The Alleycats: Contemporary A Cappella

Wed 31st July – Tue 13th August 2013

reviews

Ashley Chhibber

at 19:37 on 4th Aug 2013

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The Alleycats bring boundless energy and great skill to a truly joyful musical experience. At one stage, musical director Brendan Macdonald initiates a brief break from the songs to speak a little bit about the group, what it has been doing recently and where it hopes to go next; small touches such as this really emphasise the personal approach this group brings to their music.

Chris Furby provides beat-box in many songs; a rendition of ‘Home’ is notable for a gender divide to mark out the two parts; ‘Say My Name’ is very fast-paced, and includes an amusing dance in the shape of car. Not all of the singers were given the opportunity to perform solo, which was a shame. Whilst a group such as this is greater than the sum of its parts, getting a feel for each singer as an individual felt a key element of this show’s ethos.

Although I did not feel that Ollie Hayes was particularly powerful as the lead in Ed Sheeran’s ‘Give Me Love’, he suited Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ – announced as the group’s first ever jazz arrangement – perfectly, in one of the production’s most elegant pieces. Ayanna Coleman in particular was always very engaging, and played well to the crowd, adding a touch of comedy; indeed, at several points, unashamedly bad dancing ensured the viewing experience remained fun and light-hearted during the more upbeat songs.

Choreography generally was impressive, providing visual as well as auditory elements – after all, the stage was otherwise bare, and the outfits classy but plain – and allowing an additional outlet for the great energy of the performers. There may have been a general theme, in as much as many of the songs dealt with love – I also noticed that the choreography during Steph Bown’s rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ would have appeared as a heart if seen from above – but the individual pieces were linked only loosely.

The energy of this group is, without a doubt, one of its greatest strengths, and it was reflected back by the audience. The performers inspired huge rounds of applause both within and between pieces, and encouraged everyone to join in with the final chorus to Florence + The Machine’s ‘Shake It Out’. This did not feel like a detached, aloof performance; this is a show, very nearly a show-and-tell, in which the audience are as important as the songs. Here is a group passionate and excited about their music, and hoping to share some of their joy. In this, they were undoubtedly successful.

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Kate Wilkinson

at 01:03 on 5th Aug 2013

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I had my own vague expectations of what an a cappella show might be like but I certainly didn’t expect the high octane one that I saw. They started with a mad 90s mashup performed with so much energy that I wondered whether they would be able to maintain the incredibly high level throughout. At the end of the first song, and before I fully appreciated the Alleycat style, I felt that the group were trying a bit too hard. I thought if they reduced their cheesy and often complicated choreography the voices on their own would be somehow more pure. Oh how wrong I was. Over the 45 minutes I became a true Alleycats convert. And it’s not that the singing wasn’t good enough on its own- it was as brilliant as I expected- but what really struck me was the dancing.

The first few songs were upbeat and lively, establishing a fun Glee-like style. There was something very sweet, cheeky and endearing about the dancing. For a moment the group would convince you that they were busting spontaneous moves together during a lively chorus, only to recommence their perfectly synchronised routine. Many hours of rehearsal must have gone into both the singing and dancing to get such a slick performance.

The Alleycats’ song selection was all, as they told us, ‘funky, fresh, fun music’. This encompassed quite a range of styles, although the onus was certainly on the contemporary. I felt that the less upbeat songs were less successful as they didn’t showcase the group as effectively as the more energetic ones. Having said this, the variety was pleasing and they worked hard to tell a story. An interesting choice was ‘Home’ by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. While I am a fan of the song I don’t think it was particularly well suited to a cappella. Another unusual choice was the beatboxing. I suppose this was an attempt at being contemporary but to me it sounded a little discordant with all the harmonies.

An unusual choice that I thought really worked was the audience interaction. During a few moments between the songs a group member would talk briefly about their work. It could have been easy to strike the wrong note (pardon the pun) with an overconfident tone however the general vibe was very, and I’ll say it again, endearing. Near the end, we were invited to join in with the singing and clearly some of the Alleycat energy must have rubbed off on the audience because everyone seemed eager to be involved.

The encore pulled out all the stops, both dance-wise and in the singing, and had me thoroughly impressed. A few minor directorial notes aside, the Alleycats are certainly a group to check out.

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