‘The Understudies’ is Bedlam Theatre’s answer to fringe sell-out show, Showstoppers! It is an improvised musical devised entirely on the spot by a company of talented young performers, lead by Improverts heavy weight, Ewan McAdam.
McAdam bounds onto the stage bursting with buoyant charisma and we soon learn that the usual performers, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio and co, are unavailable. And so The Understudies appear.
Ben Horner, Esme Cook, Mae Moore and James Strahan creep through the wings, tentatively assessing their audience of eager university freshers before they unite in the opening number, ‘We Don’t Know What We’re Doing’.
The highly capable Will Briant holds The Understudies together, cheerfully strumming the ivories for this jolly opening number. Undoubtedly this song was pre-rehearsed to leave the audience humming it for hours, and it certainly does put us in the right mood to begin this interactive improvisation.
As we were taking our seat, we were all asked to come up with a title for a musical. These were then placed in a pot and drawn at random. When McAdam was pulling the titles out of the pot, the rest of The Understudies deliberated, deciding on the third random draw, The Noodle King.
The company quickly dispersed, becoming their new characters in a few seconds. Simple characterisation along with a basic and somewhat obvious plot ensure the cast fill the full hour slot with an entertaining musical involving impressively harmonised songs and dances. The Noodle King quickly became an allegory for capitalism and consumerism, leaving the proletariat masses that prepare the noodles starving, and the wealthy king well fed and rich.
Strahan excelled as the ruthless king, married to Cook, whose vocal abilities astounded the audience. McAdam and Horner were the hungry noodle farmers, craving little bit of flavour for their monotonous noodle diet. They delighted in their duets and jokes. The entire company, Briant included, impressed with their comic timing and musical talent.
Occasionally the jokes were not up to the Improverts usual standards as it became clear that the cast were waiting for a song opening to come, but on the whole this was a tuneful, tow tapping, terrific event. The Understudies have not announced their next performance dates but I hope they don’t leave it too long; they are a welcome addition to the Edinburgh comedy and theatre scene and I hope to see much more of them in the future.