FEATURE: Tron Ambassadors guest reviews

This month, I again had the chance to work with the Tron Theatre on their Ambassadors programme, delivering their theatre reviewing workshop.

The Tron Ambassadors scheme gives pupils the chance to be behind-the-scenes at a working theatre. It enables young people to make a deeper connection with the Tron Theatre and gain a better understanding of the industry. As well as providing participants with opportunities to take part in workshops, tasks, and interviewing and observing industry professionals, the Ambassadors are given opportunities to understand the transferable skills they are learning and how they can be applied to any career path they choose to take when leaving school.

Below are the reviews submitted by this year’s Ambassadors, I am sure you’ll agree the quality in many instances is equal to that of any published critic. Biographies of the writers are available at: https://www.tron.co.uk/education/work-for-schools/tron_ambassadors/

Stand By – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Daniel Cawley

Stand By is an exceptionally well written and powerful piece of theatre from the pen of former police officer Adam McNamara, who reverently conveys to the audience the warts and all portrayal of the all too often hidden aspect of on the ground police work.

By looking at the strength of character of four very different personalities and how their work impacts on their personal lives, this helps humanise the people behind the uniform who, as authority figures are often perceived as indifferent and emotionless to these qualities.

With much of the action taking place within a simulated, dimly lit police van, the play, on this occasion expertly directed by Joe Douglas, draws the audience in even further through the unique and innovative use of amplified earpieces. These allow the audience to hear radio broadcasts in sync with the actors and immerses them in the tension felt by police officers on call.

With some hilarious comedic moments and strong physical theatre elements this is a show not to be missed and thoroughly deserves the rave reviews received to date.

So, don’t stand by and let this one escape, catch it while you can.

Team Viking – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Daniel Cawley

Following on from its successful run at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, James Rowland brings his captivating one man show Team Viking to audiences across the country.

Using every inch of the almost bare stage and delivering his soliloquy in a black funeral suit, Rowland paints a picture of childhood memories and friendships forged, interspersed with music and rhyme, with verses becoming longer and more descriptive with each passing scene.  The main focus of the show is the personal homage Rowland pays to his friend who has asked for something special when he dies.  And special it is.

Coming quicker than any of them expected (his friend being diagnosed with an aggressive form of heart cancer at the tender age of 25), Rowland and other friend Sarah decide to re-enact a scene from all three’s favourite childhood film The Vikings and proceed to give their friend a Viking send off, casting him adrift in a boat set alight which proceeds to blow up with a ‘BOOM.’

From his hilarious rendition of body snatching from the chapel of rest before his friend becomes one with the earth, through to the genuine anguish he feels in the loss of his friend, Rowland’s expert storytelling can flip the mood from laugh out loud hilarity to sombre and reflective in a split second – leading the audience to experience a genuine emotional rollercoaster during the hour long set.

With simple and effective staging by director Daniel Goldman, this production is beautifully done and the true connotations of the story, albeit alluded to as the end not being the end, strike a chord with much of the audience.

If Team Viking is anything to go by, Rowland’s newest venture 100 Different Words For Love is a must see, even if just to see a storytelling master at his craft.

Team Viking – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Harry Reid

Team Viking is the true story of narrator, James Rowland, giving one of his best friends a proper Viking burial after contracting a very rare type of heart cancer.

From the very start of the performance there’s a strong connection to the characters through Rowland’s way of telling a story. He does a brilliant job of bringing you into his life and making you feel like you are also his friend, you are talking to him and no one else. There are no other actors, which makes the whole story that much more human, it’s like a friend telling you a crazy story that happened to them.

The connection to the characters strengthens as the story progresses, with us following James into his spiral of depression. We can really see and understand the emotions that he was feeling at that time, and by the end of the production, it has you holding back tears, you really see how much James cared for his friend.

The incorporation of the song that Rowland wrote into the play is also very clever. Each time a section of the song was added, it reflects the emotions that James is feeling at that point in the story: with the happy melody at the start, giving off an innocent vibe, then with the vocal inclusion, the use of different tones of voice showed James’ emotions, and then the beat of the song being included when James was at his lowest point. At first, these musical transitions are a bit jarring and confusing, but by the end of the play the puzzle pieces connect and it makes sense.

The delivery is spot on. Rowland manages to nail every joke and strike a reaction from the audience whenever he wants, he speaks to the audience like real people, a trait that’s very admirable. Overall, Team Viking is a wonderful dive into this sentimental story in the life of James Rowland with great acting and delivery. Highly recommended – see it if it ever comes back.

Stand By – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Personal response by Morven Little

On the days leading up to Stand By I was, admittedly, a little sceptical. The premise didn’t particularly spark any interest in me, and the topic isn’t something I tend to gravitate towards, but I tried to remain open-minded. It may not have been a show that I would have necessarily chosen to see, but nevertheless, I wasn’t entirely disinterested; the inclusion of the ear pieces was intriguing, and I was very excited to discover how the stage would be set up. And, ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised.

At first, I struggled a little to get into it, but soon, I actually found myself quite enjoying it. The earpieces, which I had anticipated as being slightly distracting, were an extremely clever addition and enhanced the overall performance. The technology worked wonders in making me feel that I was part of the narrative, and allowed me to connect with the police officers very easily. I especially enjoyed the use of the earpieces at the beginning of the show: as the lights dimmed, a drum beat began playing through the earpieces, and was soon joined by additional instruments playing through the theatre sound system. This, in my opinion, was an excellent touch, and made the audience pay attention to their earpieces from the very beginning.

