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Part A
Published on Sunday, 19 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Musicals
13-18, 20-25 Aug, 8:50pm-9:40pm
Reviewed by Lee Zhao

 Recommended for age 12+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Ah, the social life of a student. Parties, alcohol, making friends, making more than friends. This has always been fertile ground for Fringe show material, and it is these very themes that Bottle Top Theatre Company has tapped into with their original musical, Part A.

Part A has no strong narrative thread and, to begin with, the show appears to be a sequence of independent musical numbers in the vein of that Fringe favourite I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. It is only a few songs in that it becomes clearer that certain characters are recurring, and that the events are roughly framed over the course of the same house party. Refreshingly, the bulk of the comedy is observational, poking fun at the awkward social situations most students wind up at some stage in their lives. There are no cheap, crude sexual gags, and the show even lampshades its toilet humour with a literal 'Toilet Song' on how most young people take the toilet for granted at a party.

It also becomes apparent this is not a laugh-a-minute comedy, as every third song is more introspective and serious. Although this tended to disrupt the rhythm of the show, there was one particular inspired move. One number was reprised, but in much more sombre tone, inviting the audience to consider whether their original response (that of uproarious laughter) was warranted. Textbook deconstructive theatre.

As for the music, Freya Smith and Jack Williams have delivered a score that burrows deep into your musical subconscious, leaving a trail of memorable tunes in its wake. Given the sectioned nature of the show, it was important that every individual song took on a different character. Part A achieves this admirably by making full use of their assorted percussion, and even throwing the bass guitar a gem of a bass break. The band hits every note and every beat. As for the cast? Well, to quote their own lyrics (adapted from Jay-Z): they have ninety-nine problems, but their pitch ain't one. Volume, on the other hand, was an issue, as some of the singers needed more projection to get across all the lyrics. Perhaps some slight amplification wouldn’t have gone amiss?

I do feel, as well, that Part A is still a work in progress. I mentioned the reason at the beginning: the lack of a strong narrative. Coming in at under forty-five minutes, the show definitely has room to expand into something with more structure. Alternatively, it can go the other way, aiming to be an out-and-out musical sketch comedy, with perhaps two or three more songs and certainly more mileage out of some of the characters. In its current state, it cannot even seem to decide whether it is a comedy or something heavier, though the latter is an option I would recommend against exploring too far. What may appear to be deep, meaningful lyrics about relationships can come across as the same schmaltzy lines that are a staple for all love ballades of the last thirty years.
 
Ultimately, though, the quality of the singing, the exuberance of the cast and my own genuine laughter at the lyrics won me over. Yes, there are problems, but there is also huge potential. If Part A overcomes its issues, it could go from being a decent musical to a smash hit on the Fringe.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  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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