Author Archives: glasgowtheatreblog

REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Sometimes a production comes along that sends you to the street with a smile on your face, The Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young’s Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is one (sort of).

Promising to deliver a re-worked version of the Jane Austen classic for a 21st Century audience, it certainly delivers on that front: the five-strong, all-female cast doubling and tripling up on roles male and female; a script choc-full of clever lines; a host of visual jokes; characters clad in Regency garb belting out classic pop tunes through a karaoke machine and scoffing cereal straight from the box; social parallels (unfortunately) travelling down the 200 years since the work was written, it may well strike a chord with a youthful audience, however, the production is not without its faults.

While promoted as entertaining for those unfamiliar with the work, it could be argued that much of the humour only really hits home with a knowledge of the original text, otherwise it’s rendered surface and slapstick and while, to its credit, little of the original plot is sacrificed in this re-telling, that itself is a problem, at over two hours 45 minutes, for all its ability to entertain and amuse, it is a physical marathon.

Its greatest asset is its universally excellent cast. Meghan Tyler is a particularly appealing Lizzie and the sheer joy with which the cast tackle the lengthy script, singing and slapstick can’t fail to impress.

A brave choice for adaptation, and a largely effective and highly entertaining evening’s theatre from a top-notch cast, but far from perfect.

Runs until 14 July 2018 | Image: John Johnston

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Love From a Stranger – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Adapted from a 1934 short story Philomel Cottage, Agatha Christie wrote an unperformed stage version of the same name which itself was re-written as Love From a Stranger by actor and playwright Frank Vosper in 1936. Director Lucy Bailey, for Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton, re-sets the action two decades later to the 1950s, all cut-glass accents and limited female opportunity.

This psychological thriller provides a great night’s entertainment, but be aware that this is a slow burn that smoulders along without ever fully bursting into flame.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) comes up trumps in a sweepstake, and while Cecily wants to live large on her substantial winnings, her dull as ditch water fiancé Michae (Justin Avoth) arrives back from the Sudan to dash her plans and resign her to a life of domestic drudgery. When an attractive and adventurous American, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frencham) comes on the scene, Cecily’s world is turned on its head. Cecily marries Bruce, moving to an isolated cottage in the country.

The red herrings are positively scarlet. From the beginning it’s clear that Lovell isn’t what he seems. He lurks in the shadows, surreptitiously taking pictures of Cecily, sniffing her lingerie, constantly scribbling in a notebook. Moving her from friends and neighbours, the gaslighting continues until Cecily is an apparent puppet in Lovell’s hands, but all is never as it seems on the surface with Christie. As the tension builds and perspectives change, we are entertainingly led along the crooked path that Christie is so well known for.

This entire production is quite obviously influenced by Michael Powell’s 1960 British cinema classic, Peeping Tom. The sense of unease is cleverly created on Mike Britton’s sliding wall set with opaque panels where we can watch Lovell’s voyeuristic goings-on. Richard Hammarton’s sound design and Oliver Fenwick’s crimson-tinged lighting are characters in themselves, helping to ramp up the creeping tension.

The cast are uniformly solid given how affected the original dialogue sounds to an audience’s modern ear and the ‘heightened’ characterisations skirt (just) on the right side of caricature.

Christie rarely puts a foot wrong, and as a piece of ‘good, old-fashioned’ entertainment it is undoubtedly a winner.

Runs until 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed, review originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: The Band – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Firstly, a fact needs to be stated that this is not the Take That story. The words Take That are never uttered in the entire two and a half hours of the show. You would also be mistaken for thinking that the boyband recruited from the BBC reality show Let It Shine were the crux of the production, and while they feature large, they are far from the centre of the story.

Instead, it’s a story of five friends that spans 25 years. A story of growing up, love and loss, opportunity unfulfilled, of hope, peppered throughout with the hits of the biggest British boy band of the past quarter of a century. It is also more story with music rather than jukebox musical.

