THEATRE REVIEWS 2011 to 2018
THEATRE REVIEWS 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon / 31st March 2018
"MACBETH" by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE * *
There is something seriously wrong with a production of "Macbeth" when the two scenes which remain in one's memory are the porter's scene and the English scene with Malcolm and Macduff. Never have I been so disappointed in a production of the Scottish play as I have been with Polly Findlay's direction of the same for the RSC. There is no pace, there is no horror, there is no sensible interpretation, and actors are left, or appear to be left, to their own devices and trapped in some one-level, monotonous delivery. The massive disappointment starts with the choice to play the three witches as three young girls, dressed in pink onesies, and no more terrifying or threatening than some obstinate children not getting their own ways - this director even employs them to shift scenery; now, children onstage or acting can be most effective, and I absolve from all blame the three young girls who played the characters at this performance - but as the play and text consistently refer to them as the weird sisters - that they were not; and young people can be disturbing and horrifying and frightening when inspiringly directed - think of the twin girls in "The Shining" or even the horrendous Chuckie dolls in the famous horror films - sadly there is not one scrap of horror in this production. Lady Macbeth reads her husband's letter which explains that he stood in wonder of the apparitions - which he does not in this production, and indeed has no real cause to; also to speak in unison, as the witches must do at times, is a difficult discipline for anyone to master, least of all young performers, and sadly diction becomes blurred. But what strikes one throughout this production is the restriction which seems to have been placed on the actors, especially the title character and his wife. Niamh Cusack as the Lady, is caught in a continuous, repetitive delivery, which neither rises nor falls in expression, and at no time do we sense the persuaviness and self-determination and manipulation which must exist to dominate and lead her husband to his future actions. She is possibly at her best in the sleepwalking scene, which is presented in the most frenetic manner, none of which has been present in her previous scenes, but Ms Cusack does provide a gripping reading of the scene - sadly by this time it is too late to salvage the character. Christopher Eccleston portrays the title character as a solid, ordinary soldier, but for the whole of Act One delivers all of his speeches to the ground or to the audience members who sit in the stalls (where I was), totally ignoring those in the upper tiers of the theatre - why?! His speeches are strongly presented and delivered, but we never feel any fear or doubt or terror from the awful deeds which are happening on stage. I am loathe to complain about actors without discussing directors in the same breath, because of course, the directors are the ones who lead and guide and aid their cast to give the performances which we, the audiences, see and listen to. Ms Findlay's production appears on the surface to strive for cutting-edge, but in the end seems strangely old-fashioned - even Brechtian at times which should or could be a good thing, but sadly not in this instance; the gimicky continuously running digital clock, for example, counting down the seconds until the end of the play, pointed out to us lest we haven't noticed this irritating time piece, by the Porter, who stops his own watch to allow Macduff to say one of his lines - "The time is free" - how contrived is that? I mentioned at the start of this review that the Porter's scene - Michael Hodgson in a compelling and unique reading of the role - and Edward Bennett as Macduff whose reaction at the news of the death of his wife and children is the most moving acting of the evening - were moments which remain etched in my memory - and so they do; would that illuminating acting and direction such as this had formed the bulk of this production, to enable audiences to enjoy, understand and appreciate the substance of one of Shakespeare's most illuminating plays.
Royal Shakespeare Company / The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon / 30th March 2018
"THE FANTASTIC FOLLIES OF MRS RICH" by MARY PIX * * * * *
The 17th century playwright, Mary Pix, wrote a play called "The Beau Defeated", which tells the story of a very wealthy widow - Mrs Rich - determined to rub shoulders with the rich and good of society, while at the same time looking for a new husband, preferably - indeed certainly! - with a title. Director Jo Davies has taken this wonderful play and reinvented it under the title of "The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich" to provide one of the most joyous, inventive, fast-paced, hilarious evenings in a theatre - as vociforously proved by the ovation given to the company at the end of this particular performance. And this production goes further by providing music - most wonderful music - played by a superb quartet of saxophone female musicians, supported by harpsichord and percussion; and just as all the characters in the play connive and scheme and are not what they seem to be, likewise the string quartet masquerades as a wind quartet becoming part of the action in all senses of the word, and cleverly accompanying the character of Mrs Rich, where music becomes the means where the audience is allowed to learn of what the wonderful and extravagant Mrs Rich really thinks - what a telling piece of direction! And to have an actress such as the inspired and inspiring Sophie Stanton playing the title character, the RSC has hit the jackpot - this lady commands the stage from the start of the evening being carried onstage protesting loudly and hysterically, until the glorious ending when she leads the entire company in a wonderfully absurd dance (choreography and movement by Coral Messam); Ms Stanton's acting and stage presence is of the highest standard throughout, and with the nod of her head, the wink of an eye, the lilt in her delivery, the command, the absurd pretence of hurt, the selfishness, the pure joy of manipulation, she has provided us with one of the most brilliant stage characterisations ever seen on an RSC stage for many years. Of course she is supported by a fantastic company, dominated by the females, which in this play, of course, is exactly as it should be, with the superb Sandy Foster creating the shrewish, manipulative and sneering Mrs Trickwell - watch out for her preparing to fight in the second act - hilarious! ; the joyous Amanda Hadingue as Toni complete with her master's two dogs and her hilarious call of the wild; the elegant Jessica Turner as Mrs Clerimont, not quite so pure and honest as she appears, and eagerly joining in the deceit and manipulation of Mrs Rich; and superb supporting performances by Daisy Badger, Sadie Shimmin, and Susan Salmon. Oh, and the men are good too! Tam Williams is an excellent foil to all the ladies, playing the self-important and randy Sir John Roverhead, with sterling support from Michael Simkins, Leo Wringer, Solomon Israel, and Will Brown making the most of the relatively small role of Jack, and using his beautifully delivered and enunciated voice to great effect. Colin Richmond is the designer of the colourful set, using great traditional backcloths of country or town scenes, gloriously defaced with spraygun graffiti telling us the actual locations; Anna Watson's lighting is inventive and complements the action so well, and it is great to see fights arranged and staged by the experienced Terry King - Grant Olding is responsible for the already praised music and songs. This is what theatre is all about - a first rate ensemble company, well led and well served, and providing audiences with what should always be a nigh-on perfect night in the theatre. Miss this one at your peril.
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon / 1st January 2018
"A CHRISTMAS CAROL" by CHARLES DICKENS; a new adaptation by DAVID EDGAR * * * * *
Only a playwright of the experience and talent of David Edgar, could have conjured up this interpretation of the widely-loved Christmas story by Charles Dickens; Edgar's compassion for the underdog and his social conscience enables him, with what seems consummate ease, to create a stage version of Dickens' short story which never lets us forget that it is not just about the miser Scrooge, but also about his fellow-beings and, in most cases, the inherent good in everybody, if circumstances allow it to emerge and be seen. Time and time again I was reminded of this same playwright's massive interpretation of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, which the RSC mounted for the first time over 35 years ago! And fortunately, with Rachel Kavanaugh's direction, we have someone who can interpret with imagination, compassion (that word again), experience, pace, and love, the story which we think we all know; it was genius on Edgar's part to include in the play the actual author, Charles Dickens (Nicholas Bishop), - not only as himself, but also as the younger Scrooge and one or two other roles to boot, so that his presence was always there moulding, shaping, telling the wonderful story to us all, and to his editor and friend, the character John Forster (Beruce Khan). But don't think for a moment that the actual production ignores the effects which we all want to see and experience; Marley's Ghost, scene changes of breathtaking magnificence, illusions, dancing, song, music (composed by Catherine Jayes), kept the packed audience gripped from start to finiah - Edgar even manages to include references to, what is undoubtedly, a certain member of the present government - twice, and twice to uprorious effect! The wonderful Phil Davis is Scrooge, played to perfection, and notably not changing to a sugary and hard-to-believe new Scrooge in the final scenes - his acerbic wit, and carnapciousness, can still be noticed, but it is now subtly delivered while remaining part of the character's traits. The entire cast is so strong, and works tremendously hard from start to finish, including some wonderfullly talented young children; I feel I must single out Gerard Carey's honest and bumbling Bob Cratchit, Brigid Zengeni doubling as Mrs Fezziwig (with the suggestion that she is already coping with the possible forgetfulness/dementia of her husband - another telling addition by Edgar) and The Ghost of Christmas Present, and Tiny Tim, played in rote by three so very talented young boys. This is a stunning production and surely will be revived at the Festive Season in years to come.
Royal Shakespeare Company / The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon / Thursday 28th December & Saturday 30th December 2017
"IMPERIUM - THE CICERO PLAYS" by ROBERT HARRIS; adapted by MIKE POULTON * * * * *
PART ONE "CONSPIRATOR" and PART TWO "DICTATOR"
Another RSC triumph - although obviously not on the same subject, this exceptionally intelligent play reminded me so much of Hilary Mantel's two plays about Thomas Cromwell, mounted by the RSC a few years ago, and also adapted for stage by the superbly talented MIKE POULTON. This playwright and adapter for the stage does not place a foot wrong when researching Robert Harris's books and bringing them to the stage, and the two mammoth evenings belie the fact that so much history, drama, and superb writing can seem to pass so quickly before our eyes. Mr Harris must be so, so delighted with the end result of these adpatations, and as a member of the audience, one could not wait to return after intervals/to return for the second performance to discover what was going to happen - and that despite the fact that many of us actually did know what would happen, either through reading Harris's trilogy, or just from basic Roman history. The single set used throughout, complete with a powerful sphere which hovered above, changing when necessary (even into a flight of black starlings at one point), and various hydraulic floor sections which came and went with a will; and the sloping steps of the Senate at the back of the stage area - all so simple - all so effective, and keeping the pace of this long historical drama going. And all under the direction of the RSC Artistic Director, GREGORY DORAN, aided and abetted by ANTHONY WARD (designer), MARK HENDERSON (lighting designer), PAUL ENGLISHBY (composer), and veteran fight director TERRY KING. To have the rapt attention of a capacity audience for over 3 /3.5 hours for each of the two plays is no mean feat, but these adaptations are no mean creations, and this production should be seen / must be seen by as many people as possible. The very strong cast, led by the accomplished and infinitely talented RICHARD McCABE as Cicero, with his sidekick and secretary Tiro, played energetically and finally resignedly by JOSEPH KLOSKA, carry the evenings, with great and outstanding performances by PETER DE JERSEY (Caesar), JOE DIXON (Antony/Catiline), SIOBHAN REDMOND (Terentia), OLIVER JOHNSTONE (Octavian), and JOHN DOUGALL (Brutus). The RSC is currently on a high with most of its productions, and if you are at all able to see these two exceptional productions in Stratford or in London, then I urge you to do so - you will not at all be disappointed.
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon / Thursday 28th December 2017
"TWELFTH NIGHT" by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE * * *
This play is often referred to as Shakespeare's perfect comedy - I have often used the phrase myself, but more of that anon. Certainly this production for the RSC, by CHRISTOPHER LUSCOMBE, goes for the comedy element all the way, and for me this just pays a gross dis-service to "Twelfth Night". Only at the very last scene when Orsino and Viola, and Sebastian and Olivia should be exiting to future wedded bliss in their new pairs, does director Luscombe touch on what this whole play is really about. Frankly the letter scene in the ornamental garden, beautifully designed by SIMON HIGLETT, is unfunny farce which goes production wise from bad to worse, with Belch, Aguecheek, and a female Fabian (Fabia - why???) continuously changing into statue extensions, and eventually playing statues themselves downstage centre at the fountain/pond, which successfully blocks all upstage centre business for those in centre stalls - do directors abandon stage/theatre basics nowadays such as checking sightlines? The hugely talented ADRIAN EDMONDSON is a self-centred, boring egotist as Malvolio, as he should be, and his pomposity is shown to great effect in one small moment when he attends his mistress and dons one glove, to reposition the teapot by about a millimietre - very funny! However, and I am sure Mr Edmondson is playing as instructed, when he dons his yellow stockings as falsely instructed in the letter written by Maria (a positive, beautifully characterised performance by VIVIEN PARRY), his controlled performance becomes a music-hall turn, with even a musical interlude/encore thrown in for good measure; yes I know that the programmes notes suggest that some of this is based on Gilbert and Sullivan's opera "Patience", where we discover two rival poets, Bunthorne and Grosvenor, based on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s & '80s, led by Oscar Wilde, on whose outfit this Malvolio is dressed - and here is the problem, "Patience" and its humour works because the two poets take themselves seriously and the comedy arises because of this - this Malvolio does not and is made to actually perform directly to the audience; even his final words where he vows revenge on the whole cast of characters, is thrown away and loses the point of this heart-breaking situation. And Nigel Hess's original score becomes in the letter scene pure G & S pastiche, which is no bad thing as far as I am concerned! But to return to where I started - is "Twelfth Night" Shakespeare's perfect comedy?; when I was a schoolboy "The Merchant of Venice" was usually referred to as a "comedy" which of course nowadays is simple impossible to be treated as such; and herein lies my problem, not particularly because of this production - when such bullying of an individual is so inherent in the plot (the only one who seems to notice this is the character Olivia) I have altered my opinion of the play itself; certainly one of Shakespeare's best "plays", but not his most perfect "comedy".
Citizens Theatre at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; prior to appearing at the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival
"THIS RESTLESS HOUSE" a trilogy of plays by Zinnie Harris * * * *
17th August 2017
"This Restless House" comprises a trilogy of plays, based by author Zinnie Harris on "The Oresteia" by Aeschylus - "Agamemnon's Return", "The Bough Breaks", and "Electra and Her Shadow" - and last night I sat and watched all three plays from 6pm to 10.30pm; for someone raised on the operas of Wagner, this was acceptable, especially when the writing and performances are so strong as this - to me, a familiar story from Greek history, apart from the trial scene of the last act, which of course did happen in the original story written in 458BC - and herein lies the magnificence of this/these production/s - that Ms Harris has managed to transfer the content to modern times and for modern audiences, perhaps to understand more readily? Director Dominic Hill's direction is superb, and contains many typical Hill approaches, such as the vast stage open to every character and scene, and Ben Ormerod's lighting design complements this set and style so admirably - no mean feat for such a saga of a production. The production contains high and low comedy, and more controversially violent and squeamish scenes, together with nudity and suggestive tones - all presented as part of Hill's - and Harris's - vision. On the whole the acting is first-rate and the entire company must be absolutely shattered at the end of such a production and performance. George Anton (Agamemnon), Olivia Morgan (Electra), George Costigan (Butcher), and particularly the young and incredibly talented Lorn Macdonald (as one of the three very funny Chorus and in particular a handsome and self-doubting Orestes) stand out for me in the large cast; Pauline Knowles reprises her role - the main role one can say - of Clytemnestra, and commands the stage whenever she appears; however, in scenes of stress and hysteria I could not hear one single word of what she said; this is unacceptable, and of course the director must take his share of the blame - the challenge in such scenes is to provide the emotion/s but at all time to be understood and heard by an audience; likewise the crucial final scene spoken by the character Audrey (Kirsty Stuart) was to me - and some of my fellow audience members - totally inaudible and therefore unaceptable in live theatre. That said, this is a massive production and undertaking, surely worthy of its place at this year's Edinburgh International Festival. Another feather in the large cap which sits firmly on the head of the Citizens Theatre.
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
"JULIUS CAESAR" by William Shakespeare * * * * *
17th June 2017
"Julius Caesar" is certainly one of the Bard's plays which I have seen many, many times - my first being a touring production presented by The Old Vic in Glasgow's King's Theatre during the 1960s. I love Rome, I love Italian Classical history, and of course I love Shakespeare and this play in particular; and this intelligent, superbly paced and acted production by Angus Jackson ticks all the boxes for me, and more; the word "pace" may seem an obvious one to keep a play moving and therefore keep an audience involved, but here we have a director who is not afraid of the longer pauses, the meticulousness of delivery, and the use of pace which becomes the centre of this captivating, and finally enthralling production. I understood, probably for the first time in my theatre going life, the dialogue and arguments of "Julius Caesar", presented here in down-to-earth and articulate and gripping dialogue, from a huge cast, led by the dominating and frightening Andrew Woodall in the title role; the young sensitive and thoughtful Brutus acted by Alex Waldmann, and the physically impressive and extremely well-deliverd Mark Antony by James Corrigan. The set is superb and correctly dominates the action in the first half (designer Robert Innes Hopkins), and cleverly adapts itself to the plains of Phillipi. Mention must be made too of the clever, and fully-formed characterisations provided by Tom McCall as Casca (Caesar's withering dismissal of him on the morning of the assassination is wonderful) and the muscle-bound Martin Hutson as a strong and virile Cassius, whom you could easily imagine saving Caesar from the raging Tiber. And the two small female roles - the wives - were brilliantly played by Kristin Atherton as Calphurnia and Hannah Morrish as Portia, and confirmed the old adage that there are no small roles - only small players. The capacity audience - including many, many young people of school-age - was enthralled from start to finish; what a wonderful start to live theatre for them!
Royal Shakespeare Company / The Swan Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
"SALOME" by Oscar Wilde * * *
16th June 2017
This is the first time that I have seen this play of the Salome story by Oscar Wilde, and therefore the first time that I have heard the complete text; this is what made my evening - I absolutely loved the language, and the conciseness of Wilde's story-telling; it is presented in one act and is a relatively short night in the theatre; and this is a decidedly gay and explicit production presented by a totally male cast - except for the Herodias of Suzanne Burden; this experienced actress plays her role to perfection, delivers her text with relish, and devours fresh fruit from a plate during one of the most graphic scenes when Salome tells Herod exactly what she wants from him for performing the Dance of the Seven Veils! Comic acting supreme - but!!!! Her first entrance along with Herod's sycophants nearly derails all the good work which has gone before; the director Owen Horsley plays this group as pure OTT comedy characters - and Mrs Herod appears as the exact double of Mrs Slocombe from "Are You Being Served" complete with outrageous wig, and behaving in exactly the same way! Why??? Likewise the title role is played by the young, handsome, and aesthetically beautiful Matthew Tennyson, played in a simple ladies slip, until of course he/she strips completely during the famous Dance. His face picture adorns the theatre programme cover - and herein lies my problem; the photograph encapsulates exactly Mr Tennyson's performance - and his whole performance is played with this detached look; at no time do you see any passion, (or for that matter hear any passion in the weak and one-level delivery of the role), nor do you see any hint of anything in his eyes, and for a role of the selfish sadistic young princess, with such lust for power, sex, murder, and bestiality, this character of all characters must show much, much more than passive lewdness. By far the strongest portrayals are the arrogant and completely selfish Herod acted by Matthew Pidgeon, and Gavin Fowler's strong, physical, and stunning Iokannan. Horsley's busy production is gripping to look at, in an unsettling way, although some of the live music (by Perfume Genius, and performed by Ilan Evans) is obtrusive, and detracts from the nastiness and seriousness of the story, and of course Wilde's narrative and text.
Runway Theatre Company / Eastwood Park Theatre
"PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT - the musical" by Stephen Elliott, Allan Scott * * * * *
9th May 2017
An opening night which any professional company would give their eye-teeth for - no build up, no ifs nor buts, no suggestions - this is one of the most professional, ingenious, and infectious musicals that has ever been presented in Eastwood Park Theatre. And this is Runway's 50th Anniversary Production!!!!! How proud the company and all its former members must be, be they still with us or long gone to the theatrical flies in the skies. The energy, enthusiasm, the fabulous sets and costumes, the total cast, the choreography, the lighting - and of course Robert Fyfe's superbly controlled production - everything combines to prevent so-called critics like me talking garbage, and instead concentrating on telling everyone, onstage or in the audience, how utterly stupendous this show is. The three principals Antony Carter (the very best I have ever seen this talented performer onstage), Craig Glover (whose timing, character, and comedy are all sublime), and Greg Robertson (sexy, energy-fuelled, and the incredible choreographer for the whole production) work together as if this is the third month of a West End production; Bob McDevitt (Bob), the three musical Divas (looking superb in their wonderful kitsch costumes and with the most powerful of voices), Susie Thompson McMahon (Cynthia), the amazing Finlay Thompson (as the son Benji with both an amazing voice and an amazing stage presence), and Susan B. Russell (a Shirley who has to be seen and heard to be believed!), along with the full cast and company, make this show a truly inspirational experience. David R. Dunlop is the MD of the hidden band, and conducts and controls the entire musical side of the show from start to finish with professionalism and a sound knowledge of such a fast-paced musical. Robert - congratulations to you and Runway for choosing this show and company for your 50th Anniversary production - and with your guidance and the wide talent available, you start the Company's next 50 years with 100% commitment to the future. Thank you all.
