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Review: Runesical (Upstairs AT The Gatehouse)

Review by Rosie Holmes

A musical based on the online game, Runescape; combining one of my greatest loves (theatre) with one of my boyfriend’s greatest loves (video games) seemed like the perfect Sunday afternoon out, especially after finding out it was to take place in a pub. Runesical, produced by theatre company, Gigglemug, has already enjoyed a successful stint at the Edinburgh Fringe and MT fest at The Turbine Theatre in 2022 and now concludes its life at The Gatehouse in Highgate. I must confess, I know next to nothing about the game Runescape, so I was intrigued to see if it would still appeal to me as much as the Runescape mega fans I found myself sitting amongst in the audience.

Runesical follows player Lance_054 (the first 53 were taken) on a quest through the magical kingdom of Gielinor, teaming up with gnome, Odin the Destroyer and encountering goblins, freaky trolls and philosophical fishermen along the way. Odin and Lance must unlock clues in order to fight the terrifying dragon and enlist the help of Pearl, who is not all she seems. Despite having done a small amount of research on the game the show was based upon, this was rendered unnecessary as the top of the show takes the audience through a short tutorial much to the dismay of avid gamer Lance_054, meaning both ‘noobs’ and experts are sure to be entertained.

The journey through Gielinor is made even more exciting by the fact that the audience are able to choose the trajectory of the story. Much like the game itself the outcome of the story is based on the choices we (the audience in this case) make, meaning on any given show you are likely to see something different. Most of these changes were handled extremely well by one half of Gigglemug’s writing team, Sam Cochrane playing the Wise Old Man, allowing the improvised pieces to land just the right side of chaotic. The audience are asked to create a name for a player (Bob Bruce Lee if you are wondering), made even more funny by the rather outspoken children in the front row. Similarly, an unsuspecting audience member is tasked with appearing on stage and devising a secret handshake for our characters which they then have to remember for the entirety of the show.

Writers Sam Cochrane ad Alex Prescott not only handle the chaos of the show extremely well, they clearly have a talent for writing catchy and funny musical theatre songs. The score is made up of a collection of songs with a myriad of styles from dance, to ballad to traditional sounding musical theatre. All absolute earworms that I found myself humming on the journey home, particularly, Prescott’s hilarious performance in ‘Freaky Troll’ and the jolly and upbeat, ‘Bad being good.’

The rest of the cast also display wonderful comedic talent and quick thinking when it comes to the show’s improvised element. Christian Maynard bring an element of coolness to the production, effortlessly dealing with flying baguettes and freaky trolls, as well as showcasing his vocal talents. Alongside him Jenna Sian O’Hara takes on the role of Pearl, unashamedly silly but also lending her lovely vocals to the only ballad of the piece. Lydia Barton Lovett is player 3 and handles all of her character swaps perfectly, appearing as a talking cat one moment, then a drunken merchant the next.

Much of the piece’s strength, alongside its silliness and catchy songs is the attention to detail. For avid Runescape players there are plenty of inside jokes throughout the show that elicited lots of laughs. Even as a non-player I recognised and enjoyed the moments in which the characters were in stasis as choices were made around them, as well as the spinning board, that allowed Lance_054 to spin as accessories were chosen for his avatar.

Set design by Doug Cairns was effective as well as the multitude of props to handle, which again the cast dealt with extremely well. A starry filled backdrop transported the audience to different areas of Gielinor, creating a surprisingly impressive and dramatic finale even in a small and simple space. However, the show could be improved by some tighter sound design, at times the audio did drown out the cast’s singing, and with such funny lyrics, I definitely didn’t want to miss out on any.

In Runesical, Gigglemug duo Sam Cochrane and Alex Prescott, have successfully created a family friendly, genuinely funny musical with a wonderful score to match. They have managed to produce a show that not only appeals to and satisfies seasoned players but also entertains those completely new to the game. Having previously written a musical about Timpson (yes the shoe repairing, key copying shop) I for one can’t wait to see what they come up with next!


Runesical has now completed its run at Upstairs at The Gatehouse, you can find out more about the production, as well as Gigglemug’s other projects’ here-

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