The Producers

Nov 29 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆   Dedicated

Pleasance Theatre: Tue 27 Nov – Sat 1 Dec 2018
Review by Dominic Corr

Taking on the maestro of satire, Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group drags the Pleasance theatre onto Broadway for their production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, swastikas and all.

The premise of the show is simple, rather like Eusog’s scheme. With just a smidgen of accounts fiddling, one could theoretically gain more money with a flop than with a hit. A notion one too many directors seem to take to heart.

Georgie Rodgers, Max McLaughlin and Rob Merriam. Pic Gavin Smart

So a flop is precisely what crafty producer Max Bialystock convinces his nerdy, frightened accountant Leo Bloom to help him achieve. They’ve secured a show involving a springtime tribute to Adolf Hitler, directed by a walking stereotype. Bound to be a flop – and they can keep the backing money Bialystock has collected from a bunch of randy pensioners.

A flop is not what Eusog has produced under the helm of first time director Kirsten Millar. Far from it. There are a few powerhouse moments to be proud of and – whether by accident or intended – gleams of meta-humour. One would like to think Millar and the team intended these, the extremely low-budget set pieces, plunging signs of Broadway and nods to the supposedly “overweight” Bialystock’s obvious lack of corpulence.

If Max McLaughlin’s Bialystock has lost some girth, a joke the company capitalises on, he has shed none of his chutzpah. McLaughlin isn’t playing an amateur hour. The level of dedication, passion and energy is remarkable to witness.

More than that though, McLaughlin is channelling the great Bialystocks – Zero Mostel, Cory English and the epitome of Broadway con-man Nathan Lane. Yet, McLaughlin makes the part his own, lending a tremendous vocal performance to the role. His Bialystock is less cowardly, more a wide-eyed fixer than the seedy king of Broadway.

dramatic credentials

The same, regrettably, cannot be offered to his partner in crime Rob Merriam who portrays Leo Bloom. Physically, Merriam is the snivelling, worm-like creature Bloom has to be. His comedic performance cannot be questioned, nor his dramatic credentials. It is his vocals which betray him, particularly when placed alongside McLaughlin or Eusog president Georgie Rodgers as their Swedish secretary, Ulla, who is the object of both their attentions.

Max McLaughlin with Chorus. Pic Gavin Smart

The Producers is a sum of its parts, a piece in which the a vast array of bit parts, side characters and even one-liners, can enable the briefest of roles to rob entire scenes.

No one seems to understand this more than Gordon Stackhouse, who is already playing to a West End level as acid-tongued Carmen Ghia – the flamboyant aide of camp director Roger deBris (Taliah Horner). Meredith Mack (Hold Me Touch Me) and Rory Bayliss Chalmers (Storm Trooper) further this understanding.

Saying this, a few of the ensemble try a touch too hard to be noticed. In such a big group with equally large characters, a movement or two can be distracting.

a striking dedication to detail

It would be wrong to expect fully fledged standards in the dancing and Kathryn Young’s choreography ranges from the tight and entertaining, to the convoluted and weakly staged. It’s all a bit rough around the edges with too many bodies elbowing for room on stage.

Keeping with the tempo is musical director, Caitlin Morgan. Although, with a thin brass department, the score lacks the punch it is renowned for.

Will Peppercorn, Rob Merriam and Max McLaughlin. Pic Gavin Smart

Aesthetically, from skin-tight leather to German militia helmets, there’s a striking dedication to detail. More than would be expected, but it is just a shame no amount of glitter can make Roger Debris stand out a little more.

Like most of Brooks’ work, The Producers refuses to lay over and surrender to the passing of time. Its satirical nature should have at least aged somewhat so its ability to stay fresh, rather like Eusog’s production, is invigorating.

In a time where the ability to gather people over the love of theatre is strong, yet so crippling to fund and maintain. companies like Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group bring a delightful hope and encouragement to the stage.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including one interval)
Pleasance Theatre, Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance EH8 9TJ
Tuesday 27 November – Saturday 1 December 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinee Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Taliah Horner and Gordon Stackhouse Pic Gavin Smart


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