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Obama Mia

Friday, 27 August, 2010

Work in Progress

Edinburgh 2010: Just the Tonic @ The Caves – 5-29 August – 13.45 (1.10)

This is of course, the real President Obama. (Or is it?)

Barack Obama has fallen into a hope-induced coma. What will we do? Find an Obama’like of course. After the obligatory opening number the action kicks off from this coma inducing premise with surprising vim and vigour and by the end of the first scene any initial trepidations have been replaced with a level of surprised and sceptical hope.

Just the tonic @ the caves is a space that hardly suits this style of show with terrible acoustics and a PA that makes Ciaran Doyle’s live accompaniment sound like the Casio keyboard my sister was presented with when she was six.  The stage itself appears out of the mist high above the audience like a crows nest, with about as much space and I sit gazing with my neck craned backwards I question two things. One the company’s illadvised choice of venue and two how the festival allows fringe venues to become slum-lords of the theatre world renting out theatre space equivalents of high-rise council owned properties with both damp and dry rot and mice and ASBO neighbours.

Some of the set pieces in this show worked perfectly with classic moments of audience misdirection contained within the direction and script, and elements of the modern school of comedy (perfected in the film Anchorman)  engendered by Eoghan Quinn’s portrayal of a womanising, stiff drinking Joe Biden.  Aaron Heffernan, who plays Charlie, who plays Obama, is good at two things – acting, and looking like Obama. Which is fortunate given that he plays an actor, who looks like Obama.

Given the size of the stage it’s reasonable to expect a choreographer to struggle but that’s no excuse for having numbers where no one in the cast can move their limbs because they are crowding each other of the stage (back to that obligatory opening number again). It’s as though rehearsals took place in a much larger space and no one thought to make the limitations of the eventual stage clear.  With forethought difficulties like this can be overcome, indeed should be. With the correct approach obstacles like a tiny stage can become just as much a stimulus for a great performance as the script, or sheet music or an interesting premise.

Happily, given the poor quality of some the musical numbers, the show as a whole is more comedy than musical and sections of dialogue are particularly snappy. Although at times the pace lapses for a moment as though the show itself is trying to remember what comes next.  In general the performance was energetic but lacking nuance, but then an audience hardly attends a musical comedy searching for nuance and hidden meaning.

The best way to sum up the performance is to say that it feels like a mid rehearsal run through – exciting because it shows promise but unsatisfying in it’s incompleteness, it unconnectedness.

The script also feels incomplete, underwoked like the first draft of a show which will eventually be great. Some of the scenes worked great others fell flat. Some of the songs worked great others fell flat. Some of the one-liners worked great others fell flat. Some of the extended gags worked great others fell flat.  This could be because there are several writer/directors credited for the show: Brianne Fitzpatrick, Eoghan Quinn, Rory Carron and Matthew Smyth.

It’s natural to want to ask – Who wrote what? – Who directed which section?  and Who assumed overall responsibility for the production? If this company can answer these questions next time out then they might be onto a winner, because there is the warmth, generosity of spirit and first signs of invention here that all musical comedy needs to succeed.

Cast: Aifric Darcy – Page  Jodie Doyle – Cynthia Brianne Fitzpatrick– JP Rachel Gleeson – Sandra  Aaron Heffernan – Charlie (Obama)Cameron McCauly – John Favreau Sam McMullen Erica Murray – FOX Henchman– FOX Henchman Paul Musiol – Will Eoghan Quinn – Biden  Richard Shaffrey – Songmaster

Written and Directed By Rory Carron, Brianne Fitzpatrick, Eoghan Quinn, Mathew Smyth. Music and Lyrics by Ciaran Doyle, Eoghan Quinn, Brianne Fitzpatrick.

Accompanist – Ciaran Doyle; Choreography – Jayne Stynes; Sound and Light Operator – Rory Carron; Costume – Emma Gleeson.

(c) Stephen Redman 2010

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