Have you ever been to a supermarket and thought, “Hey, I really wish the staff would sing more?" Well, Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society are here to make that wish come true. Set in your local shop, Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area explores the petty grudges, romantic dreams and underlying resentment of life in the checkout lane. Vicki and Nicki are gossip-hungry best friends who are more useful as back-up dancers than employees. Bridget is a refreshingly honest narcissist, with no idea that shy Phyllis wants to be more than just a colleague. Sammy is the new guy. Karen... is a mystery.
Expect the absurd and embrace the berserk.
Despite a lack of character development and motivation-driven storyline, Unexpected is a lot of fun. Laurence T-Stannard’s melodies are glorious, the choreography is sassy, and the live band strives to keep the energy at 100. There’s no doubt that the cast is talented. Vocals are strong across the board and the group work very well together. Though some of the comedic material is a little off the mark, the performers’ manic enthusiasm convinces us of its value.
Disappointingly absent from Jamie Bisping and Amaya Holman’s book and lyrics are the anticipated customer interactions. Everyone who has ever worked in customer service has a bank of stories—outrageous requests, irrational complaints, the many demands to speak to the manager (even if you hold that coveted position). Unexpected is in a world of its own, where villains plot revenge from their mother's basement, romance sparks in the fish section and several staff members are in jail for causing havoc in a high-speed limo race. Expect the absurd and embrace the berserk.
High points include; really beautiful harmonisation, a very sweet LGBTQ+ love story and Annabelle Haworth’s vivacious portrayal of Bridget, the power-hungry, environmentally conscious employee of the month. Low points include; stage directions that have yet to be adapted to the space, a reprise attempting to weave two uncomplimentary songs together, and the overall misuse of puns. As with all things Fringe, it’s a mixed bag! But, if you’re looking for an upbeat, dynamic musical performed with a lot of heart then you can’t go wrong with Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area.