Masque Macabre

Arts University Bournemouth [AUB]    Ocean Room Theatre, Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth

John Sivewright  1 June  2023

It’s not often that one gets to attend the opening night of a new musical, but that’s just what this reviewer had in store this evening, and what a treat it was!

Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) Productions put their highly talented cast and crew of students to work on Masque Macabre, a musical retelling of a number of short stories by French 19th century novelist Guy De Maupassant, and they were ingeniously knit together by Crispin Harris and Paul Knight (responsible for the script and score respectively) to form a coherent and compelling whole.

To try and describe the plot would see me vastly exceed my word limit, such was the challenge of the authors to piece together such a variety of shorter narratives, but from the moment a group of students in 1880s Paris enter a museum and are taken on a strange journey of discovery by a female automaton, the captive and highly appreciative first night audience were spellbound. The interwoven stories explored, among other things, marriage, infidelity, sexual morality, theft, love at first sight, inheritance and national pride, with a wonderful balance of humour and pathos.

Fifteen superb AUB acting students made up the company, and it would probably be unfair to single anybody out, as they as all worked hard in a variety of roles.  Rae Alexander, Eleise Bailey, Freddy Bridgman, Hannah Burn, Elliot Cox, Brandon Duquemin, Alisa Granzelius, Ollie Hiemann, Samuel Koppel, Stina Rojestal, Ty Sawyer, Katie Scully, Amelia Shipton, Zakk Tinsdale-Gallery and Sky Ward are all to be commended for highly energetic, professional and well-rounded performances. The standard of singing and variety of characterisations were especially noteworthy.

The direction team was made up of AUB staff and visiting professionals, and they clearly put a lot of passion into the project. Katharine Piercey’s sure direction, imaginative choreography from Claire Camble-Hutchins and accomplished musical direction by composer Paul Knight all gave the production a tremendous polish. A vast backstage team, made up of AUB Costume, Make-up for Media and Performance, and Performance Design and Film Costume students worked together to craft exceptional production values. The multi-level set was ingenious, while costumes, hair and make-up suited the period well, and the lighting and sound were slick and unobtrusive, which is no mean feat in a show with so many scene changes and musical numbers.

All involved in this superb AUB production should be proud of their efforts. If you want to see a captivating new musical, this show runs until Saturday evening, with performances starting at 7.30pm and a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. As advertised, some scenes are of a sexual nature, making it appropriate for those aged 15 or over; these moments are delicately handled and should in no way deter one from attending this fine show.