Unexpected Item in the Bagging area is an original musical from CUMTS. It enjoyed a sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe and is returning to Cambridge for punters intelligent enough to recognise that Cindies might be worth skipping for this enormously enjoyable late show.
It is hardly ‘unexpected’ that this venture would be highly rated and well received. No one will be surprised at the incredible vocal performances that feature, with enviable high notes from Annabelle Hayworth and a signature growl from (the new for the Cambridge run) Amaya Holman. Similarly, compelling performances were perhaps expected from this veteran Cambridge cast; again I have to commend Annabelle Haworth for mastering the role of Bridget, who at points became the glue of the ensemble. This was no mean feat, given that the base traits of the character were so unlikable – who hasn’t had a superior (or floor manager) that thought they were perfect?! Similarly, the double act of Joe Pieri as thrice-divorced Nicki and Jamie Williams as twice-divorced Vicki function as a hilarious, sometimes-pitiful chorus, one which really comes together in the (arguably best in the show) Quiz song.
This is a show that thrives off the (many) talents of its cast, sometimes to the exclusion of other things. If you are seeking a musical with complex or visually stunning staging, you are going to be disappointed. The orchestra take up most of the left hand side of the stage, leaving little space for the cast. This is entirely forgivable, particularly in a show that was not designed for the ADC stage, but it should be kept in mind when deciding where to sit! Fortunately, as it is the late show, the seats are unreserved and it is fairly evident where to sit to get the best view of the acting cast, which is necessary for maximised enjoyment.
That is not to say the orchestra should be ignored. The musical is all the better for the inclusion of some “sexy sax” and a humorous cameo from the violin man. That the orchestra is always visible adds to the musical cohesiveness of the production, and no doubt added some pressure to the instrumentalists, who should be commended for their brilliant work.
Overall, I must repeat that it is not surprising that the show is, to use a poor adjective, “good”, but what surprised me was how the show was genuinely funny. Not in a weak-smile-and-chuckle sort of way, but in a clutch-your-heart-and-roll-around type of way. This show is a bizarrely existential, self-aware caper that always threatens audience participation while simultaneously making you care about the construction of fishcakes, pushing pull doors, the fate of hairless cats and the real contents of Vicki’s Irish coffee. To challenge the finale’s assertion that “life is a lucky dip” – you can make yourself all the more fortunate by rocking up to this late show at 11pm this week, not because it will be academically fruitful or culturally enriching, but because you’ll have fun, and that was definitely an ‘unexpected’ reaction.