Vanity Fair at the egg, Bath

THE 2018  Theatre Royal Bath summer school company is performing a witty and inventive adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair at the egg until Sunday 26th August.

It really is a glittering all-singing, all-dancing production that cleverly uses all levels of the dedicated youth theatre space that is the egg, taking its audience on a whistle-stop tour of all the important moments of the hefty 1848 novel.

Director John East makes frequent nods to the similarities of the 21st century to the self-obsessed London society of the pre-Napoleonic war days, making Becky Sharp’s determined rise to fortune a familiar phenomenon in a celebrity-driven culture.

There are some excellent performances among this energetic young cast, as they unfold the complex story with intensity and passion.

Of course it centres around the relationship between the sweet and gullible Amelia Sedley and her unlikely schoolfriend Becky, a girl who has been inventing herself all her life, and continues to do so as she takes in the men who fall at her feet and uses them for her own advancement.

Eliana Woosnam manages to put a bit of substance to the milksop Amelia  and Stevie Saunders is a charismatic Becky. Jessica Plummer, newly arrived in England from Las Vegas and about to join a music theatre course at Bath Spa University, is a magnetic Mrs O’Dowd.

Particularly memorable among the men are Scott Jerram’s devoted Dobbin, Yves Morris as the selfish George, Luke Ashley’s peculiar Jos Sedley and Sam Williams’ confused Rawdon Crawley.

It’s a show full of fun and flair, action and colour, and a memorable new approach to a great book.

How to approach youth theatre, and especially summer school youth theatre,  is always a conundrum for reviewers. A group of young performers, some strangers and some old friends, work intensively for a short period to produce a play for public performance, and everyone who enrols gets a part.

That means that the professional team, director, designer, et al, must quickly sort out who can play what, cast accordingly and rehearse fast.

The question seems to me to be whether it is an exercise of summer enjoyment and experience leading to a performance which is really for devoted family and friends, or whether it is intended to give the participants a chance to produce the most “professional” show they can.

If it is the latter, following the example set by predecessor Storm on the Lawn in the vast open spaces of Prior Park Ball Court, something MUST be done about vocal projection. The egg is a relatively small and intimate space, and it really is not hard to get your voice heard.  I think it is much more important that the audience hears what you are saying than that you have sensational face painting and colourful headgear (for me, George Osborne’s feathered war bonnet was a constant distraction, good though the performance was).

A new director, Sophie Jacobs-Wyburn, takes over the youth theatre in the autumn. I would respectfully ask that she concentrates on diction first, and adds the jumping and whooping later.


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