Edinburgh

A Year Without Blogging: A Brief Overview

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been over a year since I last published a review. For a very long time an essential part of my theatre experience was rushing home from the darkened theatre and pouring my feelings over my laptop keyboard. University, work and private life intervened and regular theatre-going and the fun of reviewing ebbed from my life.

You may be wondering if I have still attended the theatre during my unofficial hiatus. Of course I have. In an attempt to get my blog up and running again, here is a brief summary of the shows I have seen since my last publication…

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s production of West Side Story was incredibly moving and memorable with its geometrical stage design. Matthew Tomlinson was particularly fantastic as Tony with deliciously smooth vocals. I cannot wait to see what he will get up to after he graduates. The show’s choreography, too, was a delight to watch.

The King’s Speech at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow featured a fantastic sound design and a modern visual staging. Gaining points for the use of a ‘true story,’ the show was engaging and I particularly enjoyed the sections featuring the ever mysterious Wallis Simpson, oozing with glamour and forbidden seduction.

The Lyceum’s Hedda Gabler was a fascinating production. I was simply mesmerised by scene transitions as Hedda’s fantasies came to life before my eyes, her dark thirst for power and domination a startling contrast to the Victorian values of her day. A play that begs to be analysed, Hedda Gabler is dazzling on the page and slightly less captivating on stage. Nevertheless, an interesting and thought provoking production.

Barnum at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow was a riotous circus musical for all the family. The relationship between Barnum and his wife Cherry is heartbreaking to follow in the midst of a show of so much fun. Linzi Hateley shone as the often forgotten yet essential Cherry Barnum, her vocals providing some of the best moments of the evening. Brian Connolly’s tightrope walking is the ultimate nail biter of the show, providing an ‘you could hear a pin drop’ moment to remember. The score is full of fun numbers and the use of reprises really builds on the construction of the relationship between the two leads. Overall a very enjoyable production although I personally would have preferred less audience interaction.

I wrote a full review of Dance Til’ Dawn at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow which can be viewed here (and I liked this one so much that I had to see it twice).

I also wrote a full review of The Straw Chair at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. It can be read here.

The Woman in Black at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was brimming with perfectly executed moments of suspense and jump scares. An essential ingredient to the success of The Woman in Black is, of course, the mysterious lady herself who should, at least in my vision of the show, achieve an ethereal creepiness by slowly pacing across the stage, almost gliding towards her victim, graceful yet deadly. Instead, a terrifying moment perfectly built up through levels of suspense and loud noises, was all but ruined by a clumsy and almost comical ghost sprinting across the stage at top speed, her knees up to her chin and her legs flailing everywhere. This error diminished my respect for the thriller aspect of the show. Had the spectre remained chillingly ghost-like and threatening then The Woman in Black would have been a remarkably thrilling and fascinating theatrical experience.

Anything Goes at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow was a bittersweet experience due to the announcement of the UK Tour’s early closure which was made public only days before I sat in the theatre to see the show. However, it didn’t take long after the curtain rose to realise that the early closure was forgivable. It is difficult to pin point what was wrong with the show; there was simply something missing. In a show that demands slick choreography for showstopping numbers, the dance routines seemed basic and repetitive. Zoe Rainey’s vocals, however, redeemed the show from monotony and the set design, too, was very satisfying.

I wrote a full review of Fever Dream: Southside here and this one was a cracker.

The War Hasn’t Started Yet, part of the Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and a Pint series, was a political piece filled with Brechtian techniques and comical sketches that explored society’s fears and insecurities. The three performers flitted from sketch to sketch with remarkable ease, contrasting characters being brought to life and fleshed out in seconds. Anita Vettesse was particularly memorable as the abused wife in the latter half of the show. This production was something quite different from anything I’ve seen before and it was an enjoyable, intriguing experience.

The Songbook of Judy Garland at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was a delightful showcase of Garland’s career, her signature songs revisited by a string of West End performers. Most enjoyable were the scenes featuring the fantastic Louise Dearman and of course it was a delight to witness Garland’s eldest daughter, Lorna Luft, pay tribute to her late mother. The finale was, appropriately, an emotional group performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, sending the audience drifting into the streets to remember the golden days of Hollywood and the troubled career of one of its greatest stars.

I’ve already written a review of my beloved Top Hat which I revisited (again) at the Sunderland Empire. You can read it here.

