In true Fringe spirit, The Oxford Belles bounced back from interruption to deliver an hour of punchy girl-power anthems partly marred by issues with balance and mixing.
A lively and uplifting hour full of heart and vocal potential – definitely worth a watch
This all female and non-binary a cappella group definitely know their niche. I appreciated the blue ribbons on their costumes, and their choreography instantly brought back Pitch-Perfect nostalgia. Their medleys of big-hitting feminist chart-toppers are in turns sultry, joyful, and compelling celebrations of queer and feminine power complemented by evocative lighting and sassy, well-executed choreography.
Unfortunately, a fire alarm put the brakes on this fast-paced show almost as soon as it had begun. The Belles didn’t let this interruption take the wind out of their sails, rallying together to take charge of the situation. They established clear new boundaries with the audience and wasted no time in bringing back their feisty feminist atmosphere.
The Belles’ musical choices are commendable. They incorporate clear nods to the original songs, like the vocal percussion of Janelle Monae's Make Me Feel. At the same time, mashups and creative harmonies, like the almost cathedral-like setting at the beginning of You Don’t Own Me, take familiar songs to new and unexpected places. The arrangements, complemented by choreography, also consciously celebrate each singer’s particular talents and vocal qualities. From beatboxing to rapping, powerful high belts to mellow vocal tones, I was really impressed by the sheer range of talent on display. I particularly enjoyed the duets incorporated into medleys like Pynk. What’s better than a sassy diva solo? Two divas sharing the spotlight and uplifting one another in gorgeous harmony! Moments like these really embodied the messages of self-love, confidence and female friendship expressed in their song choices. It also matched well with the Belles’ values of empowerment, “Aca-ting Out” against traditional hierarchies of soloist and backing singer. Bravo!
Where the performance didn’t quite live up to its potential was in its fuller sections, which sometimes felt more like eleven individual performances than a unified piece. I appreciated the decision to divide up solo moments, but it was at times difficult for the audience to follow the tune. More coordination of the tone and dynamics in those denser textures would further allow individual performances to shine. Similarly, the use of reverb, while definitely in keeping with the diva style, had the effect of slightly muddying the execution of up-tempo songs, as well as deeper and more staccato parts of the texture. There were also a few issues with pitch throughout, which jar the seamless illusion of any a cappella performance. That said, it's likely this will be ironed out in future, less stressful, performances. Similarly, there are particular challenges to achieving precise balance in new performance spaces.
The Belles’ charismatic stage-presence and enthusiastic delivery were still able to shine through, particularly in their anthemic rendition of Independent Women. Their supportiveness of one another was constantly evident in their performance and their resilience. Aca-ting Out is a lively and uplifting hour full of heart and vocal potential – definitely worth a watch.