STAND UP COMEDY
Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Scientology: The Musical @ Gilded Balloon
Imagine a supposed religion that’s free to enrol in - until it isn’t, at which point it becomes crazy expensive. Imagine one which claims to gives its adherents superpowers to control both people and objects. Imagine one which features a ladder of paid self-improvement courses, one of which (called OT III) revolves around a Galactic Overlord called Xenu who committed genocide many millions of years ago by dropping his people into the Earth’s volcanoes. Imagine one which, while claiming to be “not for profit”, makes huge amounts of money not only from scamming its members with such nonsense, but further fills its coffers by aggressively suing those who criticise it.
Now, imagine that it was founded by a hack science fiction writer who is now worshipped like a god, despite the fact that his reputation is built on blatant lies about everything from his childhood (he claims to have been able to ride a horse before he could even walk, to his military service record (he claims to have been awarded 22 medals, although the US Navy has verified that he only got 4). He even claimed that he healed his own eyesight when he was blinded!
George Glass, a musical comedy troupe, gives this strange quack religion/therapy cult a well-deserved and often hilarious skewering. Wearing naval uniforms similar to those donned by Scientology’s elite “Sea Org”, they go about their mission via some pretty decent pomp rock-style songs, some quick-witted comic banter and even a few cheap faux-magic tricks. They also score a few points at other religions on the way; one of the best jokes simultaneously makes fun of both the ship that L. Ron Hubbard lived on with his inner circle for many years, and the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal (I won’t spoil it, but rest assured it did induce plenty of laughter in the audience). Even the OT III Xenu story gets a ribbing in the penultimate musical number, complete with a few snippets from Hubbard’s own audio recordings.
However, while the show was a lot of fun and really flew by, things did get a little messy at times - at least last night. Some of the singing was off-key, it was almost impossible to hear the lyrics in the final song due to audio shortcomings and there was a “surprise” reveal of a background painting which I had already glimpsed beforehand from the angle where I was sitting. Nothing too major for a 10 pm show in front of an inevitably drunk Fringe audience, but I (having gone in inappropriately sober) was left with the feeling that it wasn’t as slick as it could have been.
It’s also worth pointing out that, while Scientology: The Musical enjoyably exposes its subject for the sham/scam that it is, it doesn’t go to the even darker place of looking into the disturbing tales of staff being physically abused and exploited for virtual slave labour, the cult’s quack remedies causing insanity and even death, and Hubbard’s own mental deterioration during the last few years of his life. However, such omissions are understandable considering that they wouldn’t have fitted in with the cheerily satirical tone overall.
Check these guys out… before they get sued.
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