Review: Survival Strategies
Katie Duggan and Georgia Rawlins have created a funny and charming original musical
It has been over six months since the ADC theatre last played host to the student theatre which we all know and love. The world has undoubtedly changed and theatre has been forced to change with it. Survival Strategies, a heartwarming original comedy which was robbed of its Edinburgh Fringe slot, was given the unenviable role of guinea pig as we trepidatiously test the water to see if theatre and social distancing can coexist.
The incredible efforts of the ADC staff and Dixie McDevitt’s production team are on full display throughout the musical. I watched the show, not in person, but through the ADC’s new livestream option. Despite my initial reservations, this provided a thoroughly enjoyable and, at times, even immersive experience. The occasional audio problem aside, the only downside of the streaming option was that well-written and well-delivered jokes occasionally fell undeservedly flat without being rightfully rewarded with audible laughter. This downside was more than accounted for however by the variety of shots and camera angles which gave the viewer a perfect appreciation of both intricate performances with close intimate shots, as well as the full scale of the stage and choreography with wide shots.
The difficulties posed by social distancing were not only a problem for audience sizes, as the guidelines also dictated that cast members must stay a safe distance apart. However, this was a challenge which Survival Strategies completely took in its stride. Aside from the use of hand-poles and direct references to social distancing for comic effect (a particular favourite of mine being a hilarious ‘hand-pole duel’ set to a reenactment of John Williams’ Duel of the Fates) the social distancing efforts onstage were almost entirely unnoticeable.
The efforts of the cast and crew to overcome their difficult circumstances were therefore undeniably remarkable and effective, but what of the musical itself? The innovative plot, centred around a group of paranoid ‘Survivors Un-Anonymous’, created the basis for a quirky and funny script which was invigorated by its dedicated cast. Katie Duggan’s script provided thrilling drama and regular laughs and, despite occasionally feeling a little slow, was absolutely capitalised on by a cast committed to the sillier aspects. These included dancing in the guise of boiling frogs and a tango with a Basset’s vitamin gummy. Maria Telnikoff’s account of driving into a tree in order to escape a serial killer was particularly engaging and hilarious.
The dramatic scenes were punctuated by wonderfully written musical numbers, the likes of which ADC regulars may have come to expect from Georgia Rawlins. The whole-cast numbers at the beginning and end of the musical stood out as powerful songs, but occasionally proved too challenging as the odd off-note could be heard. Rawlins’ beautiful harmonies nonetheless shone throughout the musical and the variety of lyrics which tackled both tough topics such as climate change and the – less serious – aforementioned dancing frogs (and that was just one song) significantly enhanced the experience. Each song provided dynamic excitement and raised the energy of the production. My personal favourite moment of the show was a beautiful ballad sung by Dominic Carrington which could melt butter.
Survival Strategies is far from a conventional musical and so, in some ways, it is almost fitting that it is being performed in unconventional circumstances. A committed theatre, production team and mixed-ability cast have brought the joy of theatre back to Cambridge with an enjoyable, funny and pertinent show proving that Cambridge Theatre’s strategy for survival seems to be working, for now.
Survival Strategies runs from Tuesday 13th to Saturday 17th October at the ADC, with tickets available for both in-person and live-streamed viewing.
All image credits to Cordelia Sigurdsson.