Giffnock Theatre Players / Eastwood Park Theatre
"A DELICATE BALANCE" by Edward Albee * * * * *
26th April 2017
Make no bones about it - this is one of the most powerful and engrossing plays and productions that you will ever see; strong words, I know, but I was overwhelmed last night at the effect this meaty, (mainly) autobiographical play had on me, and, from eavesdropping on interval chat, many of the audience. Albee's massive, wordy and intriguing drama has been given exceptional performances, setting, costumes, and lighting, led by one of the strongest and intelligent productions by director Alasdair Hawthorn which it has been my pleasure to witness. Pace, movement , and most importantly, interpretation of this - what? Tragedy? Comedy? War of Words? - is what theatre should always be about. Loss, reality, fear and loathing are all explored by Albee in his 1966 play, and the title explains so much - the loss of balance of all of the characters; Agnes's position in the household and in her home; likewise Tobias's complete loss to accept the loss of a son and loss of intimate relations with his wife; sister Claire's loss of reality, in some ways, and her loss of creating a family with children; even daughter Julia's loss of her childhood bedroom along with her four husbands; and finally the loss of sanity, one could almost say, of the best friend neighbours Edna and Harry. All of those personal and intimate situations providing the delicate balances of the title. Mr Hawthorn obviously knows this play intimately, and has directed his superb cast with care, precision, and love; Paola de Rosa and Mark Coleman work amazingly well together as the lost retired couple, with both actors displaying their talent and understanding to an amazing high level of artistry; Glynis Poole as the alcoholic sister Claire provides most of the comedy in a performance which is so so strong, because of the horrendous illness which her disease has taken her to - self-destruction before our eyes brought to a horrific level; Melanie Wishart (and her director) gives Julia the daughter the most physical performance - a Baby Jane character, crawling back into the maternal womb of a house, and never still for a moment; and this unique cast is completed by June Stevenson and Andy Williams as the mysterious neighbours with the unnamed terror, moving in to live with this dysfunctional household, and calmly taking control one moment, giving up this control the next. The one set is amazing - well furnished, correct and numerous well-researched props, dominated by the overstocked bar. Words are not enough to tell you that if you love theatre at all, you must try to get along to witness one of the strongest and most intelligent productions of this powerful American play - you only have three days left (until 29th April) - make this visit to the theatre a top priority.
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
"ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA" by William Shakespeare * * * * *
15th April 2017
This new production of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" is part of the RSC ROME Season, and is directed by Iqbal Khan - can one say impeccably? Well, I'm going to say it, as this massive production is not only one of the best productions mounted in recent years by the RSC, but I have to say it is, too, one of the best stage productions I have ever seen. Mr Khan gives his audiences what a first-rate director should always do; allows the audience to understand the play, by setting out a structure which has been meticulously prepared, and of course, by necessity, includes clear diction, projection, use of the vast stage areas available, and the addition of lighting, music, sets which complement rather than hinder the text and story, and therefore production as it should be. The sell-out audience included many young children who sat as still and engrossed as the rest of the audience members - and "Antony and Cleopatra" is not your usual run-of-the mill Shakespeare text and story. I have to mention names who brought us this superb piece of theatre, and so apart from Mr Khan, we have designer Robert Innes Hopkins (the sets simple but stunning, and so so atmospheric - the sea battles at the beginning of Part Two just one of the many intelligent and brilliantly executed visual moments); Tim Mitchell's lighting design, which throughout caught the blazing sun and heat of Egypt and Italy, and yet was able to hone into the more intimate scenes when necessary; Laura Mvula's music, too, so complemented the action, and her large orchestra on both sides of the acting arena, was first-rate! I must mention too, Company Voice and Text Work by Kate Godfrey who ensured that this splendid company was heard at all times - a company led by Antony Byrne and Josette Simon outstanding in the title roles; physically Mr Byrne is perhaps, at first, not your "usual" Antony, being of average height and not declaiming his lines in heroic tones - but he is the grizzled selfish warrior, doing his day job, and commanding respect from his men, and providing a charismatic character whom one can easily believe conquered the spirit and heart of the all powerful, brilliantly striking and mercurial Cleopatra, played by Josette Simon to perfection; I never realised that there is so much humour in the character, and I was enthralled by Ms Simon's performance from start to finish when her noble and dignified death held the audience in total and spellbound silence; those two outstanding performers were supported by a most talented company, (including a cynical and so confident Enobarbus - Andrew Woodall), and the stage seemed at times to be populated by a gigantic company, which actually comprised only 22 players. This "Antony and Cleopatra" is a serious contender for play of the year, and should be seen by lovers of Shakespeare everywhere. A triumph for the RSC.
A Citizens Theatre & Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh Co-Production, at Glasgow Citizens Theatre
"HAY FEVER" by Noel Coward * * * * *
6th April 2017
Well Sir Noel must be beaming with pride and satisfaction at this latest production of his comedy "Hay Fever", which is a must-see show which runs at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre until 22 April; certainly, by far, the best rendering of his creation of the selfish theatrical family from hell resident in Cookham, which I have seen. This superb production fizzles from start to finish under the direction of Dominic Hill, with the most atmospheric set designed by Tom Piper and subtle lighting designed by Chris Davey, where intensity of conversations held/acted out on the central sofa area are heightened by a strengthening of the almost deliberately theatrical spotlight effect, while still managing to appear as neutral or non-existant lighting as a whole - the sign for me that the lighting design has worked, because one is generally not aware of it! Add the proverbial cast to die for, headed by the redoubtable Susan Wooldridge as the scarily insane Judith, living out the Shakespearian dream that "all the world's a stage", and the audience is held captivated and in hysterics for the entire evening - theatre as it should and must be. Watch out too for Myra McFadyen as the maid Clara, who elevates a scene change to new musical heights - but the whole company deserves praise for this exceptionally good revival of the Master's delicious comedy.
Rome Opera at Teatro del Opera, Roma
"IL TROVATORE" by Giuseppe Verdi * * * * *
28th February 2017
A stunningly great evening at the Rome Opera on the first night of a new production of "Il Trovatore", where the old adage of all you need for a superb performance of one of Verdi's greatest operas is the four best singers in the world taking on the four main roles - that seemed to happen here; a very special evening.
The Citizens Company at Glasgow Citizens Theatre
"CUTTIN' A RUG" by John Byrne * *
24th February 2017
A disappointing evening at the Citz, mainly the fault of director Caroline Paterson, who has concocted a production which is crass, old-fashioned, and coarse in its execution - a pale shadow of the very funny play in its early years, and not worthy of either the author nor the cast and company.
Cheek by Jowl at Glasgow Citizens Theatre
"THE WINTER'S TALE" by William Shakespeare * * * * *
27th January 2017
One of Shakespeare's last plays, The Winter's Tale can be bracketed with The Tempest and Cymbeline, often neatly called the Romances; there are so many challenging structures in this play which sets its construction completely separate from the Bard's earlier and probably more famous histories, tragedies, and comedies. I find it a very difficult play to get to grips with - almost a play in two halves - and concentration is tested. However, not with this absolutely mesmerising production by Declan Donnellan for his company Cheek by Jowl. This production is phenomenal, and the company of only 14 players performs to possibly the highest standard to which we all strive, but very rarely achieve. The first half is dominated by the jealous ravings and actions of Leontes, played with incredible energy and subtlety by the stunning Orlando James; here Leontes joins Shakespeare's list of villains - Iago, Shylock, Macbeth, etc., etc. - and the audience is gripped with the pace, tension, and most natural acting by the company. When we move to Part Two, the time gap is explained, and we arrive in land-locked Bohemia - with its seashore! - Shakespeare abandons his previous detailed descriptions of place and period, and this deliberate approach to his construction of this play suits the story and certainly suits this production, where for the first time I have been able to follow the complete play from start to finish, even with the statue coming "to life" - (did the Queen really die 16 years earlier?) - and Mr Donnellan has been helped - incredibly helped - by the designer Nick Ormerod, lighting designer Judith Greenwood, and Paddy Cunneen's music. Mr Ormerod's set is deceptively simple - a large timber slatted sea container, whose sides can suddenly fall forward to reveal various simple interiors - set within the large black Citizens stage. And the final scene, at the aforementioned statue's coming to life, is so beautifully set as a quasi-religious grouping, with the most incredible lighting, that the entire audience held its breath as one for what seemed an eternity. I cannot list any more names because the entire company should be named; The Winter's Tale was revealed to me in all its glory and intelligence last night for the very first time; an evening in the theatre to treasure.
Royal Shakespeare Company / Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
"THE TEMPEST" by William Shakespeare *
31st December 2016
To end the year in Stratford and at the main theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company, watching and listening to one of my favourite of the Bard's plays, THE TEMPEST, should have been, for me - an almost lifelong friend, follower, and advocate for what I think is one of the top two theatre companies in the UK - absolute theatrical bliss! How my expectations were shattered on Hogmanay; this was simply one of the worst productions which I have seen presented by the RSC. And to say this does not sadden me, but angers me. To know, or at least guess of, the money which must have been spent on this production, with its reliance on "new" technology and stage effects, which has obviously led to the complete negation of teaching/directing/rehearsing verse delivery, projection, and interpretation of this great Shakespearian comedy, is totally unacceptable. And to realise that the director of this dud, Gregory Doran, happens to be the current Artistic Director of this great company, beggars belief. What on earth happened during the rehearsal period? The cast behaved during the first half hour as if at the first read through in a rehearsal room - although in that situation I think that more words would have been heard at least; inaudible from my £50.00 seat, no passion, no interpretation, no characterisation - dreadful, absolutely dreadful; even the great Simon Russell Beale, one of my favourite actors, was a mere cipher, left to flounder around with no focus whatsoever. Four performers stood out for me, and they were Jenny Rainsford (Miranda), Mark Quartley (Ariel), Daniel Easton (Ferdinand), and Joseph Mydell (Gonzalo); the remainder were not what I would term RSC quality - and don't even talk of the so-called tragi-comedy roles of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano - left to their own devices, with no serious direction whatsoever.
As for the "new" technology and innovations; the West-End of London has been using such effects for many, many years now - and to much better effect. A last word/moan about the theatre and audience; I have now come down firmly in hatred of the new acting space; it just does not work, and as I have already mentioned, the sight-lines from many parts of the house (and I have by now been seated in many parts of the house) are simply wrong - or at least priced wrongly. My seat cost £50.00, and was not worth the money. Despite the do's and dont's in the booking forms, please seriously study the lay-out of the theatre to consider if you can see/ are physically able to be hoisted up to seats / have strong knees which are about to be crushed on the backs of seats in front of you. Now, just in case you think that I myself had an "off" night, just like the players; can I please mention that from my side seat I was able to see at least 9 separate audience members sound asleep, and three actively engaged texting on their mobile phones. Lastly, I did the unforgiveable - I left at the interval, and I still have had the gall to print the above review! C'est la vie!
Royal Shakespeare Company / The Swan Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
"THE SEVEN ACTS OF MERCY" by Anders Lustgarten * * * * *
29th December 2016
A wonderful new play in the Shakespeare 400 years Celebration Year of the death of the great writer; and a play which spans that 400 years! 1606 Naples and 2016 Bootle - and the connection actually works; the 1606 section focuses on Caravaggio (Patrick O'Kane - a passionate and intense portrayal) and his attempt to complete his vision of the seven acts of mercy, despite the danger threatening him from the powerful Church of Rome, from where he has just fled after killing a man in a duel; while the 2016 section focuses on the struggling poverty in Merseyside, and Bootle in particular where the teenager Mickey (superbly played by the young, talented, and mesmerising T.J.Jones) lives with and supports and learns from his terminally ill grandfather played by a subtly convincing Tom Georgeson - still able to burn with passion and anger at the situation in which he finds himself, about to be evicted from his family home due to current government policy. Add to this volatile situation the return of Micky's father and the grandfather's son, Lee, (Gyuri Sarossy) a self-made successful business man who finds himself in ironic conflict with his own family. And Caravaggio's glorious painting which illustrates and speaks of the dispossessed in his/our society, binds the two seemingly disparate stories into one heart-rending play, written with such passion, coarse eloquence, and burning anger (tinged with a certain naivety) by today's wunderkind author, Anders Lustgarten, whose work is beginning to be seen all over the country. Erica Whyman's expert and fast-paced direction captures exactly the angst and political relevance of this new play, and helps to ensure that this play and indeed production, should be seen by as many people as possible.
The Citizens' Company/Bristol Old Vic/Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse JOINT PRODUCTION / Citizens Theatre Glasgow
"THE RIVALS" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan * * * * *
4th November 2016
Without a doubt this is what live theatre should always be about; I experienced one of the most joyous evenings in a theatre for many, many years. A Director, Dominic Hill, who knows exactly what he is doing with this hilarious restoration comedy, and yet is able to present a story and production readily accessible to all ages with controlled nuances and references to, if not today, then at least the 20th century. And Mr Hill has at his disposal a magnificent cast of all ages who, under his direction, brings this wonderful comedy to life, and at an exhausting pace from start to finish; the word that is so obvious to use is energy - from start to finish this production and cast carry the story at breakneck speed and use articulation, projection, characterisation, and talent to tell the familiar story in such a readily understandable manner. The total cast, as I have suggested, all deserve praise, but inevitably there are some stunning highlights; never before have Mrs Malaprop's words and phrases been so intelligently emphasised and delivered by Julie Legrand in a characterisation which has to be seen by as many people as possible. Rhys Rusbatch as Captain Absolute and veteran Desmond Barritt as his father Sir Anthony work their whole beings off to conjure up solid and believable characters, never letting up for one single moment. And Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia Languish, encapsulating her name to perfection, has created a major performance well-deserving recognition for years to come - you must see this young lady onstage where she uses her vocal techniques, her physical contortions, and text deliveries to absolute perfection - at times giving glimpses of the character Janice in TV's Friends, on whom surely some of Ms Briggs-Owen's performance is based?! Designer Tom Rogers uses every corner of the Citizens stage, with atmospheric settings moving about, dropping in, complementing the unique stage properties which on some occasions are not exactly what they appear, and the set is complemented by the atmospheric and well-focussed lighting of Howard Hudson. This show is running for a further fortnight in Glasgow, until 19 November, and I beg you to visit the Citz and witness what is one of the most wonderful productions which it will ever be your privilege to enjoy. An absolute triumph!
The Citizens' Company / Citizens Theatre Glasgow
"TRAINSPOTTING" * * * *
7th October 2016
And so it comes full circle - Harry Gibson's adaptation of Irvine Walsh's novel was first presented in the Citizens' Theatre Stalls Studio in 1994 & 1995, and followed one year later by the famous Danny Boyle film, which sequel is due out next year in 2017. If you don't know anything about the content of this play, then probably this play is not for you - its content is not just shocking, but ultra shocking, and its language and violence are not for the faint-hearted. Even after 20 years this play still has the ability to shock you to the core, and live theatre makes the experience even more brutal than the film which has the silver screen for protection. So perfect and talented was the small cast that it is worth mentioning all names - Lorn Macdonald (Renton), Angus Miller (Sick Boy), Chloe-Ann Taylor (Alison/Dianne), Owen Whitelaw (Begbie), and, my favourite, Gavin Jon Wright (Spud); never was the phrase ensemble casting so apposite; however, without the superb and pacy direction of Gareth Nicholls, this unique cast would have been unable to present this shocking piece of raw theatre to the standard which they reached. Nicholls is a special director who has a grasp for theatre - pace, intelligence, and understanding, capturing the audience's attention from the moment the curatin rises; even the fall of the curtain at the end of Act One happened to total silence from the auditorium, (which was packed) - a sign that Mr Nicholls and his cast had succeeded beyond measure with this gritty uncompromising piece of theatre; mention must be made too of the design of MaxJones and the atmospheric and deliberatley harsh lighting design of Philip Gladwell. All of that said, I came away from the theatre depressed and affected by the play - not by its performance, but by its content - just not for me, I'm afraid - but isn't that what theatre is all about?
Royal Shakespeare Company / Citizens Theatre Glasgow
"A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM" * * * *
29th March 2016
The Royal Shakespeare Company has brought its Play for the Nation to Glasgow Citizens, and in conjunction with the Citizens Dream Players - all amateur actors - is presenting Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" all this week. And what an achievement! To mount such an enterprise in the 400dth year since the death of the playwright, and to tour it around the country using amateur actors as the Rude Mechanicals and local schoolchildren as Fairies, must be one of the most ambitious theatrical projects ever mounted - and that fact in itself truly fulfils the title of A PLAY FOR THE NATION. Congratulations to everyone concerned - and what have they done with this most accessible of Shakespeare's comedies. Director Erica Whyman explains in the superb programme that the sense of great change, which is suggested in the Athens which the Bard has created in his "Dream" has led her to set her production in a Great Britain emerging from the Second World War in the 1940s, and gave her the opportunity, along with her designer Tom Piper, to create a frenetic, mysterious, haunting, colourful, and dazzling setting for this most magical of plays. The professionals in the cast are superb, with four top-notch performances from the young lovers, played by Mercy Ojelade, Chris Nakak, Jack Holden, and Laura Riseborough, (although the latter as Helena must take more care with her diction and projection, which detracted from her overall performance). The hard-working fairies were led by the imposing Chu Omembala as Oberon and Ayesha Dharker as Titania - sexy and outstandingly confident in their characterisations and delivery of the verse. Lucy Ellinson's Puck was just what this character must be - looking like a deranged Artful Dodger, she created this mischievous, interfering, manipulative, and finally caring Robin Goodfellow, controlling not only the large cast of actors and musicians, but also the capacity audience, who (eventually!) agreed to award her with the tremendous applause, which she and the company merited at the end of the play. And what of our own Citizens Dream Players? Well, at their initial appearance, I did just wonder if this experiment would work where an inevitable tentativeness and nervousness pervaded their performances, especially the Bottom of Martin Turner; time brought increased confidence, and worked wonders, and by the time of their play of Pyramus and Thisbe before the Court, the six amateurs gave of their all to provide an hilarious account of the tragi-comedy - from David Scanlan (an increasingly irritated Quince) and Alistair Wales (an anxious Flute/Thisbe who held one of the most stunning pauses onstage that I have evr witnessed - to magical effect), through Katy Thomson (a solid Snout, desperate to share her chink with everyone), and Emma Tracey (a balletic and energised Starveling, reluctant to leave the spotlight), to Bill Whiland (as a smiling joiner Snug, elevated to the gentle roars of the Lion), and the aforementioned Martin Turner keeping things together as Bottom the Weaver, and providing wonderful business with his ridiculously overlong sword, and dressed as a larger than life Harry Lauder complete with tartan costume and paint brishes for his helmet; incidentally Mr Turner's Bottom's Dream speech after his amorous sojourn with Titania, was underplayed - deliberately - to create a most moving interpretation. What a privilege for these six performers to appear with this country's leading dramatic company and their professional players - and they repeat their performances in the Stratford theatre over the summer period! The schoolchildren, too, from Shawlands Academy, did evrything that was asked of them, and even spoke solo lines of text in the final scene. A magical play, a magical evening in the theatre - wonderful, and a fitting tribute to the greatest playwright who ever lived. Thank you RSC. Thank you Glasgow Citz.
