Nikki Aitken


Phoenix Artist Club
London, UK
The London alternative to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Camden Fringe Festival, provides a fantastic opportunity for new work to be presented, without the overwhelming cost to artists (travel and accommodation out of town), or the frenetic competition for an audience. Well over 200 shows were presented from July 28 to August 21 in 26 venues across the capital.

I attended several shows at various venues: Othello at Moors Theatre, Go! at the Phoenix Artist Club, Dead in the Water Dead at the Hens and Chickens and Scandinavian Heart at the Upstairs at the Gate House. All were well produced, and intelligently crafted, with moments of brilliance. But the standout (with the most potential for further development) was GO!  A one-woman “mini-disaster musical,” written and performed by Nikki Aitken and directed by Christopher Hurrell.

From the moment Aitken takes the stage, one senses her gravitas as a performer.  With simple but effective props, she acquaints us with the first-class cabin on Go Airlines Flight 999, greeting audience members as if they were economy passengers. She then proceeds to introduce the characters in her show, crew and passengers:  Martina the experienced and über-efficient stewardess; the queeny-bitch steward who lusts after the captain; a loud American “Southern Belle”; a proper English gentleman; a neurotic OCD-suffering frightened flyer; and a stowaway.

Aitken plays every role, aptly moving among characters, changing accents (sometimes a bit of attire), infusing glimmers of real pathos into a story told primarily through caricatures. The songs have a similar appeal—funny, and yet, in some instances, quite poignant. For the most part, the lyrics tend to move the story along, so while some of the tunes were catchy enough to get stuck in one’s head, the likelihood of these songs having a robust life outside of the show seems minimal.

The exception is “One Way,” about taking chances in order to live one’s dream. It works within the story, but the lyrics and theme are universal enough to transcend the confines of this mini-musical.

The material is strong (book and score), but more striking still is Aitken’s powerhouse performance. With consummate vocal skill, she croons, belts, whispers, shouts and coos, switching vocal timbre along with accents to distinguish transitions from character to character, several times at fiendishly short intervals. Remarkably, we’re never confused about which person she is playing. We quickly get to know these characters, and the on-board “disaster” serves as a tidy way to focus and resolve their personal dilemmas (episodes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island come to mind).

Several different shows ran each evening at this venue, meaning set-up time was very short and required a judicious use of space and effective use of minimal props. Director Hurrell appears to have gotten the balance just right, focusing all elements on supporting the storyline and assisting Aitken’s shifts among characters. Michael Roulston delivered solid musical support on piano (and provided the voice for the captain’s in-flight announcements).

While this debut was impressive, the show is very new and still finding its way. Of course, that is inherently the purpose of Fringe: to get new work in front of an audience and see what needs fine-tuning. That said, one could easily see this work further polished as a 60-minute cabaret show, or expanded into a 90-minute one-woman theatrical show, or developing into a full-scale musical with a company of actors playing the various roles. Whatever direction this material takes, I look forward to seeing the next iteration of GO!, wherever it touches down.

Mychelle Colleary
Cabaret Scenes
August 21, 2014