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MINI REVIEW: The Bodyguard, King’s Theatre

The Bodyguard UK Tour is one of the hottest tickets in town – and rightly so. An explosive opening number makes way for a spectacular showcase of concert-like performances of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits. Notably, most of the directorial emphasis seems to be placed on the musical numbers throughout the show, the sections of spoken dialogue therefore seem somewhat sandwiched between numbers and rendered as unimportant. Regardless, The Bodyguard is an emotional and powerful show of love and commitment. Zoe Birkett is phenomenal as superstar Rachel Marron, her powerhouse vocals are spectacular to witness whilst her acting is tender and moving. Her renditions of One Moment in Time and, of course, I Will Always Love You are stand out moments in the show, bringing an excited Glasgow audience to a hypnotic hush of awe.

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REVIEW: The Straw Chair, Tron Theatre

Exploring liberty and repression in eighteenth century Scotland, Borderline’s latest show is captivating from the start and leaves you with a breathtaking final scene to carry you out into the streets.

We meet newly-weds Aneas and Isabel as they arrive on the island of St Kilda, Isabel immediately disliking the land and recognising how ill prepared she is to become a wife. Dwelling on her lack of experience, Isabel meets the abrupt and demanding Lady Rachel who pours out tales of abduction and abandonment and horrifies Isabel with her crude discussions and tendency for alcohol. Yet Isabel gradually becomes curious of the abused woman’s past and embraces life on the island as she disgards her shoes and talks of shedding scales like an animal.

Selena Boyack is superb as the historical figure Lady Rachel who clings desperately to the only chair on the island and thus the only material reminder of her life before her banishment from Edinburgh. Boyack’s movements consistently encapsulate Rachel’s rage and deteriorating mental state, her performance fascinating to watch and providing layers of humour and melancholy. Pamela Reid, Martin McBride and Ceit Kearney bring truthfulness to their roles (Isabel, Aneas and Oona respectively) but it is ultimately the character of Lady Rachel that develops the alluring atmosphere that grasps the play’s audience and refuses to let go.

Embracing the darkness of Scottish history and commenting on society’s treatment of women, madness, marriage and language, The Straw Chair is a thought provoking must see of 2015. Sue Glover’s play shines in the recent, and well deserved, attention it has received – long may it continue.

When are we coming back?

It’s a question I’ve asked numerous times, sometimes as I’m leaving a theatre after a show or sometimes the first thing I say as the lights rise for the interval. There’s something about theatre that makes me want to hit replay and watch the same show over and over again. Time travel would certainly come in handy but without such an invention, theatregoers must splash the cash once more in order to enjoy the same production another day. 
 
I know I’m not alone with this expensive desire to revisit shows. Many Twitter users I have followed over the years can rack up twenty or more visits to the same production in a matter of months, often travelling miles to the West End or following tours around Britain in order to catch a glimpse of their favourite performer or show. 
 
The reasons behind each individual’s determination to watch the same show again and again can vary. For some it is the power of a plot line or the emotional impact of a musical score. For others it is a cast member that makes the additional journeys worthwhile. Seeing a performer in the same role on multiple occasions is an interesting experience. Some will give identical performances from the way they deliver a line to the moment they lick their lips or clear their throat. Others seem to thrive in spontaneity, feeding from the audience or fellow cast members to make a scene fresh each and every time they perform. Many fans will also return to see an understudy in action or to see an entire new cast take on their new roles. 
 
At the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of theatregoers who are satisfied to see a show once in their lifetime, a complete mystery to those who return to productions more than once a month. Take for example my grandfather who saw Dave Willetts as the Phantom in the late nineteen eighties and also enjoyed a performance of one of the earliest West End casts of Les Misérables. Although he still speaks highly of the performances he witnessed over twenty years ago, he seems satisfied to refrain from returning to the shows again. Even when The Phantom of the Opera tour touched Scottish soil in 2012, he hardly batted an eyelid as plenty of others flocked to see the show in Edinburgh. 
 
I sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Certain shows, such as Ghost the Musical or Singin’ in the Rain, I am satisfied to see only once. Others, such as Evita or42nd Street, I have returned to see again and again, travelling to different venues and seeing new casts. I’m a very mild example of a theatre returner although, surrounded by non-theatregoers, I am often greeted with exclamations of “you’re seeing that show again?!”
 
Earlier this month I found myself sat in a theatre asking if it was necessary to see the same pantomime three times in the space of a month. The resounding answer was yes; with a somewhat more modern and adult take on the panto world, a strong cast, a fast-paced script and original songs that are still swirling around my brain, some shows seem designed for rewatching. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to see a show multiple times and use these viewings wisely in order to focus on certain aspects of a show. It is possible to pick up many character traits and perhaps a line or two that you missed in previous shows as well as developing a better understanding of the production as a whole.
 
