Southern Light: The Sound of Music – Festival Theatre

Music & Lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Directed by Quintin Young

Rating: 4 out of 5.

125 years.

Woolworths, Pluto’s discovery and tenure as a planet, and the UK’s time within the EU: Southern Light Opera has outlasted them all.

HMS Pinafore to Rose MarieBrigadoon to, well, Brigadoon, and from The Wizard of Oz to The Sound of Music. Grassroots theatrical company Southern Light Opera has maintained a steady beating presence in the heart of Edinburgh, drawing their zeal and passion for music and stage across generations of performers since 1897.

For their first outing of Rodger and Hammerstein’s epitome of the theatrical musical classic, they do a damn fine job at capturing the lustre, naïve magic, and timeless presence of both the original and the underlying nods of the Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer 1965 film. The company infuse their traditional vigour with a splendid array of vocals and performances which promotes an inclusive nature for all levels of excellence, but above everything, delivers a triumphantly engaging evening for the city as it enters the darker months.

Based on the memoirs of Maria Von Trapp, the fictional story charters the Von Trapp family and their entanglement with Nazis, Nuns and (schnitzel) Noodles. The indisputable kings of musical theatre’s final piece together, The Sound of Music follows the eve of Anschluss, ever present in the background, as Maria takes up a job as governess for the recently widowed Captain Von Trapp’s children as she debates with her future within the church. Gradually, Maria comes to love the seven children, and their father, just as the might of the Third Reich tightens over Austria.

Best known for its genre-defining soundtrack of My Favourite Things, Lonely Goatherd, and Sixteen Going on Seventeen, if you think this production may have to Solve a Problem with their Maria, well, Cathy Geddie lays to rest any concerns. The moment Geddie channels the titular song through the audience with a clarity and crispness, communicating Maria’s yearning to see life beyond the convent. Together with a powerful stage presence from John Bruce’s Captain Von Trapp, the pair are the ideal leads for the production – with enough control of the stage to steady any blips, but fluid enough to remain in character, Bruce’s recital of Edelweiss a genuine moment of emotion-rending pathos.

Merging their personality with the resoluteness of Andrew’s Oscar-nominated performance, Geddie’s Maria has a degree more approachability, forging an adorable determination with the younger cast – encouraging them and harmonising with the vocals. With a special mention to the adorable determination of Alice Taylor’s Gretl, and Martha Broderick’s clear vocals as Brigitta, building from her previous starring role in Forth Children’s Theatre performance of Oliver!

And in the case of the eldest Von Trapp, for those dedicated followers of both Southern Light, and other Edinburgh grassroots producers, Liesl Von Trapp’s footwork may ring a bell, as reliable and promising dancer Jessica Lyall pushes past the comfort barrier and undergoes their first mainstay performance of a major role. And for their first time, the anxious elements of incorporating performance and singing to the part of Liesl makes for an authenticlly charming performance. Lyall’s presence reminds audiences they can be thankful for Southern Light for nurturing and encouraging an emerging talent – and look towards Lyall’s further starring roles while maintaining those pointes and elegant movements.

Choreographer Louise Williamson has previously taken large-scale dance sequences to the stage with Southern Light’s previous productions but is somewhat scaled back to the limitations of The Sound of Music’s preference for vocals over movement. But there is still an infusion of dance, which feels natural (in parts) within the narrative, either to offer an extension to Von Trapp’s party sequences, or the young blossoming romance of Liesel and Rolf, played by Ruben Binney.

There are a lot of our favourite things on the stage this evening – from the warming nature of the comedy to the dulcet melody of Tommie Travers’ musical direction, and right down to the pitter-pattering of the dedicated cast of young performers, The Sound of Music has a decided sense of ambition instilled within the grassroots company.

But there’s one delicacy which the entire Festival Theatre appreciates this evening – such a divine addition to Southern Lights’ The Sound of Music, that one transition to the Westend under Debora Ruiz-Kordova’s powerful vocals and presence as Mother Abbess. There’s undoubtedly no question about the level of dedication and prowess within Ruiz-Kordova’s abilities, making full use of the lofty Theatre stage, channelling the stature of Climb Ev’ry Mountain in a truly exceptional manner.

Never did one expect to see the flags and chill of the Third Reich exist with such prevalence in the Festival Theatre, but kudos are extended to director Quinton Young for taking the push to ensure the second act of the production follows the musical and chooses not to push back against the presence of stormtroopers and Nazi officers. Making full use of the stage extension, and the catwalk surrounding the orchestra pit, Young makes use of the enhanced stage as Southern Light moves from their regular contemporary home of the King’s and back to the Festival Theatre. The spotlights and flashlights of the stormtroopers sweeping the audience, or the sisters of Nonnberg Abbey entering mass through the protrusion inject a sense of momentum and intimacy for the audience.

Edinburgh’s most vintage amateur dramatic society has proved itself over a century. And as The King’s Theatre (donating to the renovation of which may be found here) takes a well-deserved slumber, it’s comforting to know the continuation of the city’s arts and theatre scene remains in the tried and tested hands of the likes of Southern Light. Their foray over the hills and into The Sound of Music has been a rousing success of sincerity and quality, and where snips may be made to the story for a time, the production rounds itself off with a gorgeous finale under the sepia-tinted moon, Ruiz-Kordova’s operatic prestige ringing in the next 125 years of the companies success.

Full of our favourite things

The Sound of Music runs at the Festival Theatre until September 10th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

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