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Facebook: The Musical
Published on Monday, 24 August 2009

There are some things that you feel really should not have the words "The Musical" stuck after them, and to be honest, "Facebook" seems like one of them. So it was with apprehensive curiosity that I turned up to see this show. It turned out to be better than I had anticipated... just. There's a really good, thought-provoking show trying to get out in Facebook: The Musical, but sadly, it seems to have got lost somewhere.

There are essentially two separate stories happening in the musical, and only one really involves the social networking website. That story revolves around a sexually frustrated teenage boy, Justin, who invents a beautiful singer, Carmen Valentino, on Facebook - only for unhappily married lesbian, Leigh, to fall in love with "her" over the Internet. The other story is a Lolita-esque tale of a music teacher, Arthur, his most talented chorister Rose, and how they fall for each other.

The main problem with the musical is that Facebook element seems completely redundant. The characters could easily have communicated on something other than laptops, and the inner monologues could have been voice-overs rather than little messages on a projected computer screen. The writers do not delve anywhere near deep enough into the complex issues of social networking; instead they cop out for superficial gimmicks such as a status update song, and another about a poke war. All this serves to undermine the Arthur and Rose story, which was far more mature and well written. Tafline Steen, in particular, gave an astonishing performance as Rose.

Music-wise, the backing was usually too loud, sometimes making it hard to make out the words (although at times you had subtitles in the form of a Facebook wall post). The arrangements were quite simple, and it seemed strange that nearly every song would finish with a full chorus. Still, Catherine Millsom (playing Patience, Arthur's sister), easily the best singer, had a voice that sounded sublime even when singing the most banal words.

At two hours long, the show felt both half an hour too long and half an hour too short, just skipping three years when it is implied Leigh finally finds the truth about 'Carmen'. It also started perhaps two hours too late as the last show on the evening, probably due to its unnecessarily strong language and rather uncomfortable cybersex scene.

Ironically, there is a passage in the musical which sums up my feelings - it's when the teacher Arthur complains about a song being immature, and appearing to be two different songs haphazardly put together. What's more, avid Facebook users will probably feel this musical has missed something fundamental about the site, which made it so different and popular in the early stages: the ability to share photos. With all its concentration on the status updates and instant messaging side, this show could easily have been MSN Messenger: The Musical or Twitter: The Musical instead.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2009.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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