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NEWS: STAR OF STAGE AND SCREEN, AND NEW PACE PATRON, JAMES MCARDLE REVEALS LOCATION OF SCOTLAND’S FIRST DEDICATED YOUNG PEOPLE’S THEATRE

PACE Theatre Company is delighted to announce actor James McArdle as its first patron. James is a former PACE Youth Theatre member and since graduating from RADA in 2010 he has garnered a string of impressive credits including title roles in James I, Platonov and Peter Gynt at the National Theatre, a Broadway transfer of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and as the Earl of Moray in the 2019 feature film Mary Queen of Scots.

This announcement comes as the company reveals the location of the building which is to be transformed into a new community theatre space, EXCHANGE, dedicated to promoting and developing theatre for children, young people and families; as well as promoting participation by young people through performance and creative learning opportunities.

The vacant building on Old Sneddon St in Paisley, was most recently the site of a former nightclub (Mannequins) but was built as the New Templar Hall in 1932 and has been variously used as a dance hall, cinema and telephone exchange in its lifetime.
The building will provide a home venue for PACE’s own performances (almost 200 annually) as well as hosting a programme of professional touring productions, and offering an alternative venue for Renfrewshire’s thriving community performance scene. It’s planned flexible-use spaces will also allow for a host of creative learning opportunities.

Jenni Mason, Artistic Director of PACE, said:
“We’re thrilled that James has accepted our invitation to become a patron for PACE. He has always been incredibly supportive of our work and generous with his time when it comes to our young people, and we know that his achievements to date are an inspiration to many of our young people.

“With the development of Exchange, our aim is to create a welcoming space for children, young people and families – from igniting a passion for theatre and performance in the very young, right through to supporting and nurturing emerging artists at the start of their careers.”

Speaking today, James McArdle said:

“I’ll always be grateful to PACE for the start that they gave me on my journey to becoming an actor, not just the skills I learnt when acting but how to have confidence in myself and hold my own. It is a privilege to be able support them in their ambitions.

“I have experienced first-hand that theatre has the power to be lifechanging and already, it’s clear that through this building they will be able to create even more opportunities for young people and their families.

“It’s still the happiest time of my life, I felt like I had a voice and was listened to at PACE even though I was young. It taught me I had value and worth which has been a vital part in becoming an actor but also just in growing up.”

The proposed model for the building model is inspired by young people focused buildings in England such as Unicorn Theatre, Polka Theatre, Chickenshed and Half Moon Theatre in London, Hullabaloo in Darlington, Contact in Manchester and Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
Renfrewshire Council has already pledged an award of £300k from Renfrewshire’s £1.46m share of the Scottish Government’s £50m Town Centre Capital Fund – aimed at bringing vacant buildings back into use, improving infrastructure and supporting community-led regeneration.

Cllr Lisa-Marie Hughes, of Renfrewshire Council, added: “PACE Youth Theatre have been at the heart of the local area for more than three decades – in that time many thousands of young people’s lives having been enriched by that experience, and this new venue will open up those benefits to the next generation too.

“Of course, there is a long list of those young people for whom time spent at PACE was their springboard to stardom in the world of TV, film or theatre – and it’s great to see James McArdle coming back to where it all started for him to be part of this announcement today.

“Renfrewshire Council is putting culture at the heart of our plans to help transform the area’s fortunes, through the Future Paisley programme – which includes major investment in our own cultural venues such as Paisley Museum and Town Hall, as well as funding to help local creative groups like PACE grow.

“So we are delighted to have been able to make available funding, which will help PACE bring a long-term vacant building back into use and bring new footfall and vibrancy to the town centre.”
The award is a the first committed towards the project’s capital development total, expected to be in the region of £2.4 million, and PACE is actively seeking funding from sources to achieve this. Full details of the new building and ways to support the campaign can be found at www.exchangetheatre.org<http://www.exchangetheatre.org> .

INTERVIEW: Scottish comedy legend Janey Godley

She’s been dubbed the ‘godmother of Scottish comedy’ and numbers Billy Connolly among her fans. Now, Janey Godley is set to spread her appeal across the nation as this quintessentially Glaswegian comic takes the Soup Pot Tour over the border and down south. “There will be a different demographic politically at these shows, but remember Nicola Sturgeon gets it in the neck from me as well. I will have to speak slower and make sure that it’s not all about just hating the Tories, though that will be difficult. But by and large, people who come to stand-up are open-minded people, they tend not to be died-in-the-wool Brexiteers who hate the Scottish.”

