Warning: May contain spoilers:
If you were to remove the plot, costume design, set, character development, and any other play like quality from More Power to Your Knitting Nell, it would be reduced to a concert and still be one of the better Fringe shows around.
This is simply because, Melanie Gall, the shows creator and star delivers a nearly flawless vocal performance. The young Canadian soprano has a voice full of colour, with the power to soar and the ability to make it soft and gentle when necessary all the while maintaining great control in her pitch.
Great singing though, is about more than just a great voice. It’s also about interpreting the material. Here Ms. Gall really shines. Many of the songs in the show are patriotic songs of the WWII era about knitting. As one might expect given the nature of propaganda, several of them are banal and trite, hard to take seriously nowadays, and I suspect maybe even hard to take seriously in the 40s.
Yet, Ms. Gall brings such sincerity as a singer that the audience is drawn into the stories that these songs are telling. One could choose to do these songs in an ironic fashion hoping to play for even bigger laughs, but by singing them straight, Ms. Gall imbues them with a dignity and story-telling power that their timeworn themes may not otherwise be able to sustain. Likewise, she is able to generate a genuine pathos in those songs that tell of a deeper meaning behind the knitting.
This is where the plot and all of those other things I said could be absent come into play. Sadie wants to be a singing star, which in that era meant a radio star. She finally gets her wish as she is given a patriotic show on which she performs as knitting Nell, (she hates knitting), in which she sings songs that emphasize the importance of knitting to the war effort, along with other bits of propaganda of the era.
At the same time she becomes involved in a knitting circle, and it’s through this circle she tells the story of her life and of her hopes and dreams. Several members of the audience brought their own knitting and a couple more were given knitting by Ms. Gall. Throughout the play Nell, as she is now exclusively known interacts with this group.
This produces some great moments of hilarity as the responses and actions of the knitting circle are not scripted and they often upstage those of Knitting Nell. This lends an air of authenticity to the play, as if you’ve had any contact with a group that meets regularly for any activity, you know there are those who will dominate the conversations, but every so often someone else will say something that leaves the dominant talker at a loss for words, often with very amusing results.
As the play unfolds we see Nell’s attitudes changing. This is largely comes about as her knitting goes from only being for soldiers in general to being for a soldier in particular. By the end of the show she has discovered who she really is and what really matters to her.
I have not made any comments her on the venue, set, etc., because this show was one of the ones moved from Aqua Books and therefore didn’t have any time to make accommodations to the new site.
This gets tops marks as my favourite show of the Fringe so far. It’s 5/5, and you definitely go see it, even if the thought of knitting makes you want to poke your eye out with say, a knitting needle.