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Royal Conservatoire of Scotland presents Big Fish

At least this show has the decency to tell its audiences from the outset that much of the narrative makes no sense and is largely the result of an overactive imagination on the part of Edward Bloom (Zach Ammon Peterson), who in this longitudinal tale, tells all sorts of weird and wonderful stories that are essentially quite fantastical. It’s one of those musicals that likes to time hop, instead of telling a narrative in forward chronological order. Much of the legwork is really done by Young Edward (Tommy Seymour) – we’ll leave aside that this is a student production, such that ‘older’ Edward looks more like an elder brother than his son Will’s (Liam Bradbury) father.

Big Fish. ©RCS Robbie McFadzean.
Big Fish. ©RCS Robbie McFadzean.

Will’s frustration is, depending on one’s own disposition, totally understandable, or otherwise indicative of a fastidious and unnecessarily anxious personality. Will doesn’t know what the truth about anything with regards to his father is, and while Edward’s stories might well have been enjoyable when Will was six years old, Edward is now the epitome of the Embarrassing Dad, to the point where Will doesn’t want Edward to share any stories of any kind (real, imagined or part-imagined) at his (Will’s) wedding to Josephine (Grace Christina Stech). Of course, he does so anyway, spilling the beans on a significant life event that Will and Josephine weren’t quite ready to become public knowledge.

Our town,” says Edward, “was so small our phone book was the Yellow Page”. Elsewhere, there’s a giant called Karl (Sophie Dean, on stilts according to a rehearsal photo in the show’s programme) and other mythical beings, brought to life thanks to some credible and convincing costumes (Claire Halleran). The show, riddled with fake news and – well, alternative facts – calls to mind a certain ex-president. A father asked his school-aged children at the interval what they thought the show was about. A silent pause went on for so long I didn’t bother to stick around to find out if the question was ever answered.

The female characters, including Edward’s wife Sandra (Linzi Devers) and the aforementioned Josephine, are, by contemporary standards, awkwardly underwritten and for the most part subservient to the wishes of their stubborn-headed husbands. To make up for what would otherwise be nothing more than thoroughly detestable toxic masculinity, Edward in particular must turn on the charm. Both he and his younger self some close to showboating at times, and Bradbury’s Will has a strong and beautiful voice.

The orchestrations are a delight to listen to, and some imaginative staging – not simple, yet highly effective – brings both real and imaginary worlds to life. It is, frankly, utterly bonkers on occasion, and for all the hustle and bustle of the more upbeat numbers, the show’s most emotionally intense moments are during ‘I Don’t Need A Roof’, which Devers’ Sandra performs with passion and poignancy. A very slick and engaging production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A Broadway musical bursting with heart and humour, based on a best-selling book and a Tim Burton film, and a contemporary coming-of-age song cycle about growth and self-discovery from Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Olivier Award-winning writers … the stage is set for another unmissable Edinburgh Festival Fringe run from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).

Based on the celebrated novel by Daniel Wallace and the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton, Big Fish tells the story of Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman who lives life to its fullest… and then some! Edward’s incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him—most of all, his devoted wife Sandra. But their son Will, about to have a child of his own, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales. Overflowing with heart and humour, Big Fish is an extraordinary musical that reminds us why we love going to the theatre—for an experience that’s richer, funnier and bigger than life itself.

Big Fish
4-27 August, 10am
Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Book: John August
Director: Melanie Bell
Twitter @RCStweets
https://www.edfringe.com/

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