Rachel’s Theatre Highlights of 2014

7

Private Lives, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

14th February – 8th March

Francis O’Connor’s spectacular designs were worth the ticket price alone for this sparkling Noel Coward comedy.


This-wide-night-Tron-Theatre-1

This Wide Night, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

20th February – 15th March

Funny and heartbreaking, The Tron Theatre Company’s production of Chloe Moss’ This Wide Night was an eye-opening production.


And Then There Were None, Dundee Rep Ensemble, Dundee

5th March – 29th March

Visually stunning, the Dundee Rep Ensemble’s staging of this Agatha Christie masterpiece was a spine-tingling experience.


Anita Vettesse and Scott Reid. Photo by Lesley Black.previewA Perfect Stroke, Oran Mor, Glasgow/Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

31st March – 5th April (Oran Mor)  8th April – 12th April (Traverse)

After school rehearsals have never been so intimate and intense. A Perfect Stroke received a well deserved Best New Play nomination at the CATS awards earlier this year.


Beowulf, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

24th July – 2nd August

A fascinating set and a superb trio of actresses, this dramatic reading of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf was a theatre experience to cherish.


Bu_klCKCEAEevRT The Addams Family, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

31st July – 25th August

Creepy, kooky and hilariously funny, this was my highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 – full disclosure!


Vanishing Point 1Tomorrow, Tramway, Glasgow

3rd – 11th October

A visual masterpiece in ways that simply cannot be captured in photographs, Vanishing Point’s Tomorrow was delicate and stunning.


XBuiOgFvIn Time O Strife, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (tour)

14th – 18th October

Poignant, angry and beautifully staged with a blend of poetry and music, this play was a testament to Scottish theatre.


img_dancederby_2Dance Derby, Paisley Town Hall, Paisley (tour)

4th November

Beautiful, Brecht and thought-provoking theatre. I haven’t stopped talking about it yet.


top-hatTop Hat, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (tour)

2nd – 13th December

A thrilling reminder of the golden days of Hollywood. Visual splendour and superbly cast. Tapping through the UK until July 2015.

 

REVIEW: Miracle on 34 Parnie Street, Tron Theatre

Miracle on 34th Street is a fond Christmas favourite, the 1947 classic often ranked amongst the top Christmas films of all time with its charming tale of love, faith and imagination. Once Johnny McKnright gets his hands on it, Miracle will never be the same again. All the essential ingredients are there and mixed in with McKnight’s wit, cross-gender casting and all important audience participation to create Miracle on 34 Parnie Street, a riotous spectacle that cheerfully urges its audience to believe.

Leading department store TJ Confuse are preparing for Christmas and in need of a Santa but when Kristine Cagney Kringle arrives claiming to be the real Santa the store’s staff are surprised by the suggestion that Santa Claus could, in fact, be a woman. This marks the beginning of a series of moments challenging gender norms in the show; a serious tone beyond the fun and games.

Happily stepping into the shoes of the lady Santa is McKnight himself: cheeky, seductive and sexually available after Emmerdale every night. The best laughs are provided by McKnight and Julie Wilson Nimmo (who seems to be loving every minute on stage as the arm-swaying Doris Hawker) as they wander from the script into hilarious ad-libs. Darren Brownlie’s baddie Mr Bellhammer has the pleasure of duetting with himself thanks to a life sized screen where long serving Tron panto member Sally Reid briefly pops up as Bellhammer’s fellow conspirator Mrs Big Bad Wolf.

McKnight’s script reaches levels of genius with his tongue twisting dialogue and fast paced exchanges of razor sharp wit. He’s on top of his panto-writing game, treating Glasgow to a show of boisterous excitement and superb humour.

REVIEW: Top Hat, Theatre Royal

Following the recent success of Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre in London, the winner of the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical has embarked on a major national tour. The London production was charming and compelling whilst the current tour exceeds all expectations, raising the bar to a superbly high level. Immersive, captivating, nostalgic and breathtaking all at once, Top Hat is a beautiful production that should not be missed.

A classic story of mistaken identity, Broadway star Jerry Travers (originally portrayed by Fred Astaire in the 1935 film on which this production is based) arrives in London to appear in a new West End show produced by his friend Horace Hardwick. Meeting at Horace’s hotel, Jerry soon irks the guest downstairs by performing a tap dance routine late into the night. When the guest “drops up” to complain about the noise, Jerry falls in love and pursues the cold Dale Tremont until finally winning her affections whilst comforting her during a thunderstorm. But when Dale discovers her friend Madge’s new husband Horace is staying in the room above hers, she assumes the worst and attempts to escape the inevitable chemistry between herself and Jerry.

Alan Burkitt is wonderful as Jerry Travers, perfectly portraying the love struck star, his chemistry with Charlotte Gooch is thrilling to watch whilst their dances are simply breathtaking. Gooch is fantastic as Dale Tremont, her transition from cold love interest to adoring lover is heart-warming in itself. Rebecca Thornhill’s appearance in act two threatens to steal the show with a rapid succession of humour, glamour and delightful vocals whilst Sebastien Torkia’s strip tease with a twist provides an uproarious scene in the midst of the most complicated sequence of mix-ups and mayhem.

Featuring a selection of Irving Berlin’s greatest songs and designed to perfection by Hildegard Bechtler (with stunning costumes by Jon Morrell), Top Hat is a feast for the eyes and ears which affectionately reminisces the golden era of Hollywood musicals. The original black and white film is alive with colour, splendour and subtle modernity in a theatre event for anyone and everyone who loves musicals.

