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The Harvard Dramatic Club Presents: Atalanta at Edinburgh Fringe

I can’t be the only person out there who doesn’t automatically associate Harvard University with musical theatre. There was Legally Blonde the Musical, though even that was (in small part) about the leading character getting into Harvard Law School. That isn’t to say one can’t graduate from Harvard and go on to have successful acting careers – Natalie Portman and Matt Damon being two examples. Harvard’s debut at the Fringe was something that intrigued me – for one thing, how studious was this going to be?

Atalanta Cast at Edinburgh Fringe
Atalanta Cast at Edinburgh Fringe.

If you’ve never heard of ‘The Atalanta Post’, it’s a fictional publication – a smart move, perhaps, as it gives the narrative much freer rein within its historical setting (New York, 1969) than it would if constrained by what really went on at a newspaper. Sophie Garrigus as Sarina Lemonde, a news editor, becomes president of the paper, though she didn’t exactly apply for the job. It seems to me that ‘president’ is effectively ‘chief executive’, with William Harding (Vander Ritchie) being chairman of the board. The majority shareholder is Sarina’s mother, Miriam (Onovughakpor Otitigbe-Dangerfield), who seems to have made her money in the entertainment business, although the narrative is vague on details on this point. Anyway, if nepotism is unfair, and it is, its use in the plot is at least realistic.

It’s difficult to say, then, whether the opposition Sarina encounters, including but not exclusively from executive editor Jack (Louis Zekowski), William’s son no less, is more about newsroom misogyny or more about the lack of egalitarianism at Atalanta. Some controversial decisions are made by Madam President: without giving too much away, she had higher standards than some newspaper chiefs (at least in the UK) have today. Sarina’s personal life, meanwhile, is more complex than her professional one – her husband, Charlie Saltman (Matt Given) is, it turns out, bisexual, though Sarina only discovers this by way of a threat by William to publish some photographs of Charlie kissing Sarina’s brother Daniel (Conall McGinn). This would be the stuff of a situational comedy in Britain (and probably swiftly revolved by way of a superinjunction). In the States, it represents a potentially life-changing crisis, attitudes towards extra-marital relationships, let alone homosexual ones, being what they were at the time.

The keyboardist, Henry Wu, did very well – at the performance I attended, some gremlins had crept in at some point during the second half, which he and the venue’s technical team successfully battled against. Vocal coaches might well rejoice at nobody’s vocals being too strained, though from an audience perspective, some of the (unamplified) voices weren’t as loud as they could have been. The sound balance, at least from my vantage point, between music and sung lyrics, was pretty much perfect.

The musical styles were broad – the press release references Hamilton, although there weren’t any musical numbers in the show that were rapped so quickly it would have been beneficial to have listened to a cast recording at least once to get one’s head around it. It’s a cleverly written piece of theatre, which seldom, if ever, gives into stereotypes, producing instead nuanced characters. Even the antagonists are not caricatures of pure evil, and Sarina doesn’t claim to have all the answers to all the problems the newspaper faces.

The choreography, frankly, needs work, and the script needs a little tightening, but otherwise, it’s a gritty and engaging piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

New York, 1969. Sarina Lemonde is a news editor at the struggling Atalanta Post, living a quiet, respectable life, with no plans of changing that anytime soon. But, one ordinary night in February, it all goes upside-down: her wealthy, estranged mother sweeps back into her life, seeking to buy the newspaper; her closeted husband begins an ill-advised affair with a Post executive; and Sarina is unexpectedly installed as the first female president of the Atalanta Post.

Listing Information
Venue: Fleming Theatre, theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall
14-19August 2023
11:10 (1hr30)

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