Glasgow Light Opera Club / King's Theatre Glasgow
SUNSET BOULEVARD * * * * *
23rd October 2015
This the best production which this long-established amateur operatic club has presented for many years; to choose a modern (relatively) musical by Lloyd Webber, which is almost a star vehicle for its leading lady and has not all that much to do for an ensemble (so vital to any amateur club, even just for selling tickets!), is a risky decision to make. GLOC triumphs in every respect; this production is top-notch, led by the incredible star performance of Aileen Johnston as Norma Desmond; she looks, breathes, sings, and acts this iconic role with every inch of her being, and even at this late stage (Saturday morning 24th) if you have not got tickets to see this unique performance, try to catch one of today's two performances - you will not at all be disappointed. But, of course, one woman does not make a show, and her support in the massive role of Joe Gillis is brilliantly taken by Ross Nicol, who also gives an energetic, full in-your-face portrayal of the greedy, lost soul ensnared in the web of Desmond's clutches. This is one of the most demanding roles ever written in recent years in music theatre, and Mr Nicol is cast to perfection; unfortunately, it is him who suffers occasionally with slightly loud underscoring from the pit, and as his character is really the narrator of the piece this can intrude into the full enjoyment of the audience, especially those who have never seen the show before. That minor quibble aside, the full orchestra is ably led and conducted by Music Director David R. Dunlop, who has a total grasp on this luscious score, and obviously enjoys Lloyd Webber's music. The direction of the show is by the seasoned producer, Alasdair Hawthorn, who has crafted one of the best stage productions I have seen in recent years. The characterisations, the groupings, the understanding of this chilling story, are all controlled by Mr Hawthorn, with his usual expertise, to create a narrative which has pace, intelligence, and guts. All of the roles, whether principal or ensemble, work as one team, and there are so many outstanding performances; Jonathan Procter is a towering, sensitive, and finally moving Max, who copes with the almost impossible, fiendish tessitura of the role with ease and distinction; and young Kirsten MacDonald is a revelation to me - a pure operatic voice, so well suited for the role of Betty Schaefer - and she creates a moving, confident, and finally totally rounded portrayal of the innocent again caught up in the awful machinations going on; solid, professional support is given by Iain G. Condie (as Manfred), Tom Russell (as Sheldrake), and the expressive Greg Reid (as Artie). Sets, costumes, lighting, stage-management - everything as near to perfection as one would wish. This is a stunning production, and deserves/deserved to be seen by many, many more people than I understand have attended the theatre - what a great shame - their loss, I assure you.
Royal Shakespeare Company
WOLF HALL * * * * *
BRING UP THE BODIES * * * * *
In the world of theatre I guess you would have to be living on another planet not to have heard the outstanding acclaim which has greeted the productions of WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES at the Royal Shakespeare Company this winter - tickets are like gold dust, and already people are counting the days, firstly for when Ms Mantel's third book in her trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell reaches the book shelves, secondly for when the RSC commissions Mike Poulton to dramatise the said book for the stage. What can I already add to this feedback? Not a lot, because everything that seems to have been said is so, so true. Both WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES are simply stunning examples of what can happen, but very rarely does, when works of art such as Hilary Mantel's two novels, (both winners of the Man Booker Prize), are dramatised by such an intelligent man of the theatre as Mike Poulton, are taken on board by a first rate theatre company - in this instance the Royal Shakespeare Company - and a director, Jeremy Herrin, is put in charge to bring the result to life on stage; the simple design is by Christopher Oram, aided and abetted by intelligent and subtle lighting design from Paule Constable, memorable music by Stephen Warbeck - movement, fights, casting - the list is endless, and provides one of those very rare productions where everything has come together as one would have wanted, to create two plays which, despite the total playing time of approximately 6 hours, pass in a moment and make one long for a repeat viewing or two or three, and of course the inevitable third play which surely will follow in the next few years. Ms Mantel's language, so modern but so appropriate, is music to the ears in the story of the rise and rise - at the moment - of Thomas Cromwell, played superbly, intelligently, articulately by Ben Miles, who, according to the programme notes, has been living and sleeping with this most complex of characters since he was cast in the mammoth role. All of the cast should be mentioned, but can't be because of lack of space - not for many, many years have I seen such a strong ensemble cast; they can be heard, they have energy, they inhabit the whole stage of the Swan, and work as an ensemble should - supporting each other, telling a story, and never relaxing in this huge undertaking; quite simply these are two of the best evenings which you will ever have the pleasure to witness in any type of theatre anywhere in the world. Beg or queue for return tickets, watch out for tours or revivals of the plays - if you like theatre, you will like this. Miss those productions at your peril.
Royal Shakespeare Company
Stratford Upon Avon, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 1st January 2014
WENDY AND PETER PAN * * *
To be fair to the company, this production is honestly billed as "by Ella Hickson, adapted from the novel by J.M.Barrie"; both this statement and the actual title gave me warning moments long before I got to Stratford. Like the previous two productions reviewed above, this production has had not too bad reviews from the natonal press, and visually it is quite stunning - the cluttered nursery, the pirate ship amazingly sailing onstage and travelling here, there, and everywhere. But this new play is an adaptation, NOT a dramatisation as is the two historical plays. And what Ms Hickson does is cheat - she takes a lot of the best bits and dialogue from Barrie's original play, but she imposes completely irrelevant additions, such as a third brother who dies at the beginning of the play, and a ludicrous so-called sub text of Mrs Darling striving out to become a modern Mum, confusingly bringing in the subject of suffragettes - which in the end is all a big misunderstanding by Mr Darling! I'm not making this up. Of course to pursue this nonsensical notion, she totally ignores the much more clever and thought-provoking presence of Mr Darling becoming Captain Hook to the children - surely a much darker proposition as intended by Barrie. Out are Nana the Dog, mermaids, indians, (Tiger Lily is a sole presence which makes no sense whatsoever but gives Ms Hickson the chance to push her female superhero idea when Michelle Asante's Tiger Lily is joined by Wendy and Tink - not Tinkerbell - as an unholy trio which completely unbalances any credible storyline). Even the crocodile is missing though to be fair the ticking beast is substituted by a very agile Arthur Kyeyune's Doc Giles - the croc doc who fails to save the ailing brother but appears throughout to torment Captain Hook. And what of the flying on the new thrust stage of the RSC? Boring and contrived, with the addition of five "shadows" who help Peter to fly before they fix a harness to him - a thick, clumsy harness which only enables the fliers to go up or round in a wide circle. Peter's appeal to the children of the audience to applaud if they believe in fairies is luckily allowed to survive, and works very well, when hundreds of fairy lights appear around the whole auditorium (I must admit I was delighted to see that what could nowadays be a problem moment in production, worked so well - my faith in good acting and the innocence of children was restored!!!) Perhaps this convoluted and ill-conceived idea of an adaptation would have been handled better by a more adventurous or talented director, but Jonathan Munby's direction was non-existent, and crucially lacked any feeling of pace and energy. The first act, after an exciting Nursery scene, slowed to a crawl, and fatally the pirate scenes and fights on board the pirate ship were embarrassingly cramped and under-rehearsed. Sam Swann was an engaging Peter, he looked good, and had all the kids on his side, and he did the best he could with such dis-spiriting direction and material. Guy Henry was an anonymous Captain Hook - he looked wrong, and his first entrance was botched and unintelligible, placed as he was at the very back of the deep stage. The word mis-cast certainly comes to mind. Two stars of the evening were female - so maybe Ms Hickson was doing something right! - Charlotte Mills as a unique and street wise Tink, who got every laugh that was going, and easily dominated her scenes, and Fiona Button as Wendy - what a remarkable, intelligent, energetic, and winning portrayal, which made one long to see her as the original character in the original play, where she would become a strong and leading member of an ensemble, rather than a dominating character in a story which finally is not really all about her.
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 27th January 2014
WAR HORSE * * * * *
What on earth can I say about a production which has been thrilling audiences world-wide since it premiered at The National in 2007? Everything that you may have heard is absolutely true. This production, based on Michael Morpurgo's novel adapted by Nick Stafford, is unique, awe-inspiring, moving, and an experience which none of those who have seen it, is likely to forget. The directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have worked wonders in telling us this tale of the horse Joey before, during, and after the Great War, and to witness this production staged in Edinburgh (its only Scottish date) during 2014, exactly one hundred years since the outbreak of the so-called war to end all wars, is a privilege. The young Lee Armstrong leads this massive cast in the role of Albert Narracott, and puts his whole soul into his portrayal of the young lad growing up on a farm in England, and befriending and training the foal bought for him by his wastrel father with the mortgage money, much to the disgust of his hard-working mother - a superb and strong performance by Karen Henthorn. But the large cast all deserve honours heaped upon them, for bonding together as a strong disciplined talented ensemble, bringing to life on the vast Festival Theatre stage the rural life of sleepy England, the Channel crossing in choppy weather, the horror and degradation and filth of the French battlefields, the peaceful local havens invaded and left to never be the same again in this war ravaged land. The set shows a strange gash across the black cyclorama as we enter the theatre - what is it? A gash from a scythe? A rent in the peace of the world?; all is revealed of course once the production starts and this "gash" takes on its own life as screen, information panel, film screen, image maker; Paule Constable's lighting design is stunning - a blood drenched background turning to poppies of the field in front of us is just one of hundreds of lighting effects heaped on us in this production, and Rae Smith's designs and drawings are indescribable. Much has been written of the horses on stage - puppet design and fabrication, movement and horse choreography, puppetry directors, and the whole production presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company - the work that the puppeteers perform to create the two main horses of Joey and Topthorn, and others too, is mind-blowing, and the listing of a company Physiotherapist in the programme is so understandable. Mind you, Joseph Richardson manipulating the Goose nearly steals the show for me! A slight niggle regarding the story happened at the start of Act Two, when the narrative moves to the French cottage and its inhabitants, a young girl and her mother; this is the one place where I wondered if the plot was starting to wander and lose the grip on the audience, (as I experienced too in the Spielberg film of the novel), but luckily it quickly passed after about 5 minutes, and perhaps said more about me than the actual production. I would say go and see it now, but the complete run in Edinburgh is sold out, and has been for many weeks; there is a live transmission in cinemas on 27th February, from the National Theatre in London, and if you are able to get tickets for this, I urge you to do so. When one is lucky enough to see a production such as this, our National Theatre deserves nothing but praise for mounting the show in the first place, and for bringing it to all parts of the country and making it truly a national company.
Paisley Musical & Operatic Society
King's Theatre Glasgow, 4th March 2014
THE KING AND I * * *
Rodgers and Hammerstein does it again - fill a theatre to what appeared to be capacity on this opening night of Paisley Musical & Operatic Society's new production of THE KING AND I. Be prepared for a long night - the show came down at 10.20pm, with the first act finishing 3 minutes before 9pm! This is not good for this particular show in the R & H canon of shows, as KING AND I is usually recognised as one of the shortest of the musicals. The fault has to lie in the hands of Director Alasdair Hawthorn, Choreographer Marion Baird, and new Musical Director Sean Stirling. My admiration for Mr Hawthorn's work is well-known and genuine - (his PRODUCERS for this same company must rank as one of the best amateur productions ever to be seen in Glasgow) - and he is such a talented man of the theatre; his sure touch, however, seems to have deserted him on this occasion. Playing the opening scene immediately, then following it with the overture complete with show title gauze and introducing all the characters behind it seems bizarre. A stilted and dull entrance for the Siamese children (from two opposite entrances) resulted in no applause for a scene which should be a showstopper; priests straight from some medieval pageant, a distracting flashback during the superb Hello Young Lovers, and a crowded death scene focussing on everyone but the dying King, all combined to suggest that Mr Hawthorn had not quite grasped the essence of this moving and gripping story. He was not helped by the foursquare and uninspiring musical direction from the pit, and MD Sean Stirling continuously battled to maintain a sensible balance between pit and stage - some dynamism, not safety - is required. Marion Baird's choreography is disappointing too, the Act Two Ballet particularly so, and it is simply intrusive in the Getting to Know You number.
Thank goodness for the cast! Bob McDevitt is perhaps too British as the King and needs more oomph, but he gives a stolid and engaging performance, and improves tremendously as the evening progresses, settling into a commanding and imposing character. He is matched all the way by Valerie Goff as a traditional Anna; Ms Goff has a wonderful stage presence and delivers her dialogue perfectly - she looks good too, if maybe a little too matronly not helped by the style of her wig, but she easily owns the role and the stage. Gillian Gray is a sweet-voiced Tuptim and her vast stage experience helps her to create a fully rounded character; Lynn Stewart is too young for Lady Thiang - but when she sings she reveals a large soprano voice which dominates the stage, and she settles down after initial nervousness to give a touching portrayal of the King's wife. Robbie Prentice (as Louis) and Ewan Walker (as The Prince) give confident performances and their dialogue, while good, would be even better with more positive projection and energy. Craig McDougall is a handsome and competent Lun Tha, and reveals a light pleasant vocal line.
The permanent set works well, with atmospheric inserts, and the costumes, on the whole, are good if a little random. The opening night audience loved every moment of the show, but the credit for this, on this occasion at least, must lie with the cast of principals and, of course, the huge talent which is Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The Lyric Club
King's Theatre Glasgow, 8th April 2014
ANNIE * * *
A show of two parts - literally; a sluggish and slow first act that just didn't take off and a second act which fizzled along from start to finish, probably helped by the book of ANNIE itself, which is much more coherent in the second half. But let's heap praise where praise and credit are due - to the children of this company, led by the articulate, effervescent, and totally musical Annie herself, Sara Cartwright. This young lady showed no first night nerves at all, and gave us a fully rounded performance of little orphan Annie, which was a privilege to watch. I was so struck by her diction, as I was by all the young cast members, led by the six main orphans who all shone brightly none more so than Ellie Shaw as Molly. The show took off when those talented youngsters appeared onstage. Some other points in Alan C Jones's production were more dubious. Mr Jones seemed unwilling to use and enjoy his vast stage, so that many scenes appeared stuck at the edges of the stage, or else were set upstage to allow cloths or gauzes to come in; perhaps this was just the curse of trying to mount an amateur show in so short a time in the city's major theatre. Sadly he was not helped by the strangely old-fashioned and out of place choreography which the ensemble was forced to dance, especially in a well-dressed and clean Hooverville scene which dramatically made no sense whatsoever, and in the New York scene, where excitement and bustle were missing to make way for routines more suited to Busby Berkeley stagings. J. Campbell Kerr is always good value for money, but in this show and in the role of Daddy Warbucks I thought that he excelled himself; he looked the part, he gave us energy and commitment, and his beautiful voice was heard to stunning effect - he even made the inserted and boring "Why Change a Thing", in Act One, sound good! Maureen Todd as Grace Farrell gave her usual accomplished performance both dramatically and vocally, but her costumes did not flatter, nor did her dubious wig. Julie Cassells did her best with Miss Hannigan, but her drunk act needs to be more controlled and positive to be truly effective; she has a strong singing voice which she put to good use in her trio with Roy McGregor and Morven McCallum, as the deceitful villains. Andrew Scott shone in the small cameo role of Bert Healy, and when you have a hungry labrador called Lola playing Annie's pooch Sandy, how can you fail to please - lots of children AND an animal in the one show! Pity the poor adults. Tom Daniels' band was over-powering in Act One, but settled down to give the necessary Broadway sound and balance needed for such a brassy show as Annie. I understand that the King's balcony was open, as it is for the remainder of performances, and how wonderful to see and hear The King's Theatre so full, noisy, and so appreciative of this feel-good show - the standing ovation was just the icing on the cake, and a suitable reward for this hard-working company.
Eastwood Park Theatre, 30th April 2014
NINE * * * *
Any chance to see Maury Yeston's NINE onstage live must be grasped with enthusiasm, and when it is presented as well as Paola De Rosa's traditional production for Eastwood Entertainers, then the chance must be accepted without hesitation. The gleaming white set which greets the audience on entry to the auditorium sets the tone for the evening, and the large cast of talented ladies, one talented man, and four talented boys, eagerly seized this rare opportunity to bring Kopit and Yeston's story (based on Fellini's Eight and a Half) to life. The tale of Italian film director Guido Contini facing a mid-life crisis is a challenge to put on the stage, but on the whole Ms De Rosa addresses and solves most of the problems, especially in Act Two which moves at an impressive pace from the Beach scene through to the extremely moving finale. Her grasp of placement and staging was evident, and her total control of what she envisaged shone through admirably. My only disappointment was the Folies Bergeres number in Act One, which seemed interminable, had dubious costumes, and was led by a strangely muted La Fleur, who lacked personality and energy. Musically NINE is a superb show, and in the capable hands of Derek McGlone this side of things is one of the great strengths of the production. If Mr McGlone's speeds at the vocal overture and the Germans at the Spa number tested the cast to their limits (and the audience too, trying to catch the quick-fire lyrics in the latter scene), the frantic musical pace slowed down and he sensitively, and obviously lovingly, interpreted Yeston's music brilliantly and intelligently. The three principal ladies - Fiona Prior as Luisa, Christina Rose Leon as Carla, and Anne Fraser as Claudia - delivered quite extraordinarily deep and committed performances and brought the three characters to life on the stage - I was captivated by so many details of their performances; - Ms Prior's intensity and her faithful portrayal of the abandoned wife, receiving cheers and genuine response from the ladies in the packed audience when she finally walked away from her selfish husband, and her exit through the auditorium was heart-wrenching; Ms Fraser as the grand film star so convincing too, and how simply but tellingly does she deliver her final monologue to Contini/us; and Ms Leon's Carla, a complete portrayal of the extrovert but innocent mistress, who is equally convincing as the overtly sexual predator on the telephone as she is as the abandoned mistress who sees her longed-for future taken rudely away from her by Contini. In the massive central role of Contini, Marcus Littlejohn makes a brave attempt to bring the complex character to life. He is so well rehearsed and does everything that is asked of him, but his performance just lacked that spontaneity and Italian passion which would make his portrayal of the role complete. Vocally the tessitura is massively high and hopefully the slight huskiness which developed in his voice last night was just a passing irritation. For amateur performers to attempt such a complex and difficult role is an almost impossible task, and Mr Littlejohn must be commended for undertaking such a challenge. The clean functional set is beautifully and stunningly lit by Callum Smith; the lack of radio mics for the total cast meant that some of the supporting roles, especially when placed upstage, were inaudible, and the control of sound should try to ensure that all dialogue is heard from the very start of the speeches. But make no mistake, this is a most impressive production of a very difficult piece of theatre. Good support comes from Sean Harper (Little Guido), Jane Killin (Maddelena), Susie Thompson McMahon (Sarraghina), and Alison C. Bone (Mother).
This was a most enjoyable evening and Eastwood Entertainers easily banished from my mind any thought of the overblown film version of NINE which appeared a few years ago, and which did such a disservice to this unique piece of music theatre.
Runway Theatre Company,
Eastwood Park Theatre, 21st May 2014
LEND ME A TENOR * * * * *
I don't like farce, I don't particularly laugh aloud in the theatre - so what, when you see this exceptionally brilliant production of LEND ME A TENOR directed by Robert Fyfe for Runway Theatre Company - I do like farce when it is presented like this - fast, furious, frenetic, meticulously rehearsed so that it looks spontaneous, and presented with such verve and energy that for most of the evening you could have been watching a professional production and not an amateur one. And I laughed continuously especially in Act Two - the slamming doors, going in and out and roundabout, the cumulation of characters - quite mindblowing. OK, so the first ten minutes or so of the whole play are slightly flat, the fault of the authors if you like, but well-constructed farce has to be laid out to the audience, and after half an hour of introducing the plot and characters, this show catches the audience's attention and carries them at a top-notch pace to the joyful conclusion. At times it was like watching and listening to an old '30s or '40s film, and while the music is derivative of opera, musical comedy, romance, etc, etc, one or two really good tunes start to emerge - How 'Bout Me?, The Last Time, Before You Know It. But goodish material needs more than a goodish director, cast, ensemble, and Runway has those elements in abundance. There is not one weak link, and the leading role of Max Garber is triumphantly portrayed by Kris Haddow, travelling from the bumbling pleasant assistant to the stand-in Otello, to the confident young man realising to be himself - at last; Mr Haddow's voice, dialogue, facial expressions, and every body gesture are just right to create this wonderful leading role; when he is joined in Act Two by J. Campbell Kerr (as a larger than life Tito Merelli) and Iain G. Condie (energetically all over the place as the producer of the opera company), we have farce, energy, and total command of the entire stage as you may have never seen it before - those three gentlemen and their director Robert Fyfe must have worked for weeks on this hysterically funny scene - well, it was worth it. Those three principals are aided and abetted by one of the strongest line-up of principals which it has been my good fortune to see in a musical for quite a time; the beautiful and talented Roslyn Hogg as the love interest, (such a commanding stage presence with a stunning voice to match), three wonderfully dippy opera guild ladies, (reminiscent of the three Italian waiters in The Most Happy Fella), constantly interfering and moving the plot forward, Aileen Johnston as Merelli's long-suffering wife proving yet again that there are never any small roles in true performances, and Chriss Mills coming to the fore in her big scene in Act Two when she "auditions" for Merelli - watch Kerr's facial expressions in this scene - unmissable! - and sings and acts out her whole operatic repertoire comprising Boheme, Gianni Schicchi, Tosca, Fledermaus, Butterfly, Carmen, and a fantastic Brunnhilde from Walkure, using Merelli as her horse Grane!!! Only an operatic actress of Ms Mills' calibre could carry off this role so brilliantly, and at the same time provide us with a bigger repertoire than Scottish Opera has given to its public in years. Sets, scenery, costumes, band (although please, Mr Dunlop, listen to Saunders' advice about the thunder at the beginning of the show and add band to his instructions!). This is one of the best nights at the theatre that you can wish for. I hope that the theatre is full for the rest of the week - it deserves to be - simply superb. And a final congratulations to the ensemble for everything they do - singers and dancers - but especially their opening chorus taken straight from Verdi's Otello - worthy of our national opera company, but much cheaper and far more accessible!
