Melbourne, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2014

The Last Torch, MFF 2014

0 Comments 05 October 2014

The Last Torch is a new musical where Game of Thrones meets Les Miserables. Two very contrasting pieces of work and why The Last Torch unfortunately missed the mark.

Set in 16th century Ireland, the Beckett Theatre was transformed into an Irish village led by Lord Brian Na Murtha O Ruairc, played by Tim Carney. It is quite difficult to give an overview of the plot because I just didn’t feel it was clear enough. There was a big issue with the structure of the show, but from what I can make of The Last Torch is this:

There is a shipwreck, Spanish Armada have been washed to shore, Lord Brian shows kindness to one (Captain Francisco de Cuellar played by Ryan Ireland), they become friends, Captain Francisco falls in love with Lord Brian’s niece Erin O Ruairc (played by Georgia Crisfield-Smith), Lord Brian’s wife Eleanor O Ruairc (played by Rachel Alford) is pregnant, there are witches (are we watching Macbeth?), war breaks out between England and Ireland, the Spanish fight for the Irish, they survive, the war is not over, one of Lord Brian’s men Murrough ‘one-eye’ McSweeny (played by David hammond) abuses young Erin O Ruairc, he is arrested, Queen Elizabeth (played by Catherine Emily Langley) will not allow loss of war, she sends soldiers in the night to Lord Brian’s quarters, the young lovers Captain Francisco and Erin O Ruairc get married, Eleanor O Ruairc can hear the witches toiling in the night, she is stabbed at her front door, she sings a dying song (quite well considering she’s been ‘stabbed’), Lord Brian lets out one almighty ‘Nooooooo!’, he is then arrested and hanged… Why? Because his wife died? And so ends the show.

What on Earth just happened?!

Too many storylines is what happened. There was no one main theme or storyline to drive the plot. It was confusing and very segmented. My main concern with this work is the lack of direction and clarity. Written, composed AND directed by Frances O’Neill is such an incredible achievement and you can tell how passionate she is about this period in time, however, to achieve greatness it would have been advisable to hire a director.

In terms of music and orchestrations, O’Neill did a beautiful job and the intricate layerings of Celtic and contrapuntal compositions were of a high standard. However, when I leave a musical like Les Miserables for example, I cannot stop singing the songs from the show. Although The Last Torch has similar qualities to Les Miserables, it has missed one element to memorable show tunes – simplicity. There wasn’t one main musical theme throughout the show – every character, every song was new and different. Yes, they all had the same Celtic style, but it was too much.

Even more boggling to me was why the orchestra was mic’d up and only certain characters in the show were. Why would you add more sound projection to an orchestra in such a small, intimate theatre space and not the cast members on stage? There were plenty of times throughout the show that I couldn’t even hear what some characters were saying, and that’s a real shame. Don’t even get me started on being able to hear the orchestra turning the pages of their sheet music. It was like nails on a chalk board.

As far as vocal prowess in the show, there were a couple standouts. Tim Carney’s mature on-stage presence and vocal technique made for a very strong male lead. You can tell he is a seasoned performer. Georgia Crisfield-Smith was a darling soprano soaring the heights with a full sound and definitely one to watch out for in the near future. My main concern with some of the castings in this show is that some cast members were not suitably cast due to vocal range. One thing that was noticeable was the very complex range in the songs that often called for an alto and soprano sound for females, or a baritone and tenor sound for the men. Consistency is key is musical composition and something that could be re-worked as this show develops.

The choreography of the show was visioned by David Hammond who did a wonderful job. The few moments of Irish jigging and dancing were fun and light-hearted, and true to the Irish culture. He had a cohesive vision for the show in terms of transitions and each cast member had a purpose for their movement.

While the heart of this work is well and truly beating, there is potential to grow and learn from this first viewing. The Melbourne Fringe Festival’s vision is to “play a leading role in the support and presentation of the independent arts by facilitating the development of innovative and diverse arts practices that engage with both artists and audiences.” This ethos is what brings emerging artists, writers or composers to the Fringe Festival and share their work. I am very hopeful that O’Neill will continue to develop The Last Torch and allow all of the elements to settle and find their place.

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