Just So Society’s production of the classic musical Sweet Charity was performed with verve, vivacity and confidence. Director Hanna Lawson has brought to life a complex set of moving parts in a bold, brash, joyous show that didn’t take itself too seriously and set a smile on every spectator’s face.
The Byre stage can seem formidably sparse; a larger space than St Andrews’ other performance venues, and for that reason posing a far greater challenge to any ambitious set designer. Sweet Charity did well, however, relying on the ever-present structure of a New York skyline which didn’t overly dominate the stage, and suggesting changes in scene and time via the clever deployment of projections, lighting, and smooth transitions.
Crucially, the maximized space allowed for large dance and ensemble pieces. The show’s most famous number, “Big Spender”, was performed with a smoky confidence that riveted the audience and made it comfortably one of the most successful moments of the show, while “Rhythm of Life” had some spectators in stitches at its conscious absurdity. Choreography was relatively simple, but therein lay its victory: with so many on stage, all engaged in a flurry of movement and song, simple steps had a mesmerizing quality. There is nothing quite so captivating as watching a compendium of sound and movement emerge from a large group of people, and the show’s musical direction, shared between Lavie Rabinovitz and Sarah Chamberlain, deserves obvious praise for how deftly these group numbers were prepared.
Of course, it feels remiss to put a name to certain cast members when all performed with such obvious enthusiasm and charisma. However, praise must be given to Ella-Rose Nevill, the musical’s eponymous lead, whose perpetual brave face on the path of adversity – or when dealing with “the fickle finger of fate”, I should say – was both comic and endearing. Sparkling, lively and endlessly empathetic, she commanded the stage and our attention utterly. Coggin Galbreath’s performance as Vittorio Vidal, an Italian movie star, was a masterclass in character acting – sharp, absorbing, and endlessly amusing. In addition, the dancehall duo performed by Liliana Potter and Rebecca Yates provided sass and edge to a musical that could so nearly have tipped into dully saccharine territory.
Where Sweet Charity fell down was in elements that felt frustratingly resolvable. Frequently, projection was lacking, even for me sitting in the third row. There seemed to be a number of technical splutters, largely to do with microphones, and in a musical – where sound is necessarily pivotal – this was a startling flaw. Moreover, though the energy of ensemble numbers fizzed, it didn’t hold consistently in smaller, more intimate pieces, suggesting that perhaps a greater amount of time had been spent developing certain scenes than was awarded to others.
Overall, Thursday night in the Byre was thoroughly enjoyable and, in the grand tradition of the musical, infectiously optimistic. The show was very evidently a labour of love, and months of hard work paid off in some moments of real dynamism. Nonetheless, technical difficulties, occasionally sluggish pacing, and poor projection were issues in an otherwise highly confident performance.