The Oxford Gargoyles: Jazz A Cappella

Wed 31st July – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Natasha Hyman

at 20:27 on 7th Aug 2013

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The Oxford Gargoyles are one of the many a cappella offerings of Oxford University at the Fringe. Technically slick and musically outstanding, they are a sure bet. Rightly, this group have put music first, making for an hour of perfectly pitched arrangements. As an a cappella soundtrack they are spot on. However, they need to develop the performance side in order to become a truly engaging act.

The group performed a varied set, ranging from sweet, choral numbers to pop song mash-ups. Stand-out moments included Rebecca Sharp (who is also musical director) in her solo performance of ‘Round Midnight’; her trembling swallow-like voice reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. Lauren Au’s silky smooth performance of ‘Dream a Little Dream’ was also a highlight.

However, there wasn’t always consistency among the singers. There were distinctly differing levels of confidence across the group, and some appeared a lot more at ease on stage. Having said this, the ability of all performers was outstanding, it was simply that some were better at the delivery than others. This was particularly apparent when those singers weren’t paying attention to the lyrics - something which has perhaps come from over-rehearsal.

I really enjoyed the way the Gargoyles’ re-imagined songs, such as when they slowed down the opening of ‘Tainted Love’ so that we didn’t recognise it straight away. They brought a real sense of excitement to this arrangement, something I would have liked to have seen more of. At times the Gargoyles bordered on the sickly sweet, and this highly proficient group could afford to take more risks like this.

The lighting changes were a really lovely touch, bathing the singers in golden light, fading out, glowing red, then back to golden. There were some clever choreography ideas as well, although more commitment to movement was needed at times. ‘So It Goes’, performed completely still, was breathtaking. I was moved by how emotionally engaged the group was with this piece, I could see several teary eyes.

To become the best they can be, the Gargoyles need to move out of their comfort zone and take more risks as performers. However, they are still head and shoulders above many other student a cappella groups, and they have created a varied and accomplished set for Edinburgh. At the end of their show they said that word-of-mouth was the biggest present we could give them - I hope this works!

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Megan Stodel

at 01:32 on 8th Aug 2013

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‘The Oxford Gargoyles’ are a safe choice for an agreeable a capella show. Their songs are mainly enjoyable, their routines are mainly slick and their voices are mainly strong. This makes for fifty minutes of feel-good music, even if, put together, the experience isn’t terribly exciting.

When the group picked songs with a sense of humour, they hit the spot. Their rendition of ‘Twentysomething’ was particularly entertaining; I enjoyed watching a student sing: “I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot, but the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought.” The context makes this a more interesting choice than most of the others, which were largely standard favourites. This meant that some of the show wasn’t too thrilling. However, when the group did get a bit more adventurous, with a mash-up of ‘Maneater’ and ‘Tainted Love’, they failed to hit their mark, with an awkward performance.

Some of the singers are excellent. Jacob Swindells gave consistently brilliant performances in his numerous solos, while Lauren Au was charming in ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’. Other members, such as Henry de Berker, demonstrated satisfyingly percussive beatbox skills.

While there were no bad singers, a lot of the high notes sounded strained, which affected the easygoing atmosphere. Enjoyment of the show was also hampered on the frequent occasions that the accompanying singers were so loud that it was difficult to hear the soloist.

In terms of the choreography, the show was made more engaging when the routines were creative. At one point, the performers mimicked a band, representing different instruments, which was great fun; at another, they came together to spell out a word. Sometimes, their movements didn’t work from where I was sitting; I imagine they had been planned with the vision of being watched straight on. However, it was certainly better when there was a visual story being told on the stage than when the singers simply swayed or toe-tapped to the music. There were a couple of performers who looked bored beyond belief any time they weren’t the focus of the show, which was a pity, as it was another factor that detracted from the energy.

I enjoyed ‘The Oxford Gargoyles’ but I didn’t find them gripping. It’s a worthwhile show for a relaxed musical interlude. The production is lacking in novelty, but for the most part, their confidence and talent make up for it.

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