The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a-knocking and to get things started Emily Hill samples some Bubble based thespian antics with a review of A Patch of Blue Company’s production of ‘Godspell’.
For the last two years I have loved this company; I’ve worked for them, cooked for them, cleaned for them, lived with them and I’ve watched them. So yes I may be a slightly biased audience, but I am also an experienced one, with high expectations. This July they have been on tour with a production of last year’s five star Edinburgh Festival Fringe production of Godspell by Steven Schwartzs. I’d been in it and produced in 2011 so they had my personal and professional interests to live up to, and I’m pleased to say they didn’t disappoint.
The plot line is essentially that of the gospels but this is not an evangelist show. Schwartzs takes the parables told in Bible to create a universal message; people who are lost and distressed coming together through love and community, and of course with some cracking show tunes thrown in too. It is a musical that seems to have been intended for this company’s vision – interactive and intimate theatre – and these ideals are expertly brought to life by St Andrews based directors Alex Howarth and Caroline McCaffrey.
The performance I saw was on the 19th of July in Cuddington, Buckinghamshire, a small village, proud of its ‘best kept’ status. The venue was their village hall, beamed and thatched with wooden floors, yet from this twee setting we were transported in the opening scenes to a disordered junk yard. Despite the curtained stage available, this production was set on the floor, with cushions and settees for the front audience rows, blurring the divide between actor and spectator. Twinkling fairy lights lit the enigmatic scene, where bunting met rusty fridges and broken doors. As the cast gradually entered, alone and seemingly desolate, alongside the audience, a hush descended. Amidst our silent anticipation Jesus flicked on a lighter and began.
Emily Thompson, playing Jesus, spoke quietly into a crowd gripped by anticipation. The feminine touch was ideal, she became like a mother encouraging and calming her boisterous children, as though from ignorant toddlers to enlightened adults. Thompson was subtle with her words, always speaking as though imploring so that rather than raising her voice she made herself worthy of silence. From this, and the less formal setting, the production had a raw and sensitive quality throughout; intimate and enchanting.
Technically it was astounding. The main criticism from last year’s reviews had been the limited choreography, but this time it couldn’t be faulted. From slow and sensuous waltzes to unimaginably speedy ensembles they blew me away. St Andrews’ own Joseph Cunningham matched himself perfectly to theatre school trained Jannette McManus, and both should be applauded here. Musically they were unanimously impressive. The vocals were pitch perfect and the use of so many instruments by so many actors was more than inspiring. My performance highlight was in the song All Good Gifts where three guys played one guitar, one using it as a drum, another making the chord shapes and the third playing the strings. This couldn’t have been achieved without technical ability, absolute trust, unity and sensitivity. This image epitomised the production for me.
Other bubblers of note were graduates Alanya Noquet, for her charming portrayal of the child-like disciple, Jamie Gordon, for his compelling vocal opening to the show and Ashley Mackintosh, for her playful flirtation with Jesus. Finally, returning from his year abroad Mark Gregory hit the heart with a striking and anguished portrayal of Judas. I look forward to his return to the St Andrews stage.
However, you needn’t wait till term time. Mark, Alex and Caroline will be showing their talent once more at the Fringe, along with fellow St Andreans Patrick Birch and Ellie Mason. Don’t miss out on what promises to be an extraordinary production of The 25th Putnam Annual County Spelling Bee, which has already graced a West End Stage at the Twitter Theatre Awards.