The show must go on … even when you’re a penguin down

The barbershop quartet becomes a trio: Rafe Watts, Jonny Purchase and George Knapper
The barbershop quartet becomes a trio: Rafe Watts, Jonny Purchase and George Knapper

The barbershop quartet becomes a trio: Rafe Watts, Jonny Purchase and George Knapper

What happens when a barbershop quartet becomes a trio? As the parrots say in Love Birds: “The show must go on … and that means forward.”

Saturday’s show had to be cancelled at short notice after Ryan Willis, who plays “Quack Pack” member Pewcey, was struck down overnight with a nasty virus and taken to hospital. Budgets at the Edinburgh Fringe prohibit employing understudies, especially for such a large festival show with such varied parts.

But, not knowing how long Ryan would be unwell, the cast and crew of Love Birds were determined not to miss another disappoint audiences by missing any more performances.

MD Neil Macdonald explains the show's changes to the audience

MD Neil Macdonald explains the show’s changes to the audience

Director-choreographer Stewart Nicholls had already returned to London by that point, but in telephone consultation with writer Robbie Sherman and producer Kat Portman, he made suggestions for short-term script edits to allow the story to be told with an “aviana in absentia”.

The numbers most affected are those with the other members of the barbershop quartet. On Saturday afternoon, Ryan’s fellow penguins – George Knapper, Jonny Purchase and Rafe Watts – met to re-rehearse the two big quartet-only numbers: Mary Poppins and The Flipper Flap.

Greg Castiglioni, who plays Baalthazar, stepped in as assistant director and, during the close-harmony numbers, Greg accompanies the penguins backstage to sing some of the higher notes usually sung by Pewcey. Joanna Sawyer, who plays Veronica Macaw, helped to re-choreograph.

Bassist Marcus Pritchard leaves the band pit for the limelight

Bassist Marcus Pritchard leaves the band pit for the limelight

After the penguins were put through their individual paces, the full company were called in on Saturday evening to work through the entire show number by number. Extra duties were also doled out to the band. MD and pianist Neil Macdonald was elected to make the announcement to the audience explaining the changes while, at the end of the show, double bassist Marcus Pritchard was chosen to make his Fringe acting debut to couple up with Rafe Watts’ Parker as part of the story’s denouement.

On Sunday afternoon, after less than 24 hours’ preparation, the revised Love Birds was unveiled as the show went ahead as scheduled – and the response from the audience and the production team was highly enthusiastic.

“They all did so well,” says producer Kat. “We are just so lucky with this incredibly talented and dedicated cast. As soon as they realised the situation, they all just got straight onto it. Everybody pitched in. It was true Fringe spirit.”

A rousing and well-deserved curtain call

A rousing and well-deserved curtain call

Meanwhile, though still in hospital, we’re happy to report that Ryan Willis is on the mend and hopes to be back onstage soon. Until he’s able to, the show will go on today and every day, as scheduled, at 12.35pm with our barbershop trio. These eight hard-working birds – plus one plesiosaur and three musicians – definitely deserve to take a bow!

 

LOVE BIRDS RUNS 12.35PM DAILY 5-31 AUGUST (EXCEPT 19 AUGUST) AT THE PLEASANCE COURTYARD DURING THE 2015 EDINBURGH FRINGE. BOOK TICKETS HERE.


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