I was undeniably nervous about seeing A Crown of Laurels, the second original musical from the creative partnership of Lavie Rabinovitz and Ryan Hay. The show had been careful to emphasize in its publicity that plot themes revolved around sexual assault, and the atmosphere pervading the audience as we assumed our seats was a kind of subdued intrigue – as it should be. I was happy to realize that the show was to be performed in the round; a tough ask for a two-hander, but one that the musical’s leads tackled with energetic aplomb.
The show’s strength was certainly that energy. Eleanor Burke is a seasoned actor in St Andrews but her performance as Daphne was to my mind one of her best. Her preparation for the role was clear in how much she gave towards physical storytelling; her character was prone to wobbling nervously on her ankles, or worrying away at a curl of her hair. She had surges of startling energy, darting across the space to sit by an audience member or breaking into a pelt of uproarious laughter.
Burke’s mercurial performance was complemented by that of her equally strong counterpart, Coggin Galbreath. As Olly, Galbreath played the character we intuited from the start that we were meant to despise – an oily, pretentious, grasping man looking only for “what he wants”. Nonetheless, he balanced this inevitable condemnation with a performance that left the audience uncomfortably charmed: he convinced us completely of Olly’s cunning, and his voice could move between wistfulness and confidence in the space of a note.
At certain points the band seemed a tad uncertain, and the tech also could have been a touch slicker – changes between lights seemed sometimes totally random, not enlightening us particularly to any change in location or thought process that the characters themselves wouldn’t already have alluded to. However, there was one moment of true technical genius, presented during the assault scene, in which the violence was represented by the transference of dripping metallic paint from the attacker to their victim. It was excellently understated, which I thought paramount to ensuring that sexual violence on stage doesn’t appear gratuitous.
While impressed, I felt uncertain about the show’s subject matter. In particular, the pacing seemed fundamentally disproportionate, with the show’s resolution – the portion of Daphne’s life in the immediate years following the assault – appearing rushed and incomplete. It meant that what was clearly scripted as a celebration of strength following a horrific event instead seemed like an afterthought. In addition, the comedic elements of the script, of which there were many sprinkled throughout, landed uncomfortably with an audience who clearly knew what to expect from the proceedings. There were few laughs, and although this has nothing to do with delivery, it does suggest that the show’s attempt to walk a tightrope between tragedy and gallows’ humour failed to resonate.
Ultimately, A Crown of Laurels was a daring attempt to stage something new, something bold, and something brave. But for me, its focus on sexual assault unfortunately seemed more of a plot device than a starting point for real conversation on this important topic.