The Public Reviews

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: Grimm Tales, Tron Theatre

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews. The original post can be viewed here.

In a world where fairy tales often come bubble wrapped in layers of Disney animation it’s easy to forget that some of our most well-loved tales were originally conceived as violent folk tales that are chilling to young children and equally haunting to adults.

Theatr Iolo’s Grimm Tales takes on two of the most recognisable stories written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The show opens with a quirky musical number that introduces its audience to the familiar characters featured in Hansel and Gretel, the tale of two smart young children who are abandoned by their parents in a darkened forest and seek refuge in a nearby house made of gingerbread and cakes. The next tale is that of Ashputtel (which translates into the wider-known Cinderella). Bullied by her stepsisters, Ashputtel visits her mother’s grave and prays that her circumstances will change.

A set of wooden frames and doors provides multiple uses throughout the two stories and, with minimal costume changes and a very simple ball gown for Ashputtel, there’s plenty of space for the young audience to use their imaginations to bring the visual elements of the tales to life. The lighting design by Jane Lalljee helps to establish the scenes although the darkened forest featured in Hansel and Gretel proved to be a little too scary for one or two small audience members whilst the victorious burning of the witch was an atmospheric moment to cherish.

There are sound performances throughout from the cast of five. Wiebke Acton and Ceri Elen are charming as the brave Hansel and Gretel before transforming into Ashputtel’s irksome stepsisters. Hannah McPake captures the evil of the Mother and the Witch in Hansel and Gretel and later succeeds to win the audiences heart with her portrayal of Ashputtel. Brian Acton is a slightly more rock and roll Prince than we would usually expect (a lovely contemporary twist) whilst director Kevin Lewis gives a thrilling performance as Hansel and Gretel’s loving father and Ashputtel’s less than loving stepmother.

In previous productions, Theatr Iolo has treated audiences to three tales and, although the current two tale production has an ideal running time of 55 minutes, many audience members left the theatre hungry for another tale.

3*s

Runs until Friday 1st August

REVIEW: Beowulf, Tron Theatre

This review was written for and published by The Public Review. The original post can be viewed here.

The epic tale of Beowulf usually conjures images of fire breathing dragons, gruesome monsters and spectacular land battles yet in the Tron Theatre’s Changing House Lynne Parker’s production of the influential text has stripped Beowulf to its natural core.

Alone, Seamus Heaney’s translation reads with an elegant fluency; paired with the Tron Theatre Company Beowulf leaps to life in a flourish of literary devices set against a darkened and brooding stage. The distinct voices of three of Scotland’s finest actresses collectively portray the iconic tale of a Danish community under siege by the god-cursed monster, Grendal. From across the sea comes the heroic Geat warrior Beowulf, determined to protect the Danes and the Heorot Hall built by their King, the sole location of refuge and solidarity in the midst of their devastated community.

Shattered stones crunch underfoot in Charlotte Lane’s abstract design of destroyed pillars with fragments suspended in mid-air; frozen in time. Heaney’s language fires the imagination, Parker’s steady staging succeeding where Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 film adaption of the epic poem fails. The simplicity of the staging allows the audience to embrace the story on a personal level whilst remaining true to Heaney’s vision of Beowulf.

As three intriguing ‘Storytellers,’ Helen McAlpine, Lorraine McIntosh and Anita Vettesse breathe life into Heaney’s text with fascinating clarity, their performances entrancing from the poem’s haunting opening scene of Shield’s remote funeral boat against the horizon to the final scene which strays from the poem’s original ending. A memorable and unique theatre event, Beowulf is a beautiful adaptation of Seamus Heaney’s entrancing translation of the oldest surviving epic poem in Anglo-Saxon literature.

4*s

Runs until Saturday 2nd August 2014

REVIEW: Edwin Morgan’s Dreams and Other Nightmares, Tron Theatre

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews. The original post can be viewed here.

As the Tron Theatre’s diverse programme showcasing the works of four legendary British poets, the Home Nations Festival celebrates the unique characteristics of each of the four home nations in our United Kingdom, the Tron’s home soil is represented by Liz Lochhead’s fictional account of the final year of the late, great Edwin Morgan and the dreams that lingered in his mind.

