University of Oxford’s original all-female a cappella group are up at Fringe performing a fun fifty minutes of very well arranged hits. With pieces ranging from old Ce Lo Green mashed up with the Beatles and Stevie Wonder, to a Justin Bieber medley and an almighty finale of Independent Women by Destiny’s child, the Belles have put together a real treat of a set list. They aim to display each of the singers’ particular talents, allowing the ten very varied vocalists a chance to solo.
The show is very friendly and not remotely pretentious. They are obviously enjoying what they’re doing making it easy for you to do the same. It can be difficult in a musical performance to engage with the audience and penetrate that fourth wall. As a break between tunes, the president and Musical Director of the group, Emily Albery, chats to the audience and introduces each of the members and their parts. This goes a long way in making the whole thing feel more intimate.
The girls do seem slightly nervous when they aren’t singing and are clearly out of their comfort zones, which is understandable, but they should feel confident on stage in the knowledge that between them they are heaving with musical talent. They call themselves ‘Oxford University’s sassiest all-female a cappella group’ but self-assurance has to come as a prerequisite to sass. Aside from a general hesitance which also extends to their choreography (Albery admits that they are not dancers by nature), the only other thing holding them back was that some of the girls’ voices clearly having been overworked. Fringe is exhausting for any performer but for singers it can be a real challenge and it will be a shame if by the end of the run some of the Belles are unable to perform.
The Belles are not perfectly polished but they come across as a lovely group and are worth a watch for the great arrangements and beautiful moments when their voices work as one. You will likely be disarmed by their genuine and unassuming stage presence and then slightly overwhelmed when swept up by their voices.