Fanatical: A Sci-Fi Convention Musical – Playground Theatre

Music and Lyrics: Matt Board

Book: Reina Hardy

Director: Grace Taylor

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

If you’ve never had the joy of attending a con(vention) for a relatively niche cultural obsession, then some of the wide-eyed enthusiasm here may alarm you. If you’re a seasoned attendee, however, with this musical you can bask in the feeling that you’re in a safe place – recognising that easy camaraderie that exists between strangers with foam swords, jerkins, crafted costumes and encyclopedic knowledge (canon and non-canon).

The lovely characters (apart from one), their interaction, enthusiasm and innocence and the simple “quest” plot all work together to make an enjoyable few hours. It falls down slightly in the execution and some of the leaps from frivolous to serious – causing a few “wait, what?” moments.

The musical covers two main plot lines which all take place at a sci-fi convention organised by Trix (Suanne Braun) to celebrate the Angel 8 comics and single-season TV show. The first sees Trix in a flap about whether the Angel * creator Scott Furnish will make it to the conference (then dealing with the fallout when he arrives) and the second sees a nice love story between an undercover reporter and Angel 8’s biggest fan – the cosplaying Andra (played by Sophie Powles). The thread running through it is how it’s OK to have a nerdy obsession, and how healthy a community of supportive friends can be – heavy stuff but it’s handled lightly.

The music and songs bring the audience right into the world of the conventioneers and cosplayers. References to other sci-fi universes come through the lyrics, and the music has a sparky 8-bit style quality running through it (think GameBoy Colour type of sound) which is a super touch. Songs like Spoiler Alert (sung by Andra) bring in a bit of emotional depth to the show, and Any Moment Now and the finale number remind us that even in a small cast we can have big musical performances.

Some relatively small issues take away from all the good the cast are doing – like a confusion in whether it’s a TV show or film. If it’s a TV show based on a comic and there’s 12 “episodes” already broadcast then it’s not realistic to have a thriving fandom like this after basically a season where they all reference the show, not the comics, they also would have all scripts for the show written and recorded before release of the first episode. If it’s a film, then the reasons for cancelling it (no one’s watching on the channel NBX) don’t add up. It should be a minor point – but the confusion means that it’s unclear why everyone’s there in the first place. They’re fans, but of what, exactly?

The characters are also lovely (apart from Baxter who seems like he will have issues with being in the “friend-zone” later and not accepting “no” as an answer) but little in the way of context or profile. They’re nice, but are hard to distinguish and form a bond with. The artwork from P J McEvoy in the set, the costumes and everywhere else is fantastic, he’s nailed it – it’s exactly what you’d want from a convention like this.

It’s a really fun musical, notwithstanding these issues. From the programme notes it seems like there was a complex development process and maybe this is a result. Some improvements left to make, but close to blast off.

Runs until 8 December 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander


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