Science! The Musical

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd February 2014

reviews

Lou Fioravanti

at 01:44 on 19th Feb 2014

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If you though that science was boring, rigorous, and exact, you might find your beliefs joyously spun around by this sassy, pacy, and really rather accomplished musical. Science! The Musical is not the finished article, but the research is looking pretty promising.

Andrew Goldman’s music is fresh, while nodding and winking at Broadway and the West End, but more importantly his score is terrific and many of the songs would happily stand on their own. Their tonal sophistication did at times challenge some nervous first-night voices, which were not helped by the lack of microphones, and a rather sparse instrumentation, no doubt because of lack of space, but that is a testament to their quality, rather than a detraction from it. A special mention is deserved by the Professor’s Conference song; I loved the 80’s lounge feel of the intro, and the lyrics, explaining how a presentation might go wrong, were absolute genius, and extremely relevant to anybody who’s been to a conference, lecture, or presentation listening to an IT challenged, unrehearsed academician!

The script was probably the best feature, the lyrics were consistently hilarious and always sat with ease within the phrasing, unless there was a point to me made by the extra syllable. The dialogue was at once slapstick and immediate, while the humour was nearly always non-scientist friendly.

Now blocking and choreographing this explosion of cheerfulness, into the shoebox known as the Playroom, was without doubt a challenge to be feared, and choreographer Emily Mcelligott did a great job with a gyrating — literally — and extroverted set of steps and dances which were a joy to behold. Naturally, the lack of space slightly thwarted her valiant efforts, and perhaps the level of skill of the actors had me asking myself whether I was laughing at them, or with them, but what of that?

The two deliciously cheesy, and skilful dancers, Ajoeb Baridi and Arturo Zúñiga, brought the camp and glitz of the Follies into the tiny space, and were the funnier because they seemed oblivious to the fact that there were no glamorous chorus girls dancing with them, only a bunch of nerds.

The singing was remarkably good considering that the actors sang virtually a cappella, thinly accompanied by hardly more than a keyboard, a consequence perhaps of the desire not to overwhelm the space with music, at the cost of the voices which, unlike the electric instruments, had no artificial amplification, as I mentioned above. Alana Mailes, had the best voice, with clear diction, support and motivation, while John King’s voice brought the vulnerability of the character to the charming fore. Goldman, as the professor, deserves mention for his supremely comic negotiation of space, reminiscent of the Ministry Of Silly Walks.

If one wanted to give some constructive criticism, one might say that slapstick should be underpinned by truth and shading. Doubtlessly because of nerves, the lead actors sometimes carried the momentum of the amplitude demanded by singing into their acting, and at times one felt that they were finding themselves very funny, but I am being rather harsh, and as things progressed they relaxed and subtlety was restored.

Julian Robertshaw’s stage presence deserves a mention, the light liked him enormously, and he did stillness subtly and well, as everybody’s counterpoint. His range was slightly challenged by his musical numbers, which were good, and difficult, but he acquitted himself, and had easily the best line of the play: Publish or Perish! Kitty Sillars was an attentive and committed presence, and enjoyably petulant in her few lines. She is in possession of a very good voice, I would have loved to hear more of it.

All this felt at home in the lab office capably and cheekily created by designers Danni White and Kelly Mahon, and this slightly compulsive reviewer enjoyed the attention to detail amongst the shabbiness. Particularly enjoyable were the posters on the walls, and King’s outfits, the procurement and the maintenance of which, must be credited to Producer Andreea Dogar, and Stage manager Gabbie Bird. All was skilfully lit by Johannes Ruckstuhl, who managed to effectively shift the action from over-lit office, to cabaret kitsch, to Broadway stagey.

All in all a resounding success which, as every University production, would have benefited from more rehearsal time, but which director Abi Palmer and her assistant director Hazel Lawrence managed to lick into a very decent shape.

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