Category Archives: MyTheatreMates

REVIEW: Opera Highlights (Scottish Opera) – Motherwell Theatre

There’s much to delight in every season at Scottish Opera, but the annual Opera Highlights tour is always a shining star of the programme.

We’re invited to a beautiful country garden where our protagonists are setting the scene for a party. We’re not exactly sure who our host is, but while the action unfolds we are introduced to each character, a little of their back stories and their relationship to one other. The inevitable cases of mistaken identity, star-crossed lovers, heartache and romantic resolution ensue.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

Derek Clark, Scottish Opera’s Head of Music has again chosen an eclectic and engaging set of arias, from the comic to the heart-breaking on which to weave the lively narrative. Among pieces by Mozart, Handel, Lehár and Tchaikovsky there are works by Ambroise Thomas, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Mildred Jessup, Alfred Cellier and the great Kurt Weill. There is also a world premier from Scottish Opera’s Composer in residence Samuel Bordoli. As fitting for a tour that’s aim is to bring new audiences to opera, there are a large number of pieces in English, either pieces original written in the language or in translation, increasing the accessibility for opera newbies.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

As important as the selection of music is, much depends on the quality of the singers. This year the calibre is universally excellent. The quartet: Soprano Charlie Drummond, Mezzo Martha Jones, Tenor Alex Bevan and Baritone Mark Nathan, as well as having fine voices, are easy to warm to, each can act and draw the audience in, keeping them engaged throughout. Of note is Roxana Haines direction, which is tight and breathes even more life into the already sprightly programme.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

If you are an established opera lover or someone curious to find out more, Opera Highlights is the perfect event. The extensive tour continues throughout Scotland (see below for dates and venues).

As ever, a five-star production from Scottish Opera.

The Albert Halls

Stirling

Sat 14 Sep

Book Tickets

Stonehaven Town Hall

Stonehaven

Tue 17 Sep

Book Tickets

Duthac Centre

Tain

Thu 19 Sep

Book Tickets

The Macphail Centre

Ullapool

Sat 21 Sep

Book Tickets

An Lanntair

Stornoway

Tue 24 Sep

Book Tickets

Aros Centre

Portree

Thu 26 Sep

Book Tickets

The Corran Halls

Oban

Sat 28 Sep

Book Tickets

Volunteer Hall, Galashiels

Galashiels

Tue 1 Oct

Book Tickets

Perth Theatre

Perth

Thu 3 Oct

Book Tickets

Carnegie Hall

Dunfermline

Sat 5 Oct

Book Tickets

Thurso High School

Thurso

Tue 8 Oct

Book Tickets

Orkney Theatre

Kirkwall

Thu 10 Oct

Book Tickets

Haddo House

Ellon

Sat 12 Oct

Book Tickets

Ryan Centre

Stranraer

Tue 15 Oct

Book Tickets

Beacon Arts Centre

Greenock

Thu 17 Oct

Book Tickets

The Brunton

Musselburgh

Sat 19 Oct

Book Tickets

 

Amélie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Amélie:The Musical is based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 Academy Award-winning movie about eternal altruist Amélie Poulain, whose desire to help others, through a series of simple acts of kindness, prevents her from finding love. Amélie escapes her dysfunctional childhood and unhappy home life to work as a waitress in a Paris café where she encounters a rag-tag bunch of bohemian misfits, whose lives she sets out to make that little bit better. This 2019 musical version has been significantly re-worked for the UK tour after a less-than-successful and hugely curtailed run on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for only 56 performances after a hefty 27 days of previews.

Any production has to compete with the visually arresting movie and the tobacco-stained design by Madeleine Girling, with gorgeous lighting by Elliot Griggs, largely succeeds in distancing itself from the iconic big-screen version and establishing itself as its own visual entity. It does however exploit many Gallic clichés in its presentation of the Montmartre café where the action takes place. That said, it is an absolute treat to behold.

The film is a series of quirky vignettes from Amélie’s childhood to her life in Paris (the journey necessary to understand Amélie’s future motivations) and as a result there’s a lot of time spent establishing the back story, resulting in the first act of the musical taking its time to come together and hit its stride. The second act is more cohesive and as a whole it manages to almost replicate the entire movie storyline in the confines of a small-scale, fixed set, an impressive feat.

There are an astonishing 35 musical pieces in total, and if any gripe remains with the show, it’s the lack of variety in style and tone of much of the music, motifs are repeated just a tad too often. Yes, many are gorgeous, and they are perfectly played and sung by the actor/musicians, but many add nothing and arrest the progress of the narrative rather than advance it.

