Review: PCI’s “Electrified: A New Musical”

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Written and devised by final year PCI students, Electrified takes us back to 1882, with the introduction of electric lighting in English society and the influence it had on both the domestic and public spheres. Developing an original musical in seven weeks is an outstanding achievement, and the show, while not perfect, offers plenty of entertainment.

A key part of writing a musical in seven weeks is, of course, the music, and generally the cast has done a relatively good job on this front. One minor issue was an occasional lack of diction, which left many of the lyrics they had spent time working on becoming lost to the audience. However, the title song that both opened and closed the show was well written, and having one cast member playing the piano throughout offered a musical highlight – although there was, at times, some disparity in the tempo of other cast members’ vocals with this piano.

The narrative as a whole was strong, if slightly uneven, with some of the major plot points feeling slightly rushed. While the first act focussed on the stories individual characters, the second half focussed slightly too heavily on the idea of electrification. Inevitably this was necessary as part of their examination brief, but the show would have benefited from using electrification as more of a jumping-off point to explore the various plotlines, rather than being the primary focus.

Nevertheless, the show was well written, and while some songs were not set up with enough preparation, often feeling as though they came out of nowhere, the chorus numbers were generally very strong – in particular, a song featuring three separate groups singing separate overlapping vocals regarding their respective plotlines, which was extremely well-constructed and delightful to listen to.

Also well-constructed was the set in Stage@Leeds, with a platform at the rear of the stage backed by free-hanging books and lightbulbs creating a particularly striking aesthetic. While more could perhaps have been achieved by bringing this platform forward, it was a good use for an incredibly versatile space. Costuming was also fabulous throughout, although at times the make-up on some of the servants leant to the heavy side.

Acting was generally of a high standard, too, and the actresses who were starring in the opera were tremendously amusing to watch, in particular Katie Dawson, who made her minor role very memorable. These girls were also responsible for one of the best moments of staging in the show, ‘Ugly Light’, where they were individually shocked at how hideous their reflections looked under the harsh new lighting. Particularly notable also was Rhiannon O’Grady as Lady Salisbury, who achieved fantastic comic timing.

The dancing in the opera was also very well done; however, the section that finally showcased the opera felt stilted as the cast got – or at least appeared to be – slightly lost. Amy Gardner also performed a dance solo as a backdrop to another song, which was absolutely stunning. The lines she created were beautiful, and the dull lighting showed her shadow perfectly.

With more time, Electrified has the potential to be an extremely exciting musical. It was unfortunate that the script lacked an even narrative flow, and improvements could have been made in thematic development and linking songs together, which would have aided the music. But these are only minor points for improvement, and do little to detract from the achievements of this group of students, who have managed to craft an entertaining musical to such an incredibly tough brief within seven weeks. It is a thoroughly commendable achievement.

Freya Parr

Image: Union Road Theatre Company

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