September 3, 2011
Trafalgar Studios 2
‘Betwixt – a funny musical’, and it’s as simple as that. To sum it up, my choice of words are ‘a strange, slightly crazy, adult fairytale, just for the hell of it!’ And that is one of the particularly joyful things I learnt whilst watching this wonderfully odd musical. It really is all about the fun, and I personally would rejoice if fellow theatrical companies/productions similar in nature to Betwixt! would follow suit out of the woodwork and show everybody how it’s done. This is up to date comedy at its best; new theatre finally making its mark which I urge all theatre goers to welcome with open arms because it really does take a talented mind to pull this stuff off.
Those who have witnessed the scale of Trafalgar Studios 2 will know it’s rather petite! The cast is of a mere nine members, alongside three musicians all set within a small, simple black theatre space with a minimum of three or four rows seated around the performance area. Everything is low key with zero extravaganza regarding the design (except maybe the slightly eccentric costumes, just to make it that little bit more wacky). But other than that, there really is nowhere to hide as the actor’s costumes sweep across your lap commencing from the entrance you strolled through yourself earlier, whilst also easily gaining the knowledge by catching many a glimpse of what underwear our actors are wearing that day.
And boy what fine actors they are. Every single one of them. And so they have to be. In such an intimate space, the audience doesn’t miss anything. The plot is an easy (yet enjoyable) one to follow. A possible one hit wonder author Bailey Howard (Benedict Salter) is struggling with writers block when to the rescue comes Cooper Fitzgerald (Steven Webb), a hilariously overpowering, not to mention, unplanned room mate. An ironic key and door whisks the unlikely pair away to a supernatural world where they embark on a heroic journey with, or against (depending on which sister), Lizzie Roper’s characters. Lost yet? Not to worry, that’s a good thing. Along the way, Bailey finds love in the form of a body-less head named Miranda (Ashleigh Gray) whilst Kelly Chinery, Peter Duncan, Will Hawksworth (be sure to not miss out on his Joan the Mute), Alyssa Nicol and Rob Wilshaw’s wild characters break into crazy, wonderful songs moving this colourful production along swiftly before our eyes.
The whole thing is plain weird, and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. But what I positively believe holds all the crazy stuff together is the extraordinarily talented cast. Each one of them are full of quick wit and produce continual genuine, unpredictable, side splitting laughter which is sadly rare in the world of musical theatre. Many audience members are brilliantly supportive in wishing the production would move into a larger west end theatre which is great, but I honestly believe it is what it is, and that it should remain within its existing nature and further more pieces such as this should grow to be recognised and popularised in this industry. The field would prove to be more fun with playful honest productions like Betwixt! making a home for themselves in London’s west end.
Back to feeling the love for our cast members, what really should be noted is that they are, well, simply hilarious. The writers and team behind this show have produced a spectacle the actors thrive upon and the whole team has dangerously created an explosion of obscene hilarity. It is quite unreal just how notably funny Steven and Lizzie are. It’s actually quite haunting as these two artists in particular repeatedly retell their jokes inside your head long after the lights go down. To best describe it, it’s one of those embarrassing situations when you’re seated on a bus, playing out one of their characters many comical moments in your thoughts to then uncontrollably laugh out loud, only to realise you’re seated on that bus alone. But hey, it’s oh so worth it. You’ll also fall in love with Ben’s adorable character who, as an actor, is utterly overflowing with talent, as is the beautiful Ashleigh who comically reminds us of that outstanding voice of hers.
If I was to be fussy and dish out anything I would like to see change, it would be the absence of an increased interaction with the audience. For such a small space I feel that the show would benefit by acknowledging its audience further, inviting us to laugh with them, not to ourselves. Up the ante on that, and we’re all yours. However, what’s great about Betwixt! is that you don’t have to understand it, that’s the beauty. You just have to sit in those big red seats and allow comic genius to take hold. The musical’s played down simplistic environment let’s you feel like you’re part of the creation process in a satisfying whirlwind of entertainment randomly plonked in front of you. I gladly take my hat off to all behind the creation of this funny business and would return in a second with the proud knowledge of perhaps producing even more laughter; there really is something for everybody at Betwixt! A promising future for theatre! With only a few days left, do not miss this uplifting, hilarious display!