Confined to a single hospital room, Scotland’s Makar* Edwin Morgan (David McKay) reveals elements of his complex life to his biographer James McGonigal (Laurie Ventry). Edwin’s willingness to discuss all subjects, in particular the open nature in which he addresses his sexuality, helps to shed light upon his work and the multiple interpretations of his writing embraced by his readers. To any Morgan fan, Edwin Morgan’s Dreams and Other Nightmares is a fascinating insight to the man behind the poetry and his various muses, including a series of significant men throughout his life (all played by Steven Duffy).

Laurie Ventry is fantastic in the James McGonigal role, credited only as ‘The Biographer.’ David McKay’s Edwin is a lovable character, visually frail yet still energetic and youthful as he reminisces about days gone by and ponders that hard hitting question: could a person lead two utterly different lives without either self being aware of the other? We realise that this is exactly how Edwin Morgan lived: a quiet lifestyle to please his parents and a dangerous lifestyle of risk-taking and illegal love.

A production that is sometimes laugh out loud funny yet also touching and heart-warming, Edwin Morgan’s Dreams and Other Nightmares is an atmospheric and abstract piece, aided greatly by Dave Shea’s lighting design and Ross Brown’s haunting music, that gives one a sense of closure and a satisfying insight to Morgan’s life and the inspirations behind some of his most memorable work.

3.5*s

Runs until Saturday 2nd August

*National Poet

REVIEW: In My Father’s Words, Tron Theatre

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews and can be viewed here.

As the opening ceremony of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games rapidly approaches, the Tron Theatre is gearing up in style with Justin Young’s new play In My Father’s Words. Tender, bittersweet and beautifully written, the Dundee Rep Ensemble presents a cultural celebration of nationality, identity, language and the undiminishable links between these factors.

Louis is a university lecturer of Classics whose translation of the epic Homer poem The Odyssey is four and a half years overdue. Estranged from his father, Don, who is rapidly declining into dementia, Louis searches for a carer to look after Don as his speech becomes irregular and difficult to distinguish. He employs Flora as a day time carer and reluctantly returns to his childhood home to ensure Don is safe by night. Flora quickly identifies Don’s apparent ramblings as Gaelic – a complete surprise to Louis who insists his father is a full blooded Canadian and would have no reason to speak the “dead language.” Nevertheless, Flora continues to speak to Don in fragmented Gaelic whilst Louis progresses on his translation. As Homer’s Telemachus journeys to discover more about his father through the memories of those who met him, Flora’s curious persistence and guidance sheds light upon remnants of Don’s memories and reveals the secrets of his past.

Designed by Fiona Watt, the set is overwhelmingly wooden and incredibly effective. Accompanied by an AV design consisting of lapping waves, the audience are never far from the suggestion that Louis and Don’s relationship is unsettled and uncertain. Engaging and enlightening, the show slips slightly during transitions between scenes. Although necessary, these moments seem to drag a little too long. Music by Jon Beales perfectly complements the tone of the play.

The small cast of three are superb. Angus Peter Campbell is particularly mesmerising as Don whilst Lewis Howden and Muirean Kelly are outstanding as Louis and Flora respectively.

A thought-provoking piece of theatre, In My Father’s Words leaves one considering the power of language, the barriers it may create yet also the rewards it can provide. Playwright Justin Young states in the programme notes that a dramatist lives for the moment when their character takes on a life of their own; this is Justin Young’s moment.

REVIEW: Betty Blue Eyes, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews. The original post is available here.
For one week only, in the intimacy of the Chandler Studio Theatre within the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the future faces of musical theatre are treating audiences to their wonderful performances of Betty Blue Eyes.
A musical that is both uplifting and sorrowful, Betty Blue Eyes is based on the 1984 film A Private Function by Alan Bennett. Set in 1947, the aftermath of the war has left Northern England in tatters with rationing pushing citizens to their limit. With the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip fast approaching, a buzz of excitement fills the small town’s air as the upper classes begin to plan a feast to celebrate the wedding. Gilbert Chilvers (Lawrence Libor) is the town’s chiropodist and, as he dreams of owning a shop of his own, his wife Joyce (Lucie Thaxter) dreams of being “somebody.” However both dreams are dashed by the upper class and, in desperation,  the Chilver’s find themselves in the middle of a “pignapping.”  With a food demanding mother (Eve Niker) and the town’s council hot on their heels, the Chilvers have a lot to answer for as the wedding date grows nearer and nearer.
This production has been laced together with care, each fine detail contributes to the retelling of the story of 1940’s Britain; the past truly comes to life in front of the audience’s eyes from the moment the show begins, transporting them to the small Northern town with eccentric characters and songs you’ll sing all the way home.
The cast consists of the Conservatoire’s extremely strong third cohort BA Musical Theatre students who are excellent performers that are full of talent, promise and determination. Together, they are dazzling, their voices blending into one and effortlessly filling the small theatre. With each individual having their own chance to shine, it is clear that this cast are wonderful performers, all of whom I believe will go far in the future. The dance routines, choreographed by Emily-Jane Boyle, are executed with precision. Libor creates a truthful and lovable Gilbert and Thaxter portrays Joyce with great emotion and vocal power. Niker is consistently perfect as Joyce’s mother, her antics gaining plenty of laughs from the audience. It must be stressed that each member of the cast are of an exceedingly high standard with some members playing up to five characters in the show.
Anyone who missed Betty Blue Eyes during its short run on the West End should take the opportunity to catch the show at the Royal Conservatoire. Although billed as an amateur production, it possesses all of the qualities of a professional company, promising an enjoyable evening of spam, history and blue eyed pigs.

