This production of Patrick Marber’s The Magicians shows huge amounts of effort and creativity on the part of its young cast from the sixth form of Taunton School, and is never without some charm. However, they battle - with mixed success - against a script that, it genuinely surprised me to learn, was commercially available - such is the overwhelming abundance of creative writing faux-pas on offer. It isn’t suited to the company’s abilities and ambitions, and they lack the precision or verve to make up the difference in a production that plods atonally along.

The plot, such as it is, sees conductor Rowland – played with aplomb by Sam Newton – befriend Alex, a colourful concert hall cleaner – entertainingly caricatured by Ollie Lucas. It’s a solid odd-couple pairing, but there is no convincing impetus for the two to sustain conversation. Lucas has to unnaturally prolong his stage-time whilst a new topic develops unseeded from a pause unladen with even the smallest bump of pregnancy. Both actors have good physicality, and there are some neat bits of direction, such as the spotlit poses that Lucas makes during the opening stabs of his favourite tune, Pinball Wizard. It saves the scene from being a bore despite being somewhat purposeless.

Less convincing are the orchestra themselves, whose performances seem somewhat under-rehearsed and suffer most from the script’s worst throws of near comic faux-naturalism; it veers wildly from political didacticism – ‘there are people in Russia who would kill for this privilege’ to patronising preaching – ‘and I suppose you think it’s cool to take drugs?’. When it doesn’t know what else to do it finds quick-fix dialogue resolution in the trusty devised theatre hallmark of screaming ‘shut up!’.

In the show’s finale, the orchestra’s instruments are impounded at Russian customs forcing them to mime their performance in an act of artistic audaciousness. Conceptually it’s a nice conceit, but to give the scene a proper emotional pay-off we would need to have far more knowledge of, and empathy for, the characters onstage. The company know that they haven’t done enough work to let us imagine the music for ourselves so the mime is soundtracked by the full orchestral tune, making it unclear whether the assumed concert audience are themselves watching a silent or soundtracked performance.

The Musicians is drama lesson stuff. This is no bad thing in itself, and the cast have plenty of potential - but their work is not yet suitable for the commercial stage. At the moment it feels as unprepared as an orchestra without their instruments.

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The Blurb

The Ridley Road School Orchestra are at the European Festival of Youth in Moscow, just hours away from playing the most important performance of their lives. There is only one problem, their instruments seem to be missing! Tension mounts as the orchestra arrive at the concert hall and the only person willing to help them is a Russian cleaner with a broom for a guitar and an interest in all things rock. Can the orchestra overcome their differences and perform the concert of their lives? A lively and humorous production for anyone who has ever played air-trombone.

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