The Drowsy Chaperone

Aug 10 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Shout out

Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152): Fri 3 – Sat 11 Aug 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh University Savoy Group bring out the comedy in a rousing take on parody musical-within-a-musical The Drowsy Chaperone at Paradise in Augustines.

Under confident direction from Chloe Simpson this is a properly entertaining evening – even if there is a distinct lack of subtlety on display. It is quite easy to see how the 2006 Broadway production got its Tonys – including for best book and score.

Gordon Stackhouse. Pic Molly Simmons

The Drowsy Chaperone is framed by The Man in Chair, played here as a thoroughly excited and excitable man of indistinguishable older age, by Gordon Stackhouse. A musical theatre buff, with plenty of issues of his own, he is spending an evening dispelling the blues by playing a recording of his favourite 1920s musical – The Drowsy Chaperone.

As he plays the musical – a brilliant invention from Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison on music and lyrics with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar – it comes to life on stage. He annotates it with notes about the performers and has control of the performance, able to stop it at will, repeat lines, or even skip the boring bits.

What the creative team get here are the different levels of comedy.

There is the pastiche of a 1920s formula musical with its types and tropes – Broadway star Janet Van de Graaf is to throw it all away and marry businessman Robert Martin. Frantic at losing his leading lady, producer Feldzieg is tries to stop the match, aided by a pair of hoodlums, sent by his major investor.

crisp work

Then there are the pastiches of the music of that time. Under strong leadership from musical director Ross Hadden, the band make crisp work of it, although the ability to take it down a bit lower in this small space would be appreciated.

Show Off – pic Molly Simmons

The dances and movement are also up for satire and in this regard Anna Phillips provides some particularly praiseworthy choreography and movement direction.

Generally the routines are well engineered for the small space and lack of set with routines like Cold Feets led by Doug Stephenson as Robert Martin bursting out into big production numbers, but it is in her use of Rebecca Waites as Roberts’ best man, George, that the subtleties of her approach are best observed.

The choreography fits in with the wry commentary and tittle tattle that the Man in Chair gives on the performers, themselves. Saying that the gangsters are played by a double act known for their physical routines ring particularly true with Kathryn Salmond and Tilly Botsford in great form and providing plenty of strong dance-based routines to go with their cake-based puns when they turn up disguised as pastry chefs.

The other supposed double act who really get it right are Kirsten Millar as Mrs Tottendale in whose mansion the wedding is supposed to be taking place and Ewan Bruce as her manservant Underling. Their performance of a series of “spit takes” is excellent – and its kiss-off perfectly timed.

Tilly Botsford as a gangster disguised as a pastry chef. Pic Molly Simmons

Up top, Julia Weingaertner is in superb form as the not so blushing bride. Her Show Off, where she professes being willing to give up the limelight bursts into a particularly ironic big productions number, and she is quite the star.

Even stronger on the singing front, Niamh Higgins is a proper revelation in the title role. Drowsy here is a euphemism for drunk – it being prohibition America. The performer playing the role is supposed to be a singer well known for insisting that a big anthem be included in her role, and Higgins nails it in As We Stumble Along.

Sam Coade knows exactly where the laughs are as Aldopho, who is employed to seduce the bride by Edward Campbell’s flustered Feldzieg – who is himself set about by Holly Marsden as chorus girl and wanna-be star Kitty.

Indeed, this has comedy bursting out on every turn and there are times when Simpson could as well have let the script be funny in itself, rather than trying to force it, particularly in the portrayal of Martin. However there are some nice touches in the Man in Chair’s script which ensure that it is bang up to date.

All told, a big strong telling perfect for its late evening slot.

Running time: 2 hours (including one interval).
Paradise in Augustines – Sanctuary (Venue 152), 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL
Friday 3 – Saturday 11 August 2018.
Evenings: 9.35pm.
Tickets and details:

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