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Fingers on buzzers

A nerdy but likeable undergraduate learns to navigate student life in Bristol while dreaming of being a contestant on the BBC television quiz show University Challenge.

It is Brian Jackson’s critical thinking journey from reading Peter Pan to classical English literature.

Adapted from the hilarious novel by bestselling author David Nicholls and the popular 2006 film, the blurb boasts, ‘Starter for Ten is a bright, big-hearted coming-of-age comedy about love, belonging and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom’.

Yep, we would concur…but bet those sitting on the edge of the stalls didn’t dream they would get asked random questions by a roaming question master!

Embarrassing for some, funny for others, smugly we did know it was Bristol University scientist  Vernon Charley who invented Ribena blackcurrant syrup back in 1938.

This is a delightful fast-paced musical comedy which premiered on Thursday night, March 7, in front of an enthusiastic audience of press and freshmen (judging by the raucous responses) at Bristol Old Vic.

The cast were amazing, all-in fine voice which became apparent when individually they took centre stage for lung-filled solos – so talented although the lyrics lacked lustre.

It is a soap opera in the style of Educating (or Entertaining) Rita (Oxbridge replaced by Brizzle and a short revisiting of Brideshead) with limited sex, some drugs and a love of Kate Bush with a withering banshee-inspired original soundtrack mixed with influences of Piaf.

Adam Bregman stars as working-class Essex boy Brian who has a genius for rote learning, leftie Rebecca (Eubha Akilade) is the rebel with too many causes who plays second fiddle to busty, blonde bombshell Alice (Emily Lane) who is the lust interest.

Alice in turn is attracted to Brian’s childhood friend Spencer (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) while the post grad team captain Patrick (Will Jennings) plays a character a little  bit up his own backside reminding me of kindly Hugo in the Vicar of Dibley crossed with the commandant of Colditz.

Widowed mum Irene (Mel Giedroyc) has a Barbie panache for pink décor, secretly shags ‘Uncle’ Des (Luke Johnson) and obviously from her foodie days on GBBO insists on packing Brian a chip pan for his student digs.

Gemma Knight-Jones power dresses (not sure if she wore shoulders pads) to play Professor Bowman by wearing a conservative Margaret Thatcher two-piece suit.

With Bamber (odd name) Gascoigne (Robert Portal) back in the 1980s, while sitting in a living room not dissimilar to the Bristol Old Vic set watching on an identical portable white tv as the one on stage, I used to think myself a super brain if I answered more than one or two questions on University Challenge.

The costumes were yuck (deliberately) headbands horrors, Y-fronts and duffle coats.

Loved this show, loved the cast – highly recommended.

It plays until the end of this month with two matinees weekly.
Online tickets from £10 at ior call the box office on 0117 987 7877.

Recommend age 12+.

Carol Deacon

Starter For Ten company-3820.jpg
Mel Giedroyc (as Julia Bland).jpg
Luke Johnson, Emily Lane, Natasha O'Brien-3525.jpg
Miracle Chance (Lucy) -3245.jpg
Robert Portal as Bamber Gascoigne -3768.jpg
Adam Bregman as Brian-0182.jpg
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