I also adored the minimalistic way in which the show was presented. By having only four characters and little interaction with the world outside the van (besides transmissions over the earpieces and few sound effects), writer Adam McNamara created a very insular environment. At points in the show, some of the officers would leave the van, but the audience never left with them – we were restricted to the confines of the van. This was effective for a multitude of reasons: it gave those watching an impression of the lack of information about the situation the officers were receiving, allowed the show to be much more character-driven, and gave the audience ample time to connect and get to know the characters – a necessary part of any drama piece. It was like a dramatic monologue with more than one narrator; a simple set up, but with small details throughout in order to give an insight to the absent world outside. My favourite example of this was the sound of raindrops hitting the roof of the van, so silent that I barely even registered it. And the writing itself was just as subtle. Details of each character’s personal lives were weaved into witty banter and smart, sharp dialogue. As the show progressed, you discovered more about their lives out of uniform and developed sympathy for them. I felt as though I knew the characters and found that I genuinely cared about what happened to them – testament to both brilliant performances from the actors and fabulous writing and direction.

Overall, I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed Stand By. It was genuinely funny, believable, sharp and extremely clever, and has encouraged me to be more open to shows that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to see.

Team Viking – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Josh Brown

James Rowland stars in this joyous one-man performance reflecting his enjoyment, devastation, struggle with life and the biggest hurdle he has encountered as his best friend Tom is diagnosed with heart cancer and Tom has been given only 3 months to live. But Tom has one wish and that is to have a Viking Burial.

You will cry with laughter then the next minute sadness, as the astonishing acting from Rowland makes you feel so much in the space of so little time. He takes you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Rowland connects to his audience on a different level, as through his story you feel as if you’ve known him for years and he’s a close friend, in the theatre he creates a warm atmosphere and you just love him and support him through his struggles.

The comedy is sharp and witty and very natural and to the point. You feel as if you are great pals just having a laugh about something you really know you shouldn’t be laughing about. James’s balance of laughter and the depressing reality of life is phenomenal. This show is an absolute must see.

*****

Stand By – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Lillian Harle

Adam McNamara’s honest telling of policing in Scotland is witty and an honest representation of a life in blue. The audience are emerged in the performance from start to finish, wearing police earpieces with assorted situation reports being sounded. This only adds to the authenticity of the story. He portrays a somewhat mundane operation of four officers in a riot van waiting to be called into action to deal with a machete wielding maniac. The key word here is mundane. McNamara’s use of mundane topics lulls the audience into a false sense of security then smacks them with the brutal honesties of the simple dangers of being a police officer.

With Joe Douglas’ direction and Adam McNamara’s writing as well as performance, Stand By brings an authentic and fresh perspective on the Scottish police force. The audience are faced with four of Scotland’s finest: Chris (Adam McNamara), the sergeant in charge who is riddled with domestic problems; Rachel (Jamie Marie Leary), the straight talking and quick witted female officer; Davey (Andy Clark), the Dundee born and bred officer and Marty (Laurie Scott), an English transfer from London. The actors created a great chemistry between them, all by portraying realistic characters that the audience can relate to.

Natasha Jenkins uses a minimalistic set design in order not to take away from the witty and well written script. McNamara establishes the character’s personalities through the workaday conversation of the officers bored and waiting for orders. The writer creates a tense atmosphere through the use of the earpieces where orders are relayed in real-time to the audience.

Team Viking – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Lewis Cox

Team Viking by James Rowland is a beautiful, simplistic but oddly mesmerising production.

On first entering and realising this is a one man show, there’s a slight trepidation: how on earth would one man be able to entertain an audience for a full hour and 20 minutes? Where on earth was his set? Will we get bored? As soon as the show begins all these questions disappear as quickly as they appear.

Through the simplicity of the lights and staging there are no barriers between the audience and the story. With nothing to guide us except Rowland’s words and movements everything comes naturally with a warming, but also at times moving performance. This is especially refreshing to see as constant set changes or cluttered and busy sets often lead the audience to dart their eyes around to gain understanding as to where they are.

There’s laughter, hysterical at times, but there is an underlining sadness throughout which makes it truly special, something we can all relate too. Directly addressing the audience is a wonderful feature as we feel like an integral part of the story, clinging onto every word anticipating what is going to happen next in this bizarre tale.

The breaking up of the story into what could be almost called ‘chapters’ was effective. Rowland always leaving the audience hanging, anticipating what was to come, mainly thanks to the terrific acting which one minute could have you howling with laughter, or almost in tears.

The Viking hat in the background is a nice simple prop, sitting there constantly reminding us of the meaning and reason for this performance, it helps set the scene more than any fancy backdrop could.

On a negative note, at certain times things need to be explained, or introduced and then the story then rambles off at a tangent, leaving you wishing for the story to kick back into life again.

Overall Team Viking is a heart-warming and hilarious play with some fine acting, and though simplistic, it has the ability to conjure up many emotions. It is a performance that will stick with you well into the journey home.

Team Viking – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Ross Anderson

Team Viking is a one man show where James Rowland tells us a story about his best friend dying and Rowland his friends fulfilling his dying wish, to get a Viking send off. It was a great show with both comedy and sadness. The audience were in tears with laughter one moment then the next full of emotion.