REVIEW: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre

Fresh from the success of their production of Blithe Spirit in Perth, Johnny McKnight and Kenny Miller front the creative team behind this year’s Tron theatre pantomime: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell; a show of fun, fairies and flatulence.
 
Peter Panto is a boy from Riverland. One evening he accidentally loses his shadow. He later returns to the Darling’s household, with his best friend Stinkerbell in tow, to collect his shadow and is helped by Wendy, the eldest of the Darling’s three darlings. He soon convinces Wendy to travel to Riverland where we meet his long time enemy Captain New Look and her (yes, her) sidekick Chai Thai. In true panto style, mayhem follows. There’s poison, knives and looks that could kill all night long, providing a night of laughter and great entertainment.
 
Johnny McKnight has written yet another panto that’s brimming with local humour, a fantastic set of songs and a wonderful cast. The script includes playful references to the King’s Theatre, Karen Dunbar and even Janette Krankie. Of course, panto lovers can expect the traditional aspects of pantomime such as cast members playing multiple roles, an altered plot line to suit the location of the show (who knew pirates hung out at the Blue Lagoon?) and, of course, audience participation. Not only has McKnight included all of the familiar traits of panto, he has created a modern show that appeals to all age ranges. Ross Brown has written an all-new set of songs for Peter Panto, all of which are catchy and show off the abilities of those on stage.
Peter Panto marks the return of several Tron panto veterans: Darren Brownlie, Sally Reid, Anita Vettesse and Helen McAlpine and, of course, there are also some new faces in the form of Louise McCarthy and Laura Szalecki. Together they form a very strong cast that are oozing with talent.
 
Reid gives a wonderful performance as Stinkerbell, Peter’s loving sidekick who can never quite admit her true feelings. She engages well with the audience, instantly pulling us into the show and getting lots of laughs for her elaborate descriptions of the flatulence that makes her so proud.  McAlpine is Peter Panto, the boy who never grows up. She possesses an attractive singing voice although it must be admitted that her enthusiastic shouts to the audience may have been a tad too loud from time to time. With this small issue aside, McAlpine delves into the role of Peter and gives it all she’s got. She also briefly plays the unenthusiastic Nana in act one, the Darling’s small and furry maid and babysitter who truly believes she’s seen better times in her career. Tron newcomer McCarthy provides a hilarious “West End” Wendy and fits in perfectly amongst her cast mates, her accent gaining more and more laughs as the night advanced. This ballet loving Wendy is full of energy and also brings a very sweet singing voice to the show. Brownlie, the only male in this cast, briefly plays Mr Darling and then, once we have been transported to Riverland, he becomes the hilarious and down to earth Chai Thai who provides plenty of one liners and Glaswegian slang. Not only a great performer, Brownlie is the choreographer for the show and stands out during many dance routines, dancing in heels with ease as he blends into the almost all female cast. The performance of the night was from Anita Vettesse who shines equally bright as Mrs Darling and Captain New Look. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Tron panto is that the villainous role of Captain Hook we are all familiar with has been transformed and glamorised into a female role that Vettesse thrives in. Both her speaking and singing voices are strong and unique; Vettesse is instantly likable. It’s unusual to see a villain get such a large cheer at the curtain call and this actress certainly deserves all the praise she receives.
       
Grab your tickets, some wings and your eye patch whilst you still can – I predict a sell out show!