Review – And They Played Shang-a-Lang

Aug 21 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Bittersweet nostalgic fun

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The Stand Comedy Club III & IV (Venue 120)
Fri 2 – Sun 25 August 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Craft Theatre’s And They Played Shang-a-Lang has returned to delight Fringe-goers of a certain age at Stand Three.

As the title would imply, this is a look back at a 1970s childhood. While this could conjure up the idea of an undemanding nostalgic singalong – and there is certainly that element to it – it also contains darker themes. In among the explorations of teenage rituals and rites of passage there are meditations on death and loss.

Writer Derek Douglas (who also directs this production) appears as a narrator, linking the various episodes and providing comedy. While his authoritative presence helps to give the piece a structure, it also suggests of a lack of confidence and a feeling that the various scenes could not stand up on their own.

There is certainly a lack of real narrative drive, and there is one episode – a Primary 1 Nativity play – which seems to have dropped in from another production altogether. This is excused by its being exceptionally funny, despite suffering from the potentially fatal handicap of the narrator telling us more than once before it starts that it is the funniest thing he can remember.

Most of the various scenes zip by energetically, with the 70s hits – Blockbuster, Waterloo and so on – judiciously limited to a couple of verses so as not to overstay their welcome. One exception comes when, after a rather touching link about the loss of a schoolfriend, we get the whole of Bohemian Rhapsody, in a number which contains none of Stephen James Martin’s sparky choreography as the other songs do. This dissipates the mood rather than enhances it, and only reinforces the fact that, shorn of any personal associations, its lyrics are not really much more profound than Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

Staying up for The Sweeney…

The show also drags slightly towards the end, with the unavoidable conclusion that this is an excellent one-hour play that lasts ninety minutes.

Overall, however, the effect of the show is positive. The laziest 70s references are avoided, and in their place we get some well-observed routines on the etiquette of the school disco and teenage anxieties. The cast, despite being far too young to understand references such as ‘staying up for The Sweeney’, are uniformly impressive, each taking on a variety of roles. In particular, Hannah Baker shows great versatility, Jamie Merritt is a tremendous physical comedian and Ben Fitzpatrick’s vitality and comic energy threaten to steal the show on more than one occasion.

While the whole spectacle may mean nothing at all to anyone younger than 40, that still leaves a large section of the population who will continue to flock to this show. Just work out which era a similarly nostalgic show on during the time period shown here would have been set. That’s right, the early 1930s. And if that makes you feel old, you could do a lot worse than recapturing your lost youth by joining in with Shang–a-Lang.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes
Run ends Sun 25 August 2013
Daily at 12.50 pm (not Mon 12)
Venue 12, The Stand Comedy Club III & IV, 28 York Place, EH1 3EP
Tickets from

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