In the colourful, cosy confines of Assembly’s Bosco venue, half theatre half circus tent, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland whisks you away for an afternoon to the weird and wonderful world of a Freak Show, a new musical by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie. Bosco is a perfect setting for this production: the little ‘big top’ tent roof and the tiered wooden seating complete with crimson cushions complement the live band and smoky atmosphere, creating with apparent ease the familiar yet mysterious world of a circus show. The live band on stage, though small (as fitting the venue size), were perfectly in tune with the ensemble cast and accomplished the full carnivalesque vibe of the production, though the costumes were a tad disappointing in this respect.
Freak Show entices you through not only the acts of the troupe of ‘freaks’ but also draws the audience into the performance to witness the truth behind the life of the abnormal entertainers. This journey is ensured to be immersive by the lack of divide between audience and performer. The ‘freaks’ climb and sit up the aisles during some of the acts, whistling, clapping and singing seemingly from within the audience. When they are not invading the audience space, however, they are pulling volunteers on to the stage to have their future foretold, or maintaining intrusive eye-contact with audience members, challenging our comfort as spectators and forcing us into active participants, a remarkably liberating and stimulating experience.
The ensemble cast had fantastic vocal clarity and strength and blended charmingly with the band and each other. However, their movement, often creating powerful and complimentary accentuation as a chorus for soloists, was not as strong or convincing at times as it could have been - although it was especially effective in manifesting nightmarish scenes in the second half of the production. All the solo performances were superb, vocally and acting-wise; particularly noteworthy performances were that of The Announcer (Conor Scully) whose sinister fixed smile and commanding presence was entrancing, Missing Link (Danny Holmes) who conveyed great tenderness in his touching performance physically and with his stunning vocals, and Gloria Rey, The Half Lady’s (Lauren Norris) star performance which was sexy, threatening and compelling.
I found Freak Show to be a darkly sparkling and innovative piece. Escape for an afternoon to see the musical, magical and mutant world of Freak Show. You will not be disappointed.