first night

Fresher: the Musical

A fresh approach to theatre, Julia Loveless reviews...

 Tone Deaf Theatre Company

 

There is not a lot on my mind as I make my way to the DSU for the last night of TDTC’s Fresher: The Musical – perhaps a few brief thoughts about the terrifying lack of lighting I encounter along windy gap and the ever constant mental note of how inexplicably cold it is. Compare this to just under two hours later and I’m leaving the DSU with a bunch of new tunes stuck in my head, a grin plastered across my face and, for a little while, I even manage to forget I can’t feel my fingers.

I have to admit, when I first sat down in the Fonteyn Ballroom, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Director, Douglas Gibbs, had chosen a minimal set (two sofas, a table and a simple white bar surface) and a swathe of blue lighting as, I suppose you liken them to, house lights. Immediately, though, you weren’t in a theatre. And that worked: after all, why would you set a musical about freshers, freshers’ week and uni anywhere else? The only real downside was the seating arrangement which let the venue down somewhat – no tiered seating meant people even a few rows back struggled to see the stage in full and were regularly craning to see the action.

Ready for an explosive start, I was not disappointed. Though the musical required a minimal cast, each character was so carefully defined they managed to fill the stage incredibly well so that you weren’t left feeling there was a need for anything larger or more complicated. Even in the night club scene where we, as an audience, were told to see a throng of people, the cast managed to convey the surrounding crowd while still being in their own, freshly awkward, social group.

A highlight of characterisation has to be Rupert (Charlie Warner) playing a Mummy’s boy who is attempting to be ‘down with the kids’ by adding –izzle to almost every word he says and occasionally bursting out with simply hilarious rap renditions. Luckily, for these moments, Warner’s height granted the audience at the back a brief break in neck craning and you could sense the whole room sit back and enjoy. In plot, the romance between Haley (Izzy Osborne) and Tuc (Timmy Fisher) was beautifully constructed - to the point where a collective sigh was emitted from the audience when they finally got together (cue audience craning). Their duet was a musical highlight for me, cleverly interwoven with words so that pair still managed to continue conversation as the song dictated their thoughts.

Similarly, though with completely different sentiment, the struggle of Basil (Max Spence) as he battled with discovering his sexuality was equally endearing and superbly acted; epitomised in the impressive climax of his solo. The brief (but no less appreciated) choreography appearing in Rupert’s rendition of ‘how I would love her’ was simply genius, executed hilariously by the three male characters.    

Accompanied by brilliant musicians (led by Chris Guard, musical director) – which, in themselves, managed to encompass the perfect size of a bar band; one that would fit comfortably in Fabio’s – the cast took us through a remarkably varied collection of musical numbers. The voices were brilliant and especially impressive; if there had been any reason to doubt Elissa Churchill’s ability to sing contemporarily from previous roles, it has been well and truly lost. She brought a huge amount of energy to the stage, with confidence and striking ease of stage presence. My only qualm from a musical point of view was the problem of balance; there were several moments, including the opening number where the audience strained to catch lyrics, or even lines if they were spoken above musical interludes. It was a great shame, because you got the impression that the lyrics and libretto were incredibly witty and I imagine quite a few of the one-liners were lost. 

Fresher: The Musical aims to dissolve the belief that musicals are for the over 40s, that they’ve had their time entertaining and now it’s the turn of modern filming and graphics to take centre stage. I want to believe that TDTC’s production appealed to the masses and attracted a wider audience that maybe haven’t been to a musical in Durham yet. And I hope they did come because they would have left having seen an incredibly slick production with a superbly talented cast, an hour full of laugh-out-loud entertainment and a whole host of new drinking games to try out. So forget the cold: I’m going to walk home singing the tunes, still grinning at the brilliant comic timing and attempting, when I’m sure no one’s around, to rap like Rupes.

 

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Julia Loveless

12 February 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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