Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, Edinburgh
**** 4 Stars
The last time I was in what is now ‘the Quaker Studio’ at Pleasance I saw a Fringe show about a historical lighthouse tragedy. This, the first purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh was built in 1791 alongside the already existing Quaker burial ground: it seemed then to be virtually untouched. It has now had a considerable makeover – the Quakers who worshipped there in the 18th century would hardly recognise the interior now…
Today the building hosted an excellent performance by the very able and energetic Alice Mary Cooper and Ben Winger, whose Melody and Sam seemed super-charged with energy as they told us of their various efforts to appear in the BIG Book of Records. Having failed in their attempts to create new records for holding their breath or enduring clothes pegs on their faces, their current target was to beat the current world record for the most baked beans eaten in a minute, using only a cocktail stick to spear them. Despite months of practice they were nowhere near the record of 54 beans: Sam only managed 36 beans [and great credit to Ben for gamely snarfing a sizeable number of cold baked beans at least twice in every show as he tried to hone his technique].
With the help of a delightful pop-up book, Sam and Melody told us about Topi, the remote island on which Sam was born and went to school – but now the school is gone, washed away by the sea, which came in the middle of the night and tossed Sam about ‘like a sock in a washing machine’. Sam was now afraid of water and determined never to go back to the island – there’s no point, everything will just be drowned again…
The post brought Sam a letter confirming his and Melody’s entry into the World Record-Breakers Programme and setting the date for the team’s trial at the bean-eating record. He rushed off to get his costume ready, while Melody prepared a training programme for him, which is strangely devoid of beans… Sam was taken a journey layer by layer into the sea – sorry, BEANS – in which he met a school of clothes-peg fish swinging from coat hangers in the sunlight zone; a delightful mop-head jellyfish in the twilight zone, a strangely twisting bin-liner eel in the midnight zone, and an adorable lantern fish in the abyssal zone. Part 2 of the training regime involved Sam, with his goggles on, being sprayed with water, encouraged to plunge his head into a bucket of water and finally, when he was about to be completely drenched with the water from the bucket, the penny dropped – he realised Melody’s ulterior motive, and a fierce argument ensued.
Things got a lot worse when Melody revealed her invitation to take part in the World Adventure Programme meant that her team were going to the world’s remotest island – Topi. Each began to prepare for their solo challenges, while at the same time hoping for some possibility of reconciliation, which never came. The enormous Big Book of Records at the back of the stage now opened up, showing Melody about to begin her adventure on The World’s Most Beat-up Old Ship. Sam arrived, still cross with Melody but wanting to give her their small book of inspiring record breakers: before he could disembark and attempt the bean-eating record, the ship slipped its moorings – Sam was too afraid of the water to jump ashore…
Further adventures ensued before finally Melody and Sam arrived safely on land, their friendship restored by their realisation that each depended on and needed the other. Together they worked to restore the once-devastated island and equip it to deal with future visits from the sea, which brought them the long-desired recognition as record-breakers. The concepts of global warming, rising sea levels and alternative technologies are slipped in and slightly break up the narrative energy: would the young audience have taken these ideas in, embedded as they are in a fast-moving and funny adventure? Certainly there was a lot of laughter during the performance, loud applause at the end of the show, and a positive buzz of conversation as the young audience rejoined its adults and left the Quaker Studio.
Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, Edinburgh, Runs Until Saturday 12th April for tickets go to: https://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/event-details/melody-and-sam-record-breakers
Review by Mary Woodward.