2014

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: In Time O Strife, Citizens Theatre

We open with a joyous occasion of singing, laughing and dancing. It’s impossible to stop your toe from tapping or avoid a smile from spreading across your face as actors mingle on stage in an intimate town hall setting. But as the house lights go down and the action begins, it’s clear that we’re destined for a show of pluck, wit, strength and emotion.

Graham McLaren’s adaptation of Joe Corrie’s little known play is a beautiful fabrication of Corrie’s original script with additional poems set to music or delivered with dynamic unity. Tackling the subject of the middle class struggle in the midst of a harsh seven month miners strike, In Time O Strife resonates with many as a powerful play of both despair and hope, the fascinating choreography conveying a compelling anguish that touches the heart.

This heart-rending emotion is central to Tom McGovern’s performance as Tam, his final scenes deeply moving and memorable. Anita Vettesse gives a gorgeously poignant performance as Jean; loving and caring whilst also fiery and ardent. The Shilling a Week Band, too, are in superb form, led by Jenny Reeve’s excellent vocals.

This thrilling adaptation of In Time O Strife is a testament to Scottish theatre – both the sadly forgotten work of the past and the fantastic success of the present. Full of anger and grit, Corrie’s play is hugely inspiring and thought provoking, an exquisite insight to days gone by and almost completely forgotten.

REVIEW: Tomorrow, Tramway

It begins as a single unsteady vision slowly clarifying into a factory line up, delicately attending rubber masks. In time they are greeted by youthful faces, each gently taking up a mask and gazing at it with interest as they wander away. These faces are their own future.

A fascinating opening scene makes way for an enthralling show rich with moments of joyful laugher and poignant scenes that draw gasps and sighs from the audience. Visually breathtaking and accompanied by a beautiful score that sends shivers down the spine, Tomorrow is a triumph that must be experienced.

Bravely tackling the implications, fears and inevitability of growing old, Vanishing Point’s newest show elegantly expresses its tale through a series of vivid images; spectacular moments of lighting design provide a cinematic experience – the effects are so stunning that it seems almost impossible that everything we see is live action with no special effects other than smoke machines and several torches expertly angled for fantastic effects.

This incredible achievement by Vanishing Point is gripping from start to finish. A show that leaves one quite speechless to ponder on life, death and the process of growing old. A must see.

REVIEW: Three Sisters, Tron Theatre

This review was originally written for and published on The Public Reviews.

It’s out with the provincial life of Russia and in with a Dunoon naval base in John Byrne’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s turn of the twentieth century tragi-comedy. Relocated to overlooking the River Clyde estuary, Chekhov’s frustrated sisters must watch the Clyde escape to the south whilst they remain firmly rooted in Scottish soil; their hopes and dreams finely held together by the prospect of returning to the bright lights of London.

As the eldest of three sisters Muireann Kelly’s Olive is an exhausted schoolteacher, affectionate towards those who inhabit her family home whilst privately regretting her spinster status. Jessica Hardwick’s Renee desperately yearns for her beautiful London whilst Sally Reid’s Maddy is sophisticated and sometimes passive, confined to an unhappy marriage and pouring out Brooke’s poetry of soldiers, death and England. Her joy in finding love with Andy Clark’s McShane is perhaps the most touching in the series of performances from the ten-strong cast. Louise McCarthy is suberb as the power-hungry Natasha from Wemyss Bay.

Byrne’s distinctive artistic style is present in the design from the asperous windows and leaf covered walls to his costume design, each character’s personality uniquely represented. His transition from 1900s Russia to 1960s Scotland is a successful one. The immediate sense of comedy is comforting but quickly diminishes to the overwhelming sadness of dashed hopes and failures in the sisters’ darkest hours. The final image of the sisters clinging together, vowing to live, work and learn whilst the soldiers depart is powerful and heartfelt.

Runs until 18 October

REVIEW: Hamlet, Citizens Theatre

Fresh from the success of initiating no less than four CATS awards earlier this year, Dominic Hill’s stint as the Citizens’ Artistic Director is one to watch. As the auditorium doors open for another performance of Hamlet, an open plan stage eagerly awaits its audience; leaving little to the imagination yet still establishing a mysterious abandoned warehouse feel to the darkened space. Instruments and vintage recording equipment are placed throughout the set (designed by Tom Piper) and the actors use these props accordingly, providing Nikola Kodjabashia’s gloomy score; an interesting accompaniment of rock-esque musical interludes and not-so-subtle discordant outbursts.

The contemporary twists come thick and fast as Hamlet lounges around in only his underwear, munching on cereal and obsessively dictating for his tape recorder. Ophelia too belts out a particularly memorable and intense song as her madness spirals out of control and even in death she can be seen reclining in a bath, calmly blowing bubbles and reaching out to touch them.

Brian Ferguson’s Hamlet is nervous and agitated. He first fears but then joins forces with the spirit of his father, vowing to avenge his father’s killer, Hamlet’s own uncle Claudius, the menacing Peter Guinness. Meghan Tyler as the damaged Ophelia is a disturbing and fascinating performance whilst Roberta Taylor’s Gertrude is merely a husky voice and flailing legs.

The final scenes are played out with exquisite flair. Ophelia hands out alcohol as opposed to flowers and later watches with amusement as her own grave is created. The denouement perhaps falls slightly flat but Ferguson’s Hamlet is consistently obscure and unpredictable, his performance curious and gripping.

