Who We Are Now

Mar 7 2024 | By More

Work in Progress: 70s/80s vibe

Bedlam Theatre: Mon 4 – Tue 5 Mar
Review by Allan Wilson

Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s Who We Are Now, written and directed by Thaddeus Buttrey and produced by Ching Zhan, is a rock opera presented as a work in progress that is already giving off a very enjoyable 70s/80s vibe.

Buttrey stresses in an interview with All Edinburgh Theatre that “the show is definitely not autobiographical”, but he “did draw heavily from personal experiences”.

Ellie Jackson (centre) with Molly Gilbert and Arden Taylor. Publicity Pic: Shicheng Huang

Who We Are Now explores mental health issues and the challenges of trying to build a career in the music industry through the story of Alex, beautifully sung by Ellie Jackson. Alex goes on the customary journey from being a shy young woman with an ambition to perform, to becoming a star who achieves her dreams, but at a personal cost.

As her journey begins, Alex approaches Sandy Ravage, an artist she has admired, in search of advice on developing a career in music, only to be dismissed and then mocked by the star’s various acolytes. Sandy is played by Alannah Skellett as a deliciously nasty punk, with a combination of personal ambition and vindictiveness.

The retinue of hangers-on includes Syd, a mysterious character manifesting Alex’s mental health issues, who floats around her career dispensing barbed comments at every setback. Molly Gilbert plays this part with obvious relish. The problems that Alex develops with alcohol and substance abuse are highlighted by Arden Taylor’s sleazy Vic, whose solution to the problems that Alex faces is usually to “hit the bottle” again.

passion and emotion

Alex meets and develops a friendship with Morgan, a young musician portrayed with passion and emotion by Freya White, and they begin working together, until two years of life on the road and 3am starts to get to the next gig takes its toll.

There are a number of characters with smaller parts, who, nevertheless, make significant contributions to the production, particularly in adding their voices to the musical ensemble.

Alannah Skellett and Freya White. Pic: EUTC

Hunter King brings loud-mouthed bravado to the part of music promoter, Rikki, whose comments are often echoed by the quieter voice of Tara Kinney’s roadie Sam. Max, played by Maya Williamson Shaffer as a brash American, has had an abusive relationship with Alex in the past.

Jihyun Oh, Richeldis Brosnan and Abby Harkness don’t have defined parts, but both contribute to the ensemble work that is essential to the strength of the production.

With the exception of a moving, spoken conversation near the end between Alex and Morgan, the dialogue is sung through. Buttrey is certainly a talented composer and lyricist, who seems to take his inspiration from the music of the 1970s and 1980s. As you would expect from a “rock” musical, the recorded soundtrack relies heavily on the use of drums, guitar and bass, with piano and/or organ also featuring slightly lower in the mix.


There is a good mix between the louder rock numbers and the quieter, more acoustic songs that particularly suit Jackson’s voice. Buttrey’s carefully-crafted music, supported by musical supervisor Emily Paterson, is all original, but shows influences from the likes of The Rocky Horror Show and the work of Jim Steinman. There are also hints of bands like Thin Lizzy, Fleetwood Mac and even Pink Floyd in some of the songs.

Stage manager Amy Stinton meets the challenge of having ten performers on stage by having a semi-circle of chairs at the rear of the stage and three music stands, each with a microphone, at the front. No doubt her task will become more difficult as the production moves forward and the actors increasingly move off-book and begin to focus more on performance. Similarly, Tom Beazley will face an increasingly complex task as Tech Manager in later stages of development.

In Who We Are Now Buttrey has created an excellent rock musical, for which the EUTC has delivered a first-class performance. It will be interesting to see where further development will take it in the months ahead.

Running time: two hours (including one interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11B Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ.
Mon 4/Tue 5 March 2024.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Run ended.


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