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Showing posts from March, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Careless talk may not cost lives in the Royal Shakespeare Company's touring new take on Shakespeare's most playfully subversive of rom-coms, but the Second World War setting of a show here subtitled A Play For The Nation displays how a world ripped asunder can easily be led astray. Director Erica Whyman's world care of designer Tom Piper is a bombed-out speak-easy, where pleasure is still on ration enough for all-comers to grab at whatever takes their fancy while they still can, whatever side their bread might be buttered.
This is as apparent in the game of kiss-chase the assorted sets of lovers inadvertently embark on as it is in the black-market wheeler-dealing of Chu Omambala's more-kingpin-than-king Oberon and Lucy Ellinson's wonderfully spivved-up Puck. Most of all this comes through in the Mechanicals, here played by the Citizens Dream Players, a locally sourced ad hoc ensemble of real life amateur performers drafted…

The Citizens Dream Players, The Mechanicals and the Royal Shakespeare Company's 's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Performing in A Midsummer Night's Dream looks set to be something of a real life fairytale for Emma Tracey, the teenage acting student who takes to the Citizens Theatre stage in Glasgow this week as Starveling in Shakespeare's most out there rom-com. For estate agent Martin Turner too, who plays Bottom in the show, appearing in a major touring production initiated by the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less, is a Dream come true.

Both Tracey and Turner are part of what has been styled as the Citizens Dream Players, an ad hoc ensemble created especially for this new production, which uses a locally based amateur or community theatre company based in each city the show visits to play the Mechanicals. The creation of the Citizens Dream Players as a bespoke entity differs from the other amateur and community performers that will take part in the show across the country, who are drawn from already existing groups.

“The day of the photo shoot was the first time we all met,” says Trace…

The Air That Carries The Weight

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Bird-song permeates the air as the audience settle in to watch Rebecca Sharp's poignant and elegiac dramatic tone poem on loss and life. These little chirrups are just a hint of the ancient whispers that will skitter around the room later in Muriel Romanes' production, a fittingly lovely finale to her tenure as artistic director of the Stellar Quines company.
In a dilapidated cottage surrounded by bare trees in the wild cross-winds of Argyll, three women stand, attuning themselves to a seemingly unfavourable environment. The first, Isobel, as played by Melody Grove, is the most discomforted as she both mourns and excavates her shared history with Pauline Lockhart's Yvonne. Pivoting around them both is the real life figure of Marion Campbell, the Kintyre-based archaeologist and explorer of the land she inhabited, and here played with wise grace by Alexandra Mathie. Out of this comes a series of criss-crossing meditations that becomes …

I Am Thomas

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

It starts with the wheeze of twin accordions, does Told By An Idiot's musical romp concerning Thomas Aikenhead, the seventeenth century student who questioned the existence of God, only to end up immortalised himself as the last man to be hanged for blasphemy in the UK. On a set that doubles up as courtroom and city chambers, a 1970s stryled rogues gallery of Edinburgh councillors – a body hard to pastiche, whatever the century – are debating which historical figure to honour with a statue.
What unravels in Told By An Idiot director Paul Hunter's co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Lyceum and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse is a stark lesson for our times about how if you push people too far they will eventually fight back in a way that sires a flowering of cultural riches. Here Aikenhead is cast as a pub singing rebel at the sort of latter-day Open Mic night that some of Edinburgh's less enlightened …

Rehearsal For Murder

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When Robert Daws' widowed playwright Alex Dennison declares to Susan Penhaligon's blousy West End producer Bella Lamb that his latest opus is to be a murder mystery thriller, her encouraging response that “They do well,” is tellingly knowing in this debut production from the Bill Kenwright backed Classic Thriller Theatre Company. As with the decade old Agatha Christie Theatre Company, this new venture taps into what appears to be an increasingly un-sated desire to see ingeniously plotted pulp fiction made flesh. If that flesh is made blood within a few minutes of the curtain being raised by way of a bullet or two, so much the better.
Here an obsessed Dennison calls a reunion of the company who last performed together on the West End stage the play is set upon a year previously, on the night of his lover and star turn Monica Welles' apparent suicide. A cast list that includes a shabby director, a past-it roue, an ingenue with ambit…

