Despite the predictability of the script, Robert Jack and Andy Clark’s powerhouse performances elevate Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain above and beyond the average police drama.
Inspired by a real-life event in the story of US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Denny (Clark) and Joey (Jack), two Chicago cops and life-long friends, have to deal with the fall-out, both personally and professionally from a catastrophic misjudgement while on duty.
There’s a danger that the well-worn subject matter could easily descend into cliche, and its portrayal of a certain type of masculinity, now largely unpalatable, is often predictable, but you can’t help admire the sheer volume and denseness of dialogue and the believability with which Clark and Jack deliver it. Gripping and satisfying thanks largely to the skill of two highly talented actors.
Performing from the age of two, popping pills supplied by her mother at ten, surviving the scandal of her father’s indiscretions by moving from Michigan to Hollywood where she was signed by MGM at just 13 years old, and a lifetime of criticism about her looks, the sad and sorry private life of screen legend Judy Garland has proven to be fertile theatrical fodder over the years.
David Cosgrove’s Frances and Ethel takes place in a shabby rehearsal room in New York on the eve of Garland’s legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert. With her old pal, pianist Sal, she reminisces on the events that have steered her to this point, chiefly the dysfunctional relationship with the woman she dubbed “the real Wicked Witch of the West”, her steely, ultra-ambitious mother, Ethel.
While Cosgrove’s short, sweet play offers no new insight into Garland’s life, it does win big with the casting of Frances Thorburn as Judy, Thorburn’s voice is eerily evocative of the legendary singer. Dubbed a mini-musical, in Oran Mor’s summer season, the production is rather light on musical numbers, but those it does feature are glorious. An engaging addition to the legend of Judy Garland.
The tale of a fictitious medieval prince and his search for the meaning of life is unlikely source material for a musical. A favourite of US amateur and school theatre groups, Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’sPippin had its last professional outing in the UK in 1973 and on Broadway in 2014, where it’s big-top staging was highly lauded by both audience and critic alike.
Often overlooked for its 70s pop/rock score and lacklustre book, the music has the same hippy-dippy, student production origins as Schwartz’s earlier work, Godspell. Here, in the hands of Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, it returns firmly to its roots. No big top, no acrobatics, with just three lidded, wooden boxes and a few drapes, this hugely talented ensemble manage to deliver a cohesive and entirely absorbing production of this seldom-seen work.
The direction at the hands of John King is tight and fluid, transitions are smoothly achieved and there are some nice touches peppered throughout to enliven the staging: shadow puppetry, inventive movement sequences and pseudo-Edwardian costumes that are easy on the eye.
Central to the production’s success is its cast. Universally fine-voiced, it seems churlish to single any out; however, mention must be made of Megan Henson (Charlemagne) who is stunningly gifted as both actress and singer and Oli MacFarlane whose Pippin is beautifully judged. Strong support comes too from Caroline Sautter (a brunette Kerry Ellis look-alike) as the charismatic narrator.
Given a bigger budget and a professional venue, this would give many touring musicals a run for their money. A triumph of strong direction, clear artistic vision and a stand-out cast has produced one of the must-see shows of the Fringe.