Palindrome is Cambridge University Musical Theatres Society’s latest Edinburgh Fringe offering. The production is a little underwhelming in that it is rather confused in what the actual subject of the musical is, and seems to be throwing things at the plot in the hopes something will stick.
Not particularly clear
Set in a small town that has recently come to host a large shipping warehouse, Hannah (Louella Lucas) must navigate the changing relationships with her co-workers and family as the local post office is threatened with closure due to the lack of letters being processed. The closing of the post-office comes off as an afterthought that the main character - Hannah - falls into during the last ten minutes of the show, most likely an attempt to turn the musical into a kind of ‘David against Goliath’ dig at conglomerates, it’s not particularly clear.
It’s really hard to tell what we should take away from this show, because on one hand it’s very low stakes but on the other it seems to insert all of these different social issues and messages about identity, relationships and capitalism that make it seem a lot more sophisticated than it is. The very 2010s, almost Eliza Doolittle-esque score doesn’t help with the confusion, making the overall musical seem both joyful and full of angst all at once, a score that after a few songs becomes a little formulaic in its instrumentals. A lot of different plot points are thrown together to cobble a coming of age story about saving a small business. The issues of Palindrome centre around Chekhov’s gun, the rule being if a gun is shown in Act 1, it must then go off in Act 2. Another way of putting it is that everything shown on stage must have a purpose and be tied up in the end. Palindrome does follow this rule to an extent, but ignores the issue at the centre of this musical with Hannah’s focus on palindromes in themselves and what it says about her as a character. From what we learn about her, it seems like she possesses many neurodivergent characteristics, but this is never confirmed or explored beyond her fascination of palindromes, and is eventually dismissed as selfish and self-absorbed by neurotypical characters including her mother, which is a severe mishandling of the musical's main issue and plot driver. Instead, Jas Ratchford and Neve Kennedy have tried to include a several other issues and themes but ignore the one at the very heart of their own musical. It would be a lot more meaningful if Palindrome did do more to develop and explore Hannah’s character, rather than the low stakes plot it currently has, which is a little unsatisfying.
The cast are very talented singers, and they make the songs the best part of the musical. Their training is very apparent, something that Isaac Jackson in particular demonstrates very clearly, as he appears to use classical vocal techniques during his solo, proving that there really is no small role.
Palindrome is a little messy but has a strong foundation to develop. Further steps would be to disentangle the plot and themes as well as develop the main character and make her a more active part of the show than she currently is.