Writer Tim Firth clearly has the target demographic in his sights. The mature version of these 90s teens are the heart of the show. Take That the soundtrack to their lives. The pop culture references abound: Smash Hits posters on bedroom walls, Top of the Pops, Ceefax, cassette taping Top of the Pops, it unashamedly taps into the unquenchable thirst for nostalgia.

This is clearly a show of two halves: the central quartet of Heather (Emily Joyce), Rachel (Rachel Lumberg), Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) and Zoe (Jayne McKenna) are fine actresses with a wealth of talent, and it is only when the story fully centres on this quartet that it achieves any real depth. Tim Firth’s dialogue for the mature characters is utterly believable, it is less so for their teenage versions, where it is largely contrived and one-dimensional.

The quartet’s younger selves are played by Katy Clayton (Heather), Faye Cristall (Rachel), Sarah Kate Howarth (Claire) and Lauren Jacobs (Zoe) with Rachelle Diedricks as teenage pal Debbie. Their schoolgirl antics, while familiar, are a tad contrived and their diction is poor, rendering most of the lines a garbled mush. The first half also suffers from a strange selection of Take That songs that don’t exactly fit the narrative. With a back catalogue as fine as this, the choices seem plain odd.

‘The Band’ as played by Five to Five: A.J. Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T. Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon prove just how good Take That were, and still are. These songs, while seeming easy to sing, just aren’t, and the quintet while having a solid go at it, never fully do the songs justice.

For anyone who has ever seen Take That live, the set design will look familiar. The production values of the band who are the producers of the show are replicated here. It’s big and bold and the stage is jam-packed with effects.

This show has had it’s fair amount of flak, its detractors have been many, but there’s a fundamental question to be asked: are they the target audience? I am pretty sure that the producers made no claims to enlighten or educate. Indeed, the programme notes say it’s a “love letter to the fans”. It’s intended for the Take That fandom, if you’re here and you’re not a fan of Take That, I’d question your choices. Sometimes theatre is made just to be entertaining. But, this reviewer is very much the target demographic, like most of the audience, knowing the words to every one of these tunes and willing this to be a joy, and while the second half was superior to the first, it ultimately doesn’t do enough to overcome its faults. I am sure The Band will be a satisfying night’s entertainment, a piece of pure escapism and nostalgia for many and it may fulfil its brief as ‘a love letter to the fans’, but for this audience member, there are more feelings of disappointment than delight.

Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett review originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub.

 

REVIEW: Sunshine on Leith – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Stephen Greenhorn’s original musical, Sunshine on Leith, predates the movie version by seven years. Originally commissioned by Dundee Rep’s artistic director James Brining. Brining, now artistic director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, returns to the work, breathing new life into the piece for this 2018 tour and you can almost hear the fanfare of trumpets that herald the musical’s return to its homeland.

Greenhorn’s tale is Scottish to its very core, but the themes of love, loss and opportunities taken or missed, are universal. Soldiers Davy (Steven Miller) and Ally (Paul James Corrigan) return from Afghanistan home to Leith. Ally pursues his former love Liz (Neshla Caplan), Davy, her best pal Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill), but in the joy of their return home there are problems too, not least with Davy’s parents Rab (Phil McKee) and Jean (Hilary MacLean).

The political and social climate has changed much in the 11 years since its creation, but the story still has the power to move, and it’s in no small way down to the music and lyrics of Craig and Charlie Reid. At first glance the songs of The Proclaimers may not seem like a match made in heaven for a musical, but they are. Playing a crucial part in driving the plot along. The familiarity of the lyrics to the Scottish audience, heightens the emotion in the parts of the narrative they serve to enhance. That said, the emotional moments aren’t exactly subtle, but the narrative is treated with such a deft hand and sufficient originality elsewhere, that it’s easy to forgive any tiny quibble. Greenhorn’s dialogue is pitch-perfect for this story of ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’ people, a hard thing to pull off in musical theatre and every joke lands slap-bang on its mark. Greenhorn also manages to address the eternal issue of the emotionally stunted, stereotypical Scottish man with thoughtfulness as well as humour.

Worthy of note is Emily-Jane Boyle’s outstanding choreography. It is intricate and original, but still looks like real people dancing – a feat that’s hard to achieve convincingly.

