The Great British Soap Opera

The UK loves a good soap opera. Every year the highest television ratings are dominated by the soaps, with Eastenders and Coronation Street battling it out for the top spot, and millions watch them every single day. It was fairly inevitable that soaps would be given the musical treatment at some point, and Take Note Theatre's sparkling production makes a great stab at it, both deliciously spoofing the art form whilst also imagining the antics taking place off-camera. It's a bit like rolling Echo Beach and Moving Wallpaper together, complete with some fun, quirky songs and a sensational cast. The production itself is very thoroughly thought out, right down to the advert jingles playing as the audience enter. Different backdrops allude to locations from Eastenders and Coronation Street, and there is a hilarious nod to the Hollyoaks Christmas calendar shoots which took me rather by surprise!The plot is fairly simple: when the ratings start to fall on Britain's best loved soap, producers bring in a sexy blonde to spice things up but tensions, backstabbing and illicit affairs behind the scenes threaten to ruin it all. There are clear parallels and cheeky nods to the big guns of British soap operas, with classic quotes peppered throughout the script. The audience go crazy at almost every mention, and the scenes of Victoria Street itself are wonderfully funny with the actors hamming everything up and employing the Joey Tribbiani methods of acting. Take Note Theatre's return to Musical Theatre @ George Square, following their sell-out productions of Jet Set Go and I Love You, You're Perfect Now Change last year, is a welcome one. The company's commitment to new British musical theatre is clear for all to see and it is very apparent how their work has grown and matured over the last year. Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger's writing is much sharper and the characters have more definition and depth than their previous work. Luke Sheppard's direction and choreography continues to impress and he binds the whole thing together with a real sense of pace and acceleration, providing much comedy along the way. Very occasionally the choroegraphy seems a little too busy for the songs, but this is a minor quibble amongst some excellent creative work.The star of the show is undoubtedly Philippa Buxton as Jenny, Queen Bee of Victoria Street until newcomer Sophie arrives; a wonderfully amusing turn from Diana Chrisman, looking rather like Samantha Janus! Buxton switches from the high comedy of her soap persona to real empathy in her more reflective off-camera self at the drop of a hat, and gets to show off her real belter of a voice with some powerful melodies. Leon Kay and Adam Pritchard provide many of the laughs, although Pritchard's constant camp hand gesture became a little grating after a while. Sophia Behn and Adam Barlow have a very sweet storyline, but their characters seem rather underwritten in comparison to the others; a shame, because both are very watchable on stage. The chemistry between all six is fantastic and all work really hard to achieve a constant level of comedy within storytelling throughout the piece. Whilst very entertaining, the structure feels a little uneven at the moment. It is more than just a slice of life working on the soap, for several plotlines run throughout the piece, but it does seem a little unclear as to which story it is actually concerned with – the falling ratings of the soap, a tangled love triangle or the contrast (or not) between life on and off camera. A clearer focused structure would lend more momentum to the show and reduce the abruptness of the final twist. One song, lamenting the effect of the economy on finding a job also feels wildly out of place compared to the rest of the piece. However, this does nothing to dampen the energy and exuberance of the production. The cast are clearly having a ball and this certainly transmits to the audience, some of whom gave a standing ovation at the end. It is a loving homage to the great British institution of soaps, and well executed by all concerned. Take Note Theatre's productions are fast becoming notorious for selling out, and I am sure that this is going to be no exception. Beyond that, I am already looking forward to discovering what they have planned for next year's Festival!

Reviews by Damian Sandys

The Blurb

Can it be the end for Britain's best-loved soap? Step behind the screens in this new musical from the acclaimed team behind hit 'Jet Set Go!', 'one of those rare unexpected delights' ( Scotsman ).