Fresher the Musical

Caroline Gaunt enjoys a trip down memory lane with Tone Deaf Productions

Fresher Musical

Attempting to portray the frenetic hedonism of your average freshers’ week is no easy task, but one that Tone Deaf Theatre Company, under the expert leadership of director Doug Gibbs, pulled off with aplomb . Their production of Fresher (think Fresh Meat with songs), is a joy to watch and listen to from its beginning through to its uplifting finale.

I was initially sceptical about the usage of the DSU’s Fonteyn Ballroom as the performance space – the theory behind using the DSU, that it is intrinsically resonant of the material Fresher is made of, is admirable, but the Fonteyn Ballroom, not built with theatre in mind, could easily hinder rather than help the actors.

I was, however, proven wrong – the minimalist set of two sofas and a bar managed to create a sense of intimacy on stage and did a good job of emulating a slightly worse-for-wear student flat. Daniel Gosselin’s lighting is also outstanding, particularly in the club scenes, which, with strobe lighting and thumping music, are a nostalgic reminder of Hound, Revolver and the like, which cannot fail to be appreciated by the audience.

I can go no further without applauding the tight four-piece band, who were absolutely mind-blowing throughout. Chris Guard once again proved himself to be an outstanding musical director, not only in his leadership of the band (Benj Evans on drums deserves special mention here) but also in his evident hard work with the actors. Picking out a stand-out musical number is nigh-on impossible as all – both ensemble and solo pieces – are essentially flawless, and save for some initial microphone sound level issues, truly uplifting to listen to.

All five actors have moments of brilliance, but it is the men who steal the show – with particular mention to Charlie Warner, whose characterisation of Rupert, a lovable (albeit misguided) public school boy attempting to assert his street cred, was flawless. Warner’s total commitment to his character captivated the audience from the outset – his various expressions of dismay and outrage as he fought to maintain his grip on rich girl Ally (Elissa Churchill) were a highlight, greeted by impromptu ‘aaahs!’ from the audience.

Churchill herself is, as ever, outstanding, and although I occasionally felt that her characterisation of Ally was slightly forced, her exquisite solo singing more than made up for this. Maxwell Spence as Basil is another stand-out performer, beautifully controlling the oscillations between biting sarcasm and shy self-discovery.

This issue of self-discovery is, however, perhaps the only issue in which the production falls down. The first song purports to take the five actors on a journey to discover ‘whoever me may be,’ but these moments are few and far between, and quickly covered up by a burst of comedy.

Basil’s revelation of his confusion over his sexuality is masked almost as soon as it is revealed, which considerably dilutes the dramatic tension. Likewise, Hayley’s (Izzy Osborne) struggles with anxiety are touched on, but so lightly as to seem slightly superficial.

The opportunity to delve into the more emotionally charged side of freshers’ week is missed. I must stress, however, that this is a flaw in the script, and not the production, but the fact remains that the threads of the story occasionally seems a little half-done.

Nevertheless, Fresher the Musical is a phenomenal production – I have rarely seen a production strike such a chord with its audience. Gibbs and his production team deserve a great deal of praise for their hard work on such an excellent choice of musical, and as I, like the rest of the audience, rose to my feet at the curtain call, I felt that a standing ovation was more than deserved.