The cast are joined on the transforming pub set (comparisons will inevitably be made with the musical Once) by the seven-piece band who (as they are not hidden in the pit) bring a raw immediacy to the music. The arrangements of these familiar songs are worthy of note too: the ears pricking up at some of the original treatments of them.

Paul James Corrigan (Ally) returns to a stage he is more than familiar with and feeds off of the energy of his home crowd. There’s an extra spring in his step which transmits to the auditorium, well-known and loved for his comedy performances, he impresses as a singer and dancer too. The crowd with him every step of the way. Steven Miller (Davy) is a fine dramatic actor and has an even finer voice to match, he gets the chance to show off his comedy chops here, Jocasta Almgill is excellent as Davy’s love interest Yvonne, and Phil McKee and Hilary MacLean as Davy’s parents are perfectly played.

This story (to its credit) resists the urge to tie everything up in a neat bow and resolve every plotline, ultimately, this is a life-affirming story about ‘real lives’ that will resonate with most, if not all, of its target audience. If the eardrum bursting reaction of this audience at the end is anything to go by – it more than hit all the right notes. To borrow from The Proclaimers themselves, this is guaranteed to make your heart fly.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: The Last Ship – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Sting’s musical love song to his Tyneside homeland, The Last Ship, is in his own words to: “repay a debt” to the area he left early in his career.

Starting life unsuccessfully in the US, it finally comes home to an audience with whom the story resonates: mid-80s, Thatcherism, the Conservative pursuit of the Trades Unions and the decline of the British ship-building industry. Director Lorne Campbell has re-worked the book from its initial run and the improvements are many.

Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, two weeks shy of the completion of a commission to build a ship, the local consortium goes into receivership, the vessel, literally destined for the scrap yard. Inspired by the Clyde shipbuilders ‘work in’ of 1971, the workers, lead by shop steward Jackie White (Joe McGann) occupy the yard in order to complete the ship. Into this situation arrives Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman), home from 17 years at sea, to find Meg (Frances McNamee), the girl he left behind (unbeknownst to him, pregnant at the time), still here in town.

As evidenced by the success of Billy Elliot, with which, inevitable comparisons will be drawn, a British-specific storyline that resonates with an audience will always be a winner and it is largely thus with The Last Ship. It is nostalgic and unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings but, it is sufficiently compelling despite the message it somewhat heavy-handedly tries to hammer home. It’s not without its faults though: the hefty running time, due in no small part to an excess of songs that do little to advance the story and poor diction from a number of cast members that renders the lyrics inaudible, turn it into a theatrical endurance test at times. The plot is a slow burn and takes the entirety of the first act to establish itself. It must also be said that the characterisations are uneven, some have reasonably well-developed back stories, while others remain disappointing caricature Geordie stereotypes.

Partly inspired by Sting’s album The Soul Cages, the music is mostly original to the work. It is ballad heavy, and given the nature of the subject matter this isn’t unexpected, but many are somewhat reminiscent of each other. The melodies are unmistakably Sting. There are a few stand-outs though, the title song in particular is majestic. Where the music soars is in the choral singing, the impassioned voices which raise to fill the auditorium are undeniably beautiful. It is here that the work becomes truly stirring. The performances are universally sound throughout. Joe McGann and Penelope Woodman, playing yard foreman Jackie and his wife Peggy, are particularly worthy of note.

The set from 59 Productions is an absolute winner, the lighting by Matt Daw and the projection design is sumptuous, it’s a joy for the eyes throughout.

In Glasgow, The Last Ship is playing to a crowd who very much understand the history of the shipyards and the scars that the Conservative government rendered are still in evidence. The mentions of the Parkland students, the Irish abortion vote and the NHS are welcomed with rousing cheers. This is a work that will resonate with many, however, some judicious editing would have made for an even more powerful message hitting home.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Flight of the Conchords sing Flight of the Conchords – SEE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

It’s been a long seven years since the “almost award-winning, fourth most popular folk duo in New Zealand” have toured the U.K., made longer by Bret McKenzie’s recovery from a broken wrist, sustained from a nose dive down a flight of stairs at the start of the tour.

