Venue: Jack Lyons Concert Hall
Rating: * * * * *
Elysium, a resoundingly successful modern musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ by University of York student Mark Perkins, played this weekend in Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall as his final year music project.
Shakespeare’s comic romance translated seamlessly into a story of a twisted love triangle between Simon, a self-centred pop star, Vicky, an optimistic young woman waiting for the job and man of her dreams, and Libby, owner of the popular nightclub Elysium. A fantastically sharp script held the production together, combining dry Broadway wit with Shakespeare’s original plot line.
A six-part vocal ensemble behind the stage set provided a cappella backing to a number of songs, and an ethereal introduction where a lack of on-stage action , forced the audience to focus on their outstanding vocal talent. Although the musical elements of this production had clearly been given careful consideration, a greater focus on stage direction and runnings of the musical would have proved beneficial. Set changes were sometimes longer than necessary, revealed by the badly timed lighting.
Nick Tudor, cast as dry-witted agent Adam, received the warmest welcome from the audience for his comic interjections, allowing the script to transform this amateur composition into a rather reputable musical. His performance was reminiscent of ‘The Office’, yet Tudor held no false affectations of scripted acting. Whilst the entire script was written in modern language by his sister, Jo, Mark Perkins wrote the lyrics to the majority of the featured songs. Memorable lyrics included the repetition of “shit happens”, to which the older generations of the audience (a large proportion due to the coinciding Alumni Weekend) looked unsure how to react, while the student population were highly entertained. In the same vein, Ed Lewis-Smith’s performance as Elysium’s doorman Melvin was notable, as the role encompassed a brave ‘sexual’ dance solo, of enthusiastic gyrations and a ‘Snake’ across the stage floor – from which he has probably has gained a regrettable number of bruises – as the rest of the numerous cast members stood looking on with a assortment of ‘shocked’ and disgusted faces.
Leading ladies Laura Horton and Serena Manteghi carried their notes with professional grace and charm, in contrast to a few unenthused members of the gospel choir chorus who found it problematic to sway in time with one another. Comprising 24 people, the chorus often cluttered the stage floor in the Concert Hall with an unnecessarily noisy stage presence. The Hall, however, proved to be the ideal location for the production, fusing the traditional organ in the background with the modern adaptation, as the musical itself did, revitalising Shakespeare’s play in a far more accessible capacity than the capabilities of any BBC adaptation to date.
Attention to detail was a key element throughout the musical, where members of the cast convincingly interacted with the audience. When asked to leave for the interval by Lewis-Smith who remained in character the audience were, impressively, left looking bewildered as to whether ‘this was planned’ in the formal Concert Hall.
The programme describes Elysium as a “musical extravaganza”. It can only be hoped that Perkins’ musical may be discovered and developed in the future, a testimony to the highest potential of student productions seen at York.