Fanatical: A Sci-Fi Convention Musical

Music and lyrics by Matt Board, book by Reina Hardy
Neil Marcus and Rachel Kraftman for Fanatical About Fanatical Ltd with Laura Elmes Productions and Craig Nom Chong
Playground Theatre
to

“Nobody’s watching,” sings Stephen Frost as sci-fi writer Scott Furnish at a key point in the plot of this ebullient new musical. He isn’t referring to the thin house on the night that I saw it (not press night) but the TV serial that’s been made out of his comic book Space adventure serial called Angel 8.

Sci-fi musicals seem in vogue at the moment and Board and Hardy set this one at a sci-fi convention. Here the fans of Manga tale Angel 8 and its TV adaptation turn up to indulge in some cosplay, not just dressed up in their approximation of character costume but with artwork and objects that they have created.

Eight: Con-One may be staged in a venue with multiple halls for its different elements (scenes changed by spinning the set and new projected labelling) but it's run rather riskily by keen Angel 8 fan Trix and a crew of volunteer supporters. They eagerly await the arrival of its creator Furnish while Trix is concerned that there’s a journalist among the punters who’s sent to write a piece that makes fun of them. Long before the infiltrator can be identified, Trix’s chief support Andra (dressed as Angel 8 heroine Iris Aucht) has met and fallen for him.

It is a slim plot that takes an unexpected twist to includes a potted performance of an Angel 8 episode but along the way it throws light on how fanatical fandom can provide social contact and make up for other things missing in some lives.

It may seem ridiculously geeky to dress up as a fictional character and go to a convention but while this show pokes tongue-in-cheek fun at the whole thing it does so with affection as Andra sings of making her costume: “It took too long/ It cost the earth/ It drove me nuts/ And it was worth it.”

Matt Board provides plenty of lively numbers, which have some bright lyrics, but they were often drowned out by the band or distorted by over-amplification when already belting them out at full volume. Perhaps I was in a bad spot acoustically or that there was a lack of bodies to absorb sound set for a full house, but great chunks were made incomprehensible despite the actors’ efforts.

With one romance that clearly isn’t going to happen, another that flowers and a third that could be about to take off, it’s a show that ends upbeat after floundering to start with and, though I’m rather cool about it, most of the audience around me seemed wildly enthusiastic.

There are particularly strong performances from Sophie Powles as Andra and Suanne Braun's Trix with Tim Rogers making Craig a real nice guy. If the temperature drops a little with Stephen Frost’s Furnish, that's absolutely right for the character who’s jet-lagged and drunk after flying the Atlantic.

Movement director Anthony Whiteman’s contribution to Grace Taylor’s production is choreography that seems designed for non-dancers, which is a pity for it looks as though some of these actors really can move and everyone inputs energy.

Designer P J McEvoy not only provides set and costumes but posters for the convention with the sci-fi characters and magazine covers for the Manga that feature in displays and in the programme. Quite why a character that’s called a fish has wings eludes me—perhaps that’s the mysterious secret the fish has, but the costume looks lovely!

Though the writers of Fanatical are American, it is great that this cast don’t put on American accents but speak and sing in their own voices with an Aussie Craig and a Yorkshire Andra.

Howard Loxton