The thing about reviewing a show that uses a lecture theatre for a theatre auditorium (the sign outside saying ‘The University of Edinburgh is proud to support Edinburgh’s Festivals’ should have been enough of a giveaway), is that it’s a space designed for taking notes. But the venue for Hamilton (Lewis) is not just a reviewer’s dream (and no, I didn’t sit in the front row with an A4 notepad) – the tiered seating ensures a good view from just about anywhere, and the writing desks provide ample room for audience members to place drinks.
The audience aren’t the only ones winning in a show that was, according to the show’s own pre-amble, created – in a way – by popular demand. There were, apparently, people who saw the publicity for the Broadway and West End hit musical Hamilton, and assumed (before they read any further) that it was about Lewis Hamilton (Letitia Hector), rather than one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. I suppose people will infer what they will from just hearing the name ‘Hamilton’ – has anyone considered the possibility of a show about the politician Neil Hamilton and his media personality wife Christine.
As is kindly explained before the show proper starts, it’s a parody of Hamilton that tells the story of the Formula 1 racing driver. Developing a musical takes time, and it’s telling that the last reference to what Nicole Scherzinger (Liberty Buckland) is regarding what she did immediately after the 2014 West End revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. The main issue is whether anyone who hasn’t seen Hamilton and doesn’t follow Formula 1 would be able to understand proceedings. But then, as the cast point out in the preamble, why on earth would anyone who falls into that category be doing coming to see this show in the first place?
The answer is, of course, that they have been dragged (hopefully figuratively) by a friend or family member. The show begins at such a breakneck pace, as though to demonstrate that it can keep up with the standard set by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical masterpiece, that I wondered if that level of energy could be sustained to the end. Without giving too much away, it never felt sluggish. I don’t know a huge amount about Formula 1, but it’s not for lack of trying – I just can’t see what the appeal is watching vehicles built to a high specification going round and round a racetrack. This production was, therefore, of educational value: virtually all I know about Ron Dennis (Jamie Barwood) I learnt from this musical. In the style of Hamilton, milestone dates in Hamilton’s life and career are unambiguously announced (one is specific enough to read, “2014. December 10th. Lunchtime.”).
The other principal character is Fernando Alonso (Louis Mackrodt), portrayed here as someone who is passionate with a capital P, even if, as it turns out, he is also inconsistent with a capital I. The production has ways of incorporating an impressive amount of Hamilton into this parody piece of theatre, without forcing anything or crowbarring in elements from that other show into the storyline. Nobody (spoiler alert) sings about setting up an orphanage in the final number.
There are two ways of looking at this production. Well, there are more, but I offer the following alternatives. The first is that Lewis Hamilton, while far from dull, isn’t a particularly controversial or eccentric person, so the musical comes across as using other characters to give weight to the story. The second is that the show takes care to include perspectives from all four main characters: Alonso’s advice to Hamilton is, for instance, sometimes at odds with Dennis’ stance. To hear Scherzinger (or, rather, this version of Scherzinger) speak about how she sees things going between herself and Hamilton adds an extra dimension to proceedings.
The cast and creatives come across as the first people to admit their show isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t stop it from being a hearty and humorous production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Hamilton (Lewis) is the epic story of a self-starter, who worked a lot harder, by being a lot faster. Born and raised in Stevenage, this is the musical story of the most successful British F1 driver in the history of the sport.
Blending hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway, discover the petrol-fuelled thrills and spills of the life of Hamilton (Lewis) then, as told by Hamilton (Lewis) now. A brand new musical parody guaranteed to have you in hysterics all the way to the finish line. Not in any way endorsed by Lin-Manuel Miranda… or Hamilton… (Lewis)… or the Pussycat Dolls. From the Olivier award nominated producers… but not the winners of 11 Tony Awards!
Hamilton (Lewis) is directed by Benji Sperring, director of smash hit musicals The Toxic Avenger (Southwark Playhouse, Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and West End) and Shock Treatment (King’s Head Theatre) with musical direction by David Eaton of The Mikado, King Tut: A Pyramid Panto (King’s Head Theatre) and written by Fiona English, writer of 1127 (Cambridge Junction, Greenbelt) and This is Happening (Greenbelt).
August 1st-7th, 9th-14th, 16th-21st, 23rd-26th
21:30 (1 hr)
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)