Fame at the Bristol Hippodrome

I have to admit that I was never particularly into Fame when it came out in the early 1980’s as I was just a little bit too young and it passed me by. However, Fame became an iconic part of the eighties cultural landscape with the series running for five years from 1982, partly gaining this iconic status because of its well known title song of the same name. I knew what to expect from this show at The Bristol Hippodrome and I was looking forward to the evening; I was in need of light entertainment rather than anything heavy, and a show involving high energy musical numbers and the glitz, glamour and grit of the students of the New York City School of Performing Arts seemed like just what I needed. I’m a little disappointed to say though, that overall this production left me feeling wanting, as I found it lacking in lots of ways.

 I feel a little guilty deriding this show, as it was clear that the cast were a talented bunch, but the writing of the show let them all down as I felt it was really one-dimensional and the character development left them very little to get their teeth into. Some of the characters were so one dimensional and poorly thought out though that they bordered on offensive. Take acting student Jose ‘Joe’ Vegas, the designated joker of the show. OK, I know that the eighties were a very different time, but in light of the recent #MeToo movement, this character and the way he treated women felt distinctly unpalatable, especially as there was no comeback or insight into how his harassment affected them. His main number ‘Can’t Keep it Down’ (a song about how he has a permanent erection, seemingly because he finds his fellow classmates and staring at their breasts so enticing) seemed to go on forever. Even more cringe worthy when you take into context that this song is being sung in class, with the male teacher watching and not interrupting whilst he practically dry humps a female student and thrusts a drumstick in her face to simulate his hard-on. For about 5 minutes. Then there is that moment he is caught spying on naked girls in the showers. Oh! And let’s not forget the ‘hilariously’ large codpiece he wears playing Romeo to a very reluctant Juliet. The Juliet he announces “definitely wants it” when she kisses her real love interest, whilst thrusting his groin behind her repeatedly. We are sold this character as the light comic relief, but I found this all horribly uncomfortable. If Fame was set in the here and now, it would be the equivalent of say, us laughing at a character upskirting a fellow classmate using their mobile phone, because that’s just what horny teenagers do, isn’t it, so therefore it must be funny right? I am also aware that it is difficult as a female writer to call this sort of stuff out, as I risk being labelled as humourless, prudish or words I wouldn’t actually feel comfortable writing in my review. I hope that those that know me know that ‘humourless’ and ‘prudish’ are far removed from who I am, it is just that I found it all a bit dated and bullishly sticking to stereotypes we should be trying to move away from.

I’m probably being a little unfair so far, so I must pick out the positives. The dance numbers were good, the show had high energy throughout, the staging was really impressive and the standout performance of the show came from Mica Paris who was an absolute powerhouse in her role as Miss Sherman, the strict yet motherly English teacher at the school. Her performance of ‘These are my children’ in the second half was incredible and the highlight of the show. Unfortunately though, it also highlighted the weaknesses of the production as no other moment came close to this. As I said, this is not the fault of the obviously talented cast, and I feel a little sorry for them as they are let down by the quality of the writing.

The majority of the audience seemed to enjoy this production, so maybe I was just having an off night. If you are willing to turn a blind eye to some of the faults then you will probably have a good night. For me though, Fame is certainly a show that will live on in my memory (although not forever), sadly for all the wrong reasons.

Review by Karen Blake

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