Flight of the Conchords have come a long, long way both physically and metaphorically. From bumbling young cult duo trying to find their niche in the comedy world to a 13000 person audience at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena via Bret McKenzie winning the 2012 songwriting Academy Award and Jemaine Clement’s glittering movie career going from strength to strength.

Their 90-minute set is a perfect mix of old and new, launching straight into Father and Son, a seemingly tender ballad that takes an unexpectedly dark turn. There are highlights throughout, so many it would read like a setlist, but Deana and Ian, a tale of inter-office romance is hysterical; The Ballad of Stana a disturbingly funny traditional country story-song; Summer of 1353, a madrigal, yes, you read that right, complete with recorder solos, and two old favourites, Bowie and Foux du Fa Fa (who doesn’t love a lyric that rhymes haricots verts with pomme de terres), the list goes on and on.

The duo acknowledge that they look a lot older than they did in their TV show days, and apologise for reminding us of our own mortality, but the wit and intellect and self-deprecating humour is still there. They remain utterly irresistible and, if anything, funnier than they have ever been. This reviewers’ love for the pair remains undiminished. Just perfect.

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Scottish star Jayne McKenna talks The Band and coming home to Glasgow

Jayne McKenna trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has an enviable CV in theatre, TV, radio and film. She returns home to Glasgow to star in the much-anticipated The Band, when it come to The King’s in Glasgow from 26 June to 7 July 2018. I had a chance to catch up with Jayne before she arrives in town.

How does it feel coming home to Glasgow with such a hugely anticipated show?

Thrilling. I trained there so for me it’s full circle. And I’ve never played The Kings so that’s another treat.

Tell us a bit about your role in The Band.

It’s about a group of girls you meet when they’re young and then again as women, and about the changes and surprises life springs, so, while the younger me thinks her life is going to be all books and study, I turn out quite differently, but no spoilers.

What can the audience expect from the show?

Bring tissues, it gets emotional – laughing one minute and crying the next. And our musicians are stunning, not to mention the ‘boyband’ Five to Five – brilliant all-rounders a joy to work with.

Do you have any favourite moments, scenes or songs from the show that we should look out for?

The song ‘Get Ready For It’. I hadn’t heard it before and it’s become favourite. Incredibly uplifting.

The show has had an enviable amount of publicity, the main male roles being cast on the show Let It Shine, how have audiences received the production as it’s toured the country.

Tremendously. Every night on their feet. Apparently 62% of our audience have never been to the theatre before, and some have now seen it 14 times. People identify with the characters – they tell us at stage door all the time: “Thanks for being me up there”.

What’s life like on the road with a show like The Band?

Tough, especially as a mum. I’m very lucky I have my husband. FaceTiming home is a vital part of my day.

You have an impressive (and if I may say heavy weight) theatrical CV, what have been your favourite roles so far?

The show where I met my husband, of course. Playing Goneril in King Lear with Nicol Williamson is up there. We had an incredible connection as fellow Scots. I stayed in touch with him and even had the honour of singing jazz with his band.

Is there any Play/Musical you’d love to be in?

More Shakespeare would be nice: I’ve tuned into him more as I’ve got older. Not just the language, the thoughts, and being able to express things that in life only occur to us (if they do) in hindsight when the moment has passed! But more singing too: this is my first musical and I’m loving rocking it out!

Tell us a bit more about your career path from Glasgow to touring the country singing the songs of Take That to thousands of adoring fans.

I moved to London after a stint at The Lyceum with the late greats Kenny Ireland and Gerard Murphy and continued mainly in theatre. For example, Macbeth in the West End, the Peter Hall Company, National Theatre, but, TV and radio as well and even a Bollywood film in India. Now I live in Brighton with my family.

Finally, why should we come along to see the show?

Because it might change your life. The characters are real. Their journeys are your journeys and what they survive you can survive. It’s about friendship and looking forward. Plus it’s fabulously well written and produced and the music will ‘Take you back’… and the acting’s not bad either!

