EFR - Reviews of Mary - A Musical Play

Mary - A Musical Play

Tue 7th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Sara Pridgeon

at 08:47 on 9th Aug 2012

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'Mary: A Musical Play' tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, opening with her execution before going back to recount the rest of her life. Led by Sarah Johnson as Mary, the show takes us through the important moments in Mary’s life, from her departure to France (featuring Stephanie Hume, who is charming as young Mary Stewart), her return to Scotland, her marriage and motherhood, her husband’s murder and her subsequent relationship with Bothwell, and, finally, her flight to England. The show is in good hands with the students and production team from Lochaber High School, and performing at the Fringe is a wonderful chance for this young cast to grow.

Mixing original numbers with pieces of classic Scottish songs, the music was the highlight of the performance. The numbers are competently done, and though they are simple, they do, in general, add nicely to the show. This is especially true of “A Cautious Welcome, Ma’am” which marks Mary’s arrival back to Scotland, and Mary’s lullabies for her son. The latter were the best of the show, especially the reprise of “Jamie’s Lullaby” – Johnson was impressive in her range of expression, both in her face and in her voice. Though earlier in the performance her acting rested more heavily on her physicality than on her voice, by the end the two were properly joined and to good effect. The reprise of the lullaby was one of the best moments of the musical – her pain at being separated from her son was felt in every waver of her voice. And though her singing was imperfect (always pleasant, full with a wispy edge), this proved an asset as it allowed real emotion to creep in.

Set changes were efficient, and transitions and lighting were smooth, impressive for a school production. The show benefited from the sparse set, as this allowed the costumes to shine – they were visually interesting and greatly helped set the mood. The musical numbers were well rehearsed and meshed well with the show itself. The ensemble songs were strong, at times let down by childish lyrics; Johnson was consistent in her presentation of Mary through her numbers. Some actors – especially the ladies in waiting – would have benefitted from more projection, an easy fix which will greatly improve the quality of the show. The acting was standard though at times overdone and the cast would have benefited from toning their performances down into something subtler and more natural.

Mary: A Musical Play gives an innovative and sympathetic look at Mary Stewart’s life. Though not without its issues, the production does feature nice moments from an enthusiastic young cast, as well as impressive production values. Lochaber High School’s musical is a solid effort, one which can only continue to improve during its run at the Fringe.

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Claire Dalling

at 09:39 on 9th Aug 2012

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Productions like ‘Mary: A Musical Play’ compound my dislike for star ratings. Lochaber High School’s very young cast show some flashes of real theatrical genius, but their untrained voices and underlying nerves make them incomparable to many of their fellow Fringe performers. Written by Ian Welch and George Young, both teachers at the school, the show has the ambitious task of telling the life story of Mary Queen of Scots in ninety minutes, complete with original musical numbers. Though I did not experience the rollercoaster of emotions promised by the programme, I did undoubtedly leave with a better knowledge of Scottish history.

The text was simple, but perfectly clear, concise and informative. The musical numbers were lyrically pleasing, but the orchestration could only be described as plain. This struck me as a shame because, aside from the occasional and largely unavoidable tuning issue, the band seemed extremely proficient.

Much attention has been paid to the costumes of the show and for good reason. Each had been painstakingly researched and based on 16th century designs, and designer Jenny Wade’s efforts do not go unnoticed. It is testament to the care and attention that has obviously been poured into the show by the whole production team. Unfortunately, the cast did not seem to share the passion and drive that has brought ‘Mary’ to Edinburgh.

Sarah Johnson deals admirably with the pressure of the title role, and, after a slightly shaky start, her pure soprano became sweeter as her nerves began to fade. The show was undoubtedly stolen, however, by Fergus Munro’s John Knox – a frank and forthright performance that brought some welcome and unexpected comic relief.

Although there were some engaging young people amongst the chorus, they were like bright sparks in a pile of wood, and their enthusiasm was not enough to ignite their peers and start a fire. At times I wanted to go onto the stage and shake them, to try and transfer some energy and create a smidgen of oomph. The ensemble singing was tuneful, but not powerful, and though their diction was decent, the projection was poor. These faults are not dire or unusual – and we must remember that these are ordinary teenagers and not stage school kids – but they do add up.

There is definite promise here, and I am sure that Lochaber High School will go onwards and upwards. This is a fantastic opportunity for the cast, and I truly hope they enjoy every moment.

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