Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum!

Sondheim’s fast-paced lyrics are hard to perform well, even for an experienced Broadway star, and it is rare that I have seen an amateur production that manages to do him justice. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is perhaps Sondheim at his most classic: the complex farcical plot is supported by word-heavy stream-of-consciousness songs that require skilled performers to keep the audience engaged. It is possible that some of the shortfalls of the American High School Theatre Festival’s production are because of the choice of show, and I would have liked to see what some of the young performers could do in a different, less vocally-challenging musical.

A bad Scottish accent, an unexplained character in full Mel Gibson Braveheart outfit and some dodgy kilts left the Edinburgh audience a little cold.

However, this was the show that they did perform, and it is unquestionable that both direction and performance were lacking something. Without exception, the singing fell a little flat – the actor who played Pseudolos, the central character, while investing an energy into his role that some other performers lacked, had clearly been given a vocal role that was out of his range. He did shine as a talented actor, keeping up well with the nuances of the spoken dialogue, but many of his fellow actors overdid the hysterical farcical performances in a way that hindered rather than helped the comedy.

The choice to relocate the story from Ancient Rome to Scotland was also a little misjudged. A bad Scottish accent, an unexplained character in full Mel Gibson Braveheart outfit and some dodgy kilts left the Edinburgh audience a little cold. The concept of the Scottish performers putting on an Ancient Roman play, while allowing for some nicely-done pieces of self-referential humour, mainly just served to add another layer of complexity to a plot the actors were already struggling to keep up with.

The show’s best moments came when the whole ensemble was utilised. Keeping the whole cast on stage the whole time allowed for some well-timed synchronised reactions and movements. Singers who struggled in solos came together in harmonies in the group numbers rather beautifully. However, these moments were too few and far between and overall the show needed to be tighter to live up to the high expectations set by students from all over the world at the Fringe every summer.

Reviews by Elliot Douglas


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The Blurb

This musical, a scintillating masterpiece, combines situations from comedies of ancient Roman theatre with the energy and hijinks of American vaudeville. Pseudolus, a crafty slave, struggles to win the hand of a beautiful, naive courtesan named Philia for his master, Hero, in exchange for freedom. This version takes place one fateful evening at the Edinburgh Fringe on Grassmarket Street where entertainers tell the passers-by an ancient story that twists and turns in hilarious shenanigans. The entertainers mesmerize the crowd acting out the story. Tragedy tomorrow. Comedy tonight!