Catch Jayne in The Band at the King’s Theatre from 26 June to 7 July 2018

Images: Matt Crockett

NEWS: World Cup meets Jazz improv – From Russia with Jazz at Platform, Easterhouse

From Russia With Jazz is presented by Platform and Goethe-Institut as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival

As World Cup fever hits Platform, Platform in Easterhouse are excited to be hosting From Russia With Jazz, a unique evening celebrating jazz and football as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival.

During a live screening of the Germany vs Sweden World Cup match in the auditorium, members of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra will be teaming up against some of Germany’s finest improvising musicians. The teams will improvise live jazz to the action as it takes place on screen.

Raymond MacDonald, Una MacGlone, Maria Donohue, Sam Beagles and Mike Parr-Burman from GIO will be performing opposite great jazz musicians from Germany, including renowned double bass player Alois Kott, fabulous wunderkind drummer Christian Lillinger alongside DJ IllVibe (Vincent von Schlippenbach).

The German musicians will play as Germany and the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra will play as Sweden with DJ IllVibe taking on the role of referee using sound bites and mixing in the original Russian TV commentary.

Platform’s music programmer Alun Woodward says:“From Russia with Jazz will create a musical focus on the physical, technical and elegance of the match producing a distinctively different experience for the audience. We’ll hear how the musicians interpret the passages of play, coax, compete, tackle and score. I also can’t wait to hear how they communicate their displeasure at the referee.”

Expect a night of surprising musical moves, grooves and the occasional red card!

WHAT’S ON JUNE & JULY: Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple at EK Arts Centre and Webster’s Glasgow

odd couple logo

Fussy Felix and slovenly Oscar. Two mismatched roommates. What could possibly go wrong? Join Half•Wits Theatre Company for a hilarious night in the classic buddy comedy from Neil Simon, one of America’s greatest writers. From the team that brought you the sell-out successes Glengarry Glen Ross, Rope and Reasons To Be Pretty, this is sure to be a hot ticket for summer.

East Kilbride Arts Centre from the 14th-16th of June

Webster’s Theatre, Glasgow from the 4-7th of July

 

WHAT’S ON SEPTEMBER: Abba Forever at Ayr Gaiety

ABBA – Forever, presented by Sweeney Entertainments, is one of the UK’s leading International tribute shows and theatre audiences from across Great Britain and Sweden have long enjoyed this superb recreation of possibly the world‘s greatest pop band.

The unique Abba sound is replicated with an incredible attention to detail, using a six-piece band featuring electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and piano, drums and bass guitar. Two outstanding Abba girls complete the line-up, adding the essential glitz and glamour to a well-polished and humorous show. The superb lyrics penned by Benny and Bjorn are sung in wonderful harmony by all six performers on stage.

Dynamic non-stop choreography, stunning visuals, top-class musicianship and an ALL LIVE performance ensures that the ABBA Forever show captivates audiences from the opening refrain to the final sing-along chorus of this two-hour spectacular.

Sweeney Entertainments, co-founded by Julie and Peter Sweeney, has been providing a wide repertoire of top quality touring shows for theatre and corporate events for over fifteen years both in the UK and internationally. 2017 was the company’s strongest year to date with more shows touring than ever before and 2018 brings even more new shows and UK tour dates. Julie Said “Abba Forever is a great concert experience for all ages, authentically reproducing some of the best pop hits of all time.”

Jane Ellis, who performs as Agnetha in the show, said I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to perform some of the best songs of all time and tour some of the UK’s most prestigious venues and beautiful theatres. We play all the big Abba hits and more, even putting some surprise album tracks in there for the most ardent Abba fan.”

Packed full of excitement and exuberance, Abba Forever will take you on a journey back to the 70’s guaranteed to get you up and dancing in the aisles.

ABBA FOREVER

The Gaiety, Ayr

29th September, 7:30pm

£17.50 – £23.50

Box Office: 01292 288235

Book Online: http://www.ayrgaiety.co.uk

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