Running a fringe theatre in London must be a difficult and sometimes thankless task. Running one in Croydon which isn’t known as a cultural hotbed, must be even harder. So Theatre Utopia should be congratulated as they are running a fringe theatre in the part of Croydon now re-branded as “The Old Town”. But as hard as running the theatre must be, they don’t help themselves with no signposting where it actually is. The theatre is based in Matthews Yard which bills itself as “An arts, cultural and community hub”.
It’s a really interesting space with a two bars and a café selling burgers etc. On a Saturday night there’s lots going on and it’s an oasis of contemporary culture right in the centre of Croydon. However, when you enter the complex, there’s no indication of where Theatre Utopia is situated. There’s not a sign or a box office – or anything to indicate where you have to go. I’ve been there before but it’s been a while and couldn’t remember which room the theatre was in so waited around in the café/bar area hoping someone would come and get us – they didn’t. About five minutes before the show was due to start, some people walked into one of the rooms off the main room saying something about “the theatre” so we followed them into to what was an ante-room off the theatre space where we were checked off a list and shown into the theatre. There hadn’t even been a “The house is now open” call that you get in many fringe theatres – it was all a bit shambolic I’m afraid.
As for the show itself, I must admit to some more confusion! The flyer for Forbidden Fruit states that it’s “A New Musical”. It might be new, but a musical it certainly isn’t. It also says “The Must See Revue Of 1925” and a review is most certainly what it is.
On stage is a band consisting of keyboards and two musicians on clarinet/saxophone. The show starts with the all female cast of eight, marching onto the stage to some music reminiscent of music from the Weimar Republic in Germany from the 1920s. The eight are all in black and their movements are very stylised and almost robotic. A narrator then explains that we are in 1925 and what we are about to see is from that era.
What then follows are nine different sketches. Some are just dialogue and others have both singing and dancing. It’s a bit of a curate’s egg with some excellent ideas that really work and others that just fall flat. On the plus side, a song and dance featuring a tap-dancing, Peggy Guggenheim and how she slept around with artists such as Duchamp in exchange for some of their art was inspired. Likewise, a piece where the conceit was that Hitler and Charlie Chaplin who had similar mustaches, were twins separated at birth was superb. Using just a smudge of greasepaint as a mustache and a bowler hat, the actress playing both roles was outstanding as she swapped roles at speed. Another sketch that worked and was great fun was one about a burlesque stripper suffragette! However, a recurring piece about an eccentric, dysfunctional family and one about King George V, just didn’t work at all.
Throughout the music composed by Colm Molloy was excellent. With its Kurt Weill overtones, it fitted the period perfectly. However, there was some unevenness in the cast with some stand-out performers but one or two who weren’t quite up to standard.
Forbidden Fruit at the moment seems like a work in progress. The young cast and creative are hoping to take it to Edinburgh in the future and as someone who has just come back from there, it would fit in perfectly. But like Theatre Utopia, Forbidden Fruit needs to up its game before it can go to the next level. I hope they do because there’s a lot of creative potential in both endeavours that deserves to have success.
Review by Alan Fitter
Forbidden Fruit: A New Musical
Music and Lyrics by Colm MolloyDevised by the Cast of Forbidden Fruit, Colm Molloy and Martin Milnes
The must see revue of 1925. An entertaining social commentary on morality and equality in the Roaring 20s.
August 18 :8:00 pm – August 21 :9:15 pm 2016