This tour has Janey wielding a variety of talents, as she delivers the kind of forthright stand-up which has earned her a strong reputation on the comedy circuit and a loyal band of followers. But she will also be displaying her skills at improv, as she stands by a screen and narrates adlibbed voiceovers of people (many of whom are today’s crop of politicians), giving them a heavy Scottish accent and inventing a story, many of which involve making soup for the community.

“The soup pot is very universal: if you’re in Australia, America, Brazil, France Germany or Alaska, and someone dies or gets married, people will make soup. The soup pot is the hub of the community. When somebody died near us when I was a kid, somebody would make the big soup pot so all the visitors had something warm to drink and eat. It’s part of us all being in it together. Of course, that was before people discovered they were gluten free and worried about being allergic to lentils.”

Janey first discovered that she could develop this new strand of her career on the night of the Scottish Independence vote in 2014. “I first did the voiceovers live at the Wild Cabaret club in Glasgow where the big screens were up. When the news came through and it was all looking a bit bleak, we turned the volume down and I started talking over the top of people. The audience loved it and I realised this was something I could do really well.”

 

She then poked fun online at the likes of Theresa May, Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon, replacing their talk of policy and elections with chat about big Isa and her soup pots. A recent piece she did on Kim Kardashian (largely mocking her for walking backwards) also went down spectacularly well, while clips of supermodels, Pathé newsreels and Fanny Craddock (the original celebrity chef) are given the Godley treatment. “I started off doing it for me, really. I liked the fact that I could give those politicians a whole new background persona and the idea that they might have these ordinary conversations; I love the idea of that normalcy which cuts through all that bulls**t. The ones that are the hardest to do are of Katie Hopkins, because the audience just boo like they’re at a pantomime.”

Since the voiceovers took off, an unusual trend started which reminded Janey of the halcyon days of Spitting Image when politicians would tune in avidly on a Sunday night, desperate to see if they had been captured in wax and caricatured in song. “MPs will say ‘are you going to do me?’ I’d like to do some international ones; I do Trump but I want to do Australian and Canadian politicians. There’s a lot of fodder to go on.”

When she started performing comedy in the mid-90s, there were very few female acts kicking about, but Janey Godley has now become a standard bearer in Scotland for young women who might fancy a career in stand-up. “I did Have I Got News For You and I was the first working-class Scottish female comic to do that: the first and last. There are girls from Glasgow who saw comedy and it would be Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle, so they all thought ‘that’s not our job, that’s for Scottish men’. But when they see me and they see someone like Fern Brady, they think ‘yeah, that’s also a woman’s job.’”

Recently, Janey has ramped up her acting CV, appearing in Wild Rose (staring Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo) about a young woman trying to make her way in the world of Country music, and has written and directed a short film entitled The Last Mermaid. She’s also had a one-woman play run Off-Broadway, and will be on TV screens soon playing the lawyer of Martin Compston’s character in Traces, a crime drama from an original idea by Val McDermid.

But for now, she’s enjoying making people laugh all over the country with both her no-holds barred stand-up and the unique nature of these new voiceovers. “The most important thing is that this has never been done before, no other comic in the world is doing this. I’ve been doing stand-up for over 20 years but it took a Tory called Theresa to make me famous.” Mrs May might now be virtually out of the public eye, but the moment has surely arrived for Janey Godley to take centre stage.

Contributed by Brian Donaldson

Images: Murdo Macleod

INTERVIEW: Foil Arms & Hog

Foil Arms and Hog will be heading to the  King’s Theatre, Glasgow on Sunday, 23rd February 2020.  Here they talk about their new show Swines.

Sean Finegan, as befits his status as the straight man in the Irish sketch group Foil Arms and Hog, is the spokesman for the trio off stage. It makes life easier for us to speak directly, he says, adding drily: “Otherwise I might say something witty and you’d attribute it to one of the other guys.”

We chat about their latest show, Swines, which is touring the UK after a sell-out season at the Edinburgh Fringe, but first Finegan explains how the trio met and got their distinctive name.

Finegan (Foil), Conor McKenna (Arms) and Sean Flanagan (Hog) were studying at University College Dublin (reading architecture, engineering and genetics respectively) 12 years ago, when they met through their shared love of performing.

“We were friends through the drama society but it was Sean Flanagan writing a play based on Father Ted that led to us forming the group,” says Finegan. “He was Dougal, I was Bishop Brennan and Conor was Father Ted. We had permission to tour round Ireland from [Father Ted’s creators] Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, and when the play finished we decided we should do a sketch show together.”

And the memorable name for the trio came out of good-humoured banter. “We came up with loads of naff names that punned on the word ‘sketch’ and rejected them. And then we were at a party one night and we were slagging each other off and came up with them.

