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Big Shot
The London Irish Centre
17th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Emma Packer

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

As one of the the legal profession's rising stars, hot shot Jeremy Croker (Donal Brennan) has never lost a case. His latest client however is about to threaten his unblemished record. Not only is Jeremy unconvinced that mafioso Hank (Gavin MacDermott) is innocent, Jeremy has a massive crush on Hank's pretty wife, Carrie (Jade Young). Ooh, talk about conflict of interest. Lauryn Gaffney's book may be fairly implausible and full of holes, however not any more so than your average musical. After all, when people keep bursting out into song for no apparent reason, why would you expect them to be entirely rational?

Gaffney's music and lyrics vary between fun, clumsy and hauntingly beautiful. It's an interesting new musical, if a little rough around the edges with more to bring out. Carrie's dependence on Hank is never fully explained, and it feels like there's an inherently tragic and gritty backstory there to develop. Although the reason why Frankie leaves and comes back is a bit vague, glossing over this feels like less of an omission. With Young holding her own in some powerful duets, it really does seem like her character is crying out for her own solo number explaining the unspoken tragedy of her situation. What hold does Hank really have on her?

The first half is entertaining enough, if a little consistent. However, the whole cast seem to have a "Cappuccino, Frappucino, Mocha Latte" in the interval, because they suddenly all seem to perk up and even Cormac Ó Broin's earlier microphone problems as Rick resolve themselves. Ó Broin, McDermott and Brennan swallow some of their low notes in the first half, but manage to project more strongly in the second. Young, who earlier shows signs of promise in a fun duet with Brennan about New York, but has a couple of off moments manages to completely bring it back with a stunning ballad in which she sends shivers down my spine. Brennan too proves he can deal with some difficult notes, showing far better control, causing me to wonder if it was just the tough lead up to the big notes in the first half that caused him difficulties. The microphone too may be partially to blame for knocking off his sound perception.

In some ways, it's really frustrating to review Big Shot because whilst the piece as a whole is fairly average, there are some truly exceptional moments where Sean McMahon and Niamh Chambers steal the show. McMahon strikes the right balance between credible and comedic for a musical, with very expressive movement, injecting phenomenal amounts of energy into every single one of his scenes and enlivening proceedings. He also has the strongest vocals, managing to hit all of his notes faultlessly and demonstrating a very impressive range. Chambers is a perfect counterpoint, again with some brilliantly humorous performances and note-perfect melodies. Quite simply, these two are far than the show in which they appear.

Lynn Redmond and Orla Sheridan provide outstanding support with some energetic, well-executed dance moves, with Sheridan in particular providing solid backing vocals which never fail to round out a less than perfect delivery by a more prominent performer. Whilst some of the lead vocals do vary in quality over the course of the 75 minutes, Sheridan always hits the right notes and softens any dodgy melodies. Redmond and Sheridan may not get star billing, but they are certainly invaluable to Big Shot. A mention must of course go to the six-strong band (Jake Curran, Paul Flood, Ally Donald, Kevin Rowe, Caoilin Considine, Geoffrey Warner Clayton). They do justice to Gaffney's music and consistently hit their cues.

Although there are flashes of excellence in the music, lyrics and performances, there doesn't appear to be any potential in the lighting design, which is frankly horrible and pointless. It's entirely possible that the company sacrificed the purpose-built lighting of a dedicated (but smaller) theatre venue for the large space of the London Irish Centre, which is not in itself a bad decision. It's the right size for the live band and miked up performers. However, it looks like someone is simply leaning on a colour switch with the brightness and colours changing every so often for no fathomable reason. Whatever the company are trying to achieve with the lighting, it doesn't work.

As champions of new writing, we can't help but be excited by a brand new musical, as there aren't that many people ambitious enough to create one. Although Gaffney has made something of which she should be incredibly proud, she needs to focus on more than just the music and look at the bigger picture. She should also snap up McMahon and Chambers for whatever she does next - those two certainly are capable of making it big. As it stands, Big Shot is a rough gem with plenty of sparkle but in need of a touch more polish.

Big Shot opened on 15th August and runs until 20th August 2016 at the London Irish Centre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Road (Overground)



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