Review: West Side Story, Edinburgh University Footlights

West Side Story at Church Hill Theatre
West Side Story at Church Hill Theatre
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What defines a beverage as hot? It’s the sort of question that pops up while killing time reading the posters in the Church Hill foyer as you queue for tickets with a cuppa of Loopy Lorna’s chamomile in your hand.

West Side Story,

Edinburgh University Footlights, Church Hill Theatre

* * *

The missive directing theatre-goers not to take hot drinks into the auditorium becomes moot, however, after a 25-minute wait to get to the front of the ticket line and you’re left clutching cold tea.

Why the wait in such a small venue? Well, first night chaos for one. For another, there’s a distinct lack of bossiness going on front of house that needs to be sorted out before the Church Hill’s management point out the inherent flaws in having two queues (one for the auditorium, one for the ticket desk) blocking the entrance and three main fire exits.

It’s the kind of thing that puts casual and older customers off buying tickets.

So what of the action inside after such a lukewarm reception? Well, director Roxy Cook may have to be ejected from the building entirely after producing one piping hot cup of coffee.

Capturing the energy and intent of the original, Cook does a sterling job of bringing out the youthful restlessness of her actors and using the whole of the stage as a working space. Choreographer Aniela Piasecka has elicited well timed, cohesive, smooth performances from the ensemble – no mean feat for amateurs.

Musical director Dan Glover also brings the best he can out of the musical score in the final act, however, his violins need reining in significantly.

The cast are well rehearsed and unerringly confident. Claire Saunders’ Maria is sympathetic, engaging and full of awkward innocence, her duets with Michael Sawaryn’s Tony are well delivered, even if Sawaryn lacks the strength to meet her notes.

Martin MacLennan’s Detective Schrank is perhaps the stand out performance of the night for his commitment to the character and accent, while Jess Barker portrays a gutsy Anita beautifully.

By Saturday night it might be worth stopping in to see if the ensemble has tightened up the last act into a four-star performance – if you can get through the door that is.

• Run ends Saturday