“I’m the straight man, so I’m the foil; Conor is all arms and legs and very clumsy on stage; and Sean always hogs the limelight and steals all the laughs. They’re roles that we very easily fall into on stage.”

Finegan admits that some of the sketches they wrote and performed back then “we wouldn’t get away with now, they were quite insulting to all sorts of people”, but that over the years the humour has become more sophisticated.

That’s probably down to their work ethic; they write separately and then meet almost daily to develop the ideas. “Ideas get torn to shreds in the process and then we jump on to the idea and add more jokes and develop them. It sometimes takes months to nail a sketch.” Do they ever argue? “Well there are three of us, so it usually works out as two-to-one. No one has ever stormed out, put it that way,” Finegan laughs.

Finegan recalls when the group started out. “In the UK there’s a big sketch comedy scene but in Ireland that doesn’t exist. In our early days a lot of people would see three guys come on stage looking like Boyzone or something and they’d be instantly against us. But performing on the same bill with stand-up comics, we learnt so much about audience interaction. As any stand-up comic will tell you, you need to engage with the audience quickly and get them on your side.

“So we learnt pretty quickly and our comedy has become a sort of weird hybrid of sketch and messing with the crowd.”

But Foil Arms and Hog’s audience interaction is not cruel or humiliating. “I hope we’re not,” says Finegan, “because the intention is to bring everyone on board as it can be terrifying for some people [to be picked on]. But we love doing it because you never know what the audience may do, and we get a bit of a buzz from it. It’s the element that makes every show unique.”

In their second year at the Fringe they saw Edinburgh Comedy Awards winner Dr Brown (clown performer Phil Burgers). “I think we had thought clowning was the ‘honk honk’ kind of thing but then we realised that it’s about going with the flow. A couple of years later we attended one of his courses and it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It was brilliant stuff.

“It helped us so much on stage, particularly when things go wrong, as we might get to a funnier place with those skills we learned.”

Foil Arms and Hog have a dedicated following that they have built up over 11 Edinburgh Fringe shows, and for the past six years have posted short films on YouTube – they have clocked up an astonishing one million hits and have nearly 950,000 followers on Facebook. They have a broad demographic and, as Finegan says: “When we look out into the audience and see people from eight to 80 it gives us such a buzz. We have people tell us after a show that their son or daughter has found us online and introduced them to our comedy, and they come to see us together. It’s great.”

Thanks to YouTube, the group’s reach is global – and sometimes unexpected, says Finegan. “We were worried that one recent sketch – about Irish people not really being able to speak Irish – may not necessarily appeal to non-Irish people. But then we got an email from a fan in Sri Lanka saying he loved it because, ‘We’re all forced to learn Tamil when we go to school, it’s exactly like this’.”

But Swines – like all Foil Arms and Hog’s live shows – doesn’t contain any sketches fans may have seen online. “Some people may think they’re going to see the YouTube videos performed live on stage, but absolutely not. We make a point of never performing the online videos live. What works online usually doesn’t work on stage. It’s a very different kind of comedy, and much more surreal live.”

They also have more songs in their shows now than when they started. “They crept in,” Finegan jokes. “My singing’s certainly improved – the lads were carrying me in the beginning – but Conor is a very good singer and Sean knows all about harmonies because he’s been in choirs and stuff. The songs help the flow of the show and we like doing them. Who knows, in 10 years’ time we may be topping the charts.”

Contributed by Veronica Lee

 

REVIEW: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

The panto-going citizens of Glasgow raised a cheer when the cast of the SEC Armadillo’s pantomime Snow White was announced. The almost universally adored Greg McHugh – he of the much-missed Gary, Tank Commander would star as court jester Gary, his TV co-star Leah MacRae would play Nanny McWee his mother (not sure the lovely Leah should be best pleased at that!), River City’s Frances Thorburn would be our heroine Snow White and a doyenne of British comedy acting, the wonderful Doon Mackichan would be the evil Queen Lucretia.

The quality cast, coupled with the sheer scale of the spectacle, add up to the city’s most fabulous, funny festive offering. There’s a camaraderie from the cast that just radiates to the audience, who are on-side with the high jinks from the start. McHugh is undoubtedly the star and his antics as the cheeky but naïve Gary are the highlights of the show, but there are star turns a-plenty, especially from Mackichan who is an absolute treat as the evil queen.

The only negative notes are a troupe of mildly horrifying looking woodland animals whose costumes look like they’ve been culled from the leftovers of the abattoir, all the more incongruous in such a spectacularly glitzy show and the auditorium itself, whose vast size does tend to engulf any audience reactions.