Royal Shakespeare Company
THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD * *; BORIS GODUNOV * * * *;
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR * * * * *
1st and 2nd January 2013, Stratford upon Avon
A new year trip back to one of my very favourite places, (and theatres), enabled me to catch three entirely different productions performed by the RSC. THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD was the RSC Christmas show, aimed mainly at children and families and based on the book by Russell Hoban. Paul Hunter's direction was frenetic, and so detailed, conjuring up the Doll's House in a toyshop at midnight, all from the perspective of the toys and rats and various creatures who join in the adventure of the clockwork mouse and his child whose adventures in search of becoming self-propelled toys form the basis of the show. Technically the evening was a triumph, with cycling, flying, acrobatics, back projections, and every corner of the new main house theatre being utilised by the very talented cast, led by Daniel Ryan and Bettrys Jones as the title characters; the live band was part of the whole production and cleverly situated in the huge sardine tin - but, this, on the first day of the year at least, was a tired show lacking pace; one could sense the drop in concentration of the cast midway through Act One, and this continued until midway through Act Two - and this malaise transferred itself to the audience, whose younger members became decidedly restless. Sorry, despite the date, this just should not happen in any production, let alone a professional production, and I left with a sense of disappointment and realised that I didn't much care what happened to the Mouse and his Child. The reception by the capacity audience was vociferous and enthusiastic, and the paper reviews when the show originally opened were, on the whole, all five star rated. So perhaps this was holiday fatigue, but as already said, this just should not happen to a professional company. Happily all such thoughts disappeared the next day when I attended a riveting production of BORIS GODUNOV, by Alexander Pushkin, in a new adaptation by Adrian Mitchell. Michael Boyd's taut and detailed production took place in the Swan Theatre, and I was gripped from start to finish. I know the story well from the Mussorgsky opera, but have never seen the play before, and the harrowing and politically astute thriller suited the intimacy of the Swan extremely well, and allowed the audience to concentrate on the twists and turns of the plot extremely well; Lloyd Hutchinson played the title role with a wide-ranging grandeur and total command of his people, and stage, yet showing the disintegration of the Tsar with subtle and, at moments, moving detail. His nemesis, the false Dmitry, was cunningly portrayed by Gethin Anthony, who cleverly seized the situation in which he found himself, to look after himself and his lust for power, aided by the sycophants and self-promoting court in the Kremlin. The parallels drawn with the history of the English and British Royal families were powerful, and today's situations world-wide, whether in Afghanistan or Syria, or Lybia, came readily to mind, aided by the mixture of period, but on the whole, contemporary costuming. Light relief was provided by Philip Whitchurch, Stephen Ventura, and Sadie Shimmin as two travelling Monks and the Hostess of an inn, confronted by the disguised Dmitry and Russian soldiers, and Tom Piper's design and Vince Herbert's Lighting Design, while simple, were most effective and atmospheric; even an unexpected total failure of power at the curtain call could not stop the enthralled audience from expressing their vociferous approval of the production.
The highlight of my short visit, however, had to be Phillip Breen's hilariously funny updated version of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, set in a Windsor post the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and 2012 Olympic Games. The production was a riot from start to finish, and utilised the complete stage of the main house, with scenery and props appearing from under the stage, upstage, downstage, from where-ever, and the entire company had been directed to create funny, but believable, characters, from the small supporting roles of Calum Finlay's nervous Slender, Joe Doody's street-wise Robin, and Bart David Soroczynski's frenetic and excrutiatingly funny Dr Caius, to John Ramm's enraged and (badly - deliberately) bewigged Ford, Anita Dobson's efficient, busy, and wordly-wise Mistress Quickly, and Martin Hyder's laid-back and physical Page. Desmond Barrit's Sir John Falstaff was rightly the star of the evening, creating a totally corrupt, bragging, physical, and beautifully spoken drunken knight, always commanding any scene in which he appeared - his entrance to Mrs Ford's house to, as he supposes, woo the lady of his affections, was brilliantly directed and acted, and stopped the show, and just as you thought his appraisal of the role couldn't get any better, Mr Barrit topped it all with a monstrous appearance in drag, to escape the clutches of his enemies; top class and talented acting of the highest order. And in the title role, Alexandra Gilbreath and Sylvestra le Touzel shone in their contrasting roles of Alice Ford and Meg Page respectively, the former sexy, seductive, and scheming in her pretend wooing of the fat knight, the latter business-like, matter-of-fact, and county, plotting with her soulmate the downfall of Sir John's pride and ambition. One of the visual highlights of the entire evening was Ms le Touzel appearing for the final Herne Oak tableau dressed, literally, as Disney's Bambi! Another moment when the show stopped because of total hilarity. Mr Breen's amazing production was aided by first rate design, lighting, and music by Max Jones, Tina MacHugh, and Paddy Cunneen; what a wonderful evening of laughter, fun, talent, and, of course, the man himself - Shakespeare.
LES MISERABLES * * * *
11th January 2013, Glasgow Quay
The musical LES MISERABLES is so well-known to stage performers and theatre goers since it first appeared in London in 1985, and is probably the most eagerly anticipated show waiting to be released for full amateur performances, that I have waived my rule of only reviewing stage performances, and have written down my thoughts on this film which has caused such interest and comments since its release. Having seen the stage show more times than I care to remember and having directed the Schools Version, I do know the piece relatively well, and went with some trepidation to the cinema; I was not disappointed at what I saw and experienced. Tom Hooper's direction stayed remarkably close to the original stage version, and indeed the Hugo novel, and his decision to have the performers actually sing "live" paid off tremendously. The hype and idle chatter about this so-called "live" singing must have amused those artists who actually appear on stage and perform and sing "live" every night, without having the luxury of singing "live" again and again to ensure that the final take sounds all right; even the reported 42 takes of Russell Crowe singing his solo "Stars" made no difference whatsoever to his performance - the man just can't sing and should not have been cast in a musical. Admittedly he made Javert much more of a character than sometimes happens onstage, and the last half hour or so of the film saw Mr Crowe acting the torment of the police chief extremely well indeed - the man who can see everything only in black and white with no in-between certainly came across, and he was even moving at times, as when he placed his medal on the dead Gavroche. Finally, however, this is a musical and a non-singer should not even be considered for casting, no matter how big the potential box-office draw. And while on disappointing singing, I was not particularly taken with the trilly small "sweet" voice of Amanda Seyfried as Cosette; she looked well enough in the role, but again I cannot believe that this was the best vocalist to cast in the role of what can be a rather dramatic and powerful one, vocally speaking, especially in the trio with Marius and Eponine; of those two characters, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks were quite superb and they looked right and acted their hearts out. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen worked tremendously hard as the Thenardiers, and they gave us a subtle (if that's possible in those roles) account of the nefarious pair, which I think suited the film extremely well - I think that the traditionally OTT stage performance of these two characters would not have worked on the screen. Special mention, too, to Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, and how nice to see Colm Wilkinson appearing in the cameo role of the Bishop - also noticed some stage actors from past productions, such as Frances Ruffelle (Whore), Jenny Galloway (Citizen), Stephen Tate (Fauchelevent), and Daniel Evans (Pimp). For me, however, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway made the film - the role of Jean Valjean is massive, and Jackman didn't put a foot wrong; his voice, acting and commitment to the role were awe-inspiring, and he easily shouldered the daunting task of carrying the picture, as the character is meant to do - an indifferent or bad Jean Valjean = bad production. And what to say of Anne Hathaway's Fantine? She simply blew me away, and although the role is short and has not much screen time, Ms Hathaway proved that in those instances you have to go for it and become the character - exactly what she did. Her solo was magnificent and gut-wrenching, and what a brave actress (yes, I know she gets paid, it's her job, etc, etc) to allow herself to become so immersed in the role and create what surely is the definitive Fantine; one of those performances which I will remember for a very, very long time. Sets and locations were magnificent, even although it was all Greenwich rather than Paris (!), the costumes were good, and the ensemble scenes were strongly directed and presented. I thoroughly enjoyed, and admired, this film of LES MISERABLES, and while it obviously cannot compete, in my mind, with the original stage show, it is a worthy companion piece of this unique and creative work of art.
The Glasgow Citizens Theatre
THE MAIDS * * * *
1st February 2013, Glasgow Citizens
Well, I was gripped after about 5 minutes of Stewart Laing's production of Jean Genet's THE MAIDS, (in a translation by Martin Crimp), and yet I felt that I shouldn't be! When the old-fashioned gold drop curtain rose to reveal a rock trio playing loud music, only to come back in, a few minutes later, Laing had instantly established the theatricality and play-acting of the story at a stroke; unfortunately the single stroke, as it were, became three or four strokes before the play proper began, with the curtain rising, moving upstage, coming in again, travelling downstage again, etc, etc. The trio turned out to be our three actors, Samuel Keefe as the Mistress, Ross Mann as Claire, and Scott Reid as Solange, and what a talented and perfect cast they turned out to be. Slowly, but surely, I was hooked into the story of the two maids who ritually performed the sadomasichistic torture and death of their mistress, only to run out of time every time they reached the actual murder moment in their play-acting. Genet, who based his play on a true story of a French murder in the 1930s, always suggested that the three roles should be played by three adolescent boys, although over the years since its first production in the late 1940s productions have cast both males and females - indeed Cate Blanchett will appear in a new production of the play later this year in Sydney. While the Citizens cast is not quite adolescent, it comprises three very sexy, young men, who completely own their roles and indeed own the vast Citizens stage, which is, on the whole, empty of clutter. I was impressed with the diction of the cast, with their total absorption in the endless dressing and undressing of the characters, which Claire and Solange inhabit, and the astonishing self-assurance which all three young actors displayed in abundance - all the more amazing because of their ages and the complexity of their roles and the play's intelligence and depth. My worry concerned Mr Laing's fussy production; I do understand that he wished to stress the fact that the two maids are always play-acting as they plot, and he did have one or two lovely moments; the initial curtain going up and down as I said; the main speech of the Mistress being spoken out of sight as she/he took a bath, and so expressively used her/his right arm languidly to emphasise the text; the use of all clothes, including underwear, being constantly changed to show how the maids swap roles every day; and unexpected humour as Mr Keefe dressed clinically as the mistress, in underwear, trousers, shirt, tie, jacket, shoes, socks, and topping the whole ensemble with a wonderful padded jacket and hood. But Laing's continued use of the curtain annoyed, and I was at a complete loss when he suddenly appeared onstage about ten minutes before the end of the play, to host a question and answer session, not very competently or articulately it has to be said. Any tension, pace, and suspense that he had built up with his cast was instantly lost, and he had the gall to say that he thought we might like to ask him something to allow the stage crew to change the set, which in the event was a small truck interior of the attic. If the interlude was to genuinely change the set, then he failed in his duty as director to solve that problem. The moment was superfluous, embarrassing, and it was only the expert acting of Ross Mann, and particularly Scott Reid, which rescued the last ten minutes of the play. Even here, Mr Laing resorted to the now obligatory use of the mobile telephone to photograph the dead Claire - this is becoming old hat, and it is a pity that the theatre warning, given to theatre audiences, of switching off mobiles wasn't addressed to directors too. Gripes aside, however, I was very impressed with the play and with the talented cast in particular, as was the capacity audience which gave a long and enthusiastic reception at the end of the night.
Paisley Musical and Operatic Society
COPACABANA * * *
20th February 2013, King's Theatre Glasgow
This was the second time that I have seen the show COPACABANA, and it will certainly be the last. It is a simply awful show, and even Barry Manilow's bland music, (with two or at the most three semi-memorable tunes), cannot start to save the dire lyrics and book. PMOS, (Paisley Musical and Operatic Society), really make life difficult for themselves! Last year's excellent production only worked because of the Society, not the actual show; this year it is much the same, although the burden placed on the cast and company by choosing such a turkey as this, proved heavier this year. Thank goodness for the dance and orchestra; Marion Baird's choreography is simply stunning - it is fresh, innovative, and brilliantly performed by the dancers, and indeed the entire company; the opening number and the final number/curtain call, top and tail the production admirably, and Andrew Salmond's band creates just the right sound for this type of show, and he controls the balance and ensemble well; at times, however, the sound from the pit overwhelmed the soloists, and I wondered if all was not well with the sound system on this particular night - there was a definite artificiality about it. Connor Going in the lead role of Tony Forte was personable, looked good with a winning smile, had a strong true voice, and did everything that was required of him - sadly this was not enough to carry a show where the leading role demands that indefinable star quality, which eluded this young man. Roslyn Hogg as Lola worked very hard, with an infectious sense of humour, and just about managed to convey what was missing from her partner's performance. Good support came from Kevin McGuire as the ridiculous Sam Silver. The scenery and costumes, as always with PMOS, were excellent and visually at least the evening was a success. However, roll on 2014 and The King and I!
East Kilbride Gilbert and Sullivan Society
PATIENCE * * *
13th March 2013, Village Theatre East Kilbride
No frills, no surprises, no updating - this is Gilbert and Sullivan returning to its roots, and David Blackwood's production lets the audience concentrate on Gilbert's story and lyrics and dialogue; Sullivan doesn't fare so well, mainly because of the reduced orchestration and very small orchestra - only one violin and one cello will not do, and the two players are to be congratulated on playing so well against the overpowering sound of their colleagues. The lack of a pit in the Village Theatre, and the lack of any visible stage mics or sound system, do not help the balance either, with the company being drowned out on more than one occasion, and the Colonel's opening solo totally lost. However, taking all those problems on board, this production by EK G & S Society proved to be one of the most enjoyable productions of PATIENCE which I have seen. The company, if they will forgive me stating the obvious, is a mature company, and it is a great shame not to see more than the one or two younger members who appear in the chorus - this would surely help the society to advance in the future, as well as help solving obvious problems posed by a company of this age. Why is it that young people today who are at all genuinely interested in the stage and music theatre in particular, shun from performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operas? Do they not realise that they will learn more by appearing in a Savoy Opera, with the vast amount of singing, production, and involvement, than by appearing in most of the new musicals? The ladies chorus of rapturous maidens are so much more in control than their male counterparts, and the ladies opening scene is simply, but effectively performed, by everyone involved, and their burnished costumes look exceptionally good in the subtle lighting.The principal line-up in this production, however, boasts two young gentlemen and a young lady who excel in their leading roles. If Jonathan McDade as the fleshly poet Bunthorne is overtly camp at times, and has difficulty standing still, his youthful enthusiasm more than makes up for these shortcomings in this role, and by the end of the second act he seemed much more at ease and in control than he had been earlier in the evening. His act two scene with Jonathan F. Kennedy's idyllic poet Grosvenor is very funny indeed, and Kennedy shows a very subtle and confident stage presence as the self-absorbed poet, along with a pleasant baritone voice, which settled down, (especially at the top), as the evening progressed; his "Magnet and the Churn" was beautifully sung and phrased. Their love interest in the titular role was provided by soprano Melanie Young, who after a slightly shakey vocal start, dominated the scenes in which she appeared and was easily the match of the two young men. Besides singing beautifully, Ms Young possesses a lovely and fun-filled sense of humour, which captured the naivety and innocence of the milkmaid to perfection. In fact the dialogue in this production was one of its strengths, and again this was illustrated by the dry and forceful portrayal of the Lady Jane by Val Reilly, who extracted every ounce of humour from her role, especially when grappling with her cello at the start of Act Two. Two supporting roles shone with Rosamund Wilkin as Lady Ella and Barrie Crawford as the Major, both performers showing what can be done with little material, (and no doubt aided by the Producer David Blackwood, and new young MD, Christopher Barr.) The set was simple but most effective, clean, and colourful, as were the costumes, especially of the ladies; the lighting, too, was simple but atmospheric. A wonderful sense of ensemble and enjoyment was evident throughout the show, and certainly, on this opening night, this easily transferred itself to the audience, who gave the performance the reception it deserved.
Royal Shakespeare Company
HAMLET * * *
30th March 2013, Stratford upon Avon
David Farr's production, and Jonathan Slinger's interpretation in the title role, of this new HAMLET leave no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Hamlet is not mad. That is the one overwhelming conviction which took hold of me and which strengthened as the evening progressed; and by accepting this fact, I saw the play in a completely new light; in a light which required the greatest of concentration from the audience, because time and time again, one was challenged to accept the characters and, more importantly, the plot and its development from an entirely new perspective. At a stroke, everyone else, with the sole exception of Ophelia and perhaps the Gravedigger, are the mad ones, and surely Farr's setting of the play within a starkly white fencing gymnasium, (designer Jon Bausor), was chosen not only to emphasise the physicality of this greatest of tragedies, but to remind us time and time again of insanity within an asylum. I found the first twenty minutes or so difficult to accept, and really, really had to concentrate on the text and, what I presume was deliberately stylised and slow, delivery, especially from Hamlet himself.. The new theatre still worries me from a projection and articultation point of view, and the cast must project, and display a continuous energy, if they wish to make sure that every word and syllable and thus meaning, is heard in all parts of the theatre; unfortunately both Slinger in the title role in Part One, and Greg Hicks as Claudius in Part Two, were guilty of dropping their voices to suggest conspiratorial tones, and this just should not happen - anywhere, of course, but particularly at the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. No worries from Robin Soans as Polonius, whose uniform, articulate, exceedingly dry character of a pompous civil servant could be heard at all times; this was a cleverer and more subtle performance than perhaps is at first assumed - to play by rote and to eschew boredom on the stage, DELIBERATELY, is no small feat, and this whole assumption of what can easily be played for obvious laughs, is a telling and most professional performance. Charlotte Cornwell as Gertrude is ok, and delivers her speeches well, the recalling of the death of Ophelia particularly so, but Farr's handling of the bedroom scene with Hamlet does not work, mainly because the Queen is made to move about continuously from work bench/seat to another, and there is no ounce of sentimentality, sensuality, or indeed humanity between mother and son, in this scene which there should be; Slinger too does his best here, but finally the director's take on such a lynchpin moment in the play goes for nothing. Jonathan Slinger's Hamlet is finally very worthy of notice and comment - his is not a "traditional" interpretation, (he doesn't even look like a Hamlet, though I agree that is a doubtful comment to make!), but he works so hard and adopts the new interpretation so completely and intelligently, that I have no doubt that this take on the Danish prince will expand and nurture with more performances, and we shall have one of the most unique and challenging portrayals of Hamlet, seen for many years. Pippa Nixon's Ophelia is intelligent, competent, matter of fact, studious, and her change from student to mad woman is exceptionally well-handled; she so is her father's daughter; it is interesting that her body once laid in the grave is left there - front centre stage for the remainder of the play; I do not think that this visual statement worked, although I do admit that it did add to the final tableau - what's another body in HAMLET amongst friends and families? Greg Hicks is a comptetent King, and as usual with this actor's work is never less than watchable, but there is something lacking in his overall interpretation, and I never felt that he particularly wanted the crown, which of course we know is not the case! The ensemble work was good and solid, particularly Luke Norris as Laertes and Alex Waldmann as Horatio, and Jon Clark designed the supportive lighting, and his clever use of strip footlights to suggest the supernatural worked well. I would love to add some intelligent note or riposte about the director's use of the sprinkler system (over the scene of dead bodies) at the very end of the play, but I can't - I just didn't get it, and in fact wondered why it had started to rain when it was pointed out to me that it was in fact not meant to be rain . . . .
Citizens Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse
5th April 2013, Glasgow Citizens Theatre
Read the tag after the title of the play - "By Christopher Marlowe AND Colin Teevon"; believe me, Marlowe's play is better than this hotchpotch, where Teevon has rewritten two of the five acts. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful; badly acted, badly directed, and horrendously unfocused. With the one outstanding exception of Siobhan Redmond as Mephistopheles, whose delivery and stature are clear, concise, and intelligent, this must be one of the worst productions ever to have been mounted at the Citz; to be avoided at all costs.