Stowaway

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

It's the strangest sensation, coming into land on an international jet plane, in a limbo that's neither one place or the other. This is even more the case in Hannah Barker and Lewis Hetherington's elliptical study of what happens before and after an Indian stowaway falls from a Heathrow-bound flight from Dubai into the car park of a suburban branch of B&Q.
In the first half we see the effects of such a shocking incident on Lisa, the writer who was sat inches above the young man on her way home from a book tour, and on Andy, the newly redundant man who witnessed the fall. Both are traumatised enough for it to affect their everyday lives, with the dead man Aditya scurrying about Lisa, Andy and Andy's partner Debbie like a ghost in search of release.

What at first looks like a sea of first world problems in Barker and Hetherington's production for the Analogue company in association with the New Wolsey Theatre and the Eas…

Told By An Idiot - I Am Thomas

There was a glorious irony to the arrival of I Am Thomas at the Salford-based Lowry arts centre, so named in honour of the northern English city's most famous artistic son. Here was a new piece of theatre presented by the gloriously irreverent Told By An Idiot company in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, where it opens tonight, that told the little-known story of Thomas Aikenhead.

Aikenhead was a student in seventeenth century Edinburgh, whose loose-lipped anti Christian proclamations might in enlightened times been easily dismissed as attention-seeking banter and adolescent posturing. As it was, twenty-year old Aikenhead ended up being the last person in Britain to be hanged for blasphemy.

Meanwhile, in twenty-first century Salford, the local council have just brought in a Public Space Protection Order in a bid to curb anti-social behaviour in the gentrified Salford Quays area. Part of the order states that it is a crim…

Muriel Romanes - On Leaving Stellar Quines

Muriel Romanes is not retiring. This is something the outgoing artistic director of the female-focused Stellar Quines theatre company wishes to make abundantly clear as she steps down following her forthcoming production of Rebecca Sharp's The Air That Carries The Weight, which opens in Edinburgh this week. As she takes a break from rehearsals of what she describes as more communion than play, Romanes is frank about her reasons behind leaving a company she has led for the best part of two decades.

“The temperature doesn't suit me anymore,” she says. “I hit seventy this week, so maybe that's got something to do with it, but I'm also actually really tired of sitting at the computer. It's very stultifying imaginatively, and I think things are changing so much in theatre. I've had such a wonderful time with the company. It's been magnificent, but I need to step away from that.

Romanes' decision was also prompted in part by the death of her father.

“I realis…

Tom: A Story of Tom Jones -The Musical

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

A flat-capped miners choir isn't the most obvious opening gambit for the latest entry in what looks increasingly like a new wave of rock and roll musicals. That's exactly what you get, however, in the South Wales based Theatr na Nog's dramatic love letter to Pontypridd's most famous singing son. This is how it should be, because, despite the mixed messages sent out by the show' rather cumbersome title, Geinor Styles' production of Mike James' script is a more grown up look at life behind the scenes of Jones' rocky road to success than one might initially expect.
As the artist formerly known as Tom Woodward moves from singing in his local, the Wheatsheaf Arms, through the cabaret circuit and sharing a London dive with his backing band, Jones also has to face up to life as a parent away from his teenage bride Linda. The all-singing, all-playing cast led by a hip-thrusting Kit Orton as Jones don't make heavy we…

Hamlet

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

When Claudius calls for light at the end of the first half of Gordon Barr's new production of Shakespeare's gloomiest tragedy, performed here by MA students from the Classical and Contemporary Text course, he gets darkness instead. It's a darkness that pervades throughout, from a candlelit opening in which Tierney Nolan's female Horatio sits writing at a desk more suited for love letters, to the extended mass suicide note the play evolves into.
There's something post-Victorian in such an image, with the long dresses and suits as ornate as the array of hipster moustaches being sported looking positively Wildean in terms of presentation. The array of empty picture frames that hang down just enough for carefully posed apparitions to step into complete the image, even as they flank a giant crucifix draped in scarlet that floats centre-stage. The construction of trunks, baskets and cases that sits at one side of the …

