Review: Fanatical, Playground Theatre

If the music doesn’t quite grab you like it should, Fanatical is still an enthusiastically warm-hearted show at the Playground Theatre

“It took too long
It cost the earth
It drove me nuts
And it was worth it.”

Matt Board and Reina Hardy’s new musical Fanatical taps into the apparently unstoppable rise of comic-book culture, but takes a refreshingly uncynical slant on the subject, particularly where its fan-base are concerned. The notion of comic cons full of cosplaying superfans might leave you cold but as we discover here, they’re places full of potential and meaningful interaction for kindred souls – is it really so different from a pub full of grown men all dressing up in the same football or rugby shirt…?

This particular comic con(ference) is for the fans of comic book-turned-TV show Angel 8, but the organisation of it has been far from smooth sailing for uber-fan Trix. She’s worried that the show’s creator might not make it to the venue, and is ill-prepared to deal with his idiosyncratic ways once he does. There’s also rumours of an undercover reporter in the crowds, penning a hit piece on the easy target of geeks. And along the way, there’s many a life lesson to be learned, by us as well as them.

There’s a huge deal of affection laced through Fanatical which makes it an enthusiastically warm-hearted show to watch. Director Grace Taylor has her cast really embrace their characters and thoroughly embody them in all their quirks. So for every geeky or nerdish trait, there’s a rationale, a chance to understand that the act of making a costume is a labour of love, that learning reams of trivia is just like being able to reel off football stats, that the mere act of coming together with like-minded people is so powerful, no matter the cause.  

PJ McEvoy’s extraordinarily realised design work reflects the labour of love idea, nailing set, costume, programme down to the tiniest of beautifully observed details. It’s just a shame that the score too rarely hit the same mark for me, never really cohering into the kind of appealing, hooky soundscape the show needs. Some songs do stand out – ‘Look What I Made’ and ‘Any Moment Now’, Suanne Braun’s Trix smashing it out of the cosmos with the latter – but too many tend towards the anodyne, not quite reflecting that affection which is so palpable elsewhere.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Scott Rylander
Fanatical is booking at the Playground Theatre until 9th December

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