Headlong and The Nuffield Southampton co-production, in association with Derby Theatre
THE SEAGULL * * * * *
4th May 2013, Glasgow Citizens Theatre
What constitutes great theatre? What constitutes great performances or productions? How often does one pose those questions when trying to define that elusive something which makes a performance on stage exceptional and great? It must be the director - for finally a production can boast the greatest cast, acting, lighting, sound, scenery, author, translator, adaptor, but without a superbly talented and intelligent director at the helm, all those components can go for nothing; the buck stops with the director. And with Blanche McIntyre as the Director of this new production of Anton Chekhov's comedy THE SEAGULL, currently touring and on show right now at Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, I have witnessed theatre at its most illuminating and glorious best. Not for years have I been so astounded by a production of this stature; John Donnelly's new version of Chekhov's first major play is totally based on Chekhov's original script, and he has the vision, talent, and intelligence to realise that this is the way to ensure that the masterpiece will hit home with today's audiences, without losing its identity. His balance of true comedy with the inevitable tragedy which happens at the final tableau, brings Chekhov into the realms of the Theatre of the Absurd, with many strong leanings, for me, towards N.F. Simpson. I was bowled over with Mr Donnelly's script, and the talented Ms McIntyre has seized on this wonderful gift to direct what must be one of the most successful productions of the year. Along with her set and costume designer (Laura Hopkins), lighting designer (Guy Hoare), and sound designer (Gregory Clarke), she has created something intelligent, challenging, and cohesive, and even brought sense and passion to Chekhov's famous pauses - (much discussed about long before Pinter got into the act); for example, hold your breath as did the complete audience last night when David Beames' cynical Doctor leaves the stage to discover the reason for the offstage explosion, and the whole cast, in detailed, stunning grouping, await his return about 30 seconds later. Simply superb, and incidentally exactly as detailed by Chekhov in his stage directions. The Director is helped tremendously by her creative team, and Ms Hopkins' deceptively simple set is used to its full, and surprising, extent to create unforgettable stage pictures - all of which take the breath away, when helped by the exceptionally subtle, clever, and minutely detailed lighting and sound. Ms McIntyre's use of her large cast is a lesson in stage direction which should be applauded by everyone interested in theatre; her groupings and use of the stage are so stunning and cleverly "happen" without notice, and three cheers and one cheer more for a director who knows how to encourage stage deportment, projection in speech, and articulation - arts which seem, sadly, to be missing from so so many productions onstage nowadays. The talented cast is, without exception, superb, and it is led by Alexander Cobb as the doomed Konstantin, who ironically is responsible for so much of the humour, especially in Act One. His gauche, intense, and enthusiastic author displays the angst and nervousness of any author awaiting judgement on a new work, but Mr Cobb also conveys the total uncertainty and despair of someone unsure of his own talents and abilities. Abigail Cruttenden as Irina triumphs in a role which can be overplayed so easily for laughs - she gets the laughs no problem, but her sad, horrible character comes through, and her loneliness, we know, will be complete when she hears the tragic news. The odious, weak Boris is played as this character must be played - selfishly and self-servingly - by Gyuri Sarossy, and the unfortunate Nina, abominably used by him, is given a tremendously focussed and intelligent performance by Pearl Chanda - wonderful humour and childish fun and innocence in Act One contrasting with her shame and despair in Act Two when she returns to the Estate to confront Konstantin. Colin Haigh's rich voice suits the wheel-chair bound brother, and his relaxed performance handles the text well, as does Jenny Rainsford as Masha, bringing telling insight into the watching, commenting bailliff's daughter, driven to drink to lose her sorrows.
The silence which greeted the final tableau, lasted well into the black-out, and only was broken when the lights were raised to welcome the cast for its curtain call. Only then did the loud and sustained applause, with vociferous cheers, break out and give this production the reception which it undoubtedly deserved. This SEAGULL was - is - theatre as it should be experienced, but sadly is often not.
Runway Theatre Company
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM * * *
14th May 2013, Eastwood Park Theatre
What can you do when a script and a show, even when written by someone so talented as Stephen Sondheim, becomes so, so dated? Well, perhaps not touch the show, or perhaps edit it drastically, or perhaps do what Runway Theatre Company has done and throw everything at it with 100% + enthusiasm, and hope that nobody notices the glaring weaknesses. Well, the weaknesses are noted, especially in Act One of this new production by Robert Fyfe for Runway, and this long show takes a long time to get going, especially Act One which came down just before 9pm. The dialogue, delivered in a surprising variety of accents by the large cast, drags and is ponderous and the script just can't take this lethargy; also the opening iconic number, Comedy Tonight, performed by the complete company led by the irrespressible Will Pollock as Pseudolus, cannot be heard because of the incredibly intrusive band, which drowns out all of the intervening dialogue during this particular number - this also happens later in the evening during the Funeral Sequence, and it is so frustrating. Mr Pollock commands the stage in the massive role, and was understandably nervous last night at the opening performance; as a result he was trying too hard to be Zero Mostel, and therefore the comedy felt forced and uncomfortable; luckily this changed before the end of the first act when Pollock relaxed and started to enjoy himself, as did we when he became himself and showed us that wonderful rapport which he can have with an audience - so essential in this role, and indeed in this show. Ryan Towart as the naive young Hero was excellent with a superb music theatre voice, and the trusted Iain G. Condie, as Hysterium, lived up to his stage name and worked well with Pollock, and with J. Campbell Kerr as Miles Gloriosus, who looked superb as the vain warrior, except for the ridiculous boots which he was made to wear and which gave his character a decidedly camp, pantomime slant. Conrad Cohen as Marcus Lycus, gave a quietly subtle performance, and had a wonderful vocal range in both his dialogue and singing, and Ken Christie made the most of his drole part, continually crossing the stage, and keeping the action going. Good support came from Tom Russell, and the three actors who appeared as the Proteans, (and who worked extremely hard during the whole evening). The set was bright and colourful and very functional, the costumes slightly drab and disappointing, but the whole performance caught fire in Act Two, which sparkled from curtain up until the well-rehearsed and fun curtain call; at last we saw the potential in this show, which seemed to be missing in Act One, and the audience loved it, especially the broad farce and chase towards the end. Only in this Act did we see why this show is so respected and worthy of the name of Sondheim.
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company & Scottish Opera
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE * * *
16th May 2013, Theatre Royal Glasgow
Well, Sullivan would have been very pleased with his music in this new production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, a joint production produced by D'Oyly Carte and Scottish Opera; the Orchestra of Scottish Opera played superbly under the baton of Derek Clark, who kept the whole piece moving at quite a lick, and this helped the overall pace of the production - it was great to hear Sullivan's orchestrations played with a full band, and musically the evening was a triumph. But what about Gilbert? Well first of all this Victorian dramatist, such a stickler for projection, enunciation, and clarity, would have been appalled to learn that the new production was "sung in English with English surtitles"! What on earth was that about - and secondly, I'm sure the librettist would have added the management of both artistic companies to Ko-Ko's little list, ready for the appropriate punishment! Director Martin Lloyd-Evans had some very good touches, especially with the ladies, who easily dominated the evening; his idea of presenting the ladies chorus of Daughters as daughters of a military man, worked extremely well - from their initial opening number actually climbing rocky mountains, to the opening of Act Two, with his crowded space homage to the Marx Brothers, and their finale, as with everything they did, exquisitely sung and individually acted, but still as part of the ensemble; their every contribution to the production was beautifully rehearsed, executed, and sung, and the twee, witty, Mabel of Ellie Laugharne led them with energy, commitment, humour, and a focussed voice, if somewhat lacking in volume, but certainly not in tone. She was partnered by Sam Furness as a competent Slave of Duty, who worked extremely well and looked good in the demanding role. Glasgow boy Andrew McTaggart sang the small role of Samuel with a commanding bass voice, looked good, but grated with an unnecessary Scottish accent, which added nothing to the role or the production. Rosie Aldridge played the character role of Ruth with a pleasant singing voice and not much else - where oh where is the energy, attack, and intelligence in the dialogue?; remember after all that this is GILBERT and Sullivan! Graeme Broadbent as Sergeant of Police was the audience favourite, using his rich, fruity voice to great advantage, but finally his performance did nothing for me; a John Cleese clone but without his sense of humour, obviously based, badly it has to be said, on the Broadway take on the Sergeant. Two experienced old stagers played the Major General and the Pirate King; the over-rated Richard Suart played the former in a familiar bumbling manner, while opera singer Steven Page, walked through the latter role in a routine and studied interpretation with no visible signs of any attack or energy, and this on only the second night of the run. Designer Jamie Vartan's sets were very pleasant, effective, and worked well, although I do think that the fussy ship could be dropped from the opening scene; I particularly liked the way he suggested the disembarkation from the ship, and the cramped opening of Act Two; even Queen Victoria makes a belated appearance towards the end of the evening! Top marks for the innovative and well-focussed lighting of the geometric sets by Colin Grenfell; however, the least said about Steve Elias's choreography the better. The theatre was packed to the rafters, and the main praise of the evening should go to the marketing departments for their promotion of this show in Glasgow and beyond. To get people to pay £72.00 per seat for a 2¼ hour long Victorian opera takes some selling, and hats off to them for obviously achieving their aim; let's hope that those patrons who pay that amount feel that it is money well-spent.
FAR AWAY and SEAGULLS * *
24th May 2013; Citizens Theatre Glasgow
This is the Scottish premiere of two short plays by the prolific author, Caryl Churchill, whose work has always passed me by; I have never seen any of her plays on stage before, and I think I have only watched one on BBC television a few years back, remembering at the time that to me it was very obscure. And obscure comes to mind when trying to come to terms with her FAR AWAY, the first play presented by the Citz and directed by Dominic Hill as part of the short double bill. The play comprises many short scenes, the first of which promises much; a young girl is staying with her aunt, and we hear that she has witnessed bloody and strange goings-on during the night, and her aunt's initial attempts to distract her with explanations gradually give way to some of the truth being revealed to her charge. Then the massive set moves and clanks and changes to a hat factory some fifteen years later (I have had to research this fact myself online as the programme is very sparse with information about the play or the author or its time span); the same young girl is now a milliner, and works with a young man, who is already a talented milliner; they talk about the society in which they live and work and which we as an audience try to understand and accept; a closed, brutal society, yes, with many, many strange metaphors. A Fellini-esque hat fashion show takes place, to disturbing music and sounds, and we learn later that these are people going to their deaths, being executed by whom? The final scene returns to the first setting of the cottage, with the aunt and young man discussing the situation of the young girl, who reappears in a highly distressed state, and delivers a tense monologue, which is movingly and hauntingly written, but which is as obscure as everything that has preceded it. The muted applause which followed this first play suggested that I was not alone in trying to appreciate its strangeness; that said, the three performers, Kathryn Howden as Harper, Lucy Hollis as the young girl Joan, and Alasdair Hankinson as Todd, the young man, were quite excellent and committed to their roles, and for me it was their strong performances which carried the actual play. The massive set and minutely detailed kitchen and factory insets were quite superb, and the grey sliding doors which spreadeagled the Citz stage, moving sideways and upwards, certainly suggested a soulless and neutered society. The second, shorter play SEAGULLS, was much more to my taste, and certainly much more straightforward and easier to understand, at least from my own point of view. An ordinary woman, played strongly and movingly by Kathryn Howden, has discovered that she has telekinetic powers, and has left her humdrum job to publicly promote her new found talents, prior to a visit to America and Harvard, where they wish to witness her amazing feats for themselves. Her erstwhile colleague has become her manager, and in this role Maureen Carr captured exactly the selfish, hard as nails "ordinary" (again) woman out to earn a quick buck from her friend's powers, by becoming her manager. Their latest show, outdoors, is about to happen, but Valery's (Howden's) preparations are interrupted by a visit backstage from a creepy and odd fan, (played by the talented Alasdair Hankinson), determined to engage in conversation with her. The empty stage with only an outdoor sky cloth as a background, stripped the play to basics, and suited Ms Churchill's dialogue supremely well, and the study of this rather sad woman suddenly realising that she is, and indeed is about to be, exploited by friends, fans, and the public in general, is taut, and rather sad.
A final word about authors and their works, which has always bothered me; should we, the audience, prepare beforehand for what we are about to see and hear? Should the responsibility of the author include, no matter how little, some sense of connection with her or his audience, without expecting that same audience to come to a theatre fully au fait with what is about to happen? And what is the responsibility of a Director? He or she must at least be part responsible when a play as obscure and as complicated as FAR AWAY is presented, to help an audience as much as possible in their understanding and enjoyment of the piece. I think that Mr Hill succeeded here in that aim, and any fault, if any, must lie squarely with the author of FAR AWAY.
Citizens Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse & Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh Co-Production
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT * * *
14th September 2013; Citizens Theatre Glasgow
I'm a sucker for open-stage productions, no matter how old-hat it is. And this production by Dominic Hill, adapted for the stage by Chris Hannan and based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is certainly open-stage. Everything is visible to the audience, and despite the period of the play, the whole concept works extremely well; it is quick-paced, witty, with the only drawback being the cavernous space helping to lose the words especially at the beginning of the play. The cast playing instruments to suggest sound effects and using their own voices for breathing, doors opening, etc, took me back to the famous 1980s production by the RSC of "Nicholas Nickleby", which for over 8 hours employed such devices, as did the Citz "King Lear" from two years ago, of which production CRIME AND PUNISHMENT reminded me - although I have to say that the current production is generally far superior in its intent and execution. The cast, once the projection problem was overcome, was excellent and worked extremely hard to suggest the various locations, characters, and most importantly in such a wordy and thoughtful play as this, the meaning and depth to such an intellectual tour-de-force. Adam Best as Raskolnikov dominated the proceedings, rightly, in the massive central role, and showed every facet of the multi-layered character, holding the whole experience together, and making the evening an intensely personal and riveting watch. The other star of the production must be the lighting designer Chris Davey, whose artistry and talent conjured up stunning pictures, silhouettes, and miraculously turned the empty stage into anything but. A thoughtful and intelligent evening at the Citz.
Vox Motus, National Theatre of Scotland and the Tianjin People's Art Theatre, China
DRAGON * * * * *
11th October 2013; Citizens Theatre Glasgow
If you love theatre - if you love life - if you love your fellow man - go and see this stunning piece of theatre at the Citz. Words cannot describe what happens on stage in DRAGON over the fastest 80 minutes of theatre which I guarantee you will ever experience. This joint production tells a story about a young boy - a young child - learning to cope with and deal with emotions which he cannot understand. Death, love, parents, bullying, daily life; all exposed onstage in this unique - what can I call it? - play? ballet? improvisation? All of these and more, but with the stunning addition of the title character - the dragon - who accompanies young Tommy, and grows and inhabits him and leads him and moulds him; utterly amazing in all its forms, this dragon captivates the audience and dominates this truly compelling study in growing-up. The cast and stage management are amazing in everything they do, led onstage by Scott Miller as Tommy - never off the stage and physically, mentally, and emotionally inheriting the character of Tommy; how on earth is this his professional debut???!!! Unbelievable; he is more than supported by Martin McCormick, Joanne McGuinness, Adura Onashile, Gavin Jon Wright, Zhang Kai, and Tao Yan, all of whom act, move, become scenery, properties - you name it. The joint directors are Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, who also designs - amazing, amazing, amazing; the lighting designer is Simon Wilkinson - stunning - and the sound is composed and designed by Tim Phillips and Mark Melville respectively - ditto above re my comments.
If there is one thing you have to see in the theatre this year, make it DRAGON; if you are interested in theatre as an actor, as a stage manager, as a stage hand, as a member of the audience, you cannot afford to miss this; and you will leave the theatre a better person - I cannot recommend this highly enough. Please buy a ticket and enhance your theatre-going life.
(DRAGON continues at the Citz until 19th Oct, then tours to Inverness, Edinburgh, and Salford Quays, where the performances end on 9th Nov)
The Lyric Club
THE STEAMIE * * * *
17th October 2013; Drama Studio Hutchesons' Grammar School Glasgow
Tony Roper must be in seventh heaven these months - his famous play THE STEAMIE seems to be everywhere - and why not? This iconic play has become a classic of its kind, and Alan C. Jones's production of it for The Lyric Club in Glasgow remains faithful to the original, more or less, and after a slightly slow first ten minutes the whole play took off and the full audience loved every minute of it. Simple but effective lighting was used for all the set pieces in this intimate studio space, and the set, designed by Jack Murdoch, captured perfectly the steamies of the 1950s in Glasgow. I am still not a big fan of the music (by David Anderson), as it seems to me to slow down the pace of the piece, especially in Act One, but this company boasts four excellent singers who actually manage to sell the songs to their audience, particularly the two big ensemble numbers in the second half. The small cast worked hard, tirelessly, and bonded together to retell the familiar story, with the audience gleefully anticipating every tale or song or set-piece. The four ladies were played by Liz Mitchell (a simple, effective, and quiet performance as the elderly Mrs Culfeathers), Catherine Brannan-Usher as Magrit, Emma Louise Nisbet as the young Doreen (with a lovely clear and incisive soprano voice), and Elaine Wilkie in the show-stopping role of Dolly, who worked her audience so, so well, and got every ounce of humour, and pathos, from the character (created by Roper), which has now become a legend in Scottish theatre history. Andrew Rodger completed the cast as the increasingly inebriated Andy. The pace was good, especially in Act Two, and while the Mince story brought delighted noises of anticipation from the audience, and a tremendous round of applause at its conclusion, I find myself more and more drawn to the telephone conversation between Doreen and Magrit, and of course Dolly, as being my highlight not only in this excellent production, but in the actual play. What a great night out, what a great play.
Giffnock Theatre Players
THE STEAMIE * * * * *
23rd October 2013; Eastwood Park Theatre
This fast-paced, detailed production of Tony Roper's well-known play was playing its first night, not that you were aware of such a mundane fact; this was a superb interpretation of the comedy - Stephen King's first production for GTP, and hopefully not his last. Mr King's grasp of total theatre, from broad comedy to touching pathos, ensured that THE STEAMIE was presented as I'm sure its author intended - as a peek at Glesga women's working lives in the 1950s, from the young Doreen and Andy through the street-wise Magrit and Dolly, to the world-wearily wise Mrs Culfeathers. The cast was simply superb, under Mr King's nuanced direction; Roz McCue as a gutsy no-nonsense Magrit, delivering her funny comments and lines with expertly timed precision, (although I confess to preferring her Act Two monologue spoken rather than sung - much easier to colour the content and delivery); Rosemary LaCavera as an individual loving Doreen, with her new bubble-cut hair, and Helen Lamarra finding every ounce of humour and earthiness and humanity in her fine portrayal of the ever-talking Dolly. I thought I knew this play pretty well, but Kate McNeil as Mrs C brought a completely new dimension to the hard-working character - her Glesga Green monologue was paced to perfection and you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium - quite frankly the script at this moment could have been Shakespeare rather than Roper, so delicately and intelligently delivered was this section of the play; needless to say her Mince scene was a riot. Garry Kennedy completed the cast as a simple and beautifully timed assumption of the booze friendly handyman. And the reason for this production's undoubted success - played in a magnificent towering set of a Glasgow steamie, designed and constructed by the Players themselves - was that all the events, all the humour, all the sadness, all the musical interludes, arose from the play itself, and the characters were allowed to be characters, not caricatures. An absolutely mesmerising night at the theatre.
