Tron Theatre

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.

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: 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.