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Verdict: A must for the West End
Edinburgh - Pleasance Courtyard The Cavern - August 02
We're in on the first day at the London School of Performing Arts - or PA for short. Egos are primed to clash, and a series of murders about to commence.
Mr Keppel (Kevin Stone), of mature years and headband, greets the students with their letters of acceptance. '5,6,7,8' he sings, 'Reach for the stars / You might catch one'. 'We're going to make it', they reply, 'Whatever IT is'.
He makes them dance. 'Good morning / You gays, hags, slags / Drama school / First day / Hurt me'. He drags a pretty blonde girl up from the audience. 'Don't be shy / Dance with me'. She's anything but. It's Dolly (Marianne Levy), and she's ready to enrol. 'I love to sing and dance'.
It's the second day of term. Thamsin Preece (Rachel Reid), Buster Jones (Dan Wright), Dolly, Oliver Murphy (Paul L Martin) and a new scholarship girl (Bea Holland) are drilled by Mr Keppell, and sceptically keen: 'When days are dark / And skies are grey / We wonder why we're at PA'.
Suddenly - oh no! - the new girl's lying dead on the floor. It's a time for prioritising: 'Does anyone know who she is?' But getting things in context: 'Hang on, we've got ballet class'. And off they troop, leaving the corpse behind.
Oliver is not submitting well to Mr Keppel's mix of bullying and confidence un-building. Where Oliver's trodden, Buster's ready to tip-toe, and soon he's cheeking Mr Keppel too. Mr K indulges in a little ritual humiliation, and gets them back in line. It's time for introductions: Oliver first.
Oliver's dad was a spy. Dolly had no parents and lived in the woods till she was 14, brought up by wolves; her human lover was Jasper till she discovered that all the time she'd loved him, he'd been dead. Buster's first love was Caroline (Bea Holland); he discovered she was his sister, and their first child was a bear; he tried being gay, and then bestiality. Tamsin Preece was a child star and heroin addict at 8; she sings 'Mamma always said / Don't do heroin.' She leads the cast into the stirring I KNEW I'D BE OK AT PA.
It's two deaths shortly, as scholarship boy Richard (Jamie Anderson) joins the queue to the Styx. A police officer (Jamie Anderson) interviews the students, and suddenly everyone needs an alibi.
Oliver sings about wanting to be a star, and Tamsin offers to show Buster her breasts in exchange for an alibi. But all are interrupted by Mr Keppel striding through with a mime artist (Bea Holland) in tow. While he stops to talk with them, the mime gets stuck in a glass box she's created and can't get out. Eventually she finds the invisible handle - to relief all round.
Buster duets with Tamsin - progressively joined by the cast - his modest ode to himself: KNOW MY NAME - BUSTER JONES.
The body count becomes impressive, and Tamsin reveals her agenda - to twart the tender love affair between the limitless ego of Buster and the parentally-forgetful Dolly. Dolly sings 'IF HE JUST KNEW / HOW I FELT ABOUT HIM' and is joined by the cast. Tamsin's ma (Bea Holland) appears in furs in a vignette of destructive motherhood, followed by Mitzi (Bea Holland) in fishnets and black top hat, giving a hilarious performance as a 'trained choreographer' and tap-dancer. Bea Holland's back as fencing expert Lisa, the love-child of Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench - briefly - as she quickly becomes a murder victim.
An anthem of the show is the fine song YOU'VE GOT TO GO THROUGH GOODGE STREET / TO GET TO LEICESTER SQUARE, the cast's analogy for the steps to fame. They sing it ensemble, and later reprise it as ghosts, when Dolly, the only student survivor, starts her climb to lonely stardom.
There's a revelation at the end, when the puzzle of the murders - and of Dolly herself - is finally unlocked.
What a remarkable play. It's destined for sell-outs in the West End for whoever's first to grab it. A superb cast, with uniformly strong and convincing performances, present a story that's truly delightful.
Each actor has approximately equal presence on stage. Some play the same character, others a variety of parts:
Jamie Anderson is strong and entertaining in his different and demanding roles. Bea Holland is a master of comic acting in each of her definitive and hilarious performances. Marianne Levy is pretty and blissful in her portrayal of Dolly - a lovable, gentle, and endearing character superbly acted, danced, and sung.
Paul L Martin is very funny, and wholly convincing in the complex part of Oliver. Rachel Reid is glorious - there's no other word - as the awful Tamsin. Kevin Stone creates a monster with panache and charisma out of the key role of Mr Keppel.
Dan Wright's an excellent Buster Jones, fairly oozing conceit in his splendid acting and singing. And the entire cast can rightly be proud of the individual excellence in song, dance, and performance that this thoroughly enjoyable play demands.
5678 is littered with fragments of song, creating a way of telling the story that makes time pass quickly. There are several superb full-length songs too, all to music by Joseph Craig.
The elegant and magnificent dance sequences of 5678 are a particular triumph for choreographer Ian Lilley. Less than a year ago, and on the brink of studying musical theatre as a scholarship student at Mountview, this promising dancer suffered the appalling setback of losing a leg in a car accident. The college however has held open his place, and Lilley is now performing again. What a delight for this talented man to have such great success with this splendid testament to his artistic ability.
Marianne Levy has created a wholly splendid work of art in 5678. Astoundingly, she is both writer and director, as well as playing Dolly, in a production that has the feel of being coolly led by an external director. There's not a trace of self-indulgence, and as a work of art, it flies.
Cast (alpha order). Richard / Policeman - Jamie Anderson. Student / Caroline / Tamsin's Mother / Mitzi / Mime / Lisa - Bea Holland. Dolly - Marianne Levy. Oliver Murphy - Paul L Martin. Tamsin Preece - Rachel Reid. Mr Keppel - Kevin Stone.
Buster Jones - Dan Wright.
Music - Joseph (Joe) Craig. Choreography - Ian Lilley. Written, directed and produced by Marianne Levy.
Angel Kitty Productions.
Thursday 22 August 02 / Pleasance
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