Glasgow Light Opera Club
HELLO DOLLY! * * *
12th November 2013; King's Theatre Glasgow
Jerry Herman's well-known and popular musical has been chosen by GLOC as its 2013 production - in fact this is the first time that the Club has performed the show. It has gathered a large principal cast of experienced performers, led by the redoubtable Aileen Johnston in the title role. This is a huge part, with loads of dialogue as well as the show-stopping numbers which one expects from this composer/writer, and the musical's pedigree in straight drama is easily recognisable. Ms Johnston worked well and her pure soprano voice was tested to the limit in a role which, musically, is relentless in its high tessitura; her vast experience was well to the fore and enabled her to carry the evening, despite, I have to say, her being unflatteringly costumed, in a character who must be seen to be flamboyant as well as acting thus, especially when surrounded by a one dimensional, bland, colourless set, which would be very well suited to an English restoration comedy in a much smaller theatre than the vast King's. Brendan Lynch and Stephen Sweeney were excellent as the two boys, Cornelius and Barnaby, and worked so well together, and Jim McPhee eventually relaxed into the role of the miserly Vandergelder, using his familiar stage persona to create the pantomime villain/eventual hero of the piece. Mr McPhee was one of the early victims of the horrendously loud sound system, which was far too loud, for most of the audience seated round about me, and affected too the performance of Tracy Ballantyne as Ermengarde. I have said enough in previous reviews about the loudness of the band under this particular MD, where some control of the band, especially with underscoring, would help the audience's understanding and enjoyment so much. Craig Ledgerwood and David S. Craig gave superb support in smaller roles, and the two gentlemen, one tall one small, in the male ensemble at the Waiters' Gallop, provided what was missing in this production - life, commitment, a wicked twinkle and energy; the audience rewarded these two gentlemen with vocal encouragement, and it has to be said this enthusiasm made its way to the rest of the cast, helping to finish the show on a high.
THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE ****
PMOS at King's Theatre Glasgow, 8th February 2012
A first rate and exceptionally talented cast and ensemble under the expert direction of Alasdair Hawthorn work their hearts off to try to bring this long, musically disappointing show to life (the composer's fault, by the way - not Paisley's!), and the fact that they succeed owes everything to them and nothing to the tedious and clumsily constructed musical. Even the one well-known and memorable song, the title one, is sung within five minutes of the curtain going up, and that's it; such a clumsy and overlong book with humdrum songs. So hats off to this company for going for it, and fielding such a magnificent cast, led by the superbly talented Caroline Telfer as Millie Dillmount; Ms Telfer sang, acted, took total command of her role and the stage, that it was very difficult to believe that we were watching an "amateur" performance; she has such a charming personality and leaps out over the footlights to win over the audience, and was helped in this by her leading man, Martyn Agnew, who, as Jimmy Smith, gave an equally solid and engaging performance, using his well-known singing, dancing, and acting talents to excellent effect. And to support these two leads, PMOS gave us even more brilliant characters - Gillian McGhie giggling her way through the show like an upper class Olive Oyl on speed, Bob McDevitt utilising his large stage presence and bass voice as the boss Trevor Graydon, Aileen Johnston using all her talents and large voice and obviously enjoying herself as Muzzy Van Hossmere, and Nicola Stewardson creating a very funny cameo character as the secretary, looking like the show's Ugly Betty character, but in a nice way!!! The Speed Test scene with all the stenographers dressed superbly as one in garish orange, - (the most superb costumes provided by Triple C) - showed off the very best in Linda Jackson's inventive and brilliantly executed choreography and Andrew Salmond's assured command of the band and musical interpretation. Gripes? Niggles? Not really - although I felt that Patricia Welch went occasionally over the top as Mrs Meers, and her Chinese accent was difficult to understand at times; on the whole, though, Mr Hawthorn knew exactly what he wanted to do with this show and extracted every ounce of humour from what must have been extremely difficult material to work with. So although I have only given 4 stars for this production, PMOS deserve 5, but one was deducted for the actual show! Congratulations all round.
LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT *****
Theatre Royal Glasgow, 26 March 2012
Eugene O'Neill's most famous and most autobiographical play would never have seen the light of day had his widow not flouted his express instructions, firstly not to publish it until 25 years after his death, and secondly that it should never at all be staged. Thank goodness that she did flout them, or the world would not have had the opportunity to savour the triumph and undoubted brilliance of playwriting that is LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT - surely a play which ranks as one of the greatest pieces of theatre ever written. A view so easy to express when the play is presented as it is in Glasgow this week with one of the most superb casts ever assembled and under the inspired direction of Anthony Page. I would say to anyone reading this review while the play is still on in Glasgow, beg, steal, borrow a ticket to try to see this extraordinary night at the theatre, but my sources tell me that the show is sold out all week, apart from the occasional single ticket - best then, to treat yourself to a trip to London where the play opens next week. The leading performances of David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf are triumphant, and they totally bring to life the Tyrone parents - based by O'Neill on his own family; the miserly greed, anger, alcoholism, and self-centred and serving egotism of the giant character of Tyrone gives Mr Suchet the chance to shine at his craft, and to create this monster of a patriarch with every ounce of his body, voice, talent, and being - a rare performance which deserves to be seen by so, so many people. His equal in everything is Ms Metcalf's Mary Tyrone, visibly destroying herself with her drug addiction not only before her stage family, but also, or so it would seem, in front of us, the theatre audience. The elder son James, played savagely and strongly by Trevor White, shouts out that Ophelia has arrived for her mad scene as Ms Metcalf enters for the final time - Ophelia, yes, or even Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham sprang to mind, but to listen to her final heart-breaking speech delivered crouched on the floor, brought tears and rage to one's very being, so consummate is this total performance. The younger son, killing himself with drink despite his diagnosis of TB, hits you between the eyes in Kyle Soller's strong and sensitive creation, and his long scene with Mr Suchet is quite simply stunning. Special mention must be made of Rosie Sansom as Cathleen the Maid, giving the comic interlude and showing how to truly act as drunk onstage. But no-one in this production appeared to be acting - and that is the greatest compliment I could offer to the company. The amazing set, dark and brooding as befits this dark and brooding play, and the lighting are excellent, and complement the core of this great work of art, where, as O'Neill states, "the past is present, it is the future too". Never before has a play's title seemed so apt and appropriate. I am still recovering from the privilege of witnessing this amazing production.
SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS ****
The Lyric Club at King's Theatre Glasgow, 4 April 2012
An old-fashioned show with a start, middle, and happy-ending? Yes. A "traditional" production which is fast-moving, bright, colourful, and full of energy? Yes. A strong and talented cast headed by two exceptionally talented leads? Yes. A great night out at the theatre? Yes. The Lyric Club's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is all of that and more. Director Alan C. Jones and MD Tom Daniels have brought together their combined talents and years of experience to stage one of the most vibrant productions seen in Glasgow's King's Theatre for a long time. The company is relatively small in numbers, but there are no passengers, and Jonathan Parsons & Marie McElhinney's choreography cleverly goes for the strengths of both the principals and chorus. Seriously - everyone is so good! And J. Campbell Kerr and Catherine Mackenzie are spot on in the main roles; they look great, they sing exceptionally well, and their enjoyment leaps out over the footlights. I particularly liked Mr Kerr's singing of "Where Were You?" in Act II, and the Act I trio "Love Never Goes Away" was beautifully performed and staged. Andrew Jack made his mark as Gideon, and he and his fellow brothers really worked so well together - as did the Suitors of the town; there was never any feeling of first cast and those who were left; that is where the strength, and therefore success, of this show lies. The brides, too, were all individually characterised, they looked beautiful, and they all displayed great senses of humour! What a wonderful night of theatre! Thanks, Lyric Club, for this "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" - it was just what was needed on a bitterly cold April night.
KING LEAR ***
Citizens' Theatre Glasgow, 28 April 2012
"Men are what the time is"; Edmund's observation in Act Two gives us a clue to the structure of Dominic Hill's production of KING LEAR for The Citizens'. Last year's London riots, the Arab spring uprisings, the current recession, and even the Barclay's Bank shareholders expressing their anger this week at an AGM - all these events occasionally spring to mind when the down-and-outs and beggars and sycophants, played very well indeed by a much used ensemble of young people, watch and participate and even provide sounds and music from five old microphoned battered pianos; my one problem is that this concept is so old-hat, and has been done to death on stage in so many productions over the past four decades. Even the final scene, led by Edgar, directly addressing the audience in a line set up across the stage, fails to threaten or affect an audience. It could have been so much better - the bold stark empty set, (designer Tom Piper), really came into its own in an exceptionally well staged - and audible - storm scene, and Ben Ormerod's stunning lighting certainly added to the production's impact. But what of the story? What of the cast? George Costigan's Gloucester will simply not do; his delivery is quiet, inarticulate, and for the most part virtually impossible to understand (from the fourth row of the stalls), but even more surprising is his interpretation of this most noble of characters. Edgy, uncertain, and moving with jerky and inexplicable hand and arm movements, this performance drags down the scenes in which he appears. And Lynn Kennedy's heavily pregnant Cordelia is simply a cipher and never even gets near to tugging any heart strings - has the length of her role been cut? I also have to say that director Hill gave himself some difficult visual problems by portraying Lear's favourite daughter in this physical way - and for what reason? He came a complete cropper with the disposal of the bodies of the three daughters and Lear bundled on top of one another on a hospital bed which was wheeled out to general laughter from the audience - bad move. I so wanted to enjoy David Hayman's Lear - this is an actor whose career, expecially at the Citz, I have followed and watched with great interest, and him playing one of Shakespeare's greatest characters drew me to the theatre with tremendous anticipation. The opening scenes never gave me any majesty or command, and during the first part of the play he came over more as part of the ensemble than anything else; to be fair, it all changed at the great storm scene where his command of the stage was absolute - partly because he was in the main lying down and not standing - when Mr Hayman stands, his height and slight build do not suggest a Lear. I enjoyed his performance much more in the second part, especially his scene with Gloucester and his final death scene, although I do confess to missing seeing Lear enter with Cordelia in his arms. A good and competent performance, then, but in my opinion not a great one. I liked Kathryn Howden's Goneril, Cal Macaninch'sCornwall, and Kieran Hill's Edmund, and the deliveries of all those actors and their fellow actors were quick, well-judged and, on the whole, could be clearly heard! Ewan Donald's Edgar grew on me as the performance progressed, and he gave a very powerful and physical interpretation of Poor Tom, while Owen Whitelaw's Fool was cleverly acted and touchingly presented; a special word of praise must go to the beautifully performed character of Kent, played with confidence and power by Paul Higgins. It was wonderful to see Shakespeare performed at the Citz again, and to see a full house, too. I just wish that I had come away with a bit more excitement, a bit more emotion, a bit more awe at having witnessed one of Shakespeare's greatest plays.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
The Orpheus Club at King's Theatre Glasgow, 23 June 2012
The Orpheus Club continue their alliance with director Walter Paul who presides over an enjoyable production of the classic Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein show based on the original French farce by Jean Poiret. Led by Michael McHugh as 'Georges' and Jim McPhee as 'Albin' the cast are generally very good but it's certainly these two leads who stand out, together with Sean Stirling camping it up as 'Jacob' and Jamie Walker whose brief moments onstage as 'Francis' with his amusing minor sub-plot involving a somewhat vigorous love-affair are highly amusing. Much of the humour comes from the dated types presented but this being a farce it matters so little. McPhee as 'Albin/Zsa Zsa' embodies memories of several of the greatest drag artists including Danny La Rue, Dame Edna Everage and there is even a bit of John Inman thrown in for good measure. Neil Thompson's musical direction is assured, despite a trumpet player being a little off-key at times, and he brings out some quality vocals from the cast. Preston Clare's choreography becomes a little repetitive at times but is nonetheless enjoyable. As for Walter Paul's direction well, I have never been a fan of the man's work, finding him a competent director at best. This show is the best I've seen him, no doubt being aided with a fine score and libretto by Herman and Fierstein respectively. That said he is still an uneventful director who relies too much on stale, safe staging which renders some scenes verging on the dull, relying on the same set-up time and time again - fortunately the cast refuse to let this happen. Paul is also guilty of often ignoring logic and reason not to mention detail and the director has also yet to truly deal with scenic transitions. He allows the story's flow to stop to have scenery moved when there is no need. Any director worth his salt would rectify this with clever staging and distraction. If this is truly unavoidable then a director should make something out of the scene change and the closest Paul gets here is in the transition to the Restaurant where the crowd create something to watch and look at while the locale is changed. Such peaks are rare where this director is concerned although the final image of Act One where the back-cloth is raised to reveal the real backstage area of the theatre creating a beautiful image of light and shadow as 'Albin' walks away, toward the paraphernalia of artifice, from 'Georges' after being told the reality that he is surplus to requirements. It is worth noting that here the lighting reaches a peak amongst the otherwise fine lighting of Rod Littlefield. All in all a very enjoyable production where the sum of all its parts came together to create something worthy of viewing.
Sharman Prince (http://sharmanprince.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/la-cage-aux-folles-orpheus-club-kings.html)
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (As You Like It) *****
A Chekhov International Theatre Festival/Dmitry Krymov's Laboratory/School of Dramatic Art Theatre Production;
RSC Stratford-Upon-Avon, 18 August 2012; at Edinburgh International Festival 20 to 25 August 2012
If reading this review before 25 August 2012, I urge you to visit Edinburgh and see this wonderful Russian production (with surtitles) which runs for about 100 minutes, and which is simply one of the most funny, sad, thoughtful, clever, and finally deeply moving events I have ever had the good fortune to witness. The world renowned director, Dmitry Krymov, concentrates on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, and never again will you be able to watch a production of Shakespeare's Dream without thinking of those mechanicals trying to perform their most lamentable tragedy to the courtiers and to us - Duke Theseus! The company comprises actors and actresses, stagehands, circus performers, opera singers, ballet dancers (incredibly brilliant and talented and exhausting themselves, and us, in a never-ending performance of the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake), and the ever present and star of the evening, Venya, the Jack Russell terrier! You witness theatre stripped back to its roots and wonder at the discipline and intelligence, and total commitment of the entire company, and you leave uplifted, contented, and knowing a little bit more exactly what good theatre is all about.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING *****
Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon, 17 August 2012
Shakespeare's lovely comedy is here transported to the bustling world of India, and performed by a strong, discplined, and talented Indian cast, led by the redoubtable Meera Syal as Beatrice. This is an evening of joy and laughter, beautifully spoken verse, subtle and coarse comedy, set in front of a typical Indian villa facade, the whole sensitively and incredibly lit by Ciaran Bagnall . Even entering the theatre there are sounds of traffic, and bicycles galore - on display everywhere! - samosas to buy - street musicians as you search for your seat, naughty young girls hiding in the audience from their mother, a whole town or village on display and that before the play proper. Iqbal Khan's direction is taught, fast-moving, and cleverly nuanced, allowing the villainy of Don John (a brooding and handsome Gary Pillai), to surface almost naturally - I found the speaking and articulation and delivery of Shakespeare's dialogue beautifully handled by both director and cast. Paul Bhattacharjee's Benedick is a natural stage performer - he never appears to be acting - and his scenes with Ms Syal are superb, even down to the last reading of the marriage vows at the final scene. Meera Syal too has a wonderful and strong presence, and portrays the strong family ties and links extremely well, and delivers her barbed retorts cleverly and with a sense of fun. But as I have explained, everyone, everything is wonderful in this joyous evening - from the underplayed comedy of Dogberry and Verges (Simon Nagra and Bharti Patel), through the strong central performances of Shiv Grewal as Don Pedro and Sagar Arya as Claudio, to Amara Karan's beautiful and gentle Hero. Niraj Chag's music is infectious and lively, and Struan Leslie's movement is stunning. Slumdog Millionaire comes to Stratford on the Avon - a must see and one of the RSC's most ebullient productions. Catch it if you can in Stratford or when it tranfers to London.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA - RSC at Stratford, 16 August 2012
NORMA ** - Rome Opera at Caracalla Baths, Rome, 8 August 2012
There are still some theatrical experiences best left alone so that they can be easily forgotten and lost from the mind; such are the two above. The Shakespeare production, a co-production with the RSC and the New York Wooster Group, was appalling, with the American side of the production (how on earth can two separate directors work on a production and then come together to try to obtain a cohesive approach to a work - insane) inarticulate, embarassingly basic in stage experience, and inaudible - shown up it has to be said by members of the RSC when they appeared onstage - Zubin Varla's Thersites was interesting, while Scott Handy's Ulysses stole the evening, which admittedly wasn't very difficult. Mark Ravenhill's direction (for the RSC) was at least intelligible and competent, but Elizabeth LeCompte's Wooster Group direction was laughable - and please don't misuse the expression experimental, or work in progress as some sort of excuse to hide what is basically non-preparation - the use of video and electronics was ridiculous. Over in Rome, the fault in Norma again lay at the feet of the director Andrea De Rosa - who quite frankly appeared to do nothing short of bringing his performers on and off the vast, wide outdoor stage. Again, absolutely dreadful. Fabio Sartori's Pollione was a rounded performance and he was the best singer on the stage, while Julianna di Remigio's performance of Norma was obviously a role too far - the voice began to deteriorate during the first act. The saving grace of the evening and the reason for my two stars was the performance of the orchestra under the baton of Gabriele Ferro - beautiful playing, exciting tempi, and in total control, but I could have got that on CD. As a matter of interest and fairness to the performers, I left at the interval of both performances - perhaps miracles happened in the dressing rooms, and the second acts took flight - somehow I doubt it!
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND ****
Runway Theatre Company at Mitchell Theatre Glasgow, 12 September 2012
"Whistle Down the Wind" has never been one of Lloyd Webber's most successful shows, but in my opinion its pedigree grows with age, and Runway Theatre Company's Scottish Amateur Premiere goes a long way to promoting this comment. Some of the tunes outstay their welcome, and the structure is all geared for the large and visual electronic scene changes which were a stunning feature of the original production - perhaps some judicial pruning of orchestral interludes might help the flow of the show when it is presented in its more basic form. That said the large audience was enthralled from start to finish with Robert Fyfe's safe and competent production, which told the story well, and the set, with its continuous moving structures and superbly painted backcloth, was very emotive of the 1950s period in which this musical is set - and incidentally very well handled by the stage management team under Edward Gunn. Undoubtedly the star turn of this production is J. Campbell Kerr in the pivotal role of The Man; it is an enormously challenging role, especially vocally, and once Mr Kerr had settled into his character - this was the first night after all - he displayed a commanding and intelligent presence, and his rapport with the children was obvious; perhaps some more menace is needed especially in the early scenes of the musical, but as with all of this performer's portrayals this is an outstanding performance. He was well supported by the large cast, especially Kate McVey's Brat and Ethan Kerr's Poor Baby, both of whose stage personae and diction were exemplary. Elle MacKenzie's Swallow was more problematic; the performance was quite one level and her diction was not clear, which it really needs to be in this difficult and complex role. She was the one who fell most foul to the overpowering force of the orchestra, led by David Dunlop; time and time again all the good work onstage was overshadowed by the loud and unsubtle playing of a force which, in my opinion, was far too large for this particular venue. A much reduced band would improve audiences' enjoyment of the show, and also help Ms MacKenzie to relax a bit more and concentrate on developing her interesting take on the young girl growing up. The ensemble was good and used the stage well, and top marks to the children, who sang clearly and always in time, and acted extremely well, making them, after Mr Kerr, the undoubted star of the show! Special mention to Bob McDevitt's Sheriff, and in particular Dominic Spencer's Snake Preacher - both made impacts in relatively small roles. Mr Fyfe handled the difficult problem of the required mixed race cast which this show should have, but which is so difficult to achieve in Glasgow in particular, and all in all this is yet another success for Runway, and should play to packed houses all week.
