Chloe Marschner

This quirky new musical, written by Cambridge Footlights Amaya Holman and Jamie Bisping alongside Laurence T-Stannard, is a smash hit guaranteed to delight both Fringe and student audiences alike. A mundane setting is ingeniously transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing comedy extravaganza which is delivered with great skill by the talented cast and band. If you’re looking for a show that’ll make your Fringe this August, make sure to put some tickets in your online basket and (check in!) check out with plenty of time to spare, as they’ve been selling out almost every day — perhaps due to the comic mystery promised in the show’s title.

Despite the grime building up between row upon row of untouched cans, the shop positively shines

As it turns out, there isn’t much to unravel: the premise is charmingly simple. Masquerading as ‘Salad Boy Sam’, aspiring pet-shop owner Luci Furr (Conor Dumbrell) infiltrates and plots to take down the local supermarket — aptly named ‘the supermarket’ — which has an ongoing flirtation with bankruptcy and an infestation of varying forms of vermin, dirt and microbes. However, despite the grime building up between row upon row of untouched cans, the shop positively shines, lit up by the vibrant characters who occupy its aisles. In the face of fiscal and hygienic disaster, the motley crew of employees remains completely unbothered — they are much more preoccupied with gossiping about unrequited love which spans seven aisles, squabbling over who takes better care of their offspring, or wondering why on earth that lady is eating cat-food off the floor. In the age of online shopping — a detriment to local businesses everywhere — this musical allows the humble supermarket to rise dramatically from the ashes and remodel itself as a site of riveting entertainment, hilarity and elaborate musical numbers.

The cast are faultless in their portrayals of the cleverly-crafted characters. Jamie Williams and Joe Pieri form a fantastic double act as Vicki and Nicki, the cashiers who may or may not be embezzling from the till, as they riff off each other with razor sharp retorts that are perfectly executed. Sophie Foote is endearing as Phyllis, the fishmonger who has a ‘hunger for something more than herring’, striking just the right note as she expertly marries awkward shyness with a startling inner passion — turns out Phyllis is really rather horny! The object of her affections is Bridget the bakery girl, played by Annabelle Haworth. Haworth is hilarious as the multi-talented, self-obsessed, dictatorial employee of the month; the range of both her facial expressions and singing voice is very impressive as she pulls off the role with remarkable aplomb. Conor Dumbrell brings deliciously crazed energy and some unbelievably flexible leg movements to the role of Luci Furr, whilst Ella Burns is magnificently comic as Karen the cat lady, often stealing the show with golden one-liners.

The opening song is one of the best — it’s about bags for life. Not much more needs to be said.

However, it is the songs which really bring the house down. Composed by Laurence T-Stannard, each one is an intoxicating concoction of catchy tunes, pleasing harmonies and witty lyrics — not to mention the odd vagina-related pun thrown in. Actually, there is a whole song devoted to Phyllis’ desire to make ‘fishcakes’, or put a fish-finger in Bridget’s...well, you get the picture. It is hilariously filthy and, unfortunately for the audience, a very catchy number. Who knew that the combination of bread and seafood could offer such endless possibility for euphemism? Holmann and Bisping, clearly. The opening song is also one of the best — it’s about bags for life. Not much more needs to be said.

The performance as a whole is slick: the supermarket itself might be abysmally managed, but the show’s production is seamless. The actors and musicians are absolutely committed, with their enthusiasm and skill carrying the hilarious interchanges and well-choreographed musical interludes. Yet their performances are also carefully moderated so that the tight space is made to feel expansive as opposed to constraining, even with the band also squeezed onto the stage (as well as dressed in matching branded aprons, a nice touch). The aisles are crafted with stackable cardboard boxes, decorated with tinned goods of course, for ease of scene change and mobility — this is simple yet visually effective. Despite the unconventional setting, Holmann and Bisping also manage to locate their new musical within established tradition by including nods to Les Misérables and High School Musical, amongst other classics, and various cultural references (to everything from Fleabag to Boris Johnson). Their writing in general is innovative and polished; the comedy an intelligent mixture of puns, slapstick, dark humour and physical comedy. Basically, this show is definitely an (unexpected) item you should put in your bagging area: make sure to grab it before it sells out. Or, alternatively, catch it when it comes to Cambridge in Michaelmas Week 1!

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