Friday, October 01, 2010

"The Bookie" - September 2010

Although I've made no secret of my wariness towards musicals, I've realised that I'm generally well disposed towards contemporary musicals - particularly those with a sense of humour. So, Cumbernauld Theatre's production of "The Bookie" with book and lyrics by Douglas Maxwell and original music by Aly MacRae was actually an attractive proposition. Before we get into the merits of the show we need to address some technical difficulties encountered during the performance, as everything that follows has to be considered with that in mind. We saw the show on Wednesday evening - its first night at the Citizens - and there were widespread failures of the radio mics used by every character. Many lines of dialogue were lost and the sound drifted in and out throughout several songs. It was bad enough that there should probably have been a decision taken at the interval to ditch the mics and improvise the staging to allow the actors to project to the audience (it wasn't a full house so no need to reach the circle or the back of the stalls). I'm sure attempts were made during the interval to resolve the problems, but if anything they got worse. And while we felt for the blameless performers, an on-stage or theatre door apology at the end wouldn't have gone amiss.

Due to the trying circumstances for the cast, and giving the show the benefit of the doubt that this was a one-off-never-to-be-repeated disaster, I don't think it would be fair of us to comment on individuals. I'll just say that every cast member had a moment or two that suggested that they are capable of delivering excellent performances.

But I can't make the same allowances for the show itself. I found the first half bordering on the woeful - to the extent that if I hadn't been writing about the show I may well have played the odds myself and flipped a coin as to whether or not to return after the interval. While there were several moments that raised a smile and one amusing set piece, for much of the time I found the dialogue clunky and unfunny. It's hard to reconcile the writing here with Maxwell's sparkling banter and tight narrative in "The Miracle Man". Indeed, I'm left pondering the significance of the fact that the show bears only a passing resemblance to its description in the advance publicity. And yet, despite its flaws, there's no refuting that this is a show with heart, and its conclusion is surprisingly satisfying.

It also benefits from several strong musical numbers shared amongst the cast - with "Hate You Most", "On The Surface" and "The One that Got Away" particularly effective (my song titles as no programme was available on the night). Ed Robson's direction provides some nice touches but at times the stage feels cluttered by two distinct playing areas, a 3 piece band and a cast of six. And while touring productions are often limited by space restrictions, here Kenny Miller's design also appears to be lacking any kind of budget.

But in all fairness, although the show didn't really work for us, and despite all the sound problems, it was generally well received by the audience. I even heard more than one audience member describe it as 'excellent', so be aware that this is definitely a show where your mileage may vary.

The Bookie runs at the Citizens until Saturday 2nd October and then continues on its tour of Scotland.
Image used with permission.

2 Heckles

Claire said...

Very interesting. I was sorry to come away from it on Friday feeling so ambivalent as I think Mr Maxwell is a cracking playwright. It did feel a little bit too much like a school play for my liking. They still seemed to be struggling with sound though not to the same extent - often, the band seemed rather louder than the singers. But I did love the band - so some compensation...

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