Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Oscar at The Crown (Assembly George Square Gardens) ★

Six meets Thunderdome in this dystopian musical, loosely based on the life of Oscar Wilde. The music is pumping, the singing is loud, but the plot is lost in this superficial soundscape.

In a secret bunker in an apparently fascist future, young people hide from a world that has rejected them and repeatedly perform pop-party anthems about Wilde’s life. After a promising pre-show, with the cast appearing like podium dancers to hype the audience, the production starts with a high-powered number that hints at a good night ahead. Unfortunately, a meandering, convoluted plot and lack of sincerity mean it is downhill from there.

Mark Mauriello in Oscar at The Crown. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography.

With music and lyrics by Andrew Barret Cox and book by Mark Maurellio (who also plays the eponymous Oscar), the songs are admittedly catchy but devoid of subtext or subtlety. It often feels like competitive singing, with cast members seemingly trying to outdo each other rather than perform as a group. The moveable set is a nice touch, and there are some fantastic dancers, but the text is swallowed whole by the sheer volume of the production, with characters gabbling incomprehensible lines. Hardly representative of Oscar Wilde. What can be understood of premise is lacking in drama, and we are more than halfway through before a sense of the plot emerges.

And then there is the obscure section about the noughties American TV show, The OC. Yes, that one. In this far from brave new world, this group of outcasts believe that one of its characters predicted the end of times, in conjunction with the rise of social media. It is oblique at best, and certainly lacks what must have been meaningful intent. The chorus have names that reference the Real Housewives, which also sits somewhere in this strange ethos. How does this relate to Wilde you may well ask? Answers on a postcard please.

Oscar at The Crown. Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography.

The arrival of Constance (Elizabeth Chalmers), who is an outsider, allows the residents of The Crown to somewhat explain the plot, and sing an almost never-ending number about The OC character, Julie Cooper. Constance feels like part of the audience as she expresses sheer confusion, then shouts a heart-felt “no!” when asked if the song should be repeated. Chalmers gives the strongest performance in the show, speaking up for Oscar’s oft overlooked wife and breaking with the overall style to crack out a torch song Mariah Carey would be proud of – but again, the number is far too long and so feels indulgent.

This is a confusing, infuriating production. Confusing because the plot makes little to no sense, and the references to Wilde’s life are depressingly generic. Infuriating because of the talent available on the stage that could be put to far better use. Behind the bright lights, slick costumes and wall of sound, this is a musical that says nothing about Wilde’s life and legacy, and lacks any real message about the risk to queer and nonconforming people from the far right.

By Deborah Klayman

Oscar at The Crown plays at Assembly George Square Gardens, Edinburgh until August 27th 2023.

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