So what shows are in store for me this year? With one show of 2014 under my belt, I’m satisfied to miss the Wicked, West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain tours along with the second leg of the Evita tour although I eagerly await the Top Hat UK tour which reaches Edinburgh in October, a show I was very lucky to catch only weeks before Summer Strallen departed the original cast. I also wait with anticipation for the announcement of A Chorus Line‘s touring dates. If Scottish venues are included then I will certainly be there to see this show for the first time. With the exception of these two musicals, I plan on spending my time this year expanding my knowledge of theatre and delving even further into the world of Scottish arts. Perhaps this year will bring my first trip to the Edinburgh fringe.
 
My next show will be This Wide Night, a play starring Elaine C. Smith and Jayd Johnson. This will be closely followed by a trip to Edinburgh to see Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Check back soon for reviews of these plays and more!

2013: A Year of Theatre

2013. The year that brought Kinky Boots to Broadway, a Best New Musical Olivier Award for Top Hat and a brand new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to the West End. This year has brought me fifteen trips to the theatre to see ten productions that were unique and memorable in their own way. In addition to this, like all other years, this one has been filled with new discoveries of cast albums, performers and forgotten shows from the past.

This post was originally intended to be a glance back to 2013 and my theatrical discoveries that dominated each month. However, as I began working, I realised that the most significant developments and perhaps the most interesting sections of my post in progress were featured in the months of November and December. All sections from January to October have been scrapped to make way for a fond reflection of my theatre adventures of the past two months and how they have affected my views on theatre.
 
Not only has this year brought to me the introduction of several musicals and performers; my recent trips to see Blithe Spirit in Perth introduced me to the world of plays. For years I have claimed that “theatre” was what mattered most to me. It is not until now – after I have enjoyed a play to such an extent that I have scampered back the following weekend to see its penultimate performance – that I feel I can truly express this statement with honesty. This play exposed performers to me in a new light. Although in the past I could easily state that actors in musicals excelled at more than just singing, my main focus whilst watching these performances was always vocal ability. Blithe Spirit presented to its audience seven performers who had to rely on only their acting ability to carry the show. 
 
On our way home from our first trip to Perth we discussed the performances we had witnessed and all drew the same conclusion: Anita Vettesse, the actress who portrayed Ruth Condomine, was the finest actress on stage that evening. On our second trip the praise continued. With the absence of songs to distract us we had noticed the intricate details of the Vettesse’s performance; we understood her mannerisms, we were impressed by her character development, we noted even her body language. It was clear that Vettesse had received a stamp of approval in our book; the first actress to achieve this without singing a single note. 
 
Long before my decision to see Blithe Spirit, I had entered an agreement to write a review on Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell at the Tron Theatre. Having looked at the cast list and seeing no familiar names, I had shrugged, noted the date of the performance I would attend and forgotten all about it. Whilst studying my Blithe Spirit programme after the show, I had noticed that Sally Reid, who played Elvira with great wit and stubborn charm, was credited for several pantomimes at the Tron Theatre. My curiosity risen, I revisited the Peter Panto cast list and was shocked – yet delighted – to see that both Reid and Vettesse would be starring in the show. 
 
Like most Brits, I attended my fair share of pantomimes in childhood. My only memories consist of baddies with painted moustaches, cheesy hissing from the audience and Karen Dunbar swinging toilet rolls above her head. Although I was looking forward to seeing what became affectionately known as “the Blithe gang” and, of course, writing a review that would reach a much wider audience than my usual blog readers, I couldn’t help but worry. What if I hated the pantomime? What if I began to view the Blithe gang with negativity following an evening of Glaswegian slang and slapstick jokes? I had clearly underestimated the talent of theatrical Scots.
Not only did I love every moment of the pantomime and rush home to write an enthusiastic five star review of the show; seeing the Blithe gang in completely different surroundings boosted my admiration for these actresses. Just over a fortnight had passed from their last performances as upper class, sophisticated members of the nineteen forties and here they were now: taking part in all the usual panto traditions, one as Stinkerbell and the other as Captain New Look. The contrast was staggering.
 
Of course Peter Panto was, like all pantomimes, packed with songs.  I found myself sighing with relief as the actress I rated so highly in Blithe Spirit sang her first notes. Not only a wonderful actress, Vettesse possesses a beautiful singing voice. 
 
In under a month I have realised that I have been wrong to believe that I could only enjoy West End or official UK Tour productions of shows. Both Blithe Spirit and Peter Panto are Scottish productions that are of an extremely high standard and feature performers who have made a much larger impact in my life than most West End performers. For years I have sought a theatrical perfection; a performer that would truly blow me away with their talent. UK Tours and even the West End couldn’t provide me with such a satisfying performer. All this time Vettesse has been under my nose, based in Glasgow and gathering some excellent reviews in the shows she has starred in. Never before have I been so impressed with a performer. 
 
So another year has passed and has certainly left a large impact in my life. I hereby publicise my oath to see Anita Vettesse in as many productions as I can in 2014 – and beyond. I no longer need the “stars,” the big names of the stage or the extravagant shows that draw audiences from afar. All I need is the individuals that share their talents with the world, putting a large smile on my face and earning their own place in my heart.