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Sweet Talk

Thursday, 19 August, 2010

Can you survive in Cell Block Five?

Edinburgh 2010 – C aquila – 9-30 August­­ 2010 – 15.45 (1:00)

Sweet Talk is a fairly limp musical set in the fictional cell block five of Marsville Prison.

The soap-opera-style plot centres around four inmates and their sleazy warden.  Daisy (Beth Burrows) is the newest arrival who, despite swearing her innocence, was caught carrying drugs on her way to a party.  After a tough start, she is cautiously befriended by a group of three prisoners; Carla (Grace Wessels) is the leader of the group and is joined by her two loyal followers Jay (Marty McDowall) and Tee (Lydia Harris).  The fact that men and women seem to be sharing the same prison is just the first of many absurdities apparently overlooked by the writers.

Any hope of the prison scenario imbibing the production with grit or social commentary quickly vanishes as the haphazard story begins to take shape.

Carla is having an affair with the warder Ferguson (Olly Giani) and is jealous when he pays any of the other prisoners any attention.  When Daisy spurns boyfriend Daniel (Travis Quinn) for failing to get her released she believes she needs to sleep her way to freedom, starting with Ferguson.  This earns the ire of Carla whose somewhat strange reaction is to refuse to join Daisy in the end-of-year prison cabaret.  Daisy hits back threatening to expose Carla’s romps with Ferguson.  The climax of the show is the prison cabaret and Daisy’s enforced solo performance.  The sparse plot eventually resolves itself in a spectacularly ludicrous manner.

This being a musical, the story is told with a mixture of dialogue and song.   Unfortunately, with the honourable exception of Travis Quinn, none of the cast are particularly talented singers.  The three actresses’ vocal skills range from average to weak, while Marty McDowall constantly sings flat and Olly Giani barely has a singing voice of any description.  The best that can be said is that each cast member seems to be giving it their all – desperately trying to hit the high notes while trying to give some believability to underwritten characters.  But no amount of enthusiasm can make up for the production’s complete lack of wit.

Travis Quinn, whose voice is the only one that soars above the mediocrity, is woefully underused and his duets with Beth Burrows, the best of the female singers, are the only points where the production even approaches a professional standard.

The songs themselves are largely forgettable affairs, with musical accompaniment coming from solidly-played piano and drums backstage.  The tunes are generally insipid, while the lyrics are very much from the ‘cat, mat, bat’ school of rhyming and add little to the story – leaving heavy-handed dialogue to further the paper-thin plot.

A decent set, made up of three suitably heavy-looking cells, and well-made costumes are the only bright spots in what is a disappointingly weak theatrical experience.

Cast Credits (alpha order): Beth Burrows – Daisy.  Olly Giani – Ferguson.  Lydia Harris – Tee.  Marty McDowall – Jay.  Travis Quinn – Daniel.  Grace Wessels – Carla.

Company Credits: Writers/Composers – Harriet Hardy and Rosie Paveley.  Band – Sam Edwards, Kayleigh Fellows and Harriet Hardy.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Friday 12 August / C aquila, Edinburgh, UK

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