Inheritance Blues: when student theatre goes right

Inheritance Blues would have been an impressive Edinburgh Fringe play coming from a fully professional group. To have come from a group who were recently students is outstanding.

Student theatre carries a certain notoriety at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it’s not entirely unwarranted. It’s the one kind of production I make an effort to avoid. They usually fall into one of two categories: mediocre productions of well-known plays, and new plays where the group over-estimates how good their writing is. To be fair to student groups, the Edinburgh Fringe is an environment stacked against them – you really need years of experience before you’ve got a realistic chance of being up to standard of the rest – but the fact remains that most student productions live down to my low expectations.

So it is with great pleasure that I name Dugout Theatre as proof that it doesn’t have to be this way. I stumbled across Dealer’s Choice a few years back, stumbled across Fade last year, and impressed by both of those, and wanted to see how Inheritance Blues compared to these two. And, my God, it’s even better. It’s even in my top three plays of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Inheritance Blues is an all-male six-hander. We start with a three-piece blues band introducing us to a story from their past, when they were playing at a funeral and the three sons of the deceased were left behind. The eldest discusses an exciting proposition with his two less enthusiastic younger brothers to run his late father’s home as a restaurant hotel. Heck, the blues band could even be the resident band at the hotel. But, just a second, why hasn’t the mother of the boys come to this funeral? Something isn’t right here.

As a blizzard outside traps brothers and band together, devisions of both are laid bare. This three-piece is a sorry remains of a much larger band that once had dreams before member after member gave up and dropped out. But the biggest division is exposed between the bother. When their parents split up, the eldest stayed with the father and grew to idolise him. The other two left with their mother and sided with her.

It’s a good play, but the real strength of this production lies in the multi-talented cast. The music is great, and the play is superbly choreographed, with flashbacks  between past and present managed so well by beats of the Cajón. As the play delves further into increasingly unreliable tales of the father’s past, every member of the cast plays an instrument at some point. And, would you believe it, they all sing in harmony too. Normally, to see such a range of talent in one cast, you need to see fully professional productions such as what I’m used to at Northern Stage. To see all this from a group that were students a few years ago is astounding.

If there’s one weakness I could pick out with Dugout Theatre, it’s that their plays tend to get carried away with flashbacks and flights of fancy. This wasn’t too much of an issue in this play, but it was a slight let down in Fade, when I found myself spending most of the last 10 minutes wanted them to get a move of with the story. However, that’s a minor point and I don’t really care – the production values make up for this many times over.

I do not normally write stand-alone reviews for Fringe plays – they are reserved for the exceptional performances. So far, this highest honour has been reserved for The Girl With No Heart and Mess. Dugout Theatre thoroughly deserves to be added to this list, because this is a rare example of how much you can achieve when you spot talent and play to their strengths. If you can catch this or any other their other plays on tour, or at future fringes, I cannot recommend them enough. If you’re another student group, this is the one to aspire to. If you’re a professional group, prepare to meet your match.

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