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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

On The Box
Camden People's Theatre
29th July 2013


In ordinary circumstances, starting 25 minutes late would have been a Fringe crime of the first degree. Festivals pack in so many shows that just one delay somewhere can cause chaos for venues, performers and spectators alike. But this was an extraordinary night - to start with, the world's noisiest drill had pitched up next to the theatre - and to finish, Bowjangles fought back against the racket, and actually won. If you're going to make your audience wait, you better have a damn good performance up your sleeve, and the group certainly did not disappoint.

In their new show, On The Box, the wonderfully talented Ezme Gaze, Bertie Anderson, Ed Bruggemeyer and Mitch McGugan, sing, dance and even swashbuckle their way around the whole stage, all whilst playing strings flawlessly. In Gaze's case, this involves a cello, a noble instrument, but not one designed for much action. But like her fellow musicians, she delivered a high-energy superhuman performance, seemingly unaware of how heavy and cumbersome her equipment was.

The concept for On The Box is a day-long broadcast from television channel "BJBC", one which allows them to neatly assemble diverse sequences, including their take on the morning news, soap operas, sport coverage and films. Arrangements include popular songs from past and present - the weather report, for example, has arrangements of The Beatles' Here Comes The Sun, Singin' in the Rain and RiRi's contemporary earworm Umbrella. You may not be able to pick out every song in the entire production, but you will have heard it before. Most people go to gigs to hear their favourite songs rather than brand new material, and Bowjangles have cottoned onto this. The songs chosen are familar, and as such, really easy to enjoy.

Admittedly, the group do recycle some of their previous work, not everything in On The Box is new. With the Games long behind us - well, okay, only a year, but it does feel like another lifetime ago - you could accuse Bowjangles of not being entirely fresh. But the material slots very easily into the piece, and a slow motion rendition of Chariots of Fire overlayed with Vangelis' iconic theme never gets old.

It's difficult to pick out the best scenes, but we particularly enjoyed Bowjangles' take on the soap opera, set - of course - in an opera house. The unbelievable melodrama so typical of such programmes, combined with operatic vocals and classic music, made for a hilarious sequence. We also enjoyed the terror of Bow Mountain, a thriller in which the group managed to insert a dig at manufactured pop - that sort of joke only works when the people making it are talented themselves so naturally was very successful.

Dressed in bright colours, deliberately overdoing every expression and literally throwing themselves into every performance, the surface of this production is very twee and innocent. Many of the laughs come immediately following a groan, but despite its exterior, is a very intelligent show with an adult appeal.

There were a few missteps over the course of the hour - but those that happened were very minor and forgivable. Certainly at no point did the group get their harmonising or strings wrong - and they didn't let up with their frantic energy.

We certainly weren't expecting such a string of high-quality shows this early on in the Camden Fringe, And frankly, there's no reason not to heartily recommend On The Box as well. Every element of the show is executed brilliantly and passionately and as a whole, this is a joy to watch.

On the Box opened on 29th July and runs until 1st August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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