Bad Musical – Edinburgh Festival review

Bad Musical is perfectly well executed, but the whole concept of parodying musical theatre doesn’t really stand up, says Pete Kelly

Bad_Musical1With the Fringe offering so many “proper” amateurish productions, do we need them to be parodied as well? This is the question that the people behind Bad Musical, a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Bad Play, have devoted considerable time and effort toward answering. While their previous work played with the earnest conventions of stage drama, this one makes deliberately slapdash comic hay with with the clichés of musical theatre; from song-and-dance numbers about hyper-specific and mundane topics like Oyster cards to inverting the genre’s general positivity with a rousing final song that tells the audience to abandon its ambitions and just “give up”.

Alongside such parodies there is the running joke that this is a cobbled-together production, produced at great speed by inadequate performers and technicians. The female lead has supposedly dropped out, leaving her to be replaced by a balloon with a face drawn on it. There is constant bad-tempered interaction with an inept soundman. Words are forgotten, actors’ lines trample over each other and the blocking and movement are appallingly choreographed and incompetently executed. The more difficult moments of plot exposition and bigger leaps of narrative – which in one example leads to a brief section set in space – have been conveniently cut due to “time constraints”.

It’s all performed with gusto by the talented trio of actor-writers who make up sketch group The Trap: Dan Mersh, Jeremy Limb and Paul Litchfield. They conform to the old Les-Dawson-at-the-piano adage that you have to be extraordinarily good at something in order to pretend to be bad at it. Whether this is a compliment or not, they all have incredibly engaging comic faces, particularly adept at conveying exasperation and dismay. They also all have great singing voices and could clearly have a good crack at actual musical theatre if they wanted. At the performance I saw there was some lack of sharpness in the group performance and slackness in the script, but both will no doubt tighten over the run. One bit, where the lyrics of a song performed by all three get mixed up to create new, much cruder, meanings hints at the kind of frenetic, farcical energy that is needed throughout the show to keep the audience engaged.

The real problems with this show, though, are more to do with the conception than execution. Stage musicals have long become a knowing, self-satirising genre: even the biggest hits of recent years like The Producers and Mamma Mia are completely aware of the silliness of the musical theatre conventions. It is hard to imagine a successful musical these days without it being in some way ironic. And, since Jerry Springer The Opera – which has spawned many imitators in the unlikely-subject-matter-for-a-musical genre – it’s hard to get excited about a parody that skewers no more impressive a target than shoddy amateur productions.

2.5 stars

Bad Musical is on at 5pm at the Gilded Balloon
Review written by Pete Kelly

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