Preview: Practice Room 99 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Sumo suits? Trumpets? Drama? Count me in

The end of term has finally arrived, but that does not mean the end of Cambridge theatre! We got the chance to speak to the amazing team running a new and exciting show that will be broadcast virtually at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This show is part of the Fringe’s online segment, so the backstage crew and the cast performed their production in the ADC theatre and recorded it for our enjoyment!

Director, writer and actor Emilia Morgan gave us a few hints at what is to come…

The joys (and horrors) of theatre

Practice Room 99 follows the hilarious drama on and offstage as the “brass section of an orchestra prepare for their opening show.” Life and the theatre are not easy for our three musicians (Olivia Mills, Emilia Morgan and Roya Gharbi) as they “fix the fall out from post-show drinks the night before” and deal with their “zealous stage manager!”

Olivia Mills as Ally (Image Credit: Emilia Morgan)

From first time brass players, to sumo suits, to the dangers of shoes that don’t fit, Emilia has brilliantly crafted this show to combine the mundane and the ridiculous, and her cast really bring her writing to life.

Producing during Covid times

Emilia told the Tab that her and her cast expected some “challenges” and, as predicted, “from the first rehearsal to the recording the government guidance had changed twice.”

Because of these restrictions, the cast began rehearsals on Zoom to minimise contact and Emilia says that she was “very lucky to have such an experienced team who were so flexible when plans needed to change!”

Joy Adeogun as Violet (Image Credit: Emilia Morgan)

However, recording for the show was planned towards the beginning of July, when cases of Covid were rising in Cambridge, so plans were ultimately a little derailed. In fact, Emilia told us that “in the last week before filming, we lost a sound op, a soloist and two main cast members” (depleting cast and crew numbers by 50%).

Despite their losses, the show went ahead and Emilia told the Tab that she was grateful for “the determination of the team to rally around and keep the show going.” After all, “PR99 is about backstage mishaps!”

A unique comedy show

Emilia wanted PR99 to offer “a backstage pass to a side of performing we don’t typically see” and to shine a light “on a genre of music which […] doesn’t necessarily receive the attention it deserves.”

Any theatre nerd knows that there is a “serious side to any performance”, whether that is the hours spent waiting for your cue backstage, the endless notes on music sheets, or the solo work which everyone has to “put […] into a collective orchestral performance” in order for it to succeed. Yet there is always “fun to be had too.”

Roya Gharbi as Ida and Emilia Morgan as Clara (Image Credit: Emilia Morgan)

Emilia uses her characters excellently to establish the bond between those on and off stage (good or bad)! She told us that she wanted to have these relationships to be recognisable, from “the nicknames, the nonsense chat in rehearsal, squabbles over the smallest thing, instrument malfunctions to costume mishaps.”

After such a long time away from the theatre, a reminder about why we are so passionate about it, and why performance and the friendships it creates are so important, is incredibly exciting.

Best bits

We asked Emilia what her favourite part of this process has been; she told us that it was the “first day of rehearsals and meeting the cast and crew properly after weeks rehearsing on Zoom.” With so much to do in just three days of filming, she said that it “was brilliant to see how the show would come together.”

Olivia Mills as Ally (Image Credit: Emilia Morgan)

She tells us that it was also fun to see the range of musical experience in cast members. Although PR99 is centred around an orchestra, some of the cast members had “never held their instrument” before, so it was lovely to hear them “playing the odd note or two by the end!”

Good luck to the cast and crew!

Tickets to stream Practice Room 99 will be available on the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Related stories recommended by this author:

Creative Spotlight: Emily Lau on creating book and film reviews for YouTube

‘Anyone is welcome’: Meet Georgie Windsor and the Cambridge University Witch Society 

Bops and bangers: We gave you an album to listen to at every key location in Cambridge