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By Daniel Cayford
LSE, it appears we have creativity! It is with great relief and reassurance to see that we have peers who can think outside of the box, as well as outside of the books. From a twinkling idea, to concentrated exchanges of musical passion in a bedroom, to a public stage in the big wide world (Logan Hall, Central London), Alex Leung and Laine Caruzca have created something to be truly proud of. The fact that this catchy-song, prancing dancing, witty-line filled, original musical came together in the space of just a few months is seriously impressive. Especially so, when you stop to think that all those involved have to balance studying for an LSE degree – and likely numerous internship/job applications – on top of it all.
Auburn tells the story of Rose, a troubled girl with an inhibiting stutter, as she embarks on her university life at LSE. Predominantly set in an MA100 classroom, Rose is met with an array of colourful characters, including the heartthrob overachiever Nico. What starts as a study buddy relationship, blossoms into something far more meaningful, as Nico encourages Rose to fight for her dreams of becoming a singer. It does help that his mother is the well-known music mogul, Simone Cowell. In what never truly, or overtly at the least, develops from an agape to an Eros kind of love, despite the shouts from the audience begging for them to “just kiss already”, Rose gradually overcomes her fears and learns to embrace a new life, one that’s ‘true to herself’. Moments of fragility, care-giving, confidence building and independence grow throughout, with heavy scatterings of extreme sassiness and problem set induced exasperations, as it is the LSE after all. The overlying content culminates in a fable like message highlighting some of the disabilities and difficulties faced by young people and those in minority groups, the problems that arise from a lack of understanding, and the ways people can grow with acceptance and the right support.
The character of Rose was played by Laine (the show’s Co-Director). She truly had a powerful stage presence when it came to her big solo moments, and even as the character was developing out of her shell, Laine still managed to maintain that inner fragility she inevitably held from years of feeling belittled and different. Her stutter too never seemed silly or patronising, conveying real emotion in her words, as well as in the lack of them. Lee Jia Lok, who played Nico, really was rather convincing as that, ‘oh I am rather brilliant, aren’t I? Gosh I didn’t notice’ kind of guy. There was an applaudable difference from his first recordings to his live performance on the night, he really did manage to make those vocals more his own. The duet shared by these two near the end of the performance, as they stepped amongst the audience, was magnetic; even over the noises of friend-sent wolf whistles and cheers all around. Alex Leung, Mr. Write-The-Theme-Tune-Sing-The-Theme-Tune himself, played the glittering (in all senses of the word) Greg. Any delay in delivery was more than made up by the scented slap he delivered in his punchlines, stunned that Nico wasn’t falling head over heels for him instead of that odd-ball Rose. Not only did he then have a role as the live stage-band’s pianist, he even shared his risqué dance moves with the crowd, dipping so far back down and onto Nico that his mic came off. Things got steamy, much to Nico’s clear confusion and lack of mutual desire. Greg’s brother from another mother, Gregory, played by Dominic Tighe, added that extra zing with his roaring vocals, and verging on the ridiculous wrist wiggles and stage struts. He certainly helped hammer home the power that Alex had composed into Auburn: The Musical’s score. Praise must also go to the other named cast: Mallika Raghunathan, as Rose’s therapist, portrayed real sincerity, with vocal clarity – even over an unfortunate mic signal problem, of which she powered professionally through. Anushka Sikka managed to get further under the surface of her ‘butch lesbian’ veneer, to show someone misunderstood, with frailties, yet still powerful in her own right. Emma Yuen, as Professor O, despite handing out far too many problem sets with far too little teaching, held charm and a sincere care for her students, especially Rose, throughout, whilst Anne Deng, as Nico’s mother, seemed powerful and loving, even if deeply quiet for a multi-billion pound music tycoon – but perhaps that was just Simone’s way of doing things? She could certainly teach Simon a few things.
Whilst it must be said, I have seen student performances with more coherent storylines, slightly more punchy scripts and perhaps more emotive acting, these have quite often been shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, authored by a chap called W. Shakespeare, not a student called A. Leung. What truly must be highlighted is the hard work, the commitment, the creativity and the collaborations from people all across the LSE, with support from LSESU Enactus, to the dancers, ushers and everyone else who played a part in Auburn’s delivery. Most importantly however is to highlight the musical compositions, which really made this small class story into a top class show.