The Understudies

Aug 24 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆    Amusing. Hopefully!

Wee Red Bar (Venue 506): Tue 13 – Sat 24 Aug 2019
Review by Federica Balbi

Before the start of Magic Door Productions’ improvised musical show, The Understudies, each audience member is asked to write down the title of any musical, one of which will become the title of that date’s production.

In fact, the troupe will pick one and build a whole new story to go under this title. Being improvised is all that the different day’s performances have in common. Other than some rough idea of the structure of the initial situation, all the rest is decided on stage and under the audience’s eyes.

Tilly Botsford. Publicity shot for The Understudies.

The company have interesting and varied influences – from fairy tales to pop culture – and they are always aiming for a laugh.

In the performance of the 18th of August, there was a modern-day conqueror and his assistant, a man with a treasure map stuck in his throat and his friend, and two convicts digging their way out of prison. They all ended up in the Mystic Woods, haunted by a lonely skeleton. And standing proud at the very centre of the Wood was a magnificent Burger King.

Taliah Horner, Henry Coldstream, Rob Merriam, Tilly Botsford, Kirsten Millar and Marina Jodrell improvised this improbable but funny story. They have good knowledge of the mechanisms of musicals, and they can promptly reproduce them on stage. They harmonise the songs with the spoken word, and the duets can work really well, both when the characters are agreeing or arguing.

unexpected and comic moments.

Even though most of the actors have beautiful voices, they don’t manage to avoid some imperfections. The pianist, Caitlin Morgan does a great job, drawing inspiration from famous songs and sometimes deciding the moment when the actors need to start singing, for instance as they are talking about Burger King, making the play even funnier. Some improvised refrains shape the performance and guide the spectator through it, sometimes also recurring at unexpected – and comic – moments.

Except from chairs, no other object is at hand, and the actors are not great in pretending they exist and have volume and weight. On the other hand, in this performance they created a quite complicated plot, but managed to close it without leaving unexplained elements. An enjoyable show, funny even if not always smooth.

Running time: 55 minutes (no interval)
Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh College of Art, 74 Lauriston Place, EH3 9DF (Venue 506)
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 24 August 2019
Daily, not Weds: 12.30pm
Tickets and details:


Rob Merriam. Publicity shot for The Understudies.


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