I have been a great fan of the works of Stephen Sondheim (in all his guises) since watching the original London production
of " A Little Night Music" in 1976, as I had a crush on Jean Simmons (what a precocious 17 year old I must have been). I
have been a great fan of shows on buses since I saw "Geographical Duvet" at my 1st Edinburgh Fringe festival in 1986, in
fact it was my 3rd show here ever. So, when I heard that the Bath youth based Zenith theatre company were staging
Sondheim's troubled 1974 piece I knew "The Frogs" had to take a place in the DARKCHAT spreadsheet as this is one of
the few shows of his I had never seen.
One of the themes of my festival is miscalculating the length of time it would take me from the Press Office to my 1st venue
of the day. It also hasn't helped that there are a lot of new venues (as there are every year) & basically if they hadn't
delayed the start slightly (my wife was already there) I would have missed it. And boy would I have been annoyed with
The venue itself is stunning. A single-storey bus with just 20 seats, 2 either side of the aisle is not your usual theatrical space especially with a cast of 12. Yet, somehow this young cast bring this tricky musical alive, based on a comedy written by Aristophenes in 405 BC. We immediately meet Dionysos who with his slave Xanthias travel to the underworld to bring back a dramatist (oddly, George Bernard Shaw) who would know how to deal with these troubled times we currently live in. Wait a minute I hear you say, this is a play set in the present , based on a failed musical written in the early 1970s (& originally set in a swimming pool) based on a play written over 2000 years ago? To which I would answer yes, this is the Fringe, what else would you expect?
And amazingly it works. The modern references are relevant, funny and don't jar. The use of the small space is inspired especially when the appearance of the dancing frogs makes the bus sway from side to side as if you were on a boat (which our 2 heroes were). And best of all the cast are exceptional. I hate singling out people from an ensemble piece but Marcus May, Harry Dallimore and Greg Green dominate proceedings although everyone excels in their smaller parts. The acting is great, the comic timing is great (not easy at their age) and the singing is sublime. The song "Ariadne" is one of the most beautiful things I heard this festival.
Credit must go to all concerned, especially the director Scott Rogers, musical directors Roy Page & Michelle Tucker and choreographers Julie Dallimore & Delia Lee. Hopefully they will return next year and if Zenith theatre let us know what future productions they plan we may even pop over the bridge from Cardiff to see them.
The Frogs is at the Theatre Bath Bus until August 11th
Theatre Bath Bus (Venue 323) 12.00