The cast are universally first class, Audrey Brisson (Amélie), a Cirque du Soleil veteran is a less soft but compelling version of our heroine and Danny Mac as the object of her unrequited admiration Nino, is sure-footed throughout.

Amélie seems to have largely overcome its previous faults. It’s a tad too long, something which seems to be endemic in most musicals, and there are a few too many musical intervals, but it looks beautiful and is imaginatively staged, with a plethora of tiny, quirky details to delight. And where else can you see ‘Elton John’, some people-sized, singing and dancing figs,  a suicidal goldfish, a Brazilian carnival dancing gnome and a leading lady coming and going by flying lampshade?

Runs until 24 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

There are few other shows so beloved or so enduring as the Rocky Horror Show. It’s a summer Monday evening and the theatre is packed from floor to rafters with fans clad in their best Columbia, Magenta, Rocky, Brad, Janet and even a few Frank N. Furter costumes for the latest tour of this nearly 50-year-old show.

The audience is in full-on participation mode and the excitement before curtain up is tangible. The second the Usherette (a fabulous Laura Harrison, who also doubles up as Magenta) steps onstage, the audience is raring to go. Every infamous call back is on cue, every moment for joining in is taken – this is a crowd that knows every word and every step to every song and is here to enjoy the night to the fullest.

There are many reasons why Rocky Horror has been performed almost continuously since its creation in 1973 – the big hits come thick and fast, the dialogue is cheeky and cheesy in equal measure, it never takes itself seriously, but the talent and commitment of the cast and the quality of Richard O’Brien’s genius writing means that under the 1950s B-Movie veneer, this is a show of quality.

Boy band royalty, Blue’s Duncan James steps into Frank’s glittered platforms and satin corset and boy does he give it his all. From entrance to exit he looks like he’s living his best life and judging from the ear-splitting reception from the audience they are loving every minute along with him. James is ably supported by dance royalty Joanne Clifton, who again demonstrates how multi-talented she is, singing and acting as Janet and there’s strong support from a fine-sounding James Darch as Brad. While Rocky Horror veteran and fan-favourite Kristian Lavercombe is indisposed tonight, his understudy Andrew Ahern is a revelation as Riff Raff and Philip Franks, arguably one of the finest narrators in the world of Rocky Horror, returns.

There are few shows that pack more entertainment into two hours, and few that stand up to repeat viewing like Rocky Horror. Hands-down one of the best musicals of all time and with this first-rate cast, it would be a crime to miss it.

Runs until 17 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Hair – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

While Hair has lost its shock value and the antics seem risible to a 21st Century audience, the celebratory and catchy songs still stand the test of time and the committed cast of this 50th Anniversary tour throw themselves fully into the action.

After a 15 minute delay and an unannounced change of leading man, we’re whisked to 1967 New York, where the shadow of the Vietnam War looms over the whole of the US, but particularly the East Village,where Berger (Bradley Judge) and his band of subversive misfits are railing against the world. It’s only Claude (Paul Wilkins) who doesn’t fully buy in to the Hippie counterculture, conflicted between turning on, tuning in and dropping out (to paraphrase Timothy Leary) and fulfilling his duty to his country after being drafted into the Vietnam War.

The plot is scant and there are times when the dialogue is reduced to merely shouting out anti-establishment phrases, so the songs need to be strong to sustain interest. There are plenty of stand-outs: Aquarius, Easy to be Hard, Good Morning Starshine, Let The Sun Shine In and the title track Hair, to name a few. The only gripes would be that there are so many of them – several could be chopped without being detrimental to the show. There’s also a lot less audience interaction – this is not as immersive as expected, at times, it seems more fun for those on stage than for the audience.

The design by Maeve Black, complimented by Ben M Rogers’ lighting does evoke a trippy hippie camp and the costumes are largely on point, these are the final dates of a long tour, so the increased tattiness adds to the atmosphere.

The energetic and accomplished cast clearly give their all and play a large part in bringing the audience in. 

It doesn’t have the impact that it once had and the shock value has gone, even the full-frontal nudity barely raises an eyebrow, but it stands as a window to another time and provides some insight on a pivotal time in social history. It is still worth seeing as a cultural landmark – it, and the shows that followed in its wake, widened the boundaries, gave voice to the youth of the day and changed the theatrical landscape forever.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.

REVIEW: Confetti and Chaos – Imagination Workshop, Edinburgh

Interactive Theatre International’s Confetti and Chaos is back at its spiritual home, smack bang in the middle of the madness of the Edinburgh Festival.

