Review – Edinburgh Gang Show 2012

Nov 21 2012 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩     Passion

King’s Theatre: Tue 20 – Sat 24 Nov 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

Smoothly entertaining and packed with passion, this year’s Edinburgh Gang Show lifts its game high.

This is a show with a bit of everything. It sings, it dances and it gets a well-earned laugh at pretty much every turn.

I Got Rythmn! A scene from Edinburgh Gang Show 2012 dress rehearsal. Photo: Michael Walker

I Got Rythmn! A scene from Edinburgh Gang Show 2012 dress rehearsal. Photo: Michael Walker

There are strong solo singers and big ensemble numbers. The dance routines allow small groups to shine and the whole senior gang – all 107 of them – to tap in unison. There is comedy that comes with many decades worth of Christmas cracker credentials and running gags that tickle the zeitgeist.

Edinburgh’s Gang Show, under director Andy Johnston and musical director John Duncan, plays to its scouting movement roots. How could it not: You have to be a member to be in the Gang. But it is much more than that, as it plays more loudly and strongly to its roots in popular entertainment.

It’s old-style musical hall, variety if you like, of a kind you will see at the same venue over Christmas in the panto. But most of all it is about standing up and performing: Whether it is Tamzyn Craig opening the whole show on her own with We Are Young, or the entire junior gang performing elf-related routines in a sketch called Christmastown!.

You could maybe question the pace of the opening couple of numbers, which ease the show in rather than bouncing on with all colours already flying.

Even the opening minutes of When I Grow Up, using songs from Matilda, meanders a little. But the seven strong chorus are soon joined by banks of singers – and what starts out as children’s fairly whimsical thoughts on what it will be like to be grown up, are soon subverted by the fine, splenetic Revolting Children.

Which suddenly leaves Finlay Clark with everything to work with, in What The Dickens, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. This is one of those numbers which, in Gang Shows of yore, passed by with not a little bit of tedium.

Double whammy

Not on Johnston’s watch it doesn’t. Any doubts about the wisdom of his pacing or choice of material are quickly dispelled when Finlay Clark as Dickens sends a couple of “happy clappy fresh faced youngsters” out of Oliver! packing – these aren’t the urchins he wrote about in his novel of child exploitation in Victorian London.

A scene from Christmastown! with members of the junior gang. Photo: Michael Walker

A scene from Christmastown! with members of the junior gang. Photo: Michael Walker

It is just what is needed to grab the attention of a full house. One quick romp through A Christmas Carol later, and Dickens’ own scrooge-like attitude is pointed up as the youngsters are allowed back on stage – fresh faces and all – for a number which mashes up tunes from both works. A double whammy.

It is in this kind of attention to comic detail that Johnston excels. He brings out strong comic performances, particularly from the younger performers. A potentially wearisome Doctors Waiting Room sketch zips past, with all concerned ensuring that the pace is well up – but not so fast as to make the gags incomprehensible.

On the surface, this is pretty standard fare: moderately observational comedy based in a well-known setting, which ends in a big pay off with Kerr Syme, the show’s largest individual, dressed as a baby. But look round that packed King’s theatre and you’ll see everyone finding something to laugh at.

Those with an ear for contemporary politics or local affairs are particularly well served. One number, Salmondella, sets new words to familiar tunes (from Brigadoon, the Proclaimers and was that really We Have A Dream!), to tell the story of the First Minister’s rise from obscurity to lead a nation where pies can be free for everyone.

The meat in a Gang Show pie, however, lies with the singing. And if Johnston makes sure that everyone gets a go at a solo spot – even if they are not the strongest available singer – he also makes sure that those who really do have something special are given a chance to show it off.

Viva La Diva saw another medley, with Lucy Cairns singing Emeli Sandé’s Next to Me, Mhairi Cameron out-doing Lady Gaga on the vocal front (although not sartorially) with Edge of Glory and Hannah Knowles bursting out with Katy Perry’s Firework

This is exemplary stuff: big voices are given big songs to perform that push them just enough to make it interesting. And meanwhile choreographer Louise Williamson has all the space of the main stage to give her core dancing troupe equally stretching but satisfying routines, to complement the music.

The second half settles into bigger ensemble numbers, starting out with a smashing tap-based I Got Rhythm. Led by Christina Arthur singing, dancing and holding the high note at the end over the rest of the ensemble it is a hugely ambitious project. Not always perfectly realised, but still brilliant to watch.

Which just about sums up the whole evening really. There are just a couple too many self-referential gags and the older gang members string it out too long in an over-laconic comedy sketch Gold Medal. But there is no doubting that this is a great night out, all round.

Running time 2 hours 40 mins.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 November 2012
Daily, 7pm (Sat mat 2.15pm).
Gang Show website:
Photo features of this year’s show:
Photos from Act 1 are here:
Photos from Act 2 are here:


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