The Sound of Music

September 7, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Big sings

Festival Theatre: Tue 6 – Sat 10 Sept 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Huge performances, memorable staging and a strong message make Southern Light’s 125th anniversary production, The Sound of Music at the Festival Theatre, a fabulous night out.

Edinburgh’s amateur companies have long used the King’s for major productions. But with the King’s dark in anticipation of its refurbishment, Southern Light have led the way onto the Festival Theatre’s massive stage. It is a major step up in size, but one the company has taken in some style.

The opening scene of SLO’s The Sound of Music. Pic: Ryan Ryan Buchanan

A big dollop of style is needed too. The story of Maria, the nature-loving postulant nun sent away to be a governess to the seven von Trapp children just ahead of the Anschluss, has rarely been far from Edinburgh’s stages in recent years.

Fortunately, the company has some stylish performers in the principal roles. Cathy Geddie brings great range and subtlety to Maria. Her first big number, The Sound of Music, feels like a sigh of regret that she will be leaving her beloved mountains to join the nuns in the Abbey. Yet she has a tunefulness and force when needed and creates a believable character.

naturally unexpected

John Bruce is a hard-hearted widower, Captain von Trapp, running his house as if it were one of his ships. The Cupid wallpaper foreshadows his unwitting falling for the governess, but Bruce makes the flaring-up of love with Maria as naturally unexpected as his relationship with Baroness Schraeder is unnaturally stilted.

Elspeth White (Baroness Schraeder) and John Bruce Captain von Trapp. Pic Ryan Buchanan.

There is a splendid sense of knowing to Elspeth Whyte’s turn as the Baroness, particularly in her attitude to the young Maria – immediately aware she has a potential love rival for the Captain against her more prosaic plans.

Whyte’s voice enthrals too. She and Zorbey Turkalp as Max Detweiler give a splendid comic irony to Can Love Survive, about love needing adversity, and pack in the storytelling nuance in the key, No Way to Stop It, which reveals von Trapp’s determination to resist the Nazis.

good value

Turkalp, who is always good value when there is a big sing needed, gives an acting performance that is a bit too close to the edge of over-the-top. But he adds levity to the whole piece, as house guest to the von Trapps, drumming up acts for his Kaltzberg Festival which they eventually use as cover to escape.

Jessica Lyall (Liesl) and Ruben Binney (Rolf). Pic: Ryan Buchanan.

The young von Trapps are, as always, key to the whole endeavour. Jessica Lyall displays a burgeoning triple threat talent as the Sixteen, Going on Seventeen Liesl. She has a lovely voice, solid acting chops as a teenager in love and an exquisite charm to her ballet with Ruben Binney’s strutting telegram boy Rolf Gruber

The six younger von Trapps are double cast. Opening night’s Edelweiss Cast certainly followed the advice of Maria’s number, I Have Confidence, dropped in from the film. Staring down the cavernous Festival auditorium is no easy feat and they never had a hint of a wobble to them.

cuteness factor

Indeed, Martha Broderick is clarity personified as the tell-it-as-it-is Brigitta, while Florrie Snell as Marta and Alice Taylor as Gretl push up the necessary cuteness factor. The only self-doubt about Nathan Fisher’s splendid Kurt or Kian Gillon’s Friedrich is performed and Maria McDonald is naughtiness-to-be-tamed, as Louisa.

Debora Ruiz-Kordova (Mother Abbess) with Cathy Geddy. Pic: Ryan Buchanan.

The Mother Abbess needs a strong stage presence and big powerful voice, not least for her act one finale: Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Debora Ruiz-Kordova provides both and her working up to the big high note before the interval is expertly done.

The strong performances continue down to the servants Franz (Chris Young) and Frau Schmidt (Kayleigh Glover) and the four named nuns – Fiona MacFarlane (Bertha), Julie Howie (Sophia) Jen Cassidy (Margaretta) and Eilidh Campbell (Bernice) – who all carve out characters from scant resources.

design concept

Director Quintin Young’s design concept is superb. Making use of the boxes on either side of the stage is good, but not surprising, as the nuns open the show with their Preludium. Or for the chilling unfurling of swastikas during the final Kaltzberg Festival concert, where the Family von Trapp get to reprise their So Long, Farewell before parting. Not off to bed, but to escape.

However, making the large stage even larger with a walkway round the front of the pit is both a bold move and a surprising one. Besides bringing the cast closer to the audience, it allows the company to create distance between scenes that can, too often, seem to jump suddenly in time.

Zorbey Turkalp (Max Detweiler) and the von Trapp children. Pic Ryan Buchanan.

The direction is occasionally on the stand-and deliver side but, more often than not, Young and AD (and choreographer) Louise Williamson ensure that there is a fluid continuity to it all. They make best use of the 21 named cast and 17-strong ensemble to create depth to the whole piece.

MD Tommie Travers has drilled the singers well and his large band is top rate, never overpowering the singers. Early sound design issues on opening night were ironed out by the second half.

headline take-away

The subtleties of the production lie in its telling of the story of love across the class divide. But while that might feel as saccharine as it ever did, this Sound of Music‘s headline take-away is a strong and heartfelt warning against accepting right wing ideologies and trying to live with them.

A big love story, told with feeling, some great musical moments and little political edge, as befits a company that is 125 years young.

Running time: Two hour and 45 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre,13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tue 6 – Sat 10 September 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Southern Light website: https://southernlight.co/

Twitter: @SouthernLightEd
Facebook: @SouthernLightEd

Maria (Cathy Geddie) and the von Trapp children. Pic: Ryan Buchanan.

ENDS

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