his turn at centre stage. Unsurprisingly, he seizes the opportunity with the minimum of fuss.

Although sporting a rather forbidding shaved head and beard combination, and portraying a less than forthcoming character, he nevertheless imbues Oscar with considerable charm. There are dangers inherent in showing two characters who are both burdened by grief and spikily defensive, but there is a real lightness of touch here. The script still manages to deal with weighty themes, but always with good humour and genuine humanity.

judged perfectly

There are also problems that tend to arise in chamber musicals such as this. The songs often seem either too bombastic for the setting, or worse thoroughly unnecessary. That never happens here; the musical numbers are judged perfectly, advancing the narrative and full of pathos. O’Sullivan’s lyrics are witty and expressive, boasting some clever rhymes that rarely seem forced. The music, meanwhile, is redolent of many existing musicals, but avoids both pastiche and sentimentality admirably.

Kirsty Findlay and Brian James O’Sullivan. Pic: PPP

Findlay is another performer who always seems to make whatever character she plays wonderfully grounded and rounded. A disappointed and lonely woman stuck on an island, dealing with a mother with dementia and still grieving for her late father, may seem to point to an extremely depressing time for the audience, but the humour and believability always shine through.

This is aided by the script and Shilpa T-Hyland’s tremendous direction, which is fluid and expansive without resorting to gimmicks. Jonathan Scott and Gemma Patchett’s design is both solidly functional and evocative, wile Andy Cowan’s sound design and Ross Kirkland and Chris Reilly’s lighting are pin-sharp.

conventions

The conventions of the romcom are followed, but not always predictably – the fact that this musical ends with its overture may not be the only unpredictable thing about it. Nevertheless, it does not always manage to avoid cliché, either in its storytelling or its music.

However, this remains a beautifully formed production, constructed with love and care and superbly performed.

Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 March 2022
Daily at 1.00 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Kirsty Findlay. Pic: PPP

ENDS

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