Review: Disco Inferno

Hild Bede Theatre’s Disco Inferno is an epic conglomeration of iconic 70’s hits, moral lessons about the limitations of fame and money, and the infectious energy of a truly dynamic cast.

This jukebox musical is set up as a twist on the plot of Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe but is really much more similar to a sort of 70’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life, driven to a sentimental and moral end rather than an existential one. It follows a young man who, craving wealth and status as a pop idol, sacrifices his soul, and explores how this decision effects his relationships with those around him.

First of all, the dancing, choreographed by Siobhan Gardiner and Lois Minnis, is exceptional. Each dance is drastically different, designed to suit the song, and they are performed with a confidence and synchronism which is very impressive. Admittedly the featured dancers manage better in the songs where they danced alone without the main cast, but overall the amount of dancing is staggering, and they are incredibly well-rehearsed and professional. The band is also a key part of the production, executing the vast range of songs to perfection, with a wonderful sound and no noticeable hiccups.

Jack is a charismatic and attractive lead character, whose flaws and complexities are played incredibly naturally by Alex Cornaish. Cornaish manages to make Jack very lovable, with a boy-like charm which means that despite his mistakes the whole audience constantly roots for him to redeem himself. Jane, his girlfriend played by Lily Ashley, is also a winning character, although more reserved and slightly less developed. Ashley plays the exasperation and hurt very well and manages to make the part a little more complex by showing a depth of emotion.

For opening night, especially considering that it was a highly demanding and complicated show, things ran relatively smoothly with little to slow down the fast pace or get in the way of the engaging performances. There were a few issues with the microphones, which always seems to be the case when these are used, and partly as a result, the actors’ singing is always somewhat in competition with the band. Some of the quieter singing voices, although very capable and nice to listen to, are drowned out a little and the lyrics lost. Others overcompensate, trying to combat the loudness of the backing music with projection nearly on the level of shouting. This means that there isn’t a lot of space for a range of volume and the constant intensity causes some of the singers to become a little hoarse by the end of the show. However, despite this compromise the singing of all the actors is actually very solid, especially Lily Ashley’s incredibly rendition of ‘I Will Survive’, which shows her voice to be impressively powerful.

Regarding the original musical rather than the production itself, it puzzled me why two of the characters were named after Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliffe and Kathy. Other than portraying an abusive relationship it seems a bit random, but I’m sure there was a further reason which was just a bit lost on me! Despite my preoccupation with answering this question, Robert Morrisey and Isabella Thompson play the parts very well, Thompson’s emotive depiction of a deeply pitiful character especially drawing the audience’s sympathy despite her relatively small part.

Aimee Dickinson plays the disillusioned but the somewhat charming boss (come devil?), very convincingly and delivers the Office-esque exasperated appeals to the audience with good comic timing. Ben Stoneley is also hysterical in the part of Jack’s best friend Tom, and they make for a touching and well-suited duo, who constantly make the audience laugh when they are on stage together. A particularly good moment is part of a flashback to 1970 when they first met their future girlfriends, Jane and Maggie. In this scene, Stoneley portrays Tom’s adorable awkwardness incredibly well, and I loved the jokes which embedded Beatles’ lyrics into his sentences.

The closing song The Trammps 1976 hit ‘Disco Inferno’, after which the show is titled, is a triumph and ends the show on an utter high. The euphoria of the performers after their first performance was evident, as they let go and danced free style, briefly intermingling with the audience.

See Disco Inferno on Friday the 21st or Saturday the 22nd at 7:30pm in Hild Bede Hall.

By Isabel Carmichael-Davis

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