St Bride’s Centre, Edinburgh – until 4 June 2016
Strong voices and some great tunes give the premiere run of Anne-Marie Fraser’s new musical Goldrush!, at St Bride’s in Edinburgh, an invigorating bounce.
Indeed, there is much satisfaction to be found from the company brought to the stage under director Alan Borthwick with musical direction from Jerry Gregson, who is also responsible for the arrangements with Andrew Carvel.
What there is not, however, is any real sense of coherence to the product of these endeavours. Fraser’s book has the kernel of a great idea to it, with the setting of a remote West Highland village, reliant on tourist income from cruise ships visiting the nearby ferry terminal.
It feels like a solidly realistic and contemporary framework on which to hang the more tenuous events of love and circumstance that make up the meat of any musical. Moreover, it gives her an open reason to bring in seemingly random characters from the cruise ship.
There are strong central characters, too. Bonnie, who runs a bistro in the village, is in love with recent arrival Pete – who somehow has a shady past and comes with a teenage daughter, Fran, attached.
Fiona Main does a fantastic job as Bonnie, stepping up to the mark with her big singing voice and ability to step into any scene – and crucially any genre of scene – and make it hum. Simon Boothroyd is also up to the role of Pete, who is rather too ready to go off for a beer with his pals than help out at the Bistro.
Both are somewhat overshadowed by young Orlaith McGirr, who alternates the role of Fran with her sister Niamh. McGirr has the kind of stage presence and singing voice that could take her very far, should she want it to. She brings both a realism and a big voice to the role of the youngster who would actually like to spend more time with her dad.
Orlaith McGirr and Charlie Munro. Photo: Val McManus
What these three need is a big number in which to establish their relationships properly. Unfortunately, what they get is a lot of footering about with Fran calling Bonnie “mum”, and Pete failing to help out at the Bistro when he said he would.
The tricky thing is that the establishing scenes, as they stand, just do not chime with what falls out later with the arrival Marcel, a cruise ship magician on shore leave for a couple of days.
There’s no faulting the fantastic, multitalented Charlie Munro as Marcel. His sleight of hand is impressively done and his voice does great service to the tunes – in which ever style he is asked to deliver them. Moreover he finesses the necessary elements of comic and lethario with aplomb.
A spot of romance between Marcel and Bonnie fits in fine with what is known – but when they are suddenly in a motel bedroom, red lights lit and Bonny sporting little more than a plunging neckline to her sexy lingerie, it just doesn’t ring true.
Main, it goes without saying, is a trouper and does all that is required. That Bonnie and Marcel’s duet at this point is called Let’s Make Magic Tonight is all you really need to know. But no matter how well it is done, it just doesn’t feel like it belongs in this particular musical.
And therein lies the largest difficulty with the musical itself. It is too much of a hotchpotch, never settling into its own groove but borrowing from one genre after another. And when it comes to something called the Claptrap Rap, well, it is just that.
Nor has Fraser succeeded in honing her plot into a necessarily lean vehicle for her ideas. There’s a kidnapping, the pretence of finding gold in the burn running through the village in order to generate a few tourist pounds, a mine disaster, a ghost from Pete’s past and a couple of bumbling fools from the cruise ship committing petty larceny in the village.
If that is at least three subplots too many, it does allow for a good number of strong minor characters. There are creditable performances from the likes of Liz Landsman as Leonora the local clairvoyant, Colin Harper and Grant Latto as the ner-do-wells and David McBain as the conscience-pricking Browning. And the villager ensemble all work their socks off.
There are a few problems with the production itself, too. Alan Borthwick has, understandably, been unable to find the continuity of the piece as a whole. As a consequence, it is very stop-start with no finesse to making the whole evolve and grow as a story.
It’s all done on a shoestring, which is not a problem in itself. A projected photo backdrop establishes that this is in the Highlands and seems a sensible solution. Unfortunately, the pictures used just don’t work in terms of establishing where the action is supposed to be taking place.
There is strong material here to work with, and the production is worth seeing as a work in progress with some strong individual elements. But Anne-Marie Fraser still has a few iterations to go before getting to her definitive version.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval)
St Bride’s Centre, 10 Orwell Terrace, EH11 2DZ
Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 June 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinee, Saturday: 2.30pm.