Review – Edinburgh Gang Show 2009

Nov 18 2009 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩     Feisty

King’s Theatre: Tue 17 – Sat 21 Nov 2009
Review by Thom Dibdin

Feisty, glittering and making great use of every one of its almost 200 participants, the Edinburgh Gang Show celebrate their fiftieth annual production with no little style.

When it hits the high notes, this is a strong, entertaining Variety-style production that combines some of the better elements of Gang Show originator Ralph Reader’s original sketches with Director Andy Johnston and MD John Duncan’s excellent new scripts and orchestrations.

Gang Show 2009. Photo Edinburgh Gang Show

Gang Show 2009. Photo Edinburgh Gang Show

It’s not all classic Edinburgh Gang Show of the kind that its fans have come to know and love, however. The pressure of the big anniversary has made it just a little too inward looking and a tad too concerned with what has gone before. Which is understandable, but does sometimes diminish the impact.

When it stops looking over its shoulder and gets on with the serious business of letting rip and having fun, then it goes some way towards emulating the big successes of recent years. Successes which have given the whole show a truly universal appeal.

Johnston carries on with his trademark addition of contemporary comedy with early number It’s Mince. A ten-strong chorus of Guides, who would have given a professional cast a run for their money, made sure every word was clear – including the wee asides – as they sauntered through a number that poked fun at Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond and George Burley.

up-to-the-minute scripts

No doubt, given Johnston’s notoriously up-to-the-minute scripts, that latter verse about the now-ex Scotland manager will have evolved by the time you read this.

The It's Mince Sketch. Gang Show 2009. Photo: Edinburgh Gang Show

The It’s Mince Sketch. Gang Show 2009. Photo: Edinburgh Gang Show

If the first half doesn’t quite hit the mark, there are no bowfin’ howlers. Just the odd occasion where the whole company needs to go about their business with more attack and urgency.

The three early medleys, Better the Devil, Two Tribes and Shadows, feel as if the soloists are still at the walkthrough phase. All the movements are there – and the ensemble choreography is in top form – but the whole effect doesn’t reach the level that the company attain in other numbers. Maybe that’s just a case of the first night hesitancy.

There is nothing holding back the Junior Gang in their first big ensemble number, We Rock!, however. “We are the kids of the future!” they promise in an opening song of the medley which updates the words of Kids of America. And you better believe them.

Bright, confident and singing to the rafters, they hit all the notes as they scurry round the stage like wee dervishes. They might not always arrive on precisely the right spot first time, but they get there in the end. And if they are the backbone of Gang Shows to come, then the future is very rosy indeed.

clapping and singing along

The whole production moves up into the same gear as the Junior Gang for the second half. Even Irish Idyll, a rather sanitised Hollywood-style image of Irish song and dance – and a Ralph Reader original – sees the company performing their socks off.

So when it comes to Sunshine – arrangements of Proclaimers hits from jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith – the whole audience is clapping and singing along. And not just because of the music, either.

Desert Island Dames featuring "Joyce” and “Stella”. Edinburgh Gang Show 2009

Desert Island Dames featuring “Joyce” and “Stella”. Edinburgh Gang Show 2009

The Gang Show’s Variety roots are put on full display in Desert Island Dames, a number which showcases the inimitable “Joyce” and “Stella”. A superbly created drag duo who have become regulars at the Edinburgh Gang Show, they are off to a desert island this year.

The main joke at the expense of this year’s King’s panto, but the whole act – complete with a dream-sequence number with out-of-work traditional  panto characters – sees the duo working the audience on all the right levels. There’s belly laughs for the youngsters and subtle innuendo for the adults.

One of the pleasures of seeing the Gang Show every year is watching different performers grow and develop. They are often to be seen in local amateur dramatic companies as well. Although this year’s Gang are missing a few very strong performers who have grown out of the show, the strength in depth of the female performers is a very welcome development. While the Junior Gang just rock, big time.

Run ends Saturday


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