FRINGE REVIEW – The Vaudevillains (Pleasance Palm Court)

*****

The atmosphere before The Vaudevillains, Les Enfants Terribles’ one-off show at the Pleasance Dome, was more like being at a rock concert than a theatrical production.

After presenting much-loved and critically-acclaimed shows such as The Terrible Infants and Ernest & The Pale Moon at previous Fringes, it is easy to understand the devotion from those who lap up their macabre and grotesque patchwork, sewn together with cleverly-written and excellently-played music.

Although not the fault of the show itself, The Palm Court at the Pleasance Dome was not an ideal venue choice. On multiple levels, with trees and plants obscuring the view, it proved difficult for many to find a vantage point where they could see everything which was going on.

But those who did were treated to a marvel worthy of the Victorian music hall superlatives used by the piece’s compere. Featuring an eleven-strong cast and a five-piece live band, The Vaudevillains was a gloriously over-the-top gothic musical.

When Charlie, the owner of the Empire is found dead, each of the other acts on the music hall’s bill is under the glare of suspicion. In a musical number explaining the possible motivation of each, we are treated to the tales of conjoined (s)triplets The Ceberus Sisters; the multiple murderous personalities of Albert Frog and Mr Punchy; and the silent story of mime artist Gaston Gasteau, amongst others.

The cast were accomplished and multi-talented. Each is a strong singer and character actor, with Oliver Lansley as The Compere particularly impressive. Catriona Mackenzie, Rachel Dawson and Jennifer O’Neill were a delight as the joined-at-the-hip sisters, especially when they are playing their (and each other’s) instruments to accompany the action on stage.

Anthony Spargo showed great comic ability as Albert Frog, grinning as maniacally as his dummy-in-crime Mr Punchy; and Philip Oakland as Gaston was superb, the inventive parody of the much-mocked classic mime routine getting the biggest laughs of the evening.

The songs, written by Tomas Gisby, were memorable, consisting of suitably swirling carnivalesque numbers and more traditional musical-style explanatory songs, played by the talented young offstage band.

As The Vaudevillains drew to a close and its mysteries revealed, we were present at the birth of another deliciously dark and twisted classic from Les Enfants, and one that – if played in a more suitable venue – is most definitely five-star material.

The Vaudevillains was a one-off performance.

Tickets for Les Enfants Terribles’ other shows are available on the Pleasance website.

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