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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: The Slab Boys, Citizen’s Theatre

{seen on 14.02.15}

The Citizen’s revival of John Byrne’s Paisley-based play is a humorous tale of survival and determination. The eight strong cast, including Scott Fletcher as the eternal butt of the joke Hector and Jamie Quinn, who is simply outstanding as Spanky, ease their way through Byrne’s script with a beautiful fluidity, injecting new life into the story of the working class life of 1950s Scotland. Director David Hayman provides an excellent performance as the company boss Mr Curry whilst the playwright’s set design restricts the adolescent rages of the central characters to a single slab room, bottling their emotions until the point of explosion. The Slab Boys may lose some of its charm in this new production, but it presents itself as a way to introduce new generations of theatregoers to a dark, politically driven Scottish theatre environment.

MINI REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird, Theatre Royal

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird is a fantastic adaptation of the Harper Lee classic novel. With the show coincidentally reaching Glasgow on the same week as the announcement of Go Set a Watchman, the play rekindled my love for Lee’s writing. The children are ultimately the stars of the show, with Jemima Bennett shining as the young Scout, yet it is undeniably an ensemble piece. The narration taken up by the many voices of the cast (with the tale still being told from the perspective of Scout – somewhat disorientating for the first few minutes) and the location superbly set during the opening sequence through a series of chalk drawings dominated by Scout’s tree and tire swing, the ensemble work as one, watching from the sidelines, aiding scene transitions or assisting with costume changes with a constant and admirable flow that was a pleasure to watch. The show fails to build the same tension surrounding Boo Radley as Scout’s original narration in the novel, but it is still an interesting viewing experience, thought-provoking and heart-warming. An initially rowdy crowd quietened to an engaged hush during the lengthy court scene, illustrating the timeless power of the tale and the captivating qualities of the production.

MINI REVIEW: Filter’s Macbeth, Citizen’s Theatre

Having spent the last few months engaged in university activities, my little blog has almost completely slipped my mind. Fortunately, I’ve still had time to catch several UK tours that have stopped off in Scotland in addition to a handful of Scottish productions in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the midst of scary exam season cramming sessions, I present to you a brief round up of the shows I’ve seen so far this year (in very small daily instalments).

Filter’s Macbeth at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow 31st January 2015

I had high expectations for Filter’s adaptation of my favourite Shakespeare play, bold and playful, dark and thrilling, but it seemed evident from the start that this production wasn’t the Macbeth of my dreams. There can be no denying that there are flickers of genius – Macbeth’s demise to madness brought on by his interaction with a study guide for Shakespeare’s Macbeth was fascinating to watch  – but it does not remain consistently interesting to captivate my full attention. A game of blind man’s buff, Lady Macbeth frantically packaging party bags, Macbeth circling the stage distractedly during Lady Macbeth’s “unsex me” speech, the bold ideas continue and the play remains faithful to the linear narrative of Shakespeare’s work but my yearning for an identifiable Macbeth in the Scottish hills, glamorous yet teetering on the edge of ruination and tragedy was not fulfilled. The on-stage electronic musical apparatus and the casual modern day costumes bring this Macbeth too close to the ‘now’ of theatre. Filter succeeds in modernising Shakespeare’s play but I am still undecided if this was the correct choice to make.

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: 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.