Critic, theatre-maker and actor Paul T Davies presents the voices of young critics covering this month’s live performances held as part of the build-up to the Colchester Fringe Festival in October
Live performance came back to Colchester this month when the Colchester Fringe staged a takeover of some of the empty shops in Culver Square and the stage in the Secret Garden in Lion Walk. Drag queens, a magician, dance and interactive music were enjoyed safely thanks to the support of Culver Square, Lion Walk and Colchester Borough Council.
With an eye to the future, and funded by Arts Council England, enjoying the performances, under the mentoring of myself as a critic, were some young reviewers, aged between nine and 17, who, following an online workshop, reviewed the performances and the day itself. Here is a selection of their thoughts, together with the Colchester Fringe “jumbo” ratings – a five jumbos being outstanding, one being poor.
Drag artists Shar Cooterie and Friends were the biggest hit of the day, gaining five jumbos from almost all of our reviewers. Josephine, aged 13, wrote, “My favourite show. They were very funny. Engaged the audience and were good singers. All three of them had different styles and chose very good choices for music/songs. Everything worked!”
Jaz, aged 17, thought, “The three drag queens dominated Culver Square with their witty charm and enthusiastic singing voices. Shar Cooterie was up first to greet the crowd and open the show with her beautiful singing; then Camille Toe and her incredible voice filled the square. Last but certainly not least was Ruby Violet, the sassiest of the three. The only thing that could have been better would be to turn that amp up in order to meet the queens’ fiery dynamic.”
Adanna, aged nine, wrote, “They were so confident. Their singing was lush. Not one beat was off. So beautiful and I admire them for their awesome performance. The crowd erupted into cheers. Holding onto every word. Their make-up was stunning… Great song choices. YASS QUEEN!”
Alternating in the window of the former Build A Bear was magician Seska. Rosie, aged 11, said, “The tricks seemed impossible. It was very exciting. It kept my attention and I wanted to see what would happen next. This was my favourite. Five jumbos!”.
Donavan, aged nine, wrote, “I liked his tricks and that he seemed mad. I also liked that the tricks seemed real.” While some of the older reviewers, though appreciative, thought it was aimed at a younger audience than them, but still appreciated his energy. Grace, 10, wrote,” Nonstop magic, brilliant music which created a fun atmosphere. He was very funny, a little cringe, but totally unique. A couple of tricks went wrong, but hardly noticeable and he carried on like a pro. I especially liked the last trick where the end got messy”.
Neave, 16, wrote, “Seska proves that he doesn’t need words to let his lightning personality shine through. A wacky comedy-magic act to brighten up the shoppers’ day with an upbeat soundtrack and infectious energy. Would have loved to see a larger finale trick to climax the performance and really set the moment apart from the other magic. Although, I really did love creative writing of ‘The End’ on the window.”
Movement Space provided dance on a special stage erected in The Secret Garden in Lion Walk. Because they were all underage, the reviewers were unable to watch the dances from the bar area and had to watch from the wings. This did little to affect their enthusiasm though: Molly, aged 14, thought they were worthy of four jumbos. “The simplistic costumes and dance relationships really highlighted what they were trying to communicate. The manipulation of number was not only captivating and imaginative but shifted the focus onto specific issues. I give this a four as, even though it was excellent, the setting of The Secret Garden could have been utilised more efficiently.”
Jessica, age 12, thought they were “elegant and unique. Good song choice and energy. Very much in sync.” And Ewan, 15, thought the troupe were “phenomenal. All performers were perfectly synchronised, in time with the wide variety of music chosen for this performance and had amazing fluency. This enchanted watchers at The Secret Garden Bar, creating an amazing atmosphere of wonder and relaxation.”
Another big hit was Bird Rave. Grace thought ravers dressed as birds “absolutely fantastic, although a little bit confused at what I was seeing. Bird-tastic costumes, especially the head pieces. Good use of space and all dancers stayed in character. I felt an 80s vibe with the dance moves and loads of repetition. Four jumbos.”
Jessica agreed (four jumbos), “Unique, different and entertaining!”, as did Josephine: “Even if it was confusing and crazy, it somehow worked. They worked very well together as a team and I loved the music they used. It was amazing and very creative!”
Donavan was the only reviewer who wrote about Clip who provided an interactive music experience. “I interacted with Clip’s music computers. The computers were about making sounds and adding layers to a beat. I liked that it showed me how to make a beat for music.”
However, they loved the live music of Rosalind Harniess. Molly wrote, “She has a beautiful voice. The chosen songs suit her voice perfectly, especially as they were acoustic versions of pop and rock. The performance was pretty quiet and didn’t hold much of a presence in the setting. I think if she was slightly louder, it would have been perfect.”
Ewan summed up the music: “Adding to the joyous atmosphere of the bar were the two singers, Rosalind Harniess and Polly Haynes. Both singers were amazing at boosting the atmosphere up to a 10 and their amazing vocal performances of both original and cover songs were a fantastic addition to the bar and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the music.”
Overall, the young reviewers loved the day and the Colchester Fringe looks forward to mentoring their writing. The last word should go to Ewan: “Throughout the day I was enthralled, delighted and cracked up at each incredible act. A massively enjoyable day of entertainment and I cannot wait until October… when the real fun begins!”
Colchester Fringe Festival will take place from 21 to 24 October 2021. The deadline for artists seeking to be involved is 6 June.