Active Virgin

After last year's successful Fringe offerings, One Academy Productions became a firm favourite of mine. Upsetting, then, to see them produce something that falls far short of 2011's high standards. Despite being penned by the same writers (the brothers Kielty) as the much-celebrated 'Wasted Love', it is the material more so than the performers that is markedly weaker here.

The writing, both book and lyrics, is lazy, sloppy and uncomfortably close to misogyny - and I'm no massive prude. The premise itself, the notion of a dystopian society in which obsession with fitness and self-image is increasingly out of control and governs our lives, could well have been a good one, but for the illogical and inappropriate marriage of the theme with sex and virginity.

The piece tries far too hard to be funny, with lowest-common-denominator, often objectifying, jokes that quickly become exaggerated and worn out, assuming that they are funny to begin with (which they mostly aren't). One of its 'funnies' - The use of 24601 as the star gym user's membership number - is funny only in an ironic, unintended sense: Les Mis this definitely ain't.

Of the show's musical numbers, too high a proportion is performed by the ensemble, with disappointingly few harmonies and fewer solo lines. Several of the actors' voices go largely unheard, and frustratingly so: I wanted to hear more from the Doctor (Shane O'Regan) and Virgin (Leah Scott). Of the solos, none was especially impressive, except Hand's (Al Braatz) monstrous hand song, which was superbly performed, if vocally unchallenging. Charlie Olivia's 'Elephant' song, though short, was awkward and difficult to watch – she seemed less comfortable than some of the stronger girls, particularly Botox (Maria Brodmann) and Fitness Instructor (Rikki Browne).

Together, it cannot be denied that the cast is strong, but it isn't formidable and, apart from the technique, you wouldn't put money on this being a year of musical theatre graduates. The acting was hammy and pantomimic, which the show probably called for, but provided the singers with no opportunity to showcase their abilities.

One reason why Wasted Love was such a hit is that it was aimed at an audience that could relate to it; this musical was entertaining only for those young teens in NYMT who made up the first two rows, who led a standing ovation. Yet the amount of swears and crude tone of the show render it unsuitable for such an early slot and its young viewers. Singing about how a shy, self-hating virgin is a “frigid little bitch” is out of order, really, and it takes too long for the show to send its all-too-rushed message that perfection is, in fact, unachievable.

Reviews by Fen Greatley

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The Blurb

From the creators of Wasted Love. Beauty's not a myth - perfection is ... unless you're a 247GYM member, where physical perfection is spiralling out of control. Beauty's in the eye - but the eye can lie... 'Touching, outrageous, hilarious' ***** (BroadwayBaby.com).

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