Being Liza – Just Festival, St. John’s Church

Written by Rachel Flynn

Directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Performances on August 13th & August 20th at St. John’s Church

Want to know the measure of a company? It lies principally in their reaction to a technical fault. No falter, no floundering, Interabang Productions response to such events is admirable. They know where, when and how to approach the issue without dampening the experience, kudos all around. Now, onto the show.  

Routine is comfortable, especially when it’s one you’ve been living with for years. Worshipping an idol, working with your father and having a steady life all sound appealing, but is it the life you want? Frances lives her days clad in the feathers of that Queen of Cabaret herself, Liza (with a Z) Minnelli. What does she want though? To keep her father, Pete, happy? Is it the love of a singing-accountant, or be humble, make a difference to the world, even if that means giving it all up and moving away.

Switching up venues, Being Liza moves from its premiere of the Assembly Roxy into St. John’s Church. What they lose in the intimacy of a close audience, they work it to their advantage. It offers Rachel Flynn the capability to strut, as her vocals accentuating themselves off of the high ceilings. They add depth to the production, levels down into the aisle or up onto the platform.

Alongside a tender, thought-provoking script, comes a tremendous level of dedication through musical means. Flynn’s control of her vocals is impressive, emulating Minnelli’s style while leaving a signature note of her own. She has some fierce competition, for James Keenan, who plays a blinder of a comedic role, stands dangerously close to stealing the spotlight when belting out his pipes.

The relationship the pair have is touching, the emotion overwhelming at times. As Flynn captures a playful, indecisive heart with empathy, it is Keenan’s staggering range, crossing from comforting to a father at breaking point which hits hardest.

The singing accountant (Benjamin Storey), a Geordie boy with wholesome charm doesn’t get sufficient weight. His interactions are often quick, adding more to conflict rather than building a relationship with Frances. The character is interesting, adds levity and would be a welcome addition to more scenes.

Being Liza is a remarkably touching story, where you can feel the essence of the writer. It is less a tribute for Minnelli herself as it is for our parents, our families and ourselves. A tale of stepping out into the world singing, not decking yourself out with sequins and wigs – but as you. Whoever you may be.

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Hitler’s Tasters – Greenside Infirmiry

Written by Michelle Kholos Brooks

Runs at Greenside Infirmary, August 5th – 24th (Not 11th or 18th), 18.35pm

Fifteen women would carry out, what they consider, a job of notoriety and honour during World War II. With the risk of assassination peaking, they would dine on the foods of the Third Reich, no steak of course. They were guinea pigs. A first-line of defence for the Fuhrer from his enemies attempts at ending his rule. They were Hitler’s Tasters.

Until 2012, there was no confirmation of their existence, when the final living member Margot Wölk spoke out. The production, billing itself as a dark comedy, reads more like a drama with comedic elements. It’s a fascinating concept, three women confined to a cinder-block room. Where boredoms, jealousy and illuminating ideas of American film stars set in.

Hitler’s Tasters has another, important message behind its historical tale. Its a look at the banality of evil, seamless triumph in stirring hate, and how gullible people are when requested by their President Fuhrer. Originating from the States, though entirely coincidental, the American voice hammers in transparent warnings we should recognise with 1930’s Germany.

There’s a trend of technology bleeding into a contemporary commentary. Selfies and Madonna were not the expected pass times of the women subject to this job. In a world of ‘insta-famous’, the decision to include phone-obsession for these women, who were still girls oversteps. The concept, the idea that they could be famous for their role in protecting the Fuhrer is an ingenious insight into young women’s influencer aspirations. The constant selfies over-stay their welcome though, belittling the weight of the production.

Here we have Hitler’s Tasters misstep. Dark comedy works at its best when paying respect to the subject. Comedy is the focus over story-telling. A shame, as Mary Kathryn Hopp, showcases a pathos, a genuine tear-building whenever the illumination of the guards bursts into the cell. The entire female cast has a tremendous sense of sisterhood, even when turning on one another.

With laughs, Michelle Kholos Brooks’ script misses the beat. Perhaps, at the risk of sounding pretentious, there’s a loss from their American audiences. For the UK, offence is a currency. A few moments are good jokes, punches which stir middle-class sniggers rather than bellyaches. Rushing pace, jokes don’t land as neatly as there’s a sense of sweeping it off the ground before causing insult.

Frustratingly, Hitler’s Tasters is a tweak from a contemporary, brass-neck smack at historical repression and the resurgence of political manipulation. As it stands, the ingredients lay on the counter – a starter awaiting a few more spices before serving the main course.

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Photo credit – Cody Butcher