REVIEW: The World Goes 'Round

The harmonic dexterity and verbal wit of John Kander and Fred Ebb is given an innovative, ingenuous makeover by Blunt Fringe Theatre's production of The World Goes 'Round.

By reinventing the floor of The MAC's downstairs theatre as The Luminaire Club, producer Claire Murray and director Rachel Logan-Fee have crafted an atmosphere worthy of the finest intimate showcases.

Round tables are frequently attended to by kind and eager waiters in front of an effervescent and entertaining revue where performers Aveen Biddle, Carolyn Maitland, Conor McFarlane, Stephanie McConville and Will Arundell are eager for us to join their party – a happy mood that the Belfast audience, whether they be on the floor or in the stalls (like me) fully reciprocate in the course of the evening.

What sets a Blunt Fringe show apart from a "typical" theatrical experience is that it is, quite literally, an experience, for nothing seems to matter more to the company than immersion of the relatable kind.

This was evident in their powerful and poignant Jimmy Ellis: Home Again at the Eastside Arts Festival, and probably even more so here, albeit on a more populist level. How can one not be entranced by the intelligent lyrics and sparkling tuneage of an "All That Jazz" or "Cabaret"? Especially when performed by an ensemble as talented as this?

Carolyn Maitland, recently Molly in Ghost: The Musical, sets the stage for a night of eclectic eccentricity with a hypnotic performance of the title song. The tone then switches from seductive to satirical with "Coffee In A Cardboard Cup" as the group, aided by Sarah Johnston's herky jerky choreography, commentate on society's caffeinated neuroticism.

"The Happy Time" has all the oom-pa-pah of Lionel Bart but with more wit and less whimsy, and "Sara Lee" smartly and hilariously equates one’s love of confectionery with their desire for a soulmate. It's as unfailingly hilarious as it is unflinchingly admirable, striking the ideal art and entertainment balance the production demands.

The first vocal overlap of the evening emerges in the treasured harmony of "I Don't Remember You" before Ciaran Bagnall's lighting, as much a star of the evening as the performers are, turns ominously violet for Aveen Biddle to steal the scene and the stage with the riotously funny "Arthur In The Afternoon", Biddle emoting ecstatically as everyone else drums boxes in line with the small orchestra playing behind them. The song calls for showiness, and Biddle provides it in spades.

Familiarity is then the name of the game as Stephanie McConville’s vocal prowess, and bowler hat, commandingly guides us through "All That Jazz" not long before Conor McFarlane’s pitiable mirth makes for a memorable, mournful "Mr. Cellophane". Those, however, are relatively low key compared to "The Rink" which features the whole cast perform accurately synchronised choreography on roller skates. Have I also mentioned that this singing, dancing and acting quintet are very talented instrumentalists?

All of this would be enough to recommend The World Goes 'Round, but Act Two has even more surprises, namely a "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" where Will Arundell and Maitland unify operatic projection and balletic movement in front of Spider-Man coloured lighting. Maitland tops this with a storming performance of "City Lights" which demands a standing ovation in its own right.

One could argue that the genres, be they romantic, comedic or dramatic, are so varied and numerous that there is no real emotional centrepiece to latch on to. But that would be nitpicking in light of Logan Fee’s remarkable – dare I say unmatched? - handling of the relentless tonal transitioning and the ensemble's consistent ease with the songs they perform. If all cabaret revues were so expertly handled, how could one really complain?

Simon Fallaha

The World Goes 'Round ran at Belfast's MAC Theatre.

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