Southern Light Sings for the King’s – Festival Theatre

Directed by Andy Johnston

Rating: 4 out of 5.

One Hundred and Twenty-five years of communal magic, Southern Light Opera has called the Kings’s Theatre, the old Lady of Leven Street, home for more than a century. And how fitting that one of Edinburgh’s grassroots production companies should be the one to strike out with a continued appeal for funding to modernise, maintain and celebrate the theatrical heritage of this city.

For those unsure of the current restrictions, yet eager to dip their toes back into the refreshing springs of musical theatre, Southern Light Sings for the King’s takes to the theatre’s younger and rejuvenated sister – The Festival Theatre, to enable this fundraiser to have every success in aiding the cause. Spacious, designed for vocals, this temporary home is a sublime venue for the production and demonstrates the vocal talents present within the group and their capability to fill the stage.

Director Andy Johnston, with Assistant Director Louise Hunter, strikes up the band and set things in motion for Southern Light’s momentous return of reliable and communal theatre. And for those lost in awe at the torrent of posters and past performances, the canny theatre goers may notice the nuanced subtextual choices in this evening’s repertoire – a scintillating selection of narrative storytelling of our own journey; of being welcomed back to the theatre, after so many months of being outcast, all leading to a heartfelt and chorus return.

Initially, the choice of Mame seems peculiar as an opener until the revelations to follow unearth themselves. It’s Today performed by Toni MacFarlane erupts with a burst of the lustre of theatrical life and sets up the production in the glittering way it intends on continuing. Every choice in the show’s repertoire comes with merit and thought, to entertain and to move, though we do feel personally attacked by the production’s choice of the third song…

And though initially opening jitters curse a few of the opening performances, the synchronicity between singers and company band aligns tighter into the second half as a myriad of classical numbers storm onto the stage and transform an otherwise pleasing fundraiser into a hell of a party.

But that isn’t to shun the fact that Southern Light, for their musical passions in do not forget the integrity of performance. There are challenging moments where the sincerity pierces through the joviality, particularly from Nicola McDonagh or Ruth Cowie’s marvellous As Long as He Needs Me from Oliver! Taken by surprise, the performances from John Bruce and Rebekah Lansley’s Bitter Sweet sit well alongside Keith Kilgore’s haunting If I Can’t Love Her from Beauty and the Beast.

And in closing Act one, the company perform the finale of Titanic, to a black backcloth with a list of the lives lost to the sea. Initially a duet, touching and poignant, gradually it unfolds into a chorus, and a grim reminder, and an all too familiar one in the recent year. 

Renowned for their extensive and intricate set-pieces and dressings, the quick changes limit the traditional Southern Light fanfare, but Gavin Scott’s backdrops and projections make for an impressive cover mechanic. The softness in colours, countered by a dazzling and striking choice in lighting designs often makes for a surprising spectacle and allows the openness of the stage to become a strength, rather than a hindrance.

And this mixture of wide-open spacing and minimal set design is perfect for the twelve strong dancers of Southern Light. Under choreographer Louise Williamson’s wing, the dancers make up for any shortfalls which may slip under the net of those for who poise isn’t their forte. Engaging, the choice numbers designed to demonstrate the company’s prowess with movement as equally as they control musicality is engaging and uplifting. Though we’d be remised if we failed to mention, Kerr-Alexander requires no additional flamenco lessons – with a roaring rendition of The Gypsy in Me.

Two years ago, the sensational Lansley dazzled as Eliza Doolittle. Two years later, the impact is no less impressive with Danced All Night. The control, clarity and class emanate into the theatre, only to be matched by the equally enthusiastic Keith Kilgore and Scott Walker as the pair raise the rafters and provide that extra welly needed to push us further into the long night with Get Me To The Church On Time. And what a finale, a timely reminder to set off the symbolic structure of the show, that after all the pain and lost time, somewhere Over the Rainbow we’re ready to come together and take what may come.

This is theatre, honest, sheer, engaging and mirthful with a tremendous cause. And even when the King’s goes dark for its awaited rejuvenation, it’s touching to know the capacity and ability for Southern Light to thrive in additional venues is present. For the past century, Southern Light Opera has strutted onto the stage they rightfully share with Westend stars and serve as a consistent reminder of excellence, heart and passion. The rightful champions of the King’s Theatre.

To donate £5 to the King’s fundraising scheme – text KINGSTHEATRE to 70085 (Text will cost £5 and one standard network rate)

Southern Light Sings for the King’s runs until Saturday September 11th with a matinee on the Saturday. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

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