Blodlina: The Viking Musical  

★★★½

Review by John Gibson. Pleasance Dome – KingDome Aug 4th – 29th

Having just seen Robert Eggers’ Viking epic, The Northman, I was in the mood for some more Nordic myth and legend. The promo material for this musical was slick but vague, and the near thirty-minute delay before their Fringe debut was not a good omen, but, not being a veteran of musical theatre, I resisted my urge to pre-judge the bad start.

The premise appears to be a fictional depiction of a female warrior figure Magnhild (India Shaw-Smith) and the conflicts and challenges she faces in the unforgiving patriarchal Viking world. There is a love story with the son of her enemy, and the tension between herself and her sister Ingrid (Kathryn Taylor-Gears) gets some play, but the sense of a company trying to pack in all the elements of a larger show is obvious, and this does the narrative side of the production no favours.

Thankfully, once the large cast assembled – and actually started playing – it was obvious that VNM Musicals’ lockdown had been spent fine-tuning their powerful harmonies and tight rhythm section. Vicky Clubb’s commanding piano melodies provide a perfect guideline for songs whilst Nathan Rees and Marcus Wood did double duty as rhythm and bass guitar respectively. The musical styles on display stay well within the confines of rock-opera, with the emphasis on more heavier guitar riffs, but there are departures into more soulful areas, particularly for Einar (Cameron Carlson) whose voice has a lightness and agility that none of the other male voices possess.

Shaw-Smith (Magnhild) has impressive pipes and she gets to showcase her lung capacity with the bulk of the ballad moments. The sense of cramming everything in as ‘proof of concept’ pervades proceedings as Wood and Rees throw in moments of Death Metal, but the impossibility of actually deciphering what is being screamed in that sub-genre makes its inclusion a mere novelty.

This is a musical with some excellent turns but an unfocused narrative, and as it builds towards a larger audience the story needs re-examined and re-worked to compliment the songs. At present the two elements feel as though they exist in parallel, as though the set of songs have been transposed from another project entirely. Some judicious cutting of the more expository songs and a greater focus on the drama will improve things going forward, but at present it is a competent musical with some cool songs played by gifted and professional performers.

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