13 April 2015
Not only did the German Society’s production of Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus provide even more laughs than you’d find by asking a slightly tipsy flatmate to attempt to pronounce the play’s title, it also revealed some exceptional hidden talent, both in singing and acting.
As the first ever foreign language event to feature in the On The Rocks festival, it felt fitting that GerSoc had invited festival-goers on Thursday and Friday evening to the Buchanan Theatre, St Andrews’ Modern Languages hub, but less frequently a festival venue. The audience, a diverse mix of students and town residents, was made to feel completely at home; during an extended interval, a free wine reception in the foyer offered us the refreshing opportunity to mingle with cast and crew halfway through the performance, while handy English subtitles ensured we all, regardless of our German language knowledge, could be whisked into the magical Fairy Kingdom of Lumpazivagabundus. Here, a trio of tradesmen, Thread, Glue and Kneestrap, are the subject of a bet in which the Queen of Happiness agrees to give permission for her daughter to marry if the Queen of True Love is able to demonstrate the power of love by turning even one of the three hopeless fools (an extravagant socialite, a heartbroken self-pitier and a jolly alcoholic) into a sensible man. But the mischievous spirit, Lumpazivagabundus, is determined to lure the three astray with money: 7359 was her key – the number all three mysteriously dreamt of one night which conveniently won them the next day’s lottery jackpot. They take their winnings and part ways, agreeing to reconvene a year later to compare fates, the audience is then to watch each man chose his path before discovering what will ultimately win out: love or money?
Bizarre character names, a magical fairytale setting and the fact that the play is rarely performed in its native Austria, let alone in the UK, certainly gave the play an allure of mystery and producer Sophie Klasan along with director Olivia Morton a pretty free reign to make it their own. It was an ambitious project to bring the original German script to a UK stage for the very first time and it’s certainly impressive that, with such a large and diverse cast, it was never obvious which actors were non-native German speakers or German beginners, just one aspect of an entertaining and confident production which testifies to the cast’s efforts to help strengthen one another and to their collaboration with the university’s German Department throughout rehearsals and production, a particularly special relationship that I don’t think many student productions can claim.
The play was much funnier than I’d ever imagined, due to both witty one-liners and well-delivered scenes. Casting decisions were excellent, with great chemistry between the three male leads in particular: David Roger was suitably both charming and irritating as the smooth-talking but clueless Thread; Shayan Yousefi’s great stage presence was perfect for Glue, the more rational thinker of the group, while Colin Paton’s performance as the drunkard Kneestrap stole the show – not once slipping out of character, his accent and mannerisms couldn’t be faulted as he jumped confidently around stage and interacted with the audience. If his attempt to free himself from pink handcuffs which locked him to a chair wasn’t the play’s most memorable moment, then it was certainly his drunken solo singsong, with some sneakily added Dundee-related puns in which he contemplates the meaning of life while dancing and tossing beer, all with impeccable comic timing. The one exceptional aspect of the evening was indeed the singing; the frequency of songs was a positive surprise and, while small chorus lines from minor characters sometimes felt awkward, the three leads not only made their musical numbers funny, but proved they could genuinely sing. The slapstick humour and cheesy songs may not, however, have been to everyone’s taste and, swept along by all this merriment, I did ultimately forget the play’s more serious themes of the value of money, friendship and love, and felt that we hit the ending rather abruptly. Nevertheless, for entertainment value alone, the play couldn’t be faulted.
Costumes were spectacular and clearly well thought-out, Paton’s colourful waistcoat and the barmaids’ typical Austrian tunics in particular. Charissa Taylor’s impressive burlesque-dancing cameo to open the second half added yet another dimension to the evening’s entertainment and certainly got the audience going again after the extended interval. It was, however, one of few scenes with background music, something which could have enhanced both smaller dancing sequences, which felt somewhat rigid, and scene changeovers, where pauses were often uncomfortably long, a minor imperfection for a technical crew who were otherwise flawless, with no lighting or sound problems to be found.
Perhaps GerSoc could consider recruiting a few more stagehands for their next show but I have no doubt whatsoever that even more people will be queuing up to get involved in whatever capacity, inspired by this great production by students with such a great range of language, acting and even singing abilities. They should indeed be proud to have shown so well that foreign-language productions rightfully deserve to be showcased in one of Scotland’s biggest student arts festivals. Let there be many more like it to come, from GerSoc and beyond!