Legacy: Book of Names

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Assembly Hall, Mound Place
Aug 3-26 (15:00)

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It’s easy to be political. Typing in the word ‘Trump’ to the Edinburgh Fringe website yields dozens of results, with everything from a Trump/King Lear mash up to an all-singing, all-dancing musical about his life plastering the results page in orange. These are plays that are political for politics’ sake, and certainly deserve their space in our theatres and in our minds. What The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have done with Legacy: Book of Names, however, is weave a story of love and pain whilst making the political subconscious, and the play is all the more powerful as a result.

Set in an immigration processing centre on Ellis Island, the 15-strong musical follows the lives of a motley crew of young and old men and women from all over the world as they try to gain permission to live in America. Throughout the piece we see the many characters face the trials and tribulations that come with being on foreign soil handled with depth, wit and warmth. We are immediately thrown into a jaunty opening number that sees the cast being grilled and examined by immigration officers, with dynamic and busy choreography quickly establishing the musical as a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The lives of individual characters are portrayed well, with the plight of Simon and his pregnant wife and the optimism of chirpy Irishman Finnigan being quickly established amongst many others.

The music is fantastic, with Jonathan Bauerfeld’s score hitting the right note at every turn with lyrics that are both sensitive and witty in perfect doses. A particular song highlight is ‘This Is It’, which delicately handles the pain of a couple being separated and another being brought together with nuance and sensitivity. Here the blocking simply and effectively echoes the parallels of great sadness and great joy that the two couples experience. It feels deeply earnest, with the entire ensemble handling complex subject matter like this with poise and gravitas throughout the hour. Other highlights are Simon’s moving ballad ‘What My Father Said’ that perfectly sums up the pain of leaving behind your country and the fear of entering a new one, as well as ‘Don’t Mind Me’ that humorously sees an older woman and a younger girl empathise with each other’s experience of being continually ignored.

Our show explores what it would have been like to be an immigrant coming through the station; how scary and disconcerting it could be, how heartbreaking being told you couldn’t come through was, and how new connections can be made across divides. It is very much an ensemble show and we have a wonderful cast of 15. We will be using all of their voices to create a big, sweeping musical world for the show
Read the full interview

What the play does so well, however, is examine relationships that are unconventional. Whether it be a son’s love song to his father, an older woman meeting a little girl and connecting through their language, or a sick girl and her sister comforting one another, we see relationships in musical theatre examined that are normally left in the dark. All of this is made yet more moving with the occasional brief interlude where the name and life story of real immigrants who passed through Ellis island is read out: a reminder that there are names and faces behind those who politics then and now can oppress and devastate. This show is a human reminder of those who are put through the ringer of immigration with an impressive score and attention to detail to boot. Though a busy play, it manages to avoid being complicated with the lives of individual characters being handled with warmth and nuance.

Lucy Davidson

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