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Friday, 23 May 2014

Eurobeat - St Andrews Players (Guest Review by Lewis Cox)

St. Andrews Players,
Library Theatre, Luton.
15th-17th May 2014

I was at Wheathampstead seeing The Thirty Nine Steps when my wife came home raving about this one. Seeing as she is their vice-chairman any review from her could induce feelings of bias. Never wishing to miss any opportunity for my blog I invited a theatrical friend, well versed in all aspects of theatre, to pen a small piece. He has strong views on theatre and knows nothing about the company or anyone involved in this production. Judged by his comments I reckon it must have been pretty good and worthy of four coveted red stars. Coveted by whom I have no idea but it should make some blog readers happy. Roy Hall

The Eurovision Song Contest is deeply polarising. My admission, even to close friends, that I have watched it provokes audible gasps. My further admission that I haven’t missed a contest for fifteen years would likely send them over the edge. Now and then, you stumble upon an acquaintance who has a similarly guilt-ridden love for the event, and you’re away, reminiscing about those Latvian pirates from how-many years back. St Andrews Players bravely accepted the challenge to stage Eurobeat - a musical that lives and breathes Eurovision. Some may describe it as a spoof, but that would be an injustice - not least because absolutely nothing can send up Eurovision as well as the annual song contest itself.

No, what director John O’Leary has fashioned here is much cleverer, and dare I say it much harder than an out and out spoof: This is for all intents and purposes the Real McCoy. Unless Auntie Beeb suddenly defies all expectations and sends out a winning formula, I imagine this is the closest I will get to being present at the contest itself. Our hosts are two of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s finest figureheads: Sergei and Boyka (played by Stuart Farrar and Michelle Wiltshire). A glorious script crackling with poor jokes and unwitting innuendo is played gloriously straight (Well, as straight as a Eurovision host can be) and is all the better for it. Any hint that they are sending up the process and the atmosphere would be lost.

The same goes for the ten mesmerising song performances. The songs are hugely derivative: Iceland sends a slightly too powerful Love Ballad (number 3A no less), the UK sends a song that spreads the word ‘love’ over far too long a melody, and Germany sends Kraftwerk in all but name, and on the night I attended managed to score a point despite possessing no lyrics.

The lyrics are ridiculous, the melodies appalling - but be under no mistake: these are not being played for laughs. The choreography (by Kate Johnson and Lynette Driver) channels real Eurovision performances and is all the more hysterical for it. A particular standout for me was the Hungarian ‘point of entry’, where The Molner Sisters (Debbie Cavanagh, Barbara Storey and Emma Mills) wailed and bawled powerfully and aggressively at an incredulous audience before suddenly embarking on a jolly Hungarian folk number that left any emotional context ripped to shreds. I was crying with laughter.

Sharing the director’s commitment and belief in the performance was the technical team who had quite obviously thrown themselves at challenges large and small and come up trumps. Whilst the audience lapped up the flashier elements, with the on-screen video link-ups to the country representatives, I certainly appreciated the subtler elements such as the on-screen live scoreboard and the country’s flag colours created with lighting at the start of each act. This was a show where the audience was a character in itself and John O’Leary successfully figured that to engage us, the performers had to be unashamed no matter what they were called to do. The result was an evening that lived, breathed and oozed Eurovision: A triumph. Oh, and those angry housewives from Hungary? They scored only 4 points. Exactly like ‘real’ Eurovision: I never can pick a winner. Lewis Cox


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