The world’s worst wedding reception still has the ability to surprise and delight and it’s all down to the pin-sharp script and the enviable comedy acting and improvisation skills of its talented cast.

The whole idea is a winner, because we’ve all been there: the excruciating speeches, the wild cannon relatives, secrets tumbling out of the closet, lips getting looser as the alcohol flows freely, drunken dancing and worse, much, much worse. Just when you think it couldn’t get any crazier, it does. Did I mention that while all the madness unfolds we, the wedding guests, are all enjoying a three course meal?

While there’s a face-achingly funny script at its backbone, it’s the ability of the cast to interact and react with the ever-changing nightly audience that makes this more than just a performance but an event for the ‘guests’. No matter how effortless this looks, it takes phenomenally talented actors to pull it off. Nerine Skinner, Otis Waby, Helen Colby and Hayden Wood, double and triple-up on roles and manage to give each their own individual characterisation, and each is funnier than the last. The energy required is astonishing and the effort the actors put in is laudable.

Confetti and Chaos (formerly The Wedding Reception) remains as hysterical as it ever was, and stands up to multiple viewings. A show where quality is assured night after night.

Runs until 26 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

REVIEW: West End Producer: Free Willy, Assembly Studio Two, Edinburgh

The infamous and anonymous mystery man of London theatre, West End Producer has finally taken the plunge and headed north of the border to Edinburgh for the summer season with his rubber Willy under one arm and baby grand under the other.

WEP is in town to audition hopefuls for his proposed West End mega hit-to-be Free Willy: The Musical. In the process we are let in on a few theatrical secrets, partake in a lesson on the perfect jazz hands and are led in a theme appropriate dolphin vocal warm up, there are even some genuine soiled West End show pants on offer to one lucky auditionee.

The fun starts before the show does with our idol interacting with his public in the queue, we are assigned our audition numbers and given a mini task to perform. Audience participation-phobes don’t despair though, it’s all very non-threatening – what else would you expect, we know WEP is an absolute #dear.

As befitting WEP’s status among the stagey folks, the place is packed on this sunny afternoon and the large crowd really helps the atmosphere. This is a show that knows its audience – everyone is in on the West End gossip and the jokes and digs land, and the addition of a different guest each day, a fellow Fringe performer (today’s was comedian Patrick Monaghan) is a nice touch that delivers variety and a sense of what on earth is going to happen next? to the proceedings.

WEP is a man of many talents, as well as this being a well-conceived and executed show, he’s a gifted pianist and singer, and the comic songs are actually, in some cases, better than some of the drivel I’ve had to endure in real West End shows. WEP’s entrance on a blow up whale is also a sight once-seen – hard to forget.

If you are of a stagey disposition – this is a chance to get up close and personal with the enigma that is WEP. Go along and help West End Producer find his Willy – you won’t regret it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

REVIEW: Madagascar The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Madagascar, the much-loved, 2005 Dreamworks’ movie returns to Glasgow in its musical form, just in time to catch the school holiday crowd.

Our familiar friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo: Alex, ‘the king of the urban jungle’ (2016 X-Factor winner, Matt Terry), Marty the rapping zebra (Posi Morakinyo), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Connor Dyer) and Gloria the sassy hippo (Hannah Victoria) and, of course, King Julien the Lemur (Kieran Mortell) are all here, supplemented beautifully by Max Humphries’ penguin puppets and a colourful set design from Tom Rogers.

For the few who don’t know the story, it’s Marty’s tenth birthday, and when he finds that penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private have decided to escape, he begins to long for ‘the wild’. After following the penguins out, Alex, Gloria and a reluctant Melman try to persuade their pal to return. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and the quartet find themselves on a boat bound for Africa.

It would be hard not to like this, Madagascar is as engaging a story on stage as it is on screen and has enough multi-layered humour to satisfy both adults and children alike. The songs are catchy, especially the ear-worm I Like To Move It, it’s delivered with humour and conviction and it boasts a small but top-notch cast to boot.

Matt Terry, despite what your prejudices might be about TV talent show winners, has a fine, strong voice, carries off the choreography with style, has an engaging personality and can act. He is ably supported by Morakinyo, Dyer and Victoria, who, again, perform with energy and commitment and keep the tiny audience members gripped throughout. The penguin puppeteers not only breathe life and character into their feathered characters but double and triple up on an array of human and animal parts and Kieran Mortell, of course, makes his mark as the hysterical tyrant King Julien.

For a production so seemingly simple there are small but notable details, chief among them Fabian Aloise’s choreography, which goes from urban/street in New York to more African/Tribal tinged in Madagascar.

