Slaves of the Kingdom is a new musical based around the Bible story of Moses and the Exodus and it’s one hell of an ambitious undertaking. A full band, a cast of 17 and a full theatrical soundtrack to be fit into the space of 80 minutes. Fringe theatre on a bigger-than-average scale.
The show starts off slowly with some slightly weak vocals as the cast get warmed up. The story begins as usual; slave-child Moses placed in a basket to escape the cull, found by a wealthy ‘Empyrean’ woman and raised as her son (or possibly brother, not quite clear here), discovering his slave roots, meeting his mother, seeing her killed, killing an overseer in retribution and fleeing into the wilderness.
This is the point where the cast warm up and really hit their stride, where things start to look up. Moses’ exile to the wilderness brings with it the chance to introduce Ruella’s Feminist Circus – a gloriously mental collection of grotesques such as One-eyed Peg, the Whipper and the Bearded Lady that the girls can properly get their teeth into. The key song here ‘Life of a Feminist Woman’ is bizarre but well performed and acts as a nice way to introduce the characters.
After what basically amounts to a sing-off with God, the tone shifts abruptly to the serious and Moses’ returns to free the slaves, taking us back to Empyrea. This section is another mixed bag. Some choices are spot on – the plague song, for example – but these are undermined by weirder moments like Moses’ impassioned cry for justice being answered with a tits-and-teeth cabaret performance from Grand Vizier McCardle (a character whose inclusion seems unnecessary). And the key song ‘You Can Take My Soul’, whilst beautiful, needs some sort of choreography that doesn’t just leave Partington standing on a box looking noble for a full five minutes.
Slaves of the Kingdom is packed to the rafters with fantastic performances but they’re hampered by some very odd creative decisions. The cast largely cope well with the drama and comedy asked of them and some of the vocal performances, notably Camille Mesnard, are stunning.
But as the performances get stronger, the script becomes, ironically, weaker and begins to feel less like a plot and more like a way to string together song and dance moments. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of severe editing for Edinburgh but there are many moments which go un-highlighted and the humour becomes ever more erratic.
Rachel Partington and Amy Le Rossignol have written a very impressive musical but it isn’t quite finished yet. It feels like they could be well served by using this Edinburgh to road-test the play and then getting in a writer with fresh eyes to help them cut, restructure and streamline it. See Slaves now and you won’t feel cheated, just a little confused. But see it once it’s been tweaked into shape and you’ll see something special.