Showcase 2023 – Up Where We Belong

Sep 29 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Nuanced

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 26 – Sat 30 September 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Showcase, the annual concert in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, can certainly say it is “Up where we belong”, in the words of the Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warner number that gives this year’s show its title.

It is true both physically the venue at the Church Hill Theatre is the company’s spiritual home – and most importantly musically, with a bright and nuanced production.

The full Showcase company. Pic Ryan Buchanan

The art of the portmanteau production is a tricky one – appealing to many but not always pulled off with success. Director Andy Johnston and MD David McFarlane, now in their 25th and 26th years respectively with Showcase, have become dab hands at it.

This year’s production flows beautifully and, amazingly for a 160 minute show that doesn’t even pretend to have a narrative thread, never lags, or makes you wonder what time the next bus home is going to be.

subtle delivery

This is largely down to the subtleties of the production. Yes, there are 45 folk on stage (22 of whom get a solo turn, incidentally) and an orchestra of 15 somehow crowded in the pit. Yet, such is Ian Cunningham’s sound design, that there is always a balance in favour of the stage. Johnston’s song choice and McFarlane’s arrangements rely, for the most part, on subtle delivery rather belting it out.

The full Showcase company. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Even the opening sequence of movie tunes, with a medley of eight from the Eighties that includes Ghostbusters, is a masterclass in subtlety, thanks to understanding and perfectly enunciated delivery from the three soloists who share the credits – Harry Dozier, Arlene Tonner and Andy McGarry – backed by the full chorus.

Tonner gives a particularly memorable Together in Electric Dreams. Her winsome delivery is rather better than the original, which feels flat in comparison. Keith Kilgore adds a cheeky Unchained MelodyGhost is 1990, so just sneaks in – but who cares when his solo is this good.

haunting woodwind

Dan Cook kicks off a Big Apple sequence in fine style with Cheering For Me Now, from Hamilton. A number which, like many of the successes of the show, builds in both volume and urgency.

Anyone who is a sucker for the haunting woodwind intro will have chills down the back of their neck for the closer of the sequence – But the World goes Round. Melissa Archibald doesn’t disappoint in her delivery as it gets broader and broader. Beautiful.

Clare Clayton. Pic Ryan Buchanan

By complete contrast, the tempo drops and there’s a frisson of concentrated electricity about the stage as Clare Clayton kicks off the Britpop-inspired sequence with Oasis’s Wonderwall. The performance she and the chorus give is as understated as your could wish for – as indeed, is the chorus in Blur’s Tender.

Sandwiched between them, and unintentionally topical given the news of Pulp’s headlining of this year’s Hogmanay celebrations, Keith Kilgore gives Common People a real political resonance, with its ironic refrain that “I want to live as common people do”.


Show tunes are always going to bring out the best of Showcase. And first timer Heather Gore does not disappoint with a spine-tinging solo performance of Gimme Gimme, from the stage version of Thoroughly Modern Millie. One hopes Heather will become a regular.

The Showcase company. Pic Ryan Buchanan

One particularly pleasing aspect of this production is the way it uses the soloists and the chorus together. It’s a partly a sound balance thing: getting the ensemble to blend in with the soloists, but is also in their movement – which is down to Claire Smith’s choreography. Not everyone is as light on their feet as the featured dancers, but Smith makes sure that everyone is used to their ability.

Special mention must also go to Andy Johnstone’s lighting design, which is as pleasing and constructively in support of the whole as his direction. There’s nothing particularly flamboyant for him to use in the technical department, just the basics. Which he uses very well indeed.

Greetings pop pickers

The Showcase band are particularly on point this year. Nowhere more so than in the overture to Act 2. Musos will tell you it is At the Sign of the Swingin’ Cymbal. Pop pickers over a certain age will say it was Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s talk-over intro which served him over many years and many situations from the Saturday afternoon Rock Show to chart count-downs. Which ever side you fall, its one hell of an ear worm.

It’s a fitting opener to the act, too, which kicks off with a pick of the pops section, where this year’s obligatory Queen number is to be found in a surprisingly low-key Who Wants to Live Forever, led by Kirsten Johnstone.

Harry Dozier and the chorus. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Unsurprisingly there is less holding back with the Eurovision winners section. Louise McLean sets the tone in a double dose of Loreen with Euphoria and Tattoo, Harry Dozier gives it large and glitzy with Heroes and Matt Fullerton uses his beard to great effect in Conchita Wurst’s Rise Like A Phoenix. After all that excitement, no wonder half the audience had their phone lights on and waving in the air for Lisa Fleming’s gutsy Love Shine a Light.

heaves with tension

The pick of the Songbirds sequence, a tribute to some great female singers, including Sinead O’Connor from Clare Clayton and Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie from Laura Cross, is the chorus’s take on Running Up that Hill, which heaves with tension and the promise of something not yet tangible.

There is nothing intangible about the whole Showcase effort, however. It’s a cracker, from the top of those Eighties openers to the obligatory Love & Mercy encore.

Over its 34 years of existence Showcase has raised over £333,000 for Macmillan and, on a night like this, it raises the hearts of all who are there to hear and see the show.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 September 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm, Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: . Book here.

The full Showcase company. Pic Ryan Buchanan


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