Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed by Debs Anderson
All aboard folks – this is one trip you don’t want to miss. For years now, Forth Children’s Theatre has honed and nurtured the early steps of Scottish performers, and now they take to the open seas with the merrily cheerful adventure of Cole Porter’s 1934 Anything Goes. An infectiously original score which carries through today with its upbeat jazzy tempo, this is precisely the sort of group to capture the energy and bounce one expects from the musical.
Working its way through iterations and several writers the story takes as turbulent a twist as any set on the high seas. As absurd as it is romantic: penance, tenderness, confusion, and false-identities are all right here on deck for the audience to see. America is at its wealthiest, and the stock market has the tightest grip in town – except perhaps high-rise banker Eli Whitney’s (Sam Hunter) grasp on a gin bottle. But it’s his young stockbroker Billy Crocker who sets the sails in motion as the heartbreaker with a broken heart, desperate to find a way to win back his beloved debutante Hope, betrothed to English socialite Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
And if you think that’s half of it? Well, you’re in for a surprise. It’s a weighty cast of characters, and director Debs Anderson manages to hold a tight ship (last nautical pun, we promise) of pacing, ensuring that the story sails through untroubled waters (we lied) and offering a slice of at least a cameo role for the large cast.
With a long list of firm musical favourites at their fingertips, Musical Direction Peter Leslie works smoothly with Anderson, the cast, and Erin Munro’s rather marvellously adaptable vocal coaching to ensure the audience isn’t going home without humming You’re The Top or the revoltingly addictive Its De-Lovely. It’s just a shame the scale of the venue limits the live band’s presence, trapped behind the large set dressings that unfurl to reveal inner cabins. Their volume is pitched well, enabling the cast full-confidence in being heard even over the more raucous of party scenes.
Carrying much of the show’s momentum, Bobby Duncan’s Billy Crocker has a touch more sympathy than other incarnations of the character, putting the comedy and choreography at the crux of this tap-dance-winning performance. He’s a charmer, but enough of a rogue to bounce off of the other characters and performers, aiding in ensuring co-stars Clodagh Macleay, Nina Barnett and Donnacha Linington have plenty to work off.
Striking a favourable accord with the band, Reno Sweeney has always been the true star of Anything Goes, more engaging than other characters and a catalyst for action and momentum – it’s a significant role to fill. And one which Ailsa MacLean champions naturally in Sweeney’s physicality, vocals, and entire presence. They lift otherwise tempered scenes, posessing a charm which easily captures both the intention of the melody and the lyrics themselves: an undervalued skill from younger performers who often worry about hitting the notes, rather than communicating the emotional integrity. MacLean isn’t just a stupendous singer and dancer, they’re a fast-rising performer.
And where MacLean might be a pulse of fire for the show, Chloe Law is Anything Goes’ sincerity: lifting the often serious and underplayed Hope Harcourt into a dimensional execution with regrets and temptations. Law shows a delicacy in their poise, with a rigid central control of movement, their finesse and comprehension of Doig’s choreography are splendid to watch. With Duncan, the holds and lifts performed this evening are as sharp as any professional setting, enhanced by the silhouetted lighting of the stage. And to prove their talents outside of the dance, Law has no qualms delivering a dry line of humour against the remainder of the screwball cast of crooks and rogues.
And there’s no bigger rouge than public enemy number, at last glance, thirteen: Moonface Martin (Lewis Walker) – who, with Mhairi Smith’s brash, playful, and commanding presence as Erma, the pair bring a much-needed element of the more obvious humour for the show. Turning even the most cringing of lines into something crisp and humorous – embracing the gags and making them their own. And if you’re looking for a screwball comedy of old, both Walker and Corin Wake’s Lord Evelyn have the audience covered. From Walker’s suspected minor ad-libbing to Wake’s commitment to their characterisation entirely, the pair are comedic legends for this evening – the dedication Wake surrenders to The Gypsy In Me is thoroughly impressive.
Likely only down to nerves, there are diction issues caused by the pacing of line delivery and developing voices. It’s an opening night – so chances are the nerves will settle, the pacing will steady, but it goes to reinforce Anderson and Munro’s understanding of each of their cast members – from the ensemble to the principal, that they know where to play to strengths, and where to have them round out notes rather than try for the highs or lows they aren’t capable of just yet.
Belts their hearts out across the stage into the back of the Tabernacle, the ensemble, whether it’s the sultry, attitude-laden tones of Reno’s Angels (Emma Swain, Hariot Currie-Mullan, Jenny Masson, Lucy McDowall and Eve Houldcroft) or the brief roles which cast members make wholly their own, with special mention to the powerhouse Calum Caulfield as the simply hilarious Captain Caulfield – there is something in this show for everyone: singing, tap-dancing, gambling, fake-priests and false-beards.
Put the champers on ice, dish out the caviar, and get ready to set sail – Forth Children’s Theatre has done it again. Anything Goes captures the merriment of musicality; there’s a popping fizz of fun throughout this evening’s performance. A proud achievement of dazzling dancing and vocals, this comedic romp of the farcical-zany variety is worth getting your sea-legs on. Make sure you have your tickets ready folks; this is one show you don’t want to dinghy.
Popping Fizz of Dazzling Fun
Forth Children’s Theatre runs for two hours and thirty minutes with one interval.
Runs at the Edinburgh Tabernacle until February 18th. Wednesday – Saturday at 19.30pm, Saturday Matinee at 14.30pm
Tickets start from £15 (£10 con.) and may be obtained here.