Swallow at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh was produced in conjunction with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was very well received by all who attended. A quirky script with hidden depth, Swallow was equally comic and tragic, exploring the desire to survive. The ever fantastic Anita Vettesse delivered an incredible performance as the troubled Rebecca and Emily Watcher, too, was shatteringly brilliant, the physicality of her performance was remarkable to watch. A well written play that somewhat let itself down with a cliche ending, I purchased the script for this show and cannot wait to read it at some point.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None will always be one of my favourite plays. The production that visited the King’s Theatre, Glasgow featured a gorgeous set design and a fantastic execution of Christie’s twisted tale. To my delight, this production revived the original denouement, producing plenty of audible gasps from the audience. Always a chilling and captivating show, it is one that I would revisit again and again.

An Inspector Calls at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow proved to be one of the best shows I have seen. Heavily focusing on the construction of family, society, and public appearance, the set design embodied the show’s attack on capitalism and the destruction of the upper class through the slow disintegration and collapse of the dollhouse-like home of the Birlings that dominates the set. A show that begs to be analysed, I loved getting my teeth into this J.B. Priestley plot.

The UK Tour of Rebecca was an interesting adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier classic. Somewhat modernised and featuring an unusual score and puppet dog (!), one of my favourite novels was brought to the stage in a unique, quirky vision. Not my favourite adaption, this production still managed to capture the tension between the newlyweds and the deceased Rebecca in the midst of an absurd mix of dancing, puppetry and floating boats.

White Christmas at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre was the perfect Christmas treat. Martine McMenemey and Jamie Noar were stand outs amongst an incredibly strong cast in this faultless production that made me incredibly proud of the Scottish theatre scene. This was my first Pitlochry production and it certainly will not be my last.

As a fan of Tom Chambers, Private Lives at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow was a must see. This production was delivered with all the speed and humour of a typical Noel Coward play, overflowing with clever quips and quickfire bickering. Hugely enjoyable, this was a fantastic adaption of the Coward classic I adore.

Evita at the Barrfield Theatre, Largs was a surprisingly slick and innovative adaption of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. This amateur production featured a superb range of moving performances and it was a delight to hear my favourite score performed live once more. Perhaps the best On This Night of a Thousand Stars that I have ever heard and a heartbreaking finale as Peron collapses in emotional exhaustion over his wife’s coffin. A strong musical and a very strong production.

This Restless House was a Greek tragedy trilogy at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow featuring haunting musical interludes that are still circling my brain. Pauline Knowles was incredible as Clytemnestra in Zinnie Harris’ modern take on The Oresteia.

Mary Poppins at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh was one of the most spectacular performances I have ever seen. Elaborate set and costume designs complimented the many showstoppers which continued to build in size and theatricality, making this show a thrill to watch. Zizi Strallen was ‘practically perfect’ as the titular role whilst Rebecca Lock provided stunning vocals as the struggling Mrs Banks.

Annie at the Edinburgh Playhouse gave a powerful punch with a strong young ensemble of orphans. A glorious design a la Matilda, Annie was a delight to watch and was aided by the appearance of Scottish favourite Elaine C Smith as the nasty Miss Hannigan. A tale of hope and determination, this spontaneous theatre trip proved to be one of my favourites over the past few months and one I wish I could relive again.

And so we are now up to date with all of my theatre-going. Admittedly, it has been several months since I last set foot in a theatre and I miss it terribly. Many UK tours are making their way to Glasgow over the next few months and I look forward to actively attending shows and getting back into the swing of reviewing the shows I love and hate.

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MINI REVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Edinburgh Playhouse

Bill Kenwright’s touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biblical musical is undergoing another UK tour and this theatregoer was thrilled to encounter a remarkably slicker production than the 2013 tour. Following a last minute contract withdrawal from the original star headlined to be the show’s Narrator, Amelia Lily sweeped in to save the day with her strong vocals and impressive knowledge of the show regardless of her limited time in rehearsals. In the absences of long-running Jacob/Potiphar Henry Metcalfe, Chris Kayson stepped into the roles with a breath of fresh energy. The ensemble, too, seemed sharper than before and Lloyd Daniels provided an adorable Welsh charm to the titular character. As the result of an impressively strong cast, the overall show became a much more enjoyable experience; one could relax and enjoy the child-targeted special effects and be swept up in the charmingly quirky work of Lloyd Webber. Until the next tour!