Definitely the most spectacular panto in town and certainly the most star-studded.

REVIEW: Cinderella – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts (GAMTA) have teamed up with Eastwood Park Theatre to present this year’s festive pantomime, Cinderella.

The set and costumes are a feast for the eyes, the glittering, decorated proscenium adds to the wonder before the curtain even rises. There’s glitz, glamour and special effects, all adding to the magic of the production.

While the youthful cast win in the energy and effort department, it is however, a dance-heavy, slow to get going, take on the traditional tale. There are some baffling additions to the story which seem to have been shoe-horned in to showcase GAMTA’s dance credentials, unfortunately they only add to an already over-long run time. It also suffers from the fact Buttons is being played by a young child and the object of his affections a clearly mature teen, it all adds a creepily uncomfortable element which will no doubt go over the heads of the children in the audience, but feels a tad uncomfortable for the adults.

Where it succeeds is in its comedy elements, Ciara Flynn and Rebecca McComb are a perfectly matched comedic double act as Ugly Sisters and provide the majority of the true highlights of the show.

The cast can’t be faulted for their skill or talent, however, they suffer from an over-long and overly-dull script that dilutes the magical potential the show could have had.

REVIEW: We Will Rock You – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

From a rocky start in 2002, We Will Rock You has defied critical backlash to become one of the UK’s best-loved musicals. Seen by over 6.5 million people it ran for 4600 performances at the Dominion Theatre in the West End, where the famous gold statue of Freddie Mercury guarded the patrons from his perch high above the entrance. This revived, re-designed and re-energised new touring production is even better than the original and boasts a cast of such quality, it is impossible not to be completely won over.

Set in a dystopian future, it’s 2310, and music has been outlawed. All thought is controlled by Globalsoft Corporation, and life is lived entirely on the internet. There’s no place for originality or free spirit. A rag-tag band of free-thinking ‘Bohemians’ set out to find the last surviving musical instrument on the planet and bring back the mythical ‘Rock and Roll’. That the subject matter is treated with complete knowingness, with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, is one of its greatest strengths. The laughs in Ben Elton’s script come thick and fast.

However, it’s the music and in particular, the spectacular cast’s delivery of it that makes this production unmissable. As our hero Galileo Figaro, Olivier-nominated Ian McIntosh is an absolute standout, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe his outstanding voice and stunning range. As Scaramouche, Elena Skye is a wise-cracking wonder with fabulous vocals. TV regular Michael McKell provides the lion’s share of the comedy, bringing genuine belly laughs and impressive vocals as Buddy Holly, Amy Di Bartolomeo is also a memorable Oz. One small crimp in the evening is Jenny O’Leary as Killer Queen whose vocals are quite frankly messy, only exacerbated by the fact that these songs are world famous and her co-stars are at the top of their game. That said, the positives overwhelm any negatives.

If it’s an uplifting, feel-good night, with the music of Queen, a crazy, fun story, delivered by a world-class cast you want, then I’d beg, borrow or steal a ticket to this warm-hearted wonder of a show.

Runs until 28 December 2019 | Image: Johan Persson

Originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The Overtones Christmas Party 2019 – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

It has become a sign that the festive season is approaching when The Overtones land in town. It’s been a decade since they burst on the scene and they’ve honed their craft over the years, with five top 10 albums, nine sold out UK tours and despite a rough few years personally, they manage to deliver the perfect pre-Christmas celebration.

It is, as always a mix of classic golden oldies, album favourites and a few less expected tracks, but most of all it’s a spirit-lifting evening where you can dance the night and your troubles away. There’s a warmth to each member of the band, they genuinely look as if their having a ball, and new member Jay James has seamlessly transitioned into the gap left by the death of Timmy Matley and the departure to pastures new of the much-loved bass vocalist Lachie Chapman.

Their greatest gift as an act is the ability to pick their set list, it’s all killer, no filler. These classic tunes are floor fillers, instantly recognisable, the audience are on their feet and singing along from the first few bars. Among many highlights, some standouts are their joyous version of Earth Wind & Fire’s September, Womack and Womack’s Teardrops, Dion’s Runaround Sue and old favourite Gimme Just a Little More Time from The Chairmen of the Board. There’s also a freshly arranged version of Walking in the Air, the contemporary twist has breathed new life into a twee festive tune.

The Overtones are a timeless band whose modern-vintage style has wide appeal, but it’s their endearing personalities, effort and energy, love of what they do and devotion to their fans that stands them head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Their ability to fill auditoriums up and down the country, proves that there’s still a place for class and quality. Here’s to many more years.

