Hungry Bitches: Facehunters (4*) [2013]

FacehuntersRuth’s 4* Review:

We went to see the musical Facehunters last year and enjoyed it, and we had heard that they had reworked it a bit and brought it to the Fringe again so we thought we’d give v2 a go.  The show is about young people and contemporary culture and the pressures of life and love all wrapped up in a Dorian Gray style plot.  It was good in that the actors were wonderful, the singing excellent and the choreography and chorus very tight.  I think they’ve stepped it up since last year.  In my recollection the plot has been rehashed a bit to make it less complicated.  I liked it the other way personally, it felt more twisty, but it was fine.  But what seriously let this production down was the sound.  The combination of a live band and a small room was not well handled and the principals’ mics were not always turned up.  Consequently at least half of it was indistinct and it was hard to make out the words.  If I hadn’t seen it before I’m not sure I’d have known what was happening.  Shame, because there is a lot of potential here.  Plus it ran over by 15 minutes (despite starting on time) which was seriously inconvenient as we had another show to go to but there was no way out unless we walked through the stage!

Ian’s 4* Review:

We saw (and reviewed) this show last year, and I gathered from following them on Facebook and meeting them on the Royal Mile that the Hungry Bitches had done a lot to develop and rework the show for this year.

Let’s start with the good stuff!  The cast is insanely talented. I’ve seen far poorer companies touring with major musicals, and even in the West End.  The energy and intensity they maintain throughout the performance is extraordinarily impressive, and although they are playing in a smaller and less theatrical space this year I quickly forgot that.  The movement and expression is captivating, the costumes complement it perfectly, and they pull off some very impressive harmonies vocally.  Even in an excellent cast, the girls playing Catherine, Juliette and Sweetie and the guy playing Sam stand out as exceptional.  Such charisma.  If I was rating the cast and performance alone, this would be a 5* review.

I don’t have a good memory for detail, but I do recall the different plot lines seeming a bit disjointed last year and said so in my review.  This year I found the script far more comfortable, although perhaps a little less clever for it.  Fortunately there are some great songs so a cast like this should carry the script to a 5* review easily.

Unfortunately that’s not the whole story.  The sound was, once again, terrible.  The band is on stage and the drum kit is loud.  Naturally enough the guitars and keys are set at a volume to sit alongside the drums.  If this was a band performance that would be great, but unfortunately when the bad is playing with any enthusiasm at all the vocal gets completely lost (at least where I was sitting in the middle of the auditorium).  The band are great – I love their sound – but I was not there to hear a band alone.

Following a musical when you can’t hear the lyrics is hard work, and massively detracts from the overall experience.  when the cast sang without the band, or with the band playing very softly some real magic happened – some amazing solo performances and a really tight, clear ensemble.  With the band going the vocals were almost completely lost, even from the main characters who were miked up.  Very occasionally they would suddenly and briefly be audible through the PA, then fade gently again in the background.

Getting sound right, especially in a temporary venue, is hard.  I know because I’ve done it – I’ve run big shows for full runs during the festival.  The technology may have moved on since then, but the basics of sounds for a show haven’t.  Either the band has to be quieter or the vocals have to be louder.  With the band at the back of the stage, the radio mikes on the cast will pick up the band as well as the vocal and there aren’t many options for using rifles to get the chorus vocal.

If the PA and kit in the venue isn’t up to the task of bringing out vocals over the band, it should be easy enough to drop the levels of everything in the band except the drum kit.  That will either have to move off centre stage to the side where the sound will propagate less well, or be replaced with an electronic kit that the engineer can control the level on.   If none of that is achievable for whatever reason, it’s time to seriously consider using a recorded music track that you CAN control the levels on.  (by way of contrast, we went straight on to a one-night-only show which hadn’t had a tech rehearsal and the sound for the musical performances was impeccable with each voice clearly audible over the instruments)

 I’m so disappointed to see an amazing cast with a really good show being held back by tech that just doesn’t work and detracts from the overall experience so massively.  Sadly this was basically my summary last year too (although I think the script has improved): “A 5* company let down by 1* technical and a 3* script, but the energy and talent still gets it a 4* overall from me.”

I’ve had my little rant about tech now, so to finish on a positive note this is a 4* show which means I really, really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in musicals, or even music.  I fully expect to see more of this cast, as I am sure many of them will go on to do great things in their careers!

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One thought on “Hungry Bitches: Facehunters (4*) [2013]

  1. Pingback: Ian’s Picks: Week 1 | What the Stevensons saw...

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