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

REVIEW: A Perfect Stroke, Oran Mor

Johnny McKnight’s name dominates the boards of Scottish theatre during the festive period, writing several pantomimes each year and starring in one of his own creations. When he’s not bopping along to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas, McKnight is a successful director and also one half of the duo behind Random Accomplice. Earlier this year, Random Accomplice’s Wendy Hoose met enthusiastic responses and a promise to return in September. Toss into the mix a massive Commonwealth project and McKnight’s first play for A Play, a Pie and a Pint and you’ll find that McKnight is truly in the running to be one of the busiest men in Scotland. A Perfect Stroke is a daring exploration of power and manipulation, posing the question: who is safe when events spiral out of control in a classroom environment?
Sixteen year old Tommy (Scott Reid) has an audition looming ahead and drama teacher Ms Stone (Anita Vettesse) has agreed to stay behind after school to help him prepare his Romeo monologue. When Tommy’s girlfriend Carly (Dani Heron) is thrown out of the classroom, things begin to crumble around Tommy and Ms Stone as the lines of acting and acceptable behaviour are blurred. Chaos ensues as a lively cat and mouse chase breaks out and the struggle for power truly begins.
McKnight’s writing takes the audience on a journey, swaying our sympathies from one character to the other. His script is laced with threads of comedy that flow seamlessly into a dark intensity, captivating audiences with moments of raw feelings and emotions. In a world where tricky classroom situations are depicted in terms of an aggressor and a victim, it’s almost impossible to decipher who was in the wrong: was Ms Stone’s intentions simply to help Tommy prepare for his audition? Had Tommy previously considered the nature of their private rehearsal? Was it wrong of Ms Stone to channel her inner Carly in order for Tommy to understand how he should approach the delivery of his monologue? Did Tommy misread Ms Stone’s actions? The innocence of both parties can be questioned as the characters find themselves trapped by each other and by the consequences that will face them on the other side of the closed classroom door.
The incredible Anita Vettesse delivers a powerful performance mixed with a gentle vulnerability, Scott Reid’s manipulative student gives a frightening insight into how easily an innocent action can be twisted into a life altering situation and Dani Heron’s fiery teen presents the dreaded modern day student in a flourish of one liners and bold statements.
A Perfect Stroke is a fascinating study of limitations and desires resulting in an intense and memorable hour of lunchtime theatre. Who will be victorious in this battle of wits? Find out at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 8-12 April.

REVIEW: Private Lives, Edinburgh Lyceum Theatre

The world of Noel Coward is undeniably one of glamour, sophistication and flamboyance. The streets of Edinburgh are littered with locals clad in dark, thick clothing but within the walls of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, 1930’s France bursts to life with an array of colour, class and Cowardisms. Private Lives, one of Noel Coward’s best known comedies, is often revived for delighted audiences. With decadently lavish sets and elegant costumes designed by Francis O’Connor this production of the classic comedy is certainly one to remember. 
Upon curtain up, a polite applause rippled through the audience as we caught our first glimpse of O’Connor’s designs. A towering hotel dominated the first act; fading into obscurity with height. With palm trees on either side and adjoining terraces overlooking the sea, the scene was set. Latter acts presented an Art Deco Parisian flat complete with vast windows overlooking the iconic skyline of Paris. Complimented by O’Connor’s striking costumes, the social whirl of the thirties was brought to life in front of our very eyes. 
In the L’amour hotel in the South of France newlyweds Elyot and Sybil have arrived for their honeymoon. In the room next door Victor and Amanda have also began to settle into their honeymoon suite. For both couples, a small detail looms over their happiness: Elyot and Amanda have been married before. To each other. When the divorced couple encounter one another on the adjoining terraces, their relationship is rekindled. Both characters have quick tempers and a tendency to bicker thus fly through a plethora of emotions before finally deciding that they simply cannot live without one another. 
The highlight of the show comes towards the end of the second act, when Elyot and Amanda’s bickering reaches its climax as the couple fall back into their old habits of hurling verbal and physical abuse at one another – a physical fight produces gasps and laughs alike from the audience and also results in the destruction of the Parisian flat’s decor.
Coward’s script is handled well by the small cast of five. John Hopkins is particularly fantastic as Elyot and Kirsty Besterman brings a wonderful personality and physical comedy to the role of Amanda. Strong support is provided by Ben Deery as Victor and Emily Woodward as Sybil. Nicola Roy’s appearance as Louise is regrettably short. 
Noël Coward’s timeless and sparkling comedy is here to stay until 8th March. Pop along to the Lyceum to be transported to a world of class, cocktails and love/hate relationships.