Reefer Madness

Sat 13th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Ellie Donnell

at 10:12 on 17th Aug 2016

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Hidden down the eerie depths of a dark and sinister alley, the walk to the venue of Impromptu Productions’ ‘Reefer Madness’ is enough to set the scene for this elaborately wacky musical. The play follows the unorthodox romantic trajectory of two innocent teens who, under the influence of marijuana, become crazed addicts immersed in the world of sex and violence.

Crazy? Yes. And hilarious? That depends on whether you like your humour up close and personal, which is the case for one poor spectator who receives a giant snog from one of the actors during an especially raucous musical number. The malign debauchery of Jimmy and Mary Lane is quite literally shoved in the audience’s faces. The limited floor space, coupled with almost paralytic dance routines, means actors threaten to fall on the laps of the front row at any given minute.

Personally, it’s not for me. The whole show is disconcerting and more often than not, very uncomfortable. No more than 15 minutes into the play the entire cast has stripped down to their underwear and is writhing on the floor. Sexual innuendo out the window, this is sex in all its hyperbolic glory. Halfway through, the couple sitting next to me make a swift exit. It doesn't seem to be for them, either.

However, ‘Reefer Madness’ must be commended for their attention to sheer spectacle. Even if you leave feeling overtly baffled at what you have just witnessed, it is difficult to deny the energy and time clearly invested in the numerous songs and dance numbers. The live jazz band are well rehearsed and contribute to the atmospheric nature of 1930’s America: most notable is the talented saxophonist. The dance routines are well choreographed, and although the execution is messy at times, the vigour with which every single cast member performs each number is inspiring, and comes with facial expressions to match. Leading lady Rachel Clements, who plays the angelic Mary Lane, is wonderful to watch and plays the part of both quintessential goody-goody and her corrupted counterpart in convincingly equal measure. However, the acting overall is varied. Adam Stanford, who introduces and narrates the play, is cheesy and a little forced. As a character in a musical, it is disappointing that he is unable to sing.

If you’re looking for something deeply immersive, bizarre and controversial then ‘Reefer Madness’ ticks all the boxes. However this is not a musical for everyone, if only owing to its subject matter, and will likely leave you feeling uneasy, confused and disorientated. This is not a show for the fainthearted.

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Ellie Bartram

at 10:24 on 17th Aug 2016

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‘Reefer Madness’, a hilarious musical about the menacing evils of marijuana. It follows the descent of Jimmy Harper (Jamie Dodd) from innocence to drug-induced madness. A narrator adopting the role of a lecturer (Adam Stanford) opens the show with the revelation that marijuana is capable of turning high school children into ‘hooligans and whores’.

Based on the American ‘Reefer Madness’ film of the 1930s, this modern adaption by Impromptu Productions is densely packed with satirical humour and heightened eccentricity.

There is an exceptionally energetic dynamic to the performance, particularly when the stage breaks into song and dance. Music from the live band is impressive, as is the quality of the singing from the entire cast of actors. Musicians and actors alike perform always with remarkable energy, and manage to keep the audience constantly transfixed.

Jack (played by Nathan Sames) certainly succeeds in being an unlikeable, grotesque character: so much so that sometimes scenes focusing on his relationship with Mae (Yasemin Gezer) are predominantly unconformable, and borderline offensive, rather than comedic. Unfortunately, the humour fails to surpass the unpleasant nature of some scenes. Mae is addicted to ‘the stuff’ after Jack uses his supply of marijuana to control and abuse her. She has a black eye throughout, and her characterisation forces the audience into the depths of a darker satirical comedy early on in the play.

However, not long after the previously uncomfortable scene, the tone returns to melodramatic comedy as the entire cast grace the stage dancing in their underwear. Protagonist Jimmy Harper (Jamie Dodd) dances in nothing but a thong decorated with, of course, a marijuana leaf. Such moments continually magnify the tone of the show’s melodramatic humour.

‘Reefer Madness’ is a production you could easily either love or hate: it is certainly one of the weirdest and wackiest shows to see this Fringe. A few people beside me on the front row appeared keen to make a speedy exit halfway through. However, ‘Reefer Madness’ seems an overall success. The remainder of the audience welcome its humour with open arms, and the cast receive a standing ovation by the end.

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