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Fringe 2001 Reviews (5)

Hamlet the Musical
By Ed Jaspers and Alex Silverman
Big Cheese

I have seen the big popular hit of the 2001 Fringe, and it's Hamlet the Musical! For the first time this Fringe I have sat in an audience that positively buzzed from the off, that spontaneously surged to its feet at the end.

And justifiably so. I confess I had spotted this show as the obvious turkey of the year. I mean, Hamet... the Musical??? Having seen an absolutely disastrous musical version of Macbeth back in '97, I was sharpening my pen to produce a devastating tirade of witticisms at the expense of a ridiculous concept. The review was half-written in my head before the show even started!

But one of the joys of the Fringe is that you find jewels in the most unexpected places, and Hamlet the Musical proves the truth of that yet again.

This show is a delight. The only way you can make a musical from Hamlet, one of the greatest masterworks of world theatre, is to treat it with total irreverance, and Jaspers and Silverman do so in spades.

The songs are funny and memorable - a whole crowd of American High School students were singing "The question is to be or not to be" in the street afterwards - and cover a multitude of styles, but they are strong enough in their own right to avoid being simply pastiche. The play within the play (The Mousetrap!) was particularly funny, being made up of a string of snippets from every popular musical.

There's a ghost in a sheet, "lovable" cockney gravediggers, a beautifully bluesy number for Gertrude, and a duel to the death with fish (one of them poisoned, of course) - and Ophelia's mad song has never sounded so good!

Five people play twelve parts (there's no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) and the pace is fast and furious, carrying the audience along on a rollercoaster ride of laughter. And yes, there are faults - the cod ballet piece in Ophelia's suicide song was just silly - but they were minor and certainly would not be enough to take away one of the well-deserved five stars.

Pandemonium (A Greek Myth Adventure)
By Jenifer Toksvig and David Perkins
WISEPART Productions
C belle angele

Yes, it's a kids' show, but it's more than that. I hesitate to use that awful phrase, "a family show", redolent as it is of the suggestion that such shows are patronising and neither fish, fowl nor good red herring, but I have to say that there is something for all ages in Pandemonium.

Writer Jenifer Toksvig says that it meets the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum requirements for the study of myths and legends, so it presents 7 to 10 year olds with an enjoyable introduction to a part of their education, whilst having layers of comedy which appeal to teenagers and to adults, as well as some damned good songs.

The main story is that of Pandora's box, but on the way we meet Zeus, Hera and Hades, Dionysus, Echo, Narcissus, Midas, Daedalus and Icarus.

Educational. Funny. Musical. What more could you ask?

Shagnasty and Duck
By Rigel Edwards
Paradigm Theatre
Gilded Balloon

Paradigm Productions aims to "showcase the best of original new writing in a professional context". For me, the word "original" suggests ground-breaking or at least experimental writing, but such a description would not fit Shagnasty and Duck. It's certainly a well written play, and definitely well performed, but it's hardly original.

A couple of small-time crooks are encouraged by a slightly bigger-time criminal to shell out 3000 (which they earn by taking part in mdeical research and a bit of robbery to make up the shortfall) to "buy" two Thai prostitutes so they can run a brothel in their bedsit. Complications ensue and, naturally, the whole thing goes badly wrong.

It's funny, direction and performances are very good, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Enjoyable but forgettable.

Blood and Roses
By Toby Wilsher and Dylan Ritson
Trestle Theatre Company
C Underground

C Underground is what its name implies, an underground vault, and a more appropriate setting for Trestle's Blood and Roses is difficult to imagine.

The play tells, through flashback, the story of Lambert Simnel, pretender to the throne of England: how he was manipulated, defeated, and finally spared and set to work in the royal kitchens, which is where the action of the play takes place.

A cast of five play thirteen characters between them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Paul Amos (Simnel) is the only one who plays just the single character. Trestle is famous for its use of masks, and it is these - so full of character that they look almost surreally human - that enable the character swapping to be totally effective.

It is a performance which demands admiration - excellent actors, brilliant masks, clever staging - but at the end I felt I had been watching a beautifully presented history lesson, but one which did not engage my feelings at all. Worth seeing, though, for its sheer theatricality.

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©Peter Lathan 2001