Headlong, Citizens Theatre, and Watford Palace Theatre at Citizens Theatre, 29 September 2012 (Preview performance)
The poster outside the theatre, the programme cover, the first glimpse of Ruari Murchison's set design - a modern facade of an anonymous terraced house - which greeted the audience on its entry to the auditorium; for me this did not bode well. I have seen Euripides' MEDEA only twice before, once on film (Pasolini/Maria Callas) and once in the Abbey Theatre with Fiona Shaw in the title role, both "traditional" productions, in period, with costumes, and the speech delivered classically. What is this new version of the play, both written and directed by Mike Bartlett, about? It is about total, intelligent, gripping, and outstandingly well acted drama. First of all that set; a terraced facade yes - but with hidden wonders; we see the interior, the kitchen all gleaming red with stark fitted lighting; the sitting area/lounge, coldly clinical again in primary colours this time of green; we see the two bedrooms of Medea and her son, hers with wallpaper tall and patterned to suggest trees and madness of the mind, his simple and plain and empty reflecting his own short life. The design complements this production so, so well, and Johanna Town's lighting is quite stunning - at once simple, effective, shadowy to reflect Medea's mind, atmospheric, and finally grand in its vision. And in this set and production we find acting of the highest calibre, led by the strong, frightening, absorbing central performance of Medea by Rachael Stirling. This fine, physical actress controls the play, controls her audience, manipulates her fellow cast members and their characters; and what makes it more frightening is her madness which is continually questioned by everyone around her, who do nothing. Here the modern setting makes so much sense, and gives us as an audience, and a wider society, so much shame when we watch, observe, comment, but do nothing. This situation happens every day in our country, in the wider world too no doubt - child abuse, child murder, child grooming, suicide of a parent after killing her or his children, with the bland passive acceptance of society in general and family and friends in particular. Bartlett's vision of this ancient story works, and hits you between the eyes. One example of his astute attention to detail - Medea goes to murder her son, but cannot do the ghastly deed and retreats downstairs with horrible inner demons visible and audible; his fate is sealed however when he ventures downstairs to discover what is wrong with his mummy, only to scarper back upstairs chased by his mother who commits the final horrible deed. The narrative of the heinous death of Jason's new wife and her father too, is performed by work colleague Pam, played at first detached but finally heart-broken by Amelia Lowdell, as she relates the events at the wedding to Medea and her neighbour Sarah, (an increasingly worried Lu Corfield); and when Sarah questions the veracity of the story, director Bartlett cleverly uses 21st century communications in the shape of a telephone camera to confirm the murders - filmed in graphic vision and sound by Pam - who, as in our voyeuristic society today, has continued to film the murders to the very end. This simple episode disturbed me so much, and confirmed, if we needed confirming, that here we have a stage director who knows what he wants to convey and knows exactly how to do it - a master of his craft. Christopher Ettridge (a worried father out of his depth), Adam Levy (a handsome, selfish, and finally naive Jason), Paul Shelley (a genuinely bewildered neighbour), and small Saul Curran (the silent, brooding son) were members of this fine ensemble working together to bring this powerful tale to life and finally to death. And what of Paul Brendan's Workman? His presence was perhaps the one puzzlement in this epic production; a silent chorus perhaps, watching and for one short moment trying to intervene - the silent majority? Tom Mills as Composer and Sound Designer did his work bravely too, producing strangely modern, yet haunting music, culminating in loud, pulsing chords which echoed the madness of Medea. And how did Mike Bartlett end this modern take on an ancient story? By producing a final coup de theatre which showed us Medea with her dead infant in her arms standing astride the burning house, her family and friends silhouetted at the front of the stage looking upwards - and at once returning this drama to its roots in ancient Greece.
CLASSIC MUSICALS 2012 ****
Tom Daniels Music at The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 30th September 2012
What a logistical nightmare it must be to mount this sort of concert ; to source and rehearse a fully professional orchestra, to collate a cast of soloists and chorus, and to arrange lighting, sound, costumes, make-up, and to sell tickets to fill The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - and yet this is what Tom Daniels has done, again, and succeeded on most counts. The Hall was full downstairs, not quite so full upstairs (it is a very large auditorium), and from the moment the huge orchestra of 48 players started with the overture "Curtain Up!", the audience knew that they were in for a fantastic evening. How wonderful to hear such a huge symphonic sound playing such marvellous music - obviously a one-off performance like this throws up some balance problems but on the whole these were far and few between, and Tom Daniels himself was in full control of his massive forces. The programme was well chosen, with particular highlights being Fiona Currie singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in her beautiful soprano voice, Danielle Houston and Emma-Louise Nisbet's stunning "Movie in my Mind" from Miss Saigon, and J. Campbell Kerr and Inga Loughran-Dalrymple singing their powerful torch solos "Love Changes Everything" and "Someone Like You"; the excerpts from Copacabana andAnything Goes didn't quite work, and the vocal arrangement of "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables is one that I never wish to hear again, but these are quibbles on a night when there was so much to enjoy, The chorus was powerful and well trained - how could it not be when supported by such a brilliant orchestra - and the Children, naturally, stole the show everytime they appeared, especially in their rendition of "Lonely Goatherd" with Katy Allan. It's a shame that their confidence didn't rub off on the Host, Angus Simpson, who seemed particularly nervous and, it has to be said, slightly lost when handling his audience. The well-designed and informative programme announced on its back page that Tom Daniels Music will return on 2nd December to the same venue with Musical Favourites at Christmas - information which, I am sure, many, many people in the audience will note in their diaries.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN ***
Glasgow Light Opera Club at King's Theatre Glasgow, 17 October 2012
First of all GLOC (Glasgow Light Opera Club) must be congratulated, like all the major Glasgow amateur societies, for continuing to present musical productions in Glasgow's King's Theatre, especially during a period of general recession and continuing escalating costs. And Singin' in the Rain is certainly a major musical production. The company is large, and is headed by four decent leads, with the long Act One culminating in the famous song and dance routine in the rain, here performed by the multi-talented Brendan Lynch, who at last seemed to relax, enjoy himself, and show us his famous and winning smile. But it took all of this time for the show to take off; slow scene changes, interminable dialogue, and mugging galore - this was four characters in search of a director. Karen Herbison, making her drectorial debut with GLOC and in the King's, seemed unable to make full use of the vast stage, and the first act in particular seemed rudderless, with a good-sized chorus left to their own devices and poorly delivered and, at times, inaudible dialogue. This latter fault lay partly in the hands of MD David Dunlop, who gave his excellent band full head, which worked well in the big production numbers, not so well in underscoring and solos. Highlights for me were the Moses number, with Mr Lynch, Aaron Mooney (as a frenetic and in-your-face Cosmo Brown), and the Vocal Coach played by Sandra Craig, who gave everyone on stage and in the audience, an expert lesson in stage presence, energy, and performance value; Catherine Dunn's choreography, as usual slickly presented, well-executed, and an integral part of the production, faithfully recreating the dance sequence of the title song; Suzanne Shanks, (as Lina Lamont), singing her comic solo What's Wrong With Me? - I hope that her voice lasts the week!; and in the very minor role of Sid Phillips, a confident and personable Craig Higgins, who must be destined for greater things. Singin' in the Rain is obviously a huge show and a great challenge to any company which undertakes to perform it; for this reason alone GLOC has to be commended even if, certainly at this performance, the "wow"factor was not quite there.
GLASGOW GIRLS ***
Citizens Theatre, with National Theatre of Scotland, Stratford East, Richard Jordan Productions, Pachamama Productions; 1 November 2012
When does a political piece of propaganda become a stage musical? Well, GLASGOW GIRLS at Glasgow Citizens partly answers that question; this new production has been conceived for the stage and directed by Cora Bissett, who obviously has a huge talent and passionate commitment, both for her subject matter and for the stage. The book, by David Greig, centres on the plight of asylum seekers arriving in Glasgow from the beginning of 2000, and this new musical is based on their plight, and more importantly, how locals in Glasgow befriended them and took on their cause when Government policies - inconceivably reminiscent of Middle Eastern / Eastern European dictatorships - provided the catalyst for action in more ways than might be deemed possible to the so-called ordinary man in the street. The story centres on a particular group of girls, and it is heart-warming to read in the programme what exactly these people are doing today; and by centreing on those girls' particular stories and situations, the musical just about works - it is quite appalling to hear of the actual force and methods which were / are used to detain people whom the authorities wish to return or repatriate to their own countries; it is when the book strays to a political rant, as it does in the final ten/fifteen minutes, that one starts to question, legitimately and as one of the characters onstage argues during the evening, that one must always remember that there are two sides to every situation. And this musical must be judged, finally, as a piece of entertainment for the stage, no matter how deep or unpleasant the subject matter is. GLASGOW GIRLS has a first-rate book and the dialogue on the whole works well; the show wanders, however, and there are several longeurs, when the apparent innocence of "putting on a musical" becomes repetitive and very naive. Not as repetitive, however, as the banal and instantly forgettable music by Cora Bissett, Sumati Bhardwaj, the Kiely Brothers, and Patricia Panther - why sing a phrase once when you can sing it a dozen times - and always in the same key; some of the harmony is quite good, but it happens rarely, and only on two occasions did we hear what might have been musically - the vibrant and full in-your-face finale, encompassing so many musical cultures and backgrounds and performed with sensational energy by the entire cast, and on a different scale, a gutsy duet, worthy of the West End, for a sceptical father and his passionate daughter. Energy is the word which sums up this production, and there are no gripes about the cast, although diction, especially in ensembles, is a problem which really should be addressed now. Dawn Sievewright shines as one of the girls, Jennifer, and of the two "adults", one can only admire both Callum Cuthbertson (especially his rendering of "To a Mouse" accompanying himself on the guitar), and the incomparable Myra McFadyen, who displays her strong singing voice, superb stage presence, and brilliant sense of comedy and timing. A final word of praise for the anonymous grey setting designed by Merle Hensen - a set which conjures up Glasgow, its tenements and high-rise flats, but equally usable for any of the many, many settings in the play.
Scottish Opera at The Theatre Royal Glasgow, then touring Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Belfast, Dublin; May and June 2011
Visually stunning, sparsely designed, and intellectually challenging, Scottish Opera's new production of Verdi's RIGOLETTO must be seen by as many people as possible; for not only is Matthew Richardson's detailed interpretation of this masterpiece so captivating, but also musically Scottish Opera has assembled one of its strongest casts for many years.
Firstly the orchestra under the baton of Tobias Ringborg - the speed, the attack, and the thrilling brass and woodwind sounds all combine to propel Verdi's great score forward, as the composer insisted and as he structured the piece; the musical interpretation is taut and intelligent, and never once does Maestro Ringborg allow the pace to slacken, culminating in stupendously played chords at the heart-breaking finale to the opera. The Scottish Opera Orchestra under this conductor sounds in top form.
And as director Matthew Richardson has based a large part of his interpretation of this Verdi war-horse on the life of American sculptor and writer Lester Gaba, whose life-like mannequin Cynthia became so famous around New York City, that "she" even had a box-seat subscription to the Metropolitan Opera House, so in this production, mannequins abound - as ladies of the court swirling in dances in their garishly designed evening dresses with the tail coated gentlemen of the court and chorus, (who sounded magnificent in their contributions to the production); and in a stunning coup de theatre we discover the Duke at the beginning of Act Two surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of bits and pieces of mannequins instantly conveying the lecherous lothario's broken conquests of his dissolute life. Richardson has worked closely with his talented Lighting Designer, Tony Rabbit, to provide image after image of pure drama, again forcing the story forward to its tragic conclusion. The designer, too, (Jon Morrell), has worked convincingly to provide basic sets to this fast-paced production, with a solid painted draped wall with doors continually appearing and disappearing and allowing the sense of intrigue and courtly machinations to be so brilliantly conveyed - watch out for the white gloved fingers of the chorus hiding behind the doors as they listen, or their silhouetted figures facing upstage lit so starkly as they peer through the doors to watch the action of their leader. The long red ladder used in the abduction scene (simply and clearly detailed, by the way), re-appears in the tilted house of Sparafucile, allowing the Duke, and indeed Maddalena to climb it to the attic of the house - very dangerous, very scary, and completely right in this edge-of-the-seat production.
The performance of the evening must be Nadine Livingston's Gilda; completely secure in all of her notes and music, but totally involved in her characterisation of the young daughter of Rigoletto - never before have I seen such a convincing interpretation of this innocent girl, and her rendering of Caro Nome is musically faultless, given that the director has asked her to perform many moves and actions, which show in no uncertain terms that this is still a young girl on the verge of growing up. Ms Livingston is a talent to watch - and nurture. Louise Collett's Maddalena started nervously but soon settled into a well-sung, very sexy performance, and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones' Countess Ceprano sang her minuscule role superbly well, while maintaining the mannequin pose of her character with elegant poise - she looked stunning. Karen Murray's Giovanna was a nice study in self-serving subservience, with the director again enforcing the point of the story by letting us see her cowering in the corner of the room waiting her punishment from Rigoletto. The gentlemen of the cast performed nobly too - Alan Fairs an outstanding Monterone both vocally and dramatically; Gregory Frank a sonorous Sparafucile with all the bass notes, but perhaps slightly disengaged with what was happening on stage, especially in the final scene; Michel de Souza very noteworthy in the character role of Marullo, looking and sounding so incisive, with fine support from Christopher Turner and David Morrison.
And what of the two leading characters? Edgaras Montvidas played and sang the role of the Duke of Mantua superbly well; his is a well-rounded voice and has both a top and a bottom to it, which sadly is not always the case nowadays with tenors! He looks ideal in the role, and certainly brings an edge of real nastiness and self-aggrandisement to the character. Eddie Wade sings the title role, which is huge and one of Verdi's notoriously high and demanding characters; if he tends to display a slight cautiousness in Act One, then Acts Two and Three show Mr Wade much more relaxed and settled into his complex portrayal of the jester. And yet, something still niggles; I am convinced that he has done everything asked him by the director, but he does not look like a Rigoletto! Is this something to do with his height? He doesn't even attempt to stoop and so the hunchback element of the character is lost time and time again - and this is such an an important point in the whole opera. The Max Wall black leggings do not help either. And what of his all-important relationship with his daughter? I never really felt the father/daughter sympatico, and while his strictness and paternal rule of law were well-conveyed, one never ached as one should and must, as clearly indicated in Verdi's music - especially at the end of Act Two. This interpretation of Rigoletto's character makes him a controlling psychopath without any redeeming features.
Some silly over-choreographed excesses aside, especially with regard to the excellent male chorus, I still maintain that this Scottish Opera production of RIGOLETTO must be seen; it has been thoroughly prepared and executed, and the interpretation is so detailed that it requires one, two, or three visits to get the most out of it as one can. The ending with Rigoletto and his dying daughter is director genius, and brings the curtain down with an awesome catch of breath, which sums up the entire production.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE *****
Runway Theatre Company at Eastwood Park Theatre; 11 - 14 May 2011
Robert Fyfe's superb production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE for Runway Theatre Company is the Scottish Premiere of this Tony Award winning musical, and from this showing one can tell why the quirky show received so many accolades. Last year Runway presented its first musical with Camelot, but this is a completely different ballgame. Mr Fyfe's direction, pace, and interpretation of the comic show brings to the fore all the nuances, both musically and dramatically, which can only be incorporated into a production by someone who has such a wealth of stage experience at his fingertips. I can heap nothing but praise on this whole enterprise; a first rate cast, some superb voices, great and enthusiastic choreography, and musical direction from a new (to me) Musical Director, David R Dunlop, who cleverly controls the large and experienced band of 10 players. I loved the story, I loved the costumes and scenery - I loved everything about the show - as did the vociferous audience - almost full to capacity. Highlights? Difficult to choose when everything and everyone is worth a mention; Brendan Lynch's tap-dancing, roller-skating (blindfolded - don't ask!) Robert Martinis quite outstanding, and Aileen Johnston in the title role brings all of her experience and talent to deliver a show-stopping performance. But one name must be singled out and that is Will L Pollock, who is never off the stage in the pivotal role of the Man in Chair; from the start he worked, cajoled and instantly won over the audience with his subtle, clever, and totally believable portrayal of the narrator-type character whose 21st century enthusiasm for a 1920s musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, is the central and indeed only point of the plot; Mr Pollock's timing alone is worth the price of the ticket. Surely he must get the chance again to play this role , which could well become his calling-card in stage dramatics and musicals!
This is what theatre is all about - total and sheer enjoyment both onstage and front of house. Congratulations to everyone.
MORE LIGHT / THE HOLYLAND ***
NQ Acting & Performance at Langside College Theatre Arts Building 2nd & 3rd June 2011
Bryony Lavery's one act play, MORE LIGHT, is not for the faint-hearted; it tells the story of a Chinese Emperor whose concubines are buried alive in his specially designed and constructed tomb, and although specifically written to be performed by youth groups and young people, it deals graphically with courtesans and their world, castration, sex, and above all cannibalism. The author based her play on a real event when a tomb was discovered and opened, but she is an expressive and deep writer, and explores many layers of society and the human mind by opening up a basic premise of what happens when choice is offered to those not at all used to such an action, and the consequences which follow. The title role was strongly played by Elaine, (the programme's cast sheet chose, rather stupidly in my opinion, to only refer to actors by their first names), and she looked stunning, spoke clearly and intelligently, and managed the transformation to her experience of real love very sensitively; the cast of females, (there was only one speaking male role), were well characterised, and the anonymous director marshalled his or her cast well, cleverly delineating the different characters, and providing strong groupings, clever use of lighting, and well spoken deliveries of the thoughtful and intelligent script. It was unfortunate that the final underscoring music seemed entirely inappropriate after the initial mood-setting music used at the beginning of the play, and tardy preparation for a curtain call prevented the audience from expressing their approval of the play.
THE HOLYLAND, by Daragh Carville, completed the double bill, and was lesser than the first piece in all aspects; its subject matter, New Year's Eve as experienced in the student area of Belfast, is crude, badly written, and struggling hard to find a thread of structure to flow throughout the play. The clumsy references to the Middle East just don't gel, and the direction, again anonymous, was very basic and finally not successful. As a rule of thumb the male actors, who dominated this play, were not nearly as strong or articulate as the female actors onstage in both plays, and one never got the chance to bond or sympathise with any of the characters, but this was due it has to be said to the writing rather than the performance, which was performed in a very lively manner, and again in strong Scottish, or rather Glasgow, accents. Why? Is an Irish accent too difficult to tackle? In a prestigious college such as this I would have hoped not!
DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN ****
Mariinsky Opera at The Edinburgh International Festival, 1st to 3rd September 2011
At last I have managed to see a production of this Richard Strauss opera, which has eluded me for forty years! And was it worth the wait?; a resounding "yes". Die Frau Ohne Schatten, (The Woman without a Shadow), is the seventh of Strauss's 15 operas, and is a massive piece of work - an obvious statement, perhaps, to use when discussing his works, but here the symphonic sections of the score seem at times to threaten to undermine the structure of the piece, especially during the last 10/15 minutes of the opera, when a superb quartet for the 4 principal protagonists should really end the evening, but Strauss's score hammers into us and prolongs the ending for minutes, which frankly are superfluous. And here, too, Jonathan Kent's production, which is strong, challenging, and visually stunning, (most of it taking place behind a gauze!), descends into a schmaltzy kitschiness with golden shafts of light left, right, and everywhere, falling golden leaves, and the 1970s obligatory modern-dressed chorus advancing slowly towards the audience. That said, the difficult story is cleverly told with the juxtapositioning of fairy-tale traditional sets and costumes, and a basic, depressing modern-day work space - room would be too generous a description - of washing machines, television set, dirty work van, and overhead fluorescents. Thank goodness, too, for the 21st century blessings of detailed programme notes and synopsis, and supertitles, which for me at least, proved invaluable in following the intricate storyline.
But what made this the undoubted success it was, and truly worthy of being an international festival production, was the conducting of Valery Gergiev and the playing in the pit of the Mariinsky Orchestra - 110 players in total. This orchestra under Gergiev's sublime and inspiring leadership produced the most ravishing sounds, and the various sections continued to shine throughout the long evening, none more so than the sublime sounds of the high woodwind, whose tones and obvious love of the score must have melted the most stern souls, if any were present. Gergiev's commitment is well-known, and here his understanding of his orchestra and Strauss's massive score produced one of those rare evenings in an opera house, where we were privileged to hear quite extraordinary playing and interpretation of what must be one of the most difficult operatic scores to tackle. Testimony to the audience's involvement, if any is needed, was the total silence at the curtain drop of all three acts, when for 2 or 3 seconds not only was there total silence, but the audience seemed to hold its breath as one, not wishing to break the spell.
The three acts gave three separate chances for the three principal ladies to make their marks; Act One was dominated by the huge, over-the-top peformance of Olga Savova as The Nurse, whose bottom register boomed over the huge orchestral forces, while Act Two saw Olga Sergeyeva as the Dyer's Wife dominate the proceedings with a massive performance both vocally and physically - a typical Strauss character, where any niceties are cast aside, even if just to be heard over Strauss's accompaniment from the pit. And in Act Three, just when I was about to write off Mlada Khudolei's Empress as being one of the weakest voices in the company, often underpowered in the first two acts, she rose to her big challenge and proved herself to be perhaps the most lyrical and intensely beautiful female voice on the stage, dominating the long final act, and even managing to control her most unwieldy costume and train. It came as no surprise to read that one of her other roles is Chrysothemis in Strauss's Elektra. The men, too, were well-served, particularly by Edem Umerov as Barak, whose warm, sympathetic voice is so well-suited to this complex, genuine character, and Viktor Lutsiuk as The Emperor, although his open, gauche tenor vocals would not be to everyone's taste, and certainly weren't to mine.