REVIEW: Whisky Galore, Citizens Theatre

In a world heavily reliant on CGI and blockbuster special effects, Whisky Galore is a welcome reminder of the somewhat more simplistic methods of production in radio dramas. Its a laugh-a-minute show: a thrill to watch and a fascinating insight to the conventions of sound effects and their contribution towards the success of radio productions.

Set in an art deco BBC Radio Studio, we are introduced to three frightfully polite actors and their long-suffering studio manager. A range of obscure props are set around the studio; their use throughout the show to recreate a series of everyday sounds is simply ingenious. As Colin Sutherland’s studio manager dashes between props creating sounds of rain, waves, animals, social events and much more, the actors must tackle thirty roles within the radio production and cope with the demands of being live on air, of constantly switching roles and the implications of some ill-timed sound effects.

The radio show itself is the story of Little and Great Todday, two Highland islands suffering from war rations and a distinct lack of whisky. This is quickly solved, however, when a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases of whisky finds itself run aground not too far from the thirsty Todday citizens. The show’s audience becomes the Radio Studio’s audience, encouraged by the use of placards to get involved with the provision of those all important sound effects.

The fluidity of the piece is a testament to the performers involved, the superb Darren Brownlie’s flamboyant Findlay Easton-Crane producing roars of laughter from the audience by a mere flick of the hair, raise of the eyebrow or occasional highland fling. Helen McAlpine is impressive in a string of diverse roles whilst Barrie Hunter, too, is in fine form as the moustache proud Garth Helmock.

It truly is giggles galore in this joyous production. Attending radio performances is a social event of days gone by but Whisky Galore proves that this form of entertainment is still a fantastically enthralling night of laughter that you won’t want to forget in a hurry.

REVIEW: Dance Derby, Paisley Town Hall

Telling the bitter tale of the Depression’s gruelling dance marathons, Dance Derby packs a mighty punch. Thought-provoking theatre at its best, Company Chordelia’s latest show embraces the cruel audience pleasure of reality shows through its exploration of a six week dance marathon.

The rules, as established by MC Hal Johnson (played by Harry Ward), are simple. The contestants must always remain dancing.They will be rewarded with a 10 minute break every two hours but must continue to dance whilst eating, shaving or even brushing their teeth. As the hours roll by to the ever incomprehensible 600 hours… 800 hours… 1024 hours of constant dance, Ward’s cheerful MC delights in the suffering of the desperate contestants, his treatment of the marathon as a piece of entertainment is horrifying to watch for both the audience and Nadine Livingston’s soprano who grows more and more uncomfortable in her central position, her gestures of sympathy to the exhausted dancers are heartfelt yet powerless.

Throughout the piece, each couple are given a moment in the spotlight to showcase their talents. We are briefly introduced to expectant parents Mary and Eugene (Kally Lloyd-Jones and Vince Virr), experienced dancers Molly and Allan (Katie Armstong and Peter Baldwin), paired together for the purpose of the marathon Eleanor and Joe (Tara Hodgson and Brian Bremner), married couple Muriel-Jane and Arlen (Steinvor Palsson and Michael Sherin) and orphaned siblings Rose and Bill (Beverly Grant and Darren Brownlie). Their spotlight performances, scattered between rounds of eliminations and races, drive the narrative of the piece, developing each couple’s story and their motivation for the coveted final prize of $1000, the fated prize always looming above them in the form of an eye-catching, glittering sign lest the contestants consider admitting defeat.

Accompanied by a selection of distinctive dance numbers from the 1930s, composers ranging from Irving Berlin, Al Dubin and Rodgers & Hart to Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, the show maintains its intensity till the end; the final scene a particularly powerful moment of bitter triumph as the winning couple quietly embrace their success, the runners up collapsing in distress as the cheerful ‘We’re in the Money’ plays out behind them. The characters’ struggles are heartbreaking to watch, the inevitable collapses and implications still shocking and raw.

Unique in many ways, Dance Derby is a fascinating piece of theatre that is often poignant and distressing. Presented with an incredible flair, the piece’s modern day relevance fuels its powerful impact that leaves audiences questioning their values of entertainment and the cooperation of genuine struggle and cruelty in this entertainment.

REVIEW: Dangerous Corner, Theatre Royal

Plunged in darkness, we open with a gunshot and a shriek of horror.The Caplans are entertaining family friends in their grand home, the ladies sitting in the drawing room listening to a radio play. When the men join the party and the conversation turns to the suicide of close family member Martin, we find ourselves in the middle of a messy scandal. Promising each other to tell the truth, each character slowly reveals secrets of the past with devastating consequences.

Finty Williams is particularly watchable as Freda Caplan with fantastic delivery and presence. Kim Thomson, too, is quite excellent as Olwen Peel. Michael Praed’s Stanton is slick and sophisticated. Gary McCann’s designs are simply stunning. The set is a grand art deco affair of browns and golds, the costumes lavish and stylish.

Although Priestley himself stated that his “plays are meant to be acted, not read,” the complexities of Dangerous Corner beg for a reading of the script, a mapping out of the curious plot and an analytical viewing, if only to applaud the intricacies employed by Priestley and so cleverly exposed throughout the play. Yet still something holds the production back. As a visual piece, it is incredibly static; characters move from chair to chair and pace the floor between long sections of dialogue – enjoyable but slow to develop. When the plot twists come they are compelling enough and the final denouement makes it all worthwhile in the end.