Theatre Royal

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: 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.

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: 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.

REVIEW: Dial M for Murder, Theatre Royal

Most audiences will know Dial M for Murder as Alfred Hitchcock’s first of three collaborations with Academy Award winning actress Grace Kelly. Few people realise that Dial M for Murder in fact began its life as a play intensively written by Frederick Knott over the course of 18 months. Giving its audience a frightening insight into the mind of a murderer, Knott’s play provides a portrait of the possible psychological motives behind constructing and carrying out a murder.

When the play opens, lovers Shelia Wendice and Max Halliday are newly reunited following Max’s return from a year in America. Unbeknown to the lovers, Shelia’s husband Tony is fully aware of their affair and has been plotting to murder the wealthy Shelia. He lures Captain Lesgate, an old acquaintance from Cambridge University, to his flat and blackmails him into murdering Sheila. The plot unravels further with many twists and turns, a complex story that is surprisingly easy to follow on stage thanks to Knott’s writing and concise direction from Lucy Bailey.

As Shelia Wendice, Kelly Hotten makes an elegant transition from chirping charm to despairing vulnerability and quiet determination. By sharp contrast, Philip Cairns gives a dull performance as Max Halliday, his love affair with Shelia is unconvincing, his toneless and robotic delivery makes one question why Shelia would ever risk her marriage for a man who is far from the “warm and generous lover” Lucy Bailey visualised during her direction of the play. Daniel Betts is deliciously evil as Tony Wendice, his actions influenced by cold calculations and self-satisfaction.

Mike Britton’s far from subtle set of blood red walls and draping curtains suitably creates an element of suspense and claustrophobia whilst Mic Pool’s sound design is effective during moments of high tension, particularly during the struggle between Sheila and Lesgate (dramatically directed by Philip D’Orleans). There are moments when it seems Knott’s dialogue is no longer as engaging as it once was and even the rotating set is not enough to save the play from momentarily falling into a state of too much talk and not enough action.

REVIEW: Three Phantoms, Theatre Royal

For any fan of musical theatre, Three Phantoms is an exceedingly enjoyable night of glamour with vocal and visual splendour. The source of the songs performed vary from Kiss Me Kate to Spamalot and Wicked to West Side Story. The small cast – consisting of three male leads, a female lead, three experienced

and respected backing singers and only two members of an orchestra playing the piano and a cello named Simba – flow seemlessly from song to song, remaining in character and making this concert an absolute treat to witness.

During the Three Phantoms‘ Summer UK Tour, the three leading men were Earl Carpenter, Matthew Cammelle and Stephen John Davis. As suggested by the title of the show, all three west end performers have played the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera at some point in their career. Throughout the show, all three performers gave a little insight to their experiences as the Phantom by telling various anecdotes of their time in Phantom and performed a harmonised version of Music of the Night at the end of the concert. All three men, and everyone else on the stage, had also performed in Les Misérables, a fact that came in very handy during their five song tribute to the show which included an incredible version of One Day More which left the audience with goosebumps on their arms and shivers down their spines.
 
Leading lady of the night, Rebecca Caine, is no stranger to the stage. She originated the role of Cosette in Les Misérables in the West End twenty seven years ago and also played the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera opposite Michael Crawford, Dave Willetts and Colm Wilkinson. Her soprano voice has also taken her to the world of opera where she has performed in Lulu, Hamlet and La Boheme to name only a few. Head to toe in sequins for Act One, Caine brought glamour and style to the show as she swept across the stage singing songs from Into the Woods, My Fair Lady and was even joined by the two female backing singers, Annette Yeo and Mandy Watsham Dunstall to perform Make Him Mine from The Witches of Eastwick. A highlight of the show was Caine’s rendition of Think of Me. Still performing the same choreography she learned over twenty years ago, Caine dazzled as her voice soared higher and higher during the famous cadenza towards the end of the number making Think of Me one of the most memorable songs of the evening.
 
A special mention must go out to Alistair Barron, the only male backing singer who, after an entire act of being ‘bullied’ by the cast, finally got his chance to shine during an impressive performance of the Four Seasons song Big Girls Don’t Cry. I take my hat off to Ben Cracknell, the lighting designer. Never before have I been struck by the beauty of lighting. Cracknell’s dramatic designs added to the excitement and, in my personal opinion, was the icing on the cake, giving the show just that extra bit of oomph.
 
If you’re a theatre regular or a quiet admirer from afar this show is guaranteed to delight you.Three Phantoms takes off on their Autumn tour (with a new Phantom – Glyn Kerslake) in September 2013. Do not miss this wonderful production!