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

If it’s a big traditional panto with plenty of glitz and sparkle you’re looking for, then Glasgow King’s certainly delivers year on year.

This year’s offering is Jack and the Beanstalk, starring local panto treasures Elaine C. Smith and Johnny Mac, and save for these two local favourites, it’s a minor TV celeb-free zone and all the better for it.

The story largely follows the traditional tale: there’s a huge furry cow, some magic beans, a growing beanstalk, a fabulously realised giant and the requisite evil baddie, some familiar tunes – mostly oldies, there are no new pop hits. It’s re-set to Glasvegas with some familiar local references thrown in and most of the usual panto tropes intact. There’s no slapstick, a tiny bit of audience participation, the dame is a woman, the princess doesn’t need a man to vanquish the foe and proposes to her beau – all a refreshing move in the right direction. It needs mentioning though that a sequence between Mac and Smith incorporating the names of famous chocolate bars, was seen last year almost exactly in Cinderella at the SEC Armadillo.

Elaine C. Smith is much-loved and a solid pair of hands for a production as big as this and Johnny Mac is entirely loveable and endearing as Jack, the audience is onside from his first wide smile. Less effective is Anne Smith as the panto baddie Mrs. Blunderbore, an unfortunate visual joke from Jack about her performance being a bit flat, is unfortunately accurate, and in contrast to her co-stars her costumes are utterly lacklustre – more Poundland than Pantoland.

All in all, it’s exactly as you would expect every year from the King’s – big, bold and beautifully executed. A fine night of traditional entertainment.

Runs until 5 January 2019

Image: Richard Campbell

Originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Jinkx Monsoon and Ben DeLa Creme – All I Want For Christmas is Attention – Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Ben DeLa Creme and Jinkx Monsoon are back in Glasgow at the atmospheric Old Fruitmarket with their all-new seasonal spectacular, All I Want For Christmas is Attention.

The two Seattle Super-Queens make for an unlikely, but absolutely perfect pairing. DeLa is billed as ‘all sugar’ and Jinkx ‘all spice’ but their two very different Christmas/Holiday ideals provide plenty of laughs.

All I Want for Christmas is Attention marks DeLa’s first producer credit for an international tour, and there’s a lot at stake, but, if the full auditorium and the audience reaction is anything to go on then she has nothing to worry about.

Presented like a 1950s Holiday TV special, but with 21st Century sensibilities and content. There are sketches and songs, and plenty of bickering, and of course, lots of glam costume changes. There’s an undeniably warmth, and feel-good atmosphere about the whole evening and the fact that these are two of the most accomplished queens on the scene means that they know how to structure a show. For all the crazy content this is as professional as it gets.

A masterclass in polished, elevated drag, that plays to the special talents of its stars, this is a pairing not to be missed.

REVIEW: Iris – Scottish Opera at The City Halls, Glasgow

Iris, Pietro Mascagni’s little seen third opera, is presented in concert form at the City Halls in Glasgow, by Scottish Opera. Originally intended to be semi-staged, almost universal cast illness means that this is a little more no frills. However, the music is so glorious, nothing more is required.

Set in Japan in the Edo period, innocent Iris (Kiandra Howarth, replacing the indisposed Helena Dix), the daughter of blind Il Cieco (James Creswell) lives a simple life. Her world is turned on its head when young Lord Osaka (Ric Furman) carries Iris off to Kyoto’s (Roland Wood) geisha house and a world so cruel she can barely comprehend.

Mascagni’s work pre-dates Puccini’s Butterfly by six years and is considerably more demanding – this is basically the tale of a young Japanese girl who is sold into sex-trafficking, and it makes no bones about it’s presentation of it, what Puccini glosses over, Mascagni and his librettist Luigi Illica, lay bare. The problematic nature of the story is only made more difficult by the fact that there is no remorse for the unpalatable actions of the men in the story and to add insult to injury, the males are inevitably handed all the best music.

The ominous bass solo with which the work begins, sets the tone for Iris’ fate, but it begins one of the most beautiful openings in opera, as the sun rises over Japan. This glorious opening is a precursor to a work filled with beautiful music, played faultlessly by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and accompanied impeccably by the chorus of Iris. The first rate singers, the icing on the cake.

While the subject matter may not be to many’s taste, Iris, is utterly hypnotic, completely beguiling, and in the intimate setting of the City Halls, with it’s world-class acoustics, a five-star, absolute highlight of the current opera season.

Image: James Glossop

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