The Mariinsky Chorus sang superbly, especially the men at the close of Act One when they produced some stunning, intense, pianissimo sounds which awed and amazed the huge audience; praise, too, for the Mariinsky Children's Chorus, whose contribution both vocally and acting wise, was so worthy of this festival production. The Russian method of singing - big, in your face, and sometimes with very little subtlety - is not to everybody's taste, but at this very special performance, it suited the production admirably, and made me a very happy man - having waited so, so long to have the opportunity to enjoy this Strauss opera live and in a production which is, on the whole, worthy of Richard Strauss's great work.
ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD **
Scottish Opera at The Citizens' Theatre 10th September 2011, then touring Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London September to December 2011
Oliver Mears' new production of Offenbach's ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD has remained faithful to the core of the French composer's original 19th century work, with its satirical swipes at everything which pervades today's must-know society - no-one is safe, and his clever use of back drops of a gossip magazine ("Hi"), hits home where his production is coming from and what he intends to parody. He is aided with a new translation by the impressionist Rory Bremner, whose barbs leave no stone unturned - bankers, politicians from all countries, footballers, WAGS, wages, rich and poor, and the unhealthy over-the-top preoccupation with sex; in this last instance Mr Bremner reveals a cruel, perverted, and frankly offensive take on the art of translation - I am glad that I was not one of the adults accompanying the children and young people at last night's performance when John Styx sang his song to Eurydice with a frankly crude emphasis on the first syllable of the word "country", (not once, but many, many times), and likewise the words, and in this case actions, of the disguised Jupiter while wooing Eurydice, were quite unnecessary, and frankly not funny.
My main worry about this production, however, is the appalling lack of experience on stage from a cast of, what can only be described as, inexperienced principals. I know that Scottish Opera is going through difficult times, but after the exciting Rigoletto (see Review above), can this really be the same opera company?; an opera company where the Orpheus, Diana, John Styx, Venus, Mercury, andJuno may very well have gained many diplomas from many colleges and music schools, but have obviously never been taught to act and deliver dialogue, let alone walk on a stage. For Scotland's national opera company to let loose these people on a stage is simply unforgivable. Gavan Ring's Pluto has a nice voice, but he is not nearly as good as he obviously thinks he is, and Brendan Collins displays a pleasant, droll, controlled delivery as Jupiter, with a decent, focussed bass-baritone voice. However, three ladies dominate the evening - Jane Harrington is a tireless, OTT, beautifully delivered - both vocally and dramatically - Eurydice, and knows exactly how to command a stage and deliver a role - she was the only one to receive long and sustained applause for her solo throughout the evening, and it is no surprise to read in her programme note that she graduated from the Opera Course at the Royal Academy of Music with a distinction in performance. Maire Flavin had the difficult task of opening the opera, and mingling with the audience, but her diction, characterisation of Public Opinion, and total stagecraft were quite excellent, and made one long to see her in a larger role; and the third lady to hold the evening together, in more ways than one, was the Music Director, and excellent accompanist Ruth Wilkinson - she almost made one forget that there was no orchestral accompaniment so expertly and confidently did she play Offenbach's music with its fast and tricky rhythms. I notice that some of the future performances will be chamber orchestra-accompanied performances; I do hope that the singers will not be drowned out, as this happened regularly last night with just the piano accompaniment; Mr Bremner's translation, especially in the ensemble pieces, was totally unintelligible, and just another reason to make one wonder why Scottish Opera allows this sort of casting and performance to be presented to the paying public.
Much as it pains me to report, the capacity audience cheered the performance to the rafters at the close of the show; that really surprised and depressed me - in my humble opinion there is no way that this production deserved/deserves such misplaced adulation!
MEN SHOULD WEEP *
National Theatre of Scotland at The Citizens' Theatre, 16th September 2011 then touring Arbroath, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Perth
Ena Lamont Stewart's play is one of the best plays ever written about social history in Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, and it is rightly performed continuously by professional and amateur theatre companies alike, The real characters, the awful situations in which they find themselves, and the inbuilt gut-wrenching spirit of survival pervades Ms Stewart's work, which she herself rewrote and revised in the 1970s, to make it a truly great, accessible and workable theatre masterpiece. I myself have seen many productions of it, and this new one by our own National Theatre promises so much when we enter the theatre - a dull, grey metal container with boys idly and vacantly sitting there, and the doors of the container noisily pulled open to reveal the detailed cramped interior of the tenement (designer Colin Richmond); the ever-present metal box only reinforces the claustrophobia and entrapment of the family and characters; and then we start. I have never been so bitterly disappointed in the slow downward spiral of a production; after a confident and funny start with Lorraine M McIntosh in the central role of Maggie and Ann Scott-Jones as Granny, with strong support from Julie Wilson Nimmo as Lily, the story is set; even a clever scene change device with Arthur Johnstone singing traditional Scottish songs of the period, with the audience joining in, works between scenes 1 & 2, but the warning bells are there between scenes 2 & 3, when his central performance is alien to the dramatic scene which we have just witnessed. The rot and major fault with the production comes into focus with the appearance of Michael Nardone as the husband/father John; what on earth was going on here? Was he under rehearsed? Did he know his lines? Did he know the production? And if the answers to all of these questions happens to be "yes", what sort of direction was/is Graham McLaren providing? The pace was not slow and ill-judged - it was catastrophic, and any tension or ground setting work done by the ladies of the cast, simply disintegrated and I was witnessing a car-crash of monumental proportions. This is not good theatre, and it is certainly not what one expects from our national theatre company. The third scene bucked up a bit, but mainly because of the performances of the strong female characters, especially Janette Foggo as Lizzie. But by this time I was so so annoyed, disappointed, and angry - not just with the production in front of me, but with myself at not understanding what was happening on stage, that I slipped away at the interval - only the fourth time I have done this in over 50 years of theatre going.
Now, did the fault of all what I have mentioned above actually lie with me? I considered this for a couple of hours last night when I returned home; I am perfectly aware that we all see productions at a theatre, and that obviously we cannot possibly enjoy or agree with everything that we experience onstage. In my own humble way I, too, am a theatre director, and I have experienced people walking out of my productions, and indeed writing to me to chastise me for my "folly". But as I have already said, I was annoyed at myself last night that what I was witnessing onstage offended me so much, that I made the ultimate decision to leave midway through a performance. Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that in my opinion I was right to do so as the basic stagecraft was so much at fault that it detracted and fatally wounded what must be hailed as one of the best dramas ever written. I wish to finish by stating that I am perfectly aware that last night's performance was an official preview, but what I witnessed was acting and direction that could not be redeemed by some director's notes to his cast.
ME AND MY GIRL ***
Glasgow Light Opera Club at The King's Theatre Glasgow, 7th October 2011
This is one of those shows which is virtually foolproof when it comes to entertaining audiences; the tunes are unforgettable and everyone knows at least a couple of them, and the story is simple, and has a happy ending - what more can one ask. Alasdair Hawthorn's production of ME AND MY GIRL for Glasgow Light Opera Club succeeds on almost all counts - the pace is swift, the stage is busy, (with a particularly funny and effective staging of the Act Two ancestors scene), and the cast, (save for two miscastings in major roles), is talented and bright. Look no further for energy and total commitment to his role than Brendan Lynch - this gentleman gives his all (which is considerable) as the cockney lovable chappie Bill Snibson; Mr Lynch's dialogue, singing, dancing, stage expertise, and timing are superb, and his performance alone makes the show worth seeing; he is well supported by Monique Alexander as Sally Smith, who makes the most of her big moments, and has a particularly fine singing voice, and holds up well against the antics of her co-star. Sandra Craig makes the Duchess of Dene a cross between Hyacinth Bucket and Dame Hilda Bracket, and dominates the stage whenever she appears; her voice comes to the fore in her big Act Two number, and her experience and timing are a joy to behold. Aaron Mooney shines, (appropriately!), in The Sun Has Got His Hat On, when the large company support him in one of the big production numbers, and special mention to David S. Craig as Charles the Butler, John Warren as Lord Battersby, and David W. Craig as the Constable - all proving the old maxim that there are no small roles on stage. GLOC's Musical Director, David Dunlop, controls his super band with extreme confidence, and his overture is particularly well played. And not enough praise can be heaped on Catherine Dunn's choreography - it is bright, effective, and well executed and choreographed, especially by the actual dancers of the company, and rightly becomes an essential ingredient of this feelgood show. The vociferous audience loved it - and that's what it's all about.
A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG *****
The Citizens Theatre,
Peter Nichols's controversial play, which received its world premiere at the Glasgow Citz way back in 1967, was quite shocking and disturbing, and its subject matter of a disabled child being raised by two loving parents coping in their own outspoken, unique, and hysterically funny private world, must have shaken the theatre world to its core at that time. However, the programme notes inform us that the play did not receive a single complaint or expression of shock, and 40+ years later there is again no way whatsoever that such a thing would happen now. This is not to say that the play has dated or that it has lost its ability to shock us out of our own complacency and throw us, the audience, so many questions not just about the play's individual story but also about our own lives and perception of society - which sadly, does not seem to have moved forward all that much since the 60s. The mother/wife explains that her husband's humour acts as an anaesthetic to blank out reality, and in Phillip Breen's superb production the humour is thrown at us full in the face - there is no hiding in this interpretation, and all the characters' monologues are spoken intensely to us in the intimate auditorium, with house lights up - even the dualogue with the wife and husband in Act One is a tour-de-force of staging, interpretation, and comedy timing of the highest order, when hesitant laughs and audience participation quickly give way to loud and sustained responses from the audience which becomes more than ready to answer questions posed to them. And yet this is not a comedy festival - it is a superb play written by Peter Nichols, and in Breen's exquisite reading of the piece, presents us with acting of the highest order from Miles Jupp, Sarah Tansey, Joseph Chance, Olivia Darnley, and Miriam Margolyes. Jupp and Tansey are hardly off the stage, and encompass their demanding roles with a fluid naturalness and in-your-face sincerity which stun the audience from start to finish; their apologies for each other, either to us or to the other characters, are painfully honest, and one is left breathless at the speed and energy with which they have endowed their characters. The "other" couple, too, provide more than supporting cameos, and they both excel in their own monologues, with Ms Darnley delivering her role/accent so impeccably, and so impeccably at odds with what she is horrifically saying! Ms Margolyes short and late appearance as Bri's mother could so easily descend into cheap and easy acting, but there is no way that she or her director would let this happen, and she brings all her wealth of experience to the fore in the centre of the fast-moving, and sad, final scene. Max Jones has designed the most effective sitting room on a huge truck which moves forward from the rear of the empty Citizens stage, into our laps almost, challenging us to become involved in this domestic - not tragedy - but life story; even his design of living plants, living fish, living budgie, living cat (which we hear), and even living fleas, emphasise the contrast with the "living" Joe, brought magnificently to life by two young actresses - Abigail Gillespie and Florence Gray. Go and see this unique production - it runs until the 12th November - and watch Glasgow's Citizens Company and Theatre as it should be watched - in all its brilliant glory. Joe Egg has returned in triumph to its roots.
Giffnock Theatre Players at Eastwood Park Theatre, 29 October 2011
Giffnock Theatre Player’s recent production of ‘Lovers’ (by Brian Friel) is two plays, which, though unrelated in plot and character, together show contrasting aspects of love from the exciting first teenage love and the comfort of young people cherished by their parents of ‘Winners’ to a more mature but nevertheless passionate love and the religious fervour of “Losers”. The performance begins with a series of apparently random, still images but they are so small that some are difficult to identify and so numerous that the significance of many of them is lost.
The action of ‘Winners’ takes place on a hilltop, depicted on stage as a three-tier construction. The top tier makes a fairly small acting area but Jennifer Morris manages to instil a lot of movement into her portrayal of Maggie. She is very convincing as the empty-headed, excitable teenager, unrealistic in her optimism for the future of the pair plus baby, due in seven months’ time. Sam Toufique, who plays the stolid and sensible Joe, is less experienced and his movement on stage is less fluid but suits the character of Joe. The innocence of the pair is underlined by their school uniforms and much of the humour of the piece comes from Maggie’s clueless prattling about the forthcoming birth and by Sam’s horror when he, ever practical, reads the dictionary definition of Caesarean and realises what Maggie might have to go through.
Director Mark Coleman has chosen to have the two narrators filmed in advance and projected onto the backcloth. Andy Williams and Patricia Bascom are excellent as ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’. The full names of the teenagers are used and the tone is unemotional, giving the effect of what - we realise as the play goes on -might be the TV report of a Fatal Accident Enquiry. The end has already been reported even as the young couple are laughing together and becomes very poignant as they go off in high excitement, to find a boat and “dance on every island”. And they are the winners!
In ‘Losers’, the set is divided horizontally into three sections: the yard, where Andy, played by Jack Hodes, fills in the narrative; the living room, where Andy and Hanna, played very well by Helen Lamarra, do their courting; and the upstairs bedroom, where Adrianne Boyd, as Mrs Wilson, rules the roost and worships St Philomena. They are joined for the rosary every evening by neighbour Cissy, played admirably by Liz Hamilton. Andy and Hanna are both 40+ and unlike the young people, who only want to talk (or in Joe’s case, study), the oldies cannot keep their hands off each other. Much of the humour of the play comes from their frantic fumbling on the couch, while Andy recites verses from Gray’s “Elegy in a Country churchyard’ because whenever there is no sound from downstairs, the bell rings upstairs and Maggie, flushed and furious, has to straighten her clothes and go off to tend to her invalid mother. Things take a wrong turning, however, the women close ranks and Andy ends up back in the yard, telling his sad tale. And now it becomes obvious why Joe and Maggie are the winners: their love did not have time to die, whereas Andy and Hanna are trapped in a bitter, loveless marriage, thanks to the impossibility of divorce in the Ireland of the time.
SOUTH PACIFIC *****
Theatre Royal Glasgow, November 2011
Thank goodness that the Lincoln Center Theater Production of SOUTH PACIFIC made it to Glasgow; this superb, intelligent interpretation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical ranks as a landmark moment in world theatre - and I choose my words carefully. The total overhaul of this controversial show - for it was and indeed is controversial with its strong moral undertones about racism - places Bartlett Sher in that elite band of theatre directors who know exactly what they want to do and go ahead and do it. The care and detail taken in the dialogue and interpretation of the well-known characters, especially the Bloody Mary played at once funnily and achingly tragically by Loretta Ables Sayre, and the pace of his entire production - a man not afraid to use the difficult pause to such stunning effect, (as in the opening scene when the slightly stilted and awkward silence speaks volumes in establishing the two main characters) - makes this SOUTH PACIFIC an evening to treasure. The large cast and orchestra (under Assistant Conductor Peter McCarthy), work with an energy rarely seen onstage these days - they perform as if their lives depend on it, and one can only sit back and allow this stunning show to envelop your senses for three hours. Jason Howard is at home here as he is/was on opera stages, including this very one in the Theatre Royal, and gives us a warm, human, slightly stilted (deliberately so) Emile De Becque, with a voice that is just right for this most famous of roles; if his Some Enchanted Evening brought the house down, then his second solo, This Nearly Was Mine, did that and more! Absolutely divine! Local boy Alex Fearns makes an energetic, genuinely funnyLuther Billis, dominating every scene in which he appears, and Daniel Koek is a handsome and angry Cable, acting and singing well, if producing some peculiar vowel sounds as he does so. The undoubted star of the show is Samantha Womack, who creates a uniqueNellie Forbush with her beautiful and subtle singing voice, and her total commitment and portrayal of the central character, obliterating memories of Mary Martin and Mitzi Gaynor in the role. Only in the big Act Two production number of "Honey Bun", did I yearn for a bigger "belter" of a voice, and momentarily wondered if Ms Womack's creation of Nellie was perhaps a bit one-level. The doubt quickly dispersed, however, when she returned to the dialogue and quieter moments, culminating in a most subtle and underplayed finale. The capacity house said it all - were you unlucky enough not to see this unique production of one of the landmark shows of world music theatre, then catch it when it returns to Scotland later on, in Edinburgh's Playhouse Theatre.
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE ****
The Orpheus Club at Adelaide's, 26 November 2011
Over the past few years amateur theatre groups have competed to be perceived as more ‘professional’ by striving to produce newly released shows with expensive sets; superior costumes; the best available lighting and sound design and special stage effects. So a theatre group which dispenses with all these elements must surely be doomed to disaster? Wrong. In its latest offering (the 119th consecutive production) The Orpheus Club returns to its roots, and has stripped Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance back to basics with remarkable skill and to tremendous effect. It is a testament to the genius of Gilbert and Sullivan that their work can be interpreted in so many ways. Like Shakespeare, there are no limitations on the approach which can be taken by an enlightened Director (it has just been announced that the National Theatre of Scotland will present Alan Cumming in a one manMacbeth at Glasgow’s Tramway and New York’s Lincoln Centre next year).
In this novel production, Director Walter Paul displays his complete mastery of and passion for G&S in general, and this piece in particular. His innovative approach began by announcing to his cast, as they assembled casually on stage in rehearsal clothes, that they were about to have their final run-through before their first actual performance. They would have to rely on a few basic props contained in a trunk (the only item on stage) and, if they used their imagination and performed with conviction, the audience would, in turn, believe in them. And so, on a wet and blustery November night we were transported from a bare church hall in Glasgow to a rocky seashore on the Cornish coast, with only the singing and acting of the performers to assist us on our journey. And what an enjoyable journey it was. Free from the distractions of costume and scenery, our total focus was on the performances.
Mr Paul is to be commended for taking the risk in presenting this well-loved work in such a minimalist fashion. His attention to detail in extracting every ounce of comedy from the piece was evident, and there were some lovely touches such as Mabel’s entrance when, rather than rush into Frederic’s outstretched arms, she merely hung her parasol over them; and Edith’s attempted upstaging of Mabel in the finale. I had initial misgivings about the house lights remaining on throughout the performance, but was so quickly drawn into the action of the piece that I soon forgot all about this.
Without exception, the singing was of a very high standard, and the wonderful acoustic in Adelaide’s meant that every word was heard naturally without the frequently experienced distortion of radio microphone amplification. As the Pirate King, Jonathan Sedgewick’s fine bass-baritone filled the auditorium. In an often overlooked role, Antony Carter as Samuel had great presence, and looked and sounded every inch a pirate. Chriss Mills’s Ruth was an absolute delight. More glamorous perhaps than some Ruths, she performed the role with relish, and her wealth of stage experience shone through in a well sung and well acted portrayal of the piratical maid-of-all-work. You would be hard pushed to find two better leads to play the roles of Frederic and Mabel than Ross Nicol and Honor Shelley. Nicol was completely at home in the role, and his beautiful singing voice was matched by his skill as an actor both in the dramatic and the comic scenes. Shelley was a perfect match, and was captivating as Mabel, her soprano voice clear as a bell. A highlight of the evening for me was the Act 2 duet between Mabel and Frederic: ‘Stay, Frederic, stay... Ah, leave me not to pine alone and desolate’ which was beautifully and poignantly sung. In supporting roles, Edith (Lynsey McLaughlin), Kate (Kit Sagar) and Isabel (Jennifer Watt) made their mark with their own individual characterisations.
It was a delight to see Walter Paul back on stage in G&S as Major-General Stanley. His rapid-fire Major-General song was executed with precision, and garnered great applause. It takes an accomplished performer to carry off this central comic role well and, with his wealth of experience, Mr Paul more than fits the bill. David Blackwood similarly brought his vast stage expertise to the role of Sergeant of Police. With his resonant voice, expressive face and comic timing he was ideally suited to the part.
The Orpheus Club chorus was in great voice, and it was a thrill to hear the set pieces such as the Act 1 Finale (particularly ‘Hail Poetry’) sung so well. The music was expertly directed by Andrew S Nicol who led a three piece band, which perfectly complemented the singers and at no time drowned them out.
Like many, I miss the days when two Glasgow companies presented full-scale annual G&S productions at the King’s Theatre just further down Bath Street. Audience tastes may have changed as, although busy, the house was not quite full on the Saturday evening I attended (an effect of the double threat of X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, perhaps?). However, the enthusiastic audience’s response at the end of this show was undeniable, with applause continuing until the end of the play-out. I look forward to the Orpheus Club’s next production - La Cage Aux Folles - but would make a plea that consideration is also given to repeating events such as this, and keeping the works of G&S alive in the Glasgow area.