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The Drowsy Chaperone
Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012
2

2 stars

Paradise in Augustine's (venue website)
Musicals
6-12, 14-19 Aug, 10:15pm-11:45pm
Reviewed by Anne Stirling

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

I haven't seen the show before, but I have heard happy mention of The Drowsy Chaperone in musical theatre circles, so was looking forward to seeing it in production. The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group return to the Fringe to bring this 'musical within a comedy' - as they describe it - to life. The company has received five-star reviews in the past, so my expectations were high, but unfortunately this production did not meet them. The combination of overly caricatured characters and a lack of amplification of the singers resulted in an over-the top musical which I strained to hear, and strained to enjoy.

The show opens warmly enough, with the protagonist (Man in Chair, played by Andrew Stirling) narrating the story of a fictional musical, which he shares with us via his gramophone. Stirling played the role endearingly, but the staging didn't allow for the bulk of the audience to see him, his armchair being set so far downstage.  Further technical issues were revealed in the first musical number, when many of the lyrics were swallowed by the band situated behind a side-stage curtain. Roz Ford, who plays the leading lady Janet Van De Graaff, was the only performer able to project above the band - which meant all other solos tended to be drowned out.

As a musical The Drowsy Chaperone has the potential to be a nostalgic celebration of the Vaudeville era of musical theatre, but in this particular case it was not. What manifested was more of a parody, which I thought lost the production some of its potential charm. Overall, I felt director Rebecca Clark encouraged her actors to ramp up the slapstick and cheese. The Drowsy Chaperone (played by Jess Barker) was pantomime in her face-pulling, which hampered her appeal to pathos and eliminated any sympathy I may have felt for the title character.

It wasn't completely shambolic. The band were tight and the singing was on pitch (when it could be heard), and full-cast numbers resounded through the church hall of Paradise in Augustine's, leaving you tapping your toes and humming the tunes as you left.  Everyone looked the part; the costumes were fun and the performers' faces were lively and bright. It seemed like they were having a grand time, but it’s just a shame I don't think they got to the heart of what this show is all about.

The best comedy comes from truth, rather than spoof, and I'm afraid this production of The Drowsy Chaperone leaned to the latter.  Directorial choices have cemented this production as amateur, a disappointment by the standards of 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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