EFR - Reviews of 13

13

Mon 20th – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Rachel Cunliffe

at 18:56 on 20th Aug 2012

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Actors say you should never work with children or animals – they’ll upstage you every time. It’s certainly true that the average age of the cast of ‘13’ (who are all between fifteen and seventeen) adds something special to what would otherwise be a fairly unmemorable musical.

For the premise and plot, think ‘Glee’ crossed with ‘Mean Girls’, and insert every American high-school stereotype you can think of. (Cheerleaders, check. Horny jocks, check. Shunned geeks, check. There’s even a conveniently disabled kid.) The Jewish protagonist Evan is just about to turn thirteen when he is forced to move from exciting New York to some sleepy town in the middle of nowhere, where no one has even heard of a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ (‘I’ll show you the hill where everyone waits for the resurrection’). What follows is a classic coming of age tale, full of pre-teen drama, adolescent anxieties, and a lack of sex education that is hilarious in itself.

The songs are fun, in a hammy Broadway kind of way, but ultimately unsensational and a bit repetitive. (Some could definitely benefit from omitting the final chorus.) They are saved, however, by this youthful and frankly brilliant cast. Holly Musgrave, who plays the social outcast Patrice, has a beautiful voice, and Abbie Venables is fantastic as the mandatory bitchy cheerleader. And while Evan may be little more than a collection of clichés, Tom Slade plays him with an earnest intensity that is utterly believable. It really helps that these are kids playing kids (there are no adult characters), so the audience is genuinely shocked by the occasional lines of a rather more adult nature (‘My mother says pretending to like it prepares you for marriage’). And these discrepancies are what make this show both adorable and hilarious for a modern audience.

It’s not the smoothest show in the world, and the costumes and set are pretty basic, but it is clear that there is real talent here. Highlights include a delightfully naïve boy-band number, sung by a chorus of helpful but useless male friends, and the obligatory cheerleading routine which is slick and well-choreographed (giving Abbie Vebables another chance to shine). The message at the end about being yourself and realising you still have a lot of growing up to do is hammered home a little excessively, but it’s a musical about turning thirteen, so what do you expect? '13' is short, sweet, endearing, and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

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Sukhmani Khatkar

at 10:36 on 21st Aug 2012

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For a show that is basically 'High School Musical' meets 'Glee' meets 'Mean Girls' finally meets Judaism, '13' is surprisingly enjoyable and somewhat endearing. Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s production contains every imaginable American high school cliche crammed into an hour of song, dance and even interspersed with a little bit of adult humour. As someone who has never been partial to watching musicals, almost to the point of active dislike, the idea of watching twee American high schoolers bitching incessantly about one another before delivering some trite, insipid “message” about love and humanity filled me with dread. However, I can confirm that I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised.

'13' documents the pre-pubescent trials and tribulations of Evan Goldman as he is uprooted from his home in New York City to Appleton, Indiana (also known as “the lamest place in the world”). Naturally, Evan embarks on a sycophantic mission to endear himself to the jocks and cheerleaders at school in order to ensure that his impending bar mitzvah is “super cool”. This is all whilst desperately attempting to avoid being infected by a viral plague known as “geekism”. I think we can all guess where this is heading... Despite the infighting, bear-baiting and general piss-taking the nerds emerge triumphant, as per. What’s more, Evan, realising the error of his ways, now understands that, in hindsight, it’s not really ok to marginalise or bully the seemingly vulnerable.

Whilst this production sounds far too sickly sweet and, more significantly, hideously formulaic, there is something unexpectedly charming about its performers. Aged 15-17 Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s troupe of actors are a remarkably talented bunch. Holly Musgrove’s voice is particularly impressive and Abbie Venables' ability to portray the typically hated teen queen cheerleader is, without question, excellent. A rousing chorus of show tunes and some slick choreography maintained my attention throughout, whilst Tom Slade’s depiction of protagonist Evan is both earnest and heartfelt. Furthermore, antidotes to anything overly saccharine are provided in the form of some much needed adult humour; well-executed offhand quips laced with sexual undertones amuse the more mature viewer.

Indeed, it is the sheer talent and enthusiasm of the cast, not to mention their professionalism, that make '13' a success. Despite its hopelessly predictable plotline, some clever direction and a strong sense of purpose ensure that even the most hardened musical-hater will be won over.

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