Week 9 of Michaelmas Term brings with it plenty of trials and tribulations, but TDTC’s latest offering of Get Your Sh*t Together promises to be a well-deserved break from those deadlines and end of term blues. Premiering for the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, this production is definitely a ‘new’ musical, offering a fresh contrast to some of the more serious theatre staged in Durham. As its director Isabelle Culkin jokes, the show is ‘silly and fun but has a real heart to it,’ making it the ‘opposite of everything I usually do.’
Judging by its synopsis, Get Your Sh*t Together may sound like your average run of the mill student production. It tells the story of Alex, a twenty-something bloke whose girlfriend leaves him for Dave from ‘Eggs n Bacon Britain,’ and who then manages to lose his job in an incident involving a staple gun at work. Nevertheless, the creatives are keen to insist that audiences shouldn’t be put off by the topic and argue that it is anything but generic or clichéd. Rather, they emphasise how ‘relevant’ the narrative is, whilst Culkin, for instance, also emphasises how ‘genuinely surprised’ she was when she first saw the musical ‘on a whim’ at the Fringe.
Get Your Sh*t Together is particularly unique from other musicals given that its cast consists of just eight actors, with their lives retold over a few days. Culkin comments that the size of the cast makes the characters all the more ‘relatable’ to a student audience, as the production focuses on encouraging us to invest in their lives. Whilst ‘other musicals try and fit so much into two and a half hours,’ Get Your Sh*t Together promises to be an engagingly brief perspective on its characters’ lives. But, with such a small ensemble, the emphasis fell on casting actors who had the right ‘tone’ for the show. Musical director Becca Rickwood adds that ‘they are such characters that they need voices that match them,’ suggesting that finding the right actor was more important than simply finding the most talented actor, or the best singing voice.
Evidently, a lot of hard work has been put into this production, and producer Genevieve Burns suggests that whilst people often see comedy as ‘low quality’ or ‘slap dash,’ the demands on the creative team could not be higher. This is particularly evident with the production’s multi-talented band ‘Ernest and the Keen Beans,’ who sing, act, and play musical instruments. Split staging will enable the band to appear onstage throughout, with a lower level signifying the bar where they perform – and where George Rexstrew’s character Sam works. Rexstrew highlights how this staging will make the production ‘less fragmented’ than other musicals, and will hopefully make sure that the narrative ‘flows really nicely’ between acting and song numbers.
But above all, producer Suzy Hawes argues that audiences will be most surprised by how ‘catchy’ the musical numbers are, suggesting that ‘people don’t expect the music to be as good as it is for something they haven’t heard of.’ Watching the cast rehearse a few of their opening songs, I can certainly agree with this statement – particularly when it comes to ‘Secret Santa I F***ing hate you’, in its rendition by Joe McWilliams, a performance that truly says a lot about the production’s humorous edge.
If anything, one of the few challenges facing the creative team has been rehearsal schedules, as Rexstrew notes that ‘it’s been quite tight’ – despite the fact that casting took place in Week 1. Nevertheless, Culkin claims that the production has been very ‘manageable’ due to its length and its content, and to quote her directly – ‘two and a half hour musicals, how do people not just die?’ The creative team assure me that whilst rehearsals and preparation have not been easy, they have been fortunate in the talent and skill of their cast, allowing everything to come together quickly despite their sporadic rehearsals. ‘Ironically,’ Rexstrew quips ‘we’ve just not had our shit together.’
Ultimately, Get Your Sh*t Together is an evening of ‘silly and self-aware’ entertainment, as Hawes notes that ‘it doesn’t take itself seriously,’ but promises that it will leave any audience ‘feeling upbeat.’ At this point of the year, hurtling towards the end of first term, it’s promising that theatre companies such as TDTC are trying to take us back to our roots, with an evening of ‘feel-good, care-free’ musical amusement, that the entire audience can enjoy. To quote Rexstrew, Get Your Sh*t Together is ‘theatre in its purest form’ – for entertainment alone. And at this point in the year, I think we could all do with a little reminder of that.
‘Get Your Sh*t Together’ will be performed in the Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday the 8th of December, to Saturday the 10th of December at 19.30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Tone Deaf Theatre Company