on Friday 11 October for *Edinburgh 49*
“Try to remember the kind of September / When life was slow, and oh, so mellow,” exhorts ‘The Fantasticks’ famed opening song. Well, they’ve missed September by a week or two, but in every other respect The Edinburgh University Theatre Company have fulfilled that brief: this is a warm-hearted, uncomplicated production, which gently lulls you backwards into an agreeably nostalgic haze.
We can’t blame EUTC for the plot’s idiosyncrasies, and they’ve certainly had fun responding to its old-style American charm. Jordan Robert-Laverty neatly captures the clean-cut naivety of a 1950’s college boy, while Claire Saunders excels as his swooning 16-year-old paramour, milking the comedy of her role without ever quite crossing the line into over-acting. Saunders’ voice lends her songs an almost operatic tone, and contrasts nicely with the more natural style of Alexandre Poole – who brings an understated authority to his multi-faceted role as both villain and narrator.
Muscially, however, the performance suffered from frustrating inconsistency, with almost all the actors delivering showstopping performances for some songs while clearly struggling with others. The surprising exceptions were Daniel Harris and Thomas Ware, playing the two teenagers’ warring fathers; their characters seem at first to be formulaic comedy chumps, but soon prove to be far more. Harris and Ware both have fine, comforting voices, and their harmonising duets proved a thoroughly unexpected highlight – enhanced by some genuinely witty, if slightly methodical, dance.
Indeed, the whole production demonstrates a playful sense of physicality, with an impressive swordfight (and gloriously extended death scene) raising the stakes just before the interval. But whenever the pace wasn’t being dictated by the music, the energy ebbed away.
It’s an enjoyable, stylish, and life-affirming version of a cosily charming musical. Credit must also go to pianist Dan Glover and harpist (yes, harpist) Sam MacAdam, whose position at the side of the stage brings them very much into the heart of the performance. It’s a show it’ll be sure to remember.
on Friday 11 October for *All Edinburgh Theatre*
Sweetly cynical and taking all the right steps, The Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s production of world-record holding musical ‘The Fantasticks’ plays at the Bedlam Theatre to Saturday.
‘The Fantasticks’ tells of love thwarted and rekindled in a tale which knowingly echoes both Romeo and Juliet and the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.
With lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, ‘The Fantasticks’ opened off-broadway in 1960 and by the time it closed in 2002 had become the longest running musical in the world.
Luisa and Matt, the lovers in the tale, live next door to each other. Knowing the perversity of children in the face of their parents’ commands, their fathers ensure they fall in love by manufacturing a feud between the two families.
Of course, being banned from each other, they are soon stealing kisses across the wall between their two gardens. The problem for the fathers is now how to get out of their ruse – so they employ the bandit El Gallo to pretend to abduct Louise, so Matt can save her and create a heroic reconciliation.
Crucially, ‘The Fantasticks’ has a built-in low-budget attitude, with El Gallo providing the narration and orchestrating events with the help of a Mute (Hona-Luisa Cohen-Fuentes) who acts as a stage hand, sometimes conductor and the wall between the two houses.
The orchestra is all of a piano and harp, here giving solid and understanding support to the singers with Dan Glover on piano and harpist Sam MacAdam. Although, with the instruments on stage, a certain moderation is called for and there are times where the balance over-favours the piano.
Tall and strutting, Alexandre Poole makes an excellent El Gallo, striding about with a natural authority, but with a sympathetic air about him too. At its natural register, his voice has a tender, open feeling, particularly in the scene-setting Try To Remember, crucial to evoking life on the bare stage.
The winsome air of one in love yet happy to live in her own imagination
Claire Saunders as Luisa in the Fantasticks.
The rest of the characters are very much El Gallo’s puppets, with the Mute an ancillary puppeteer. Cohen-Fuentes’ keeps the role clear, but doesn’t quite attain that tricky collision of subservience and arrogance which could make it truly memorable.
The standout performance comes from Claire Saunders as Luisa. Just 16 and realising that, for the first time in her life, she is beautiful, Saunders has a delightful voice, but also a real presence on stage. She has the winsome air of one in love yet happy to live in her own imagination.
Jordan Roberts-Laverty makes a reasonable fist of Matt – the 20 year-old scholar returning home full of the joys of a biology degree and knowledgeable in the intimate dissection of violets.
The fathers provide a steady line of comedy, without overplaying it. Thomas Ware, all bent and decrepit as Luisa’s over-watering dad Bellomy and lunky Daniel Harris as Matt’s scheming father Hucklebee have the musical’s best knockabout tune in Plant a Radish – and make the most of it.
More comedy comes from Camilla Ginty as decrepit Shakespearian thespian Henry and Jodie Mitchell as his sidekick Mortimer, who specialises on death scenes. Both give good accounts of themselves, pulling out the playful and accentuating the comedy of their characters.
For all its apparent simplicity and attention to using its minimal staging to its advantage, ‘The Fantasticks’ is a musical comedy which has rather more depth than many of the genre.