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4th August 2018, The Attic, Blackpool Pleasure Beach
For just six performances, the Electric Sunshine Project and its team of ThEsp’s took over The Attic at Blackpool Pleasure Beach to present a piece of theatrical entertainment entitled “Sandgrown Tails.” I opted to attend the 4th show on Saturday evening and to say it was a memorable evening...
The Attic is a luxurious, sprawling yet intimate venue and from the moment one entered, one was thrown into an alternate reality as cast members greeted and entertained us in costume and character. Chris Hudson as a circus ringleader ushered us around, Christine Bradley armed with a crystal ball was going around the audience reading palms, Sean Brown was constantly offering us “fish and chips” (the snack crisp variety), Helena Ascough fluttered about as some exotic sea creature with an extraordinary wig with fairy lights and then there was the Mermaid serving us with drinks, occasionally pausing to preen at herself in a pocket mirror - a role Jo Cassidy had to take on at short notice though you never would had guessed as she excelled and was brilliantly funny as she shuffled back and forth around the place. Jamie Foster as the legendary Blackpool clown Charlie Caroli also kept us amused. Throughout all this, the cast were happy to pose for pictures and selfies. Oh, and there was an acoustic guitarist playing all the way through. I’m sure there are other details I’ll have forgotten... this was all about immersion and interactivity from the moment you entered, to the moment you departed.
“Sandgrown Tails” itself is "a collection of familiar tales retold in unfamiliar ways” - Ali Baba, Moby Dick, Albert and The Lion along with The Little Mermaid were all given unique makeovers as the underlying theme throughout the show was... Blackpool, and how we locals and tourists relate to the town and its many charms and attractions. It was all in there somewhere - the Pleasure Beach, Tower, Circus, the Beach, and much more. Everyone always had something to do as performers would be within or around the audience creating a full on 360 degree barrage on the senses. The show moved briskly as each vignette would be staged in different areas of the venue so we kept moving around and often encouraged to sing and clap along to songs as we did so.
For “The Little Mermaid” section we were led outdoors on to the terrace and being a glorious sunny evening was a definite bonus. The statuesque Julie Neish led the cast along singing away and playing kazoos and once we were sat down, Jo Cassidy truly erupted into life as the Mermaid who becomes human. Her portrayal was genuinely moving.
For around 70 minutes we were kept constantly entertained and it felt a little sad when it was over, but we were seen out by the cast still in character sending us all home with smiles on our faces having had a unique experience indelibly imprinted upon us. I had a good chat with friend Claire Walmsley-Griffiths who had been photographing the event followed by TESP leader Melanie Whitehead and co-director Kieran McGuinness and though all were tired this being the third and last performance of the day, the enthusiasm and cheerfulness was infectious. I also must make special mention of the “scrolls” we were handed as we entered which revealed itself to be a large libretto/programme detailing the show and cast - very colourful and beautifully designed.
Sadly by the time you read this review, “Sandgrown Tails” will be gone as 2 performances on Sunday bring this project to its conclusion. For me, it was everything a live piece of theatre should be - funny, thought-provoking, interactive and immersive. It took risks and chances and we all went along for the pleasurable ride which truth be told, I found more engrossing and more entertaining than what the Pleasure Beach itself offers!
Hats off then to Melanie, Kieran, Jo and the entire bunch of ThEsp’s. This was an experience I can never forget and felt pleased and proud to witness. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us in the future.
(Baz, 5th August 2018)