The Road to Quatar!

Thu 1st – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Kayte Williams

at 01:21 on 21st Aug 2013

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While I really enjoyed 'The Road To Qatar', I have to say that, in such a low-budget production, to parody the style of the big shows of Broadway seems a little inappropriate. Corny stereotypes, like the excessively camp Italian dancer and the imperious Arab, seem too brash and impersonal in one of the Fringe's intimate venues. The singing is faultless, however, and the writing is funny but also keeps you interested in the gripping plot: will this crazy scheme come off, or will it be the writers' heads instead? Unfortunately the production values did not fulfil the show's potential, with no scenery, cheap home-made props and a very small cast.

The show is apparently based on the real story of two musical comedy writers from New York, who are called upon to write a money-no-object musical for the Emir of Qatar. Humour is derived from the Arab characters' inexperience of musicals, and more generally their language, portrayed as repetitive burbling. I do understand that this is intended to be ironic, but as the show continues it loses its humour and just becomes silly. The writer characters are the perfect opposite, however. They're realistic, endearing people with normal reactions to the pressure of creating a musical involving a hundred camels and two dozen falcons. The show is also perfectly paced to keep the audience interested in this musical-within-a-musical.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for this excellent cast, performing in front of such a small audience and such a bare set. They really were top-class performers, James Robert-Moore and Josh Rochford in particular. The choreography was occasionally bizarre, and would have better suited a fifty-person chorus line than five actors. I think that, while using a musical to deal with a difficult subject works wonderfully on Broadway (in 'The Book of Mormon', for example), on a smaller scale we don't always get what's a parody and what's real.

So in 'The Road To Qatar' the singing and individual performances are absolutely five star, as are the clever and inventive jokes – nothing can be 'à la mode' for example, as the phrase is too much like 'Allah' for Qatari audiences to tolerate. However, the amateur production values jar with such a large-scale story and style, and the ironic stereotyping isn't as funny as it could be. I loved the pace of the show, its funny lines, the great two main characters and best of all the cast's great performances. But I was confused by the choice of play, and some extra money to furnish the show with better scenery and costumes would certainly have been very well spent.

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James Bell

at 02:04 on 21st Aug 2013

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‘The Road to Qatar’, fresh from highly successful London and off-Broadway runs, is a vibrant, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining production, a fusion of ‘The Producers’ and ‘The Book of Mormon’ and one of the funniest shows I have seen this year at the Fringe.

The wonderfully ridiculous plot follows Michael (James Robert-Moore) and Jeffrey (Josh Rochford), two New York musical writers, who are mysteriously contacted by the Emir of Qatar and ordered to write a musical to the glory of the Middle East. The whole endeavour is carried out with a wry wink to the audience and follows a recent tendency in musicals of playing with and subverting the genre of musical theatre itself. The two main characters are the caricatured epitome of the gay-musical-producer stereotype and scattered references to Judy Garland, ‘Hello Dolly’ and the inclusion of a camp choreographer contributed to the highly ironic and knowing tone of the piece.

Much as with 'The Book of Mormon’, the subject of offence has to come up. What with the dodgy Middle Eastern accents, the fake Arabic and the questionable dancing, ‘The Road to Qatar’ is distinctly un-PC, but in a way that ultimately pokes fun, not at any particular group, but rather at the audience and our unthinking and snobbish attitudes. Many critics, including Libby Purves, have denounced this burgeoning type of musical as covertly racist and bigoted. I disagree, and see it as a departure from the schmaltzy and unrealistic type of theatre that the word 'musical' usually calls to mind. Moreover, the show was absolutely hilarious; watch out for the opera singers of Bratislava who left me in fits of giggles.

Whilst I was impressed by the script, the show’s execution was also stunning. The two main characters were strong, but the supporting cast, Richard Morse as Mansour and Natasha Karp as Nazirah in particular, practically stole the show. Throughout, the production was polished and energetic, and negotiated the tricky situation of having almost no props with consummate ease. All in all, this show was an excellent example of what I am looking for at the Fringe: an hour of thoughtful and provocative theatre with a veneer of debauched silliness. Highly recommended.

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