EFR - Reviews of How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

Wed 30th July – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Fay Watson

at 23:13 on 8th Aug 2014

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The Durham University Light Opera Group presents How To Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying), a musical about, well, I cannot put it much more succinctly than the title does. We follow J. Pierrepoint Finch (Simon Lynch) - a name that remarkably later is noted for its "music" - on his journey to climb the ranks in the World Wide Wicket Company. Don't be confused by their group name as this is not opera, but a upbeat musical that focuses on feel-good enjoyment factor but, in doing so, misses some subtlety in direction and performance.

The cast of 12 give competent performances with the stand-outs in the main roles of Rosemary (Sophie Mcquillan) and Finch - especially during their scenes together. Mcquillan has both a lovely voice and spot-on comedic timing, eliciting the most laughs of the piece tied with Hedy LaRue, (Sarah Slimani) whose thick accent and fearlessly committed performance lingers long after each stage exit.

Some of the acting, however, was somewhat lackluster and it is a fair comment to say that majority of the cast were stronger singers than actors. The benefit of this was evident in some outstanding musical numbers. Notably, the incessant twitching of caffeine deprived workers in Coffee Break and the show-stopping (quite literally) finale Brotherhood of Men exemplify this. The choreographer Susie Hudson must be commended on her energetic routines alongside the accompanying live band who, whilst awkwardly placed on the stage, were a treat.

There are some clever decisions from the director, Ellie Gauge, that add comedy - such as Hedy winking to the audience and Miss Jones' (Elissa Churchill) facial expressions behind her boss's head. But a few scenes were messy, with all the actors milling on stage confusingly switching from conversation to conversation. Perhaps, this was a casualty of cutting down the 2 hour 30 original show to just 1 hour 15.

There also remained a good deal of ambiguity. For instance, it is difficult to tell when it was set; costumes and the original musical hark back to 1960s America but this is combined with mobile phones and references to Beyonce. This means that the evident sexism highlighted in the play, with songs like A Secretary Is Not A Toy and Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm were not obviously parodied enough, and instead just fall as 'sort-of' funny and hopefully a joke.

Overall, the performance is enjoyable and amusing. While it starts off a bit messily, by the closing number I was smiling and swaying along with the rest of the audience. I just wish it took a bit more stock in the parody of the situations rather than simply their presentation.

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Millie Morris

at 23:50 on 8th Aug 2014

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As I settle into my seat in one of the C-venues' larger theatres, audience swiftly packing out around me, anticipation is in the air -- and I have a feeling that Durham University's depiction of a blagger's paradise is going to be good. My premonitions are soon confirmed as an all-singing, all-dancing and all-corporate-looking cast take to the stage, in a production that is as slick, efficient and box-ticking as the world of business, but much, much funnier.

Simon Lynch leads the cast as J. Pierrepont 'Ponty' Finch, a man of humble origins who employs the help of a get-successful-quick book in order to worm his way up the corporate ladder of the World Wide Wicket Company. We soon see Finch swing from rung to rung to reach dizzying professional heights, and the unpredictable consequences of this are thrilling to watch unfold. Like the way in which our protagonist slyly rises in the ranks, Lynch's style is subtle yet effective. Finch is ever the innocent with his casual suggestions and bright, blameless eyes, a perfect contrast to the childish indignation of Bud Frump, as rendered by Callum Kenny, and we see the two men clash arms in the fight between nepotism and merit.

I am disappointed that this isn't new writing, but the actors have taken to the script well. The leading ladies of the musical are standout, with a flawless performance from Sophie Mcquillan as Finch's love interest Rosemary, who is more than happy to 'wear the wifely uniform' for our corner-cutting entrepreneur. Hedy LaRue, played by Sarah Slimani, wiggles round the stage with a secretary's swagger and a Boston accent to rival Lorna Morello's. Dance choreography is excellent, with the cast in near-perfect synchronicity alongside strong focal points in routines, as we see characters raised on chairs and twirled around throughout.

Although the sharp suits of the men unify them as a force to be reckoned with, the costume generally could be a little better as I struggle to figure out when the musical is set, particularly when coupled with the slightly odd juxtaposition of dated offhand sexism against references to BFFs and Beyonce. However, this is a cohesive, well-rehearsed show that is sure to be a hit with the musical fanatic: excellent actors portray characters with delicacy and depth, and we watch our main man spin his way through offices in a blur of careful machinations with an excited and amused eye.

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