With the return of The Great British Bake Off to our screens, the revival of The Bakewell Bake Off during Edinburgh fringe couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. With The Great British Bake Off increasingly growing on me, I walked in with an open mind. I was ready to be overcome with a strange sense of patriotism, in the same way that the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics made me feel patriotic about British sporting achievement, despite my long-lived commitment to hating sport.
The Bakewell Bake Off as a show is an admirable feat and was written by a group of MA Musical Theatre students from Guildford School of Acting, and has had previous runs at several theatres. DULOG have managed to perfectly execute its abundant innuendos and baking puns whilst making it an enjoyable show for the whole family; the audience really seemed to lap it up.
The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is both to its merit and its disadvantage. Ellie Bowness’ ‘Victoria Sponge’, for example, really helped to sustain the energy of the performance throughout. Her rapport with the audience, and general improvisational skills were a particular treat, despite many other aspects of the show risking being a little too panto-ish. The appearance of a surprise mystery judge however still had me reeling with genuine laughter. Similarly, one of my favourite songs of the show was Sophie McQuillan’s rendition of ‘The Original Bakewell Tart’, which was similarly very funny, well-executed, and supported by well thought out choreography, courtesy of Ellis-anne Dunmall.
However, it fell short of ever really having some depth, and at times seemed to slight itself. Whilst Dr. Pradeepta Smith’s (Sarah Slimani) struggle to affirm she was British in ‘Let Me Fit In’ was handled very tactfully and even humorously, beyond this, the issue of race and identity was vastly neglected. Ultimately, many of the solo songs did more to isolate them as individuals with their own problems, than to bring them together with a really patriotic sense of community spirit. Many of the characters’ problems and conflicts were exposed, but never really resolved.
The cast were really fantastic regardless, and together in ensemble numbers, such as ‘I Will Rise’ and ‘How Do I Feel?’, their talent, and harmonies, really shone through. But even then, they could never repair the fact that this failed to ever be properly be an ensemble piece. It was all a little too bitty and the characters too caricature-ish (despite great efforts from the cast) to ever truly care about, because they didn’t seem to care about each other. Similarly, whilst it was in many ways an enjoyable show, it’s a shame that it never really managed to evoke a real sense of Britishness and patriotism so fundamental to The Great British Bake Off.
It’s still a lot of fun. However, it does proves that writing a smash-hit first time around isn’t a piece of cake. It’s been selling out every night so far, so there’s clearly an affirmed desire to see The Great British Bake Off immortalised in musical theatre. Despite missing the mark a little, the general ingredients of the show, including DULOG absolutely killing it on the publicity side of things (hats off to the producers), means they still probably have a recipe for success.
‘The Bakewell Bake Off: A New Musical’ will be running at C venues – C (Venue 34), Edinburgh, until 22 August.
Photograph: Elissa Churchill