FABB At The MAC: Sweet Charity and Rocking The Sixties

It isn't that often that my work life and my blog life mix, but last night everything seemed to sync up. The FABB girls were invited to the newly opened MAC (Metropolian Arts Centre) to see Bruiser's production of Sweet Charity. It was a no-brainer as I adore Neil Simon, Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple are two of my favourite films of all time, yet Sweet Charity was a production I'd never seen, I'd also never seen the film. It was exciting coming to it with fresh eyes.

Those who don't know the show will know the songs, 'If my friends could see me now', 'Big Spender', 'Rhythm of Life'. You may also be familiar with Bob Fosse from Caberet and Chicago who did the original choreography for the Broadway run, the iconic choreography still owes much to him.
It tells the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess who just wants to be loved, the show deals with her trials, her tribulations, her unerring kindness and upbeat adventurous spirit.

So what did Bruiser bring to Sweet Charity?

Well it was my first jaunt into the new MAC, I spent most of my undergrad and postgraduate life in the OMAC (Old Museum Arts Centre) which the new and spangly MAC has replaced. I haven't had a chance to  fully investigate it but I was pleasantly pleased by the theatre. I always enjoy a black box theatre, but I especially liked the Salem style balcony layering.

The set, which as all my colleagues know is my key point of interest with any production I look at, was really interesting. A very utility set made up with two connecting steel stairways and movable set pieces which were manipulated by the cast.

The very basic set design can often be desperately off-putting to fans of naturalistic sets. I perhaps am in the minority as I love unconventional sets. Sets should act as a conduit to understanding, they don't have to reflect reality exactly. In this case the steel staircases emphasised the processual nature of the play and it's quick pace but also the rather circular narrative that Charity ends up in. 

Clean and simplistic sets are some of the most difficult sets to work on as an actor, the cast of Sweet Charity raised this to a new level. Not only did the set constantly transform, move, work but the fluidity with which the cast negotiated new set aspects was tremendous. I feel the need to fully commend the ensemble for this fluidity, it is much more difficult than it looks and points to a well rehearsed and tight cast. Not only did the ensemble take charge of set movement, adding beautifully stylised narrative notes to the sky, or to the inside of a menu they also played the instruments.

Initially I assumed that the cast were miming playing the instruments as I thought it was a bit much for them to sing, dance, act as their own stage crew and also supply the music. But no, they actually accompanied themselves on a range of brass and woodwind instruments. The ease with which this was done emphasised the skill and talent of the cast and I cannot congratulate them enough for making an extremely complex show appear effortless.

It was a marvellous ensemble performance, a show like this needs its cast to give themselves over to it entirely to create the illusion of 1960's New York and create the fictional place of the narrative. I have to say that the whole cast was outstanding but special mention must be given Laura Pitt-Pulford who performed as Charity. She brought a level of hopeless optimism, innocence and vulnerability to the role which meant the audience could not help but root for her.

In all it's a big, beautiful, mouthy force of nature. A giant (much needed) gust of fresh air around Northern Irish theatre which has long rested on Troubles narratives. Never have the 1960s looked so fresh and exciting.

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