'Special in almost every way' ★★★★ 89 Nights @ The Other Palace, London

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Co-Editor Cameron Scheijde reviews the West-End Preview of Bristol student theatre company Troubadour Stageworks' premier production.

It might have been the coronated colonnades on the palace behind, or the hubbub arising from the packed pubs surrounding it. Perhaps it was the smell of gin in the air, or the knowledge that in the room next door, musical theatre sensation Carrie Hope Fletcher was belting her heart out. One thing was for sure; 89 Nights was no normal Edinburgh preview.

Normally consigned to rooms above pubs, or converted bars only just inside the M25, previews can be good, or they can demonstrate just how far a show has to come in the weeks before the fringe kicks off north of the border. This preview, however, was brilliant, and smack bang in the middle of SW1.

89 Nights is an entirely original musical - original concept, original music, and, crucially, an original idea. I’ll admit to not knowing what to expect before the musical kicked off - a new school leaver thrust into New York, limited only by the 90 days (and 89 nights) on her ESTA? Sounds like a cheap La La Land rip off. I was proved very wrong by writer-cum-director Mingma Hughes and her committed cast and production team.

The story is good, using a fresh, funny and surprisingly moving take on the “girl leaves UK on gap year to find herself” idea. Our lead, Alice (Rachel Xuereb), takes us around the new city to find that the fresh start she expects doesn’t quite emerge. With minimal set, no costumes and a three piece band, the show was very much stripped down from what it will be in Edinburgh. However, it didn’t suffer for it. The visuals were constructed by the highly energetic and involved ensemble, who each brought their own quirks and interjections to the piece. Clare Packham and Paula Russmann made a formidable double act, and Alice Smethurst's mad-old-lady-on-the-street act was hilarious.

Xuereb was very good in the lead, and her vocals improved through the performance, no doubt as the nerves from performing this piece to an audience for the first time slowly faded. However, Talisker Little, in the role of Ben, the love-interest that (thankfully) never was, was brilliant. His character quirks, flawless accent and stunning vocals topped off a very good performance.

As for the script and score themselves, both show excellence well beyond the relative inexperience of the writers. The script is funny, slick and exceptionally well written. “The British are taking over”, exclaims Alice. “Re-taking. You’ve been here before”, quips Ben, prompting hysterics from the sold-out audience.

Similarly, memorable parts of the score include the flawless incorporation of the Star Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen and I Vow to Thee My Country in one number about thanksgiving. The high-energy and catchy ensemble songs make up for some forgettable individual soliloquies. I found myself beaming from ear to ear through the entire one-hour show.

89nihts
The theatre is also home to hit musical Heathers

After a rousing curtain call, Hughes stood on stage and very humbly asked the audience for their feedback before the show heads up north in just over a week. I’m sure the only feedback she’ll be getting will be overwhelmingly positive.

Selling out a West End show is a feat even London's theatrical elite would be proud of, and Hughes deserves all the accolades that will no doubt be coming her way in the coming months. I'm sure 89 Nights will excel in Edinburgh.

Just behind The Other Palace theatre there sits Queen Victoria, be-throned and beneath a golden angel soaring above the red-faced public. In such a prestigious location, 89 Nights both held its own and excelled. One was very much amused.

★★★★

You can catch 89 Nights at the Edinburgh Fringe from next week


AUTHOR

Cameron Scheijde

Co-Editor-in-Chief 2018-19 | Online Comment Editor, 2017-18 | Presenter and Founder, The Epigram Show on BURST Radio

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