At the heart of Hill’s production is a series of complicated family relationships. From Polonius’ physical and mental power over Ophelia to Hamlet’s loathing for his uncle, Shakespeare’s tragedy is no more the tale of a Prince and the fate of his country but a study of dysfunctional relationships, abuse, love and hate.

INDEPENDENCE: The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant

During my time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last month I narrowly missed the opportunity to catch Alan Bissett’s The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, a romp through the possible views and actions of Scotland’s mythical creatures during the campaigning process of the Independence Referendum. Thanks to nationalcollective, The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant is now available on YouTube, the show captured with three cameras displaying the entire stage from various angles.

It’s Hogmanay and the mythical fairies of Scotland are celebrating in style. Their conversation quickly swerves towards the Scottish referendum. Black Donald, the Demon amongst the group (played by Martin McCormick with a satisfying flair of the panto baddie), explains that a yes vote would lead to a county in which the fairy folks could not survive. As a result the other creatures begin frantically campaigning against Scottish Independence (“Vote naw or the SNP’ll eat yer dug!” Elaine C Smith’s Banshee shrieks to the audience). But should we ever trust the Demon figure in our lives? It’s incredibly panto and it’s incredibly funny. The forceful script is complimented by a simplistic set of woodland inspired furniture.

Bissett’s referendum views are far from subtle; his message is clearly present throughout the mystical tale. Beyond the sharp one-liners lie powerful words regarding the future of our Scotland and the final moments certainly leave food for thought.

As the hours draw by on this fateful day for Scotland, The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant is an amusing piece of theatre that entertains, educates and may even be powerful enough to sway a voters opinion…

ED FRINGE: The Addams Family, Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, Sweeney Todd and The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic

The Addams Family, Assembly Hall

The Assembly Hall looms against the skies of Edinburgh, a fascinating venue which seems perfect as the host of Andrew Lippa’s spooky musical comedyPerformed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s incredible MA Musical Theatre students, The Addams Family is a delight from start to finish. 

Wednesday Addams has a boyfriend. A normal boyfriend. Her family are in despair. With boyfriend Lucas and family on their way for dinner at the Addams household, can Gomez and Morticia possibly save their daughter from becoming a normal, happy child? 

The cast give stellar performances throughout. Martin Murphy and Kristel Harder are particularly watchable as Gomez and Morticia whilst Andrew Perry and Cassie Muise give fantastic vocal performances as Uncle Fester and Wednesday. 

Chris Stuart-Wilson’s choreography is polished, Richard Evan’s design is atmospheric and effective. The show is performed with an impressive flair, the standard easily matching any West End production. A splendid production of a show that deserves more attention and recognition. Highly recommended.

Running until 25 August


Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies, Assembly Rooms

Her heels echo throughout the darkened room as she makes her entrance. Her hair is pulled into a flattering formal style of pin curls and rolls, her jewellery flirting with the lighting that slowly rises before us. She’s Bette Davis and she isn’t happy. 

The year is 1939 and Bette has received her third Academy Award nomination for her performance in Dark Victory. Arriving at the Awards ceremony, she’s more than prepared to scoop up another statuette to accompany Dangerous and Jezebel, her beloved Best Actress Awards. When a newspaper boy delivers a paper into Bette’s hands, an article containing the leaked voting results reveals that Vivien Leigh has won the Best Actress Award. Outraged, Bette leaves early. Returning home, significant memories from her past float to the surface of her mind: her days on Broadway, her early screen tests, her private relationships…

As Bette Davis, Jessica Sherr gives a compelling performance. Her profile bears a striking resemblance to the star. Her eyes are, for brief moments, startlingly similar. Her Bette is youthful, bold, determined yet sensitive and vulnerable. The script (written by Sherr) is humorous and engaging, providing an extremely satisfying 60 minutes of theatre. 

Running until 24 August


Sweeney Todd, theSpace on Niddry St

Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller is an enthralling tale of love, murder and the worst pies in London. The ‘Iolani Dramatic Players of Hawaii bring their production of Sweeney Todd to the fringe, a satisfying adaptation of Music Theatre International’s school edition.

Sondheim’s score is complex and challenging, courageously tackled by the ‘Iolani School students. Quincy Brown gives a fantastic vocal performance as Anthony and Samantha Caps is excellent as the Beggar Woman. Carson Davis’ final moments as Toby are particularly haunting. Collectively the company, acting as a Greek Chorus, are strong although vocals are not always up to scratch and transitions between scenes can be noisy and distracting.

The production may not be up to professional contemporary standards and it lacks a certain charm yet the Players succeed to tell the gruesome tale with clarity, winning several gasps from the audience as the final elements of the plot are unravelled towards the end of the show. 

Running until 7 August


The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic, C Venues 

Geoff Page’s musical adaptation of Homer’s epic poem is fantastically engaging: a fast-paced romp through Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War. His ten year journey is condensed into a performance which lasts just under two hours, slickly delivered by a young company of performers. 

The musical numbers are superb. Incredibly catchy, informative and funny, each number is as entertaining as its predecessor and performed to professional standards. Props and set are limited, an element that is warmly embraced by the company: shields double up as the opening of a cave, aptly introduced by the shield bearers’ humorous chants of “Cave! Cave! Cave!” 

The young cast are consistently brilliant. Holly Masters is outstanding as Penelope. Under the wise direction of Peter Sayer, the production shines as a wonderful and promising new musical. A must see for anyone interested in musicals of silly and superb standards. 

Running until 9 August