Canned Laughter

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Three stars

“It's a night out to you,” says Allan Stewart's old school comedian Alec Munro to the audience at one point in Ed Curtis' dissection of the not so funny side of showbiz, co-written with Stewart. “It's a career to me.” Given that Stewart is playing alongside his regular real life pantomime foils Andy Gray and Grant Stott as the other two thirds of unreconstructed comedy trio Wee Three, Gus and Rory, it's a line that works on a multitude of levels.
Here is a bittersweet backstage drama of back-stabbing ambition in which a now solo Alec is forced to face up to the ghosts of his past, but which is played by a cast so familiar to the pop cultural mainstream that for an audience on intimate terms with their oeuvre they must at times seem indistinguishable from their comic personas. Yet, even as the trio rattle through a set of routines that would knock audiences dead from the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club to the London Pa…

Get Carter

Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The coffin that sits centre stage at the opening of Northern Stage's new dramatisation of Ted Lewis' grim slice of post-1960s pulp fiction is as symbolic of the demise of northern England's industrial powerhouse as the mountain of bricks behind it. It is also what drags local tough guy made good Jack Carter back from the affluent south to make a prodigal's return to bury his brother Frank. What Jack returns to, as anyone who has seen Mike Hodges' iconic big-screen 1971 adaptation will know, is a murky world of back-street gangsterism that preys on an acquisitive desperation for the good life flogged off as cheap thrills. Booze, home-made porn and bent slot machines are all fair game.
By returning to Lewis' book, writer Torben Betts and director Lorne Campbell manage to fill in the blanks the film left out through a last-gasp interior monologue cum confessional that lays bare Jack's own messed-up psychology in an even…

Torben Betts and Lorne Campbell - Get Carter

Torben Betts had never seen Get Carter when he was asked to write a stage version for the Newcastle-based Northern Stage company. The award-winning playwright knew that Mike Hodges' iconic 1971 gangster film had starred Michael Caine as an oddly cockney-sounding prodigal returning to a bombed-out Tyneside following the death of his brother, but that was about it.

Neither had Betts read Ted Lewis' novel, Jack's Return Home, a gritty first person noir first published a year before the appearance of the film it inspired. Unlike the film, Lewis' novel has Jack Carter return, not to Newcastle, but to an even grimmer northern town close to where he changes trains at Doncaster, which might have been Scunthorpe.

Betts and Northern Stage director Lorne Campbell have looked to the book rather than the film for their touring production of Get Carter, which opens at the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow tonight. In a story rooted in time and place, however, they have opted to r…

Much Ado About Nothing

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

It could easily feel like all your Christmases have come at once judging by the opening of Jennifer Dick's production of Shakespeare's original rom-com, performed here by MA students from the RCS' Classical and Contemporary Text course. The fairy-lit tree is in full bloom, the tartan curtains are pulled back and everybody's dressed in fifty shades of tweed in a modern dress take on things that appears to be set among the Highland horsey set with whom Don John's camouflage-clad regiment are decamped.
Eleanor Henderson's Beatrice more resembles a land girl as she spars with Duncan Harte's officer-class Benedick over Hogmanay while her cousin Hero and Benedick's sidekick Claudio have a seemingly more straightforward romance. As they eavesdrop in on the machinations they think they're party to, both B and B are unable to see the wood for the trees, the latter played rather splendidly by a cast led by …

Iphigenia in Splott

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

When Gary Owen's explosive state of the nations address that reimagined Greek tragedy in twenty-first century Cardiff was first seen in Edinburgh during the final week of the 2015 Festival Fringe, its hoodie-wearing protagonist evoked the spirit of broken Britain with a sound and fury that left others standing. Here Iphigenia was reborn as Effie, a binge-drinking, one-night standing emotional and physical fireball in a woman's body, who had nothing to lose except her benefits because everything's been closed down.
Six months on, and Rachel O'Riordan's production for the Cardiff-based Sherman Cymru company looks even more vital as it goes out on a tour which needs to be seen as far and widely as possible. While Owen's monologue, delivered with machine-gun ferocity by a fearlessly wonderful Sophie Melville, is in part a call to arms, that it achieves this with a wit and a rich poetic life-force makes it even more special.