This isn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning writing, it’s a simple story of friendship, but it’s perfectly-pitched to its audience and remains engaging and entertaining for all ages, throughout.

Runs until 4 August 2019 | Image: Scott Rylander

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

REVIEW: Little Miss Sunshine: A Road Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The epitome of dysfunctional, the Hoover family travel 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico in grandpa’s beaten up VW camper van to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, so the youngest member of the clan, the unlikely Olive, can compete. So goes William Finn and James Lapine’s adaptation of Michael Arndt’s double Oscar-winning 2006 movie.

The stage version, unlike the movie has had a bumpy ride to get to this point. Workshopped in 2009, it showed for two months in California in 2011, it was then re-worked and lasted another two months off-Broadway in 2013. With this less than encouraging history it then begs the question why anyone would gamble on taking a musical theatre version of what was always a quirky, niche, indie movie, less happy go lucky and more heart-wrenching and soul-searching, to the UK theatre-going public. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the sparse audience, this gamble hasn’t exactly paid off.

The ultra simplistic staging – a sunshine yellow, paint spattered backdrop with the iconic van reduced to six kitchen chairs on an MDF boxed base, serves up little to interest the eye, save in the last scene at the pageant. The costumes, of course necessitated by the everyday ordinariness of the characters, are the same from start to end, but it’s the musical content that’s utterly unforgivable. Every – single – song, is exactly the same as the others, so drab and relentlessly boring are they, that you are reduced to silently begging when the musical director raises her hand to cue in the musicians, that there’s not another song. William Finn is known as a quirky composer, that these songs are so plodding, so utterly unremarkable and forgettable, is astonishing, especially given how unconventional the source material.

The cast are experienced, but no matter how good they are, they are fighting a tedious script and bland music. Mum Sheryl (Lucy O’Byrne) is given unremittingly dull lines and songs that leave no mark and dad Richard (Gabriel Vick) is extremely hard to warm to. Thankfully Paul Keating as suicidal, Proust scholar Uncle Frank makes his mark as does Mark Moraghan as off-the-wall, coke-sniffing grandpa, but it’s ensemble member Imelda Warren-Green in a double turn as a hospital bereavement liaison and the Latina pageant winner, who shines brightest in the gloom.

I am astonished that any producer thought this would be a winner. It lacks bite, the almost insurmountable troubles of the movie are so perfectly written in its script, are less than perfectly translated here. Yes, the iconic quotes are present as is the storyline, but in this version it is a relentless two-hour, clock-watching slog with the final scenes the only pay-off. Do yourself a favour and watch the movie instead.

 Image: Manuel Harlan

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The Lady Vanishes – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Relatively obscure British crime writer Ethel Lina White’s greatest legacy is her 1936 novel, The Wheel Spins, two years after publication Alfred Hitchcock directed the film The Lady Vanishes, widely regarded as one of British cinema’s greatest works, based on her book. Through the decades popular adaptations have appeared both on TV and film. This time it’s the turn of the Classic Thriller Theatre Company who bring the timeless tale to the stage.

It’s Austria, 1938 and Nazism is on the rise. Socialite Iris Henderson (Lorna Fitzgerald) is travelling back to London to marry, more for her fiancé’s title than for love. Before climbing aboard the crowded and already delayed train home, she receives an accidental blow to the head. She’s helped aboard by kindly, former governess Miss Froy (Juliet Mills) and the pair strike up a conversation on board, but Iris soon falls asleep. On wakening, Iris finds Miss Froy has disappeared and all her fellow travellers deny ever having seen her. She enlists the help of engineer and part-time musicologist Max (tonight played by understudy James Boswell) to get to the bottom of the mystery of the vanishing lady.

With a cast of curious characters including two cricket-loving Brits (stage veterans Robert Duncan & Ben Nealon), a suspicious Austrian doctor (Maxwell Caulfield), an Italian magician (Mark Carlisle), a stuck-up London lawyer and his mistress (Philip Lowrie & Elizabeth Payne), a Nazi officer (Joe Reisig) and a nun (Natalie Law), The Lady Vanishes mines every trope of the golden age of crime and proves that classic mysteries never go out of fashion. Also evidenced by the fact the theatre is packed on a sunny Monday evening in summer.

From the opening scenes on the station platform in Austria, through the train journey, back home to Blighty, Morgan Large’s set (coupled with Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting) manages to conjure up the feel of Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece. The 13-strong cast are solid, with understudy Boswell managing to shine brightest.

This is a well-constructed production, that, though undemanding, provides a thoroughly entertaining, escapist evening of entertainment.

Image: Paul Coltas

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub