EFR - Reviews of Newland

Newland

Tue 7th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Daniel Malcolm

at 10:00 on 12th Aug 2012

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There's something sacrilegious about turning the Wild West into a musical circus. Sheriffs and outlaws that you'd expect to be coolly puffing away are reduced to a crowd of hip wiggling, toe tapping performing monkeys. The effect isn't even consistently amusing: songs with the potential to be comic like "we're evil, evil, oh so very evil" were sung with such po-faced intensity that those of us who saw the funny side didn't know where to look.

The plot could have been half-decent. Town sheriff Harvey Garris is shot in the back by outlaws in league with his treacherous subordinate. After making his escape to Newland (a Utopian settlement, whose idealism stretches to 24-hour bars) he starts a new kind of country life - until duty calls him home. Meanwhile, the town and country girls are jostling for Harvey's affections.

Such a story should make for some agonising indecision. But our hero Harvey knows his duty, and his heart too well to keep us in much suspense. Completely unconflicted, he abandons his first love with barely a flicker of remorse. The fight scenes also build little tension. The showdowns of the play are mostly over anticlimactically quickly. The arch-villain Bam is killed off in an instant without the chance for an evil last-laugh. At times it seems like the whole plot is an elaborate excuse for Harvey to repeatedly remove his shirt.

Everything about this production is brash: the tinny speakers make for an unnecessarily harsh electronic sound given the tiny size of the audience; the American accents cut without convincing; and even the passionate snogging is overwhelmingly forceful.

For all that the music isn't bad. Though most of the cast waver in and out of tune, the jazz-keyboardist does his redemptive best.

But ultimately any amount of music, energy and conviction can't make up for a lacklustre plot, performed with complete emotional insensitivity.

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Elizabeth O'Connor

at 11:02 on 12th Aug 2012

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There is really nothing new about 'Newland'. A musical set during the Californian gold rush, it's an hour and a half of denim. It's been done hundred times before and is saved only by a cast who are vocally talented to an almost professional standard.

The main problem with the show is the script. The protagonist, Harvey Garris, is a man so manly he is shot in the back in the first scene, recovers in the second, and has the bullet removed from his back without anesthetic or medical attention in the third. He also likes to take his shirt off at every possible opportunity. Along with this character, we are presented with a line-up of other Western archetypes - the small-town prostitute who wants to be a teacher, the band of bandits, the corrupt sheriff, the clowning pair of brothers - that add nothing unique to such an exhausted genre. A bank-robbery scene can really sum up the depth of characterisation in the show - when asked why they're committing such crimes, the robbers answer with sincerity "because we're evil".

It's impressive that the cast manage to inject the play with any sense of fun and entertainment. They throw themselves into their roles with a real sense of fun that is captivating to watch, and the cast is consistently strong. Some of the vocals are truly lovely, especially from the female leads, and the singing is by miles the outstanding feature of the show. The music is lively and catchy, and performed to perfection by the band.

The production is let down a lot by an infuriatingly superfluous use of microphones which the powerful singing voices of the cast clearly don't require and which robs the dialogue of any subtle expression or variation. It's such a small thing but it does a complete disservice to a cast that are clearly talented and obviously pouring their hearts into their roles. The nuances of their performances are ruined by the cacophony of booming echoes from the line before.

'Newland' is a fun and lively show that is well-worth catching if you like your Westerns cheesy and your cowboys on the camp side. The vocal performances are outstanding, and it's a shame that their talent is undermined by such a terrible script.

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