Live Music Matters – 'Let's Put On The Show Right Here!'

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Last week, the touring stage production of Footloose The Musical arrived in town for a week-long run at Edinburgh Playhouse.

For those who may not know Footloose, the stage version is based on a 1984 film of the same name starring Kevin Bacon.

Bacon plays Ren McCormack, a fun-loving Chicago teenager who is packed off to the small town of Bomont.

Once in Bomont, as this is a teen movie, young Ren of course falls for the local bad girl, falling foul of the local authorities as he goes.

The main obstacle that fun-loving Ren come up against, alas, is the fact that due to external pressure, the local city council has banned dancing and rock music.

The last time a real life incident similar to this occurred in Glasgow in 1977, when the city's local authority banned what they deemed to be Punk Rock gigs, and – just as in Footloose, in which Ren and his pals were forced to travel a hundred miles to a country bar to dance to rock and roll – Glaswegian punk rockers had to travel to Paisle…

Witness For The Prosecution

Dundee Rep
Three stars

There was anything but silence in court among the school party attending Tuesday night's performance of Agatha Christie's own stage version of her 1933 short story. Given that the teenage crowd were possibly encountering Christie's merciless take on murder mystery thrillers for the first time, and that a seemingly staid old staple had just double-bluffed its way to a shock ending that no-one with prior knowledge of the story could possibly have predicted, such a hubbub came with very good reason.
Revived here for an expanded version of Dundee Rep's ensemble company by director Kenny Miller, Christie's yarn opens in the battleship grey office of Sir Wilfred Robarts. Robarts is charged with defending young Leonard Vole, a feckless charmer accused of murdering an older woman for her fortune. Possessed with a little boy lost demeanour and Irene Macdougall's Teutonic ice-maiden Romaine for a wife, Ewan Donald's Leonard has Sir Wilfred…

The Perfect Murder

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

There are lesbians in Agatha Christie shows on TV, a randy taxi driver fond of cockney rhyming slang is laying out the patio, and a Croatian prostitute with psychic tendencies is feeling strange vibrations. All of which barely scratches the surface in terms of how far you can go with a murder mystery yarn in Shaun McKenna's stage version of Peter James' best-selling novella, published in 2010.
Here we find IT consultant and classic pulp fiction obsessive Victor Smiley plotting a very bitter end for his other half, Joan, with hooker Kamila. Joan, meanwhile, has plans of her own with buff cabbie Don. Only when James' rookie detective Roy Grace lands on Kamila's doorstep to investigate another case do things start to come undone.

James and McKenna may aspire in part for a latter-day take on Joe Orton's black comedy, Loot, by way of Noel Coward's more spectrally inclined Blithe Spirit in Ian Talbot's production, reviv…

Sophie Melville and Rachel O'Riordan - Iphigenia in Splott

Sophie Melville was on a train on Valentine's Day when she started reading about what UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt was doing to the NHS. After negotiations broke down between the Westminster government and the British Medical Association, Hunt had decided to impose contracts on junior doctors without any further discussion. It was perhaps no coincidence that the Swansea born actress was in London to perform Iphigenia in Splott, Gary Owen's devastating reimagining of Greek tragedy in working class Cardiff, where the cuts caused by imposed austerity are biting deep.

Travelling through umpteen districts of London both rich and poor, Melville grew angry enough to try and capture the Secretary of State for Health's attention with a tweet.

'I'm inviting you to see #Iphigenia in Splott @NationalTheatre this week,” she wrote to Hunt's account. 'Come learn what the #NHSmeans to the majority.'

And the result?

“He didn't bloody come, did h…