Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: Giovanni Pernice, il ballo è vita – The Town House, Hamilton

giiovanni pernice luba mushtuk

Sicilian dance superstar and Strictly Come Dancing alumnus Giovanni Pernice is the latest TV dance pro to take his own personal show on the road and it is arguably, the best one yet.

What this stunning show, il ballo è vito (Dance is Life), demonstrates is that the TV dance behemoth Strictly suffocates the personality of its stars. As a regular viewer of the show, I would be hard pressed to express what I thought Pernice’s personality was – the tabloid gossip about a romance with his celebrity partner the only hint of the man behind the smile. In reality Pernice has a winning and highly charming personality and instead of show-boating in the limelight, he is so comfortable in his ability to shine that he creates a show in which all of his cast get a turn in the spotlight.

cast of dancers il ballo e vita dance is life gianni pernice

There is real artistry here, and under the direction and choreography of Strictly director of choreography Jason Gilkison, there’s so much that delights. The first act has a charming Italian theme, with innovative and beautifully staged classics such as: Volare, Mambo Italiano, That’s Amore and Tu Vuo Fa’ L’Americano. There’s also a funny interlude when a member of the audience joins Giovanni on stage to share some food, Lady and the Tramp style – much to the amusement of the audience. Unlike many of these contrived moments in other dance shows, Pernice’s ease with the audience and genuine charm allows him to pull it off with aplomb. The second act is a tale based on the love story of Pernice’s grandmother and grandfather set to a contemporary and classic soundtrack.

The choreography is simply stunning and the sheer speed and originality of the footwork on display is breath-taking. Pernice is truly a class apart. Mention must be made too of the excellent set and lighting (and shadow) design that enhances the choreography beautifully throughout.

Pernice shows he is a team player, more than ably supported by a team of professionals (including the highly talented Russian dancer Luba Mushtuk), he allows each their chance to shine.

There’s a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere throughout and the ease in the interactions with the audience make this show stand out. This is a classy affair, beautifully staged, and the best Stricty alumni show so far. Catch it if you can.

REVIEW: Scottish Opera La bohème – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

flea market scene la boheme scottish opera

A sharply crafted, visually stunning and beautifully sung La bohème is a triumphant finale to the 2016/17 Scottish Opera season.

The creative team of André Barbe and Renauld Doucet, last seen in 2014 with the glorious Don Pasquale, have taken Puccini’s masterpiece of Italian opera and reset it to the 1920s. The era of ‘The Lost Generation’, when the world’s creative souls converged on Paris to live the bohemian life among the flea markets, jazz clubs and free spirits.

woman and man mimi and rodolfo hye youn lee luis gomes la boheme

What the pair have achieved is to take the world’s most frequently performed opera, tone down the schmaltz and restore its humour and joie de vivre. Despite the frozen bohemians burning their books, the warmth of their spirits shine through in this production.

papier mache big head mannequins street scene christmas la boheme scottish opera

This is a production whose success is a result of a perfect coming together of all its parts: composer, conductor, cast, design, direction and orchestra. Vital and vibrant it is a winner in every area.

a woman in flapper dress atop a table in la boheme

There are a brace of fine vocal performances: Hye-Youn Lee is a vocally elegant Mimi with an incredibly ear-pleasing and distinctive tone. She perfectly expresses Mimi’s demise without descending into melodrama. Luis Gomes (Rodolfo) is a beautifully toned tenor, however, he is frequently overpowered by the orchestra and Jeanine de Bique is an eye and ear-catching, Josephine Baker-ish Musetta, complete with pet cheetah.

André Barbe’s set is a star in itself. Bristling with life, it is a lavish cacophony of colour and meticulous detail. You will be hard pressed to see a more visually stunning production all year.

This perennial favourite’s standing as the world’s most popular opera shows no sign of abating and this stunner of a production from Scottish Opera will live long in the memory. A stand-out 5 stars.

All images: Sally Jubb

Tours to Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh – more information at: http://www.scottishopera.org.uk/

 

 

REVIEW: Shirley Valentine – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

jodie prenger against a greek seaside background

Willy Russell’s track record of successfully writing about ordinary women is almost unparalleled in popular theatre: Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and this, his 1986 effort Shirley Valentine, have repeatedly touched the hearts of the nation in both stage and film versions.

Shirley Bradshaw (Jodie Prenger) is 42, with two teenage kids who have flown the nest, an emotionally distant husband, her day to day existence leaving her resigned to (literally) talking to the egg-yolk yellow walls of her pine-clad kitchen. When her best friend offers to pay for a well-needed holiday for the pair, Shirley jumps at the chance to escape.

In the 30 years that have passed since it was written, much has changed, and women have come a long way. Despite a few dated references, and the fact that at 42, an age when many women in 2017 are only starting to contemplate having a family, 1980’s Shirley feels washed up and unable to escape her situation, Russell’s script has largely weathered the years well. That he can wring so much humour and pathos from the life of a working class Liverpudlian housewife, is a testament to his talent. It is in turn touching, resonant and laugh-out-loud funny.

That said, it’s not without fault. Essentially a 16000-word monologue, the weight of the production’s success is set firmly on the shoulders of the lead. Here, Prenger can’t rely on her impressive singing voice. Shirley’s cheeky chat and charisma, coupled with Prenger’s vivacity and heightened characterisation make it hard to believe that she doesn’t have the confidence to leave her dreary life behind. However, Prenger’s natural warmth transmits brilliantly to the audience, making us forgive her less than on-point Liverpool accent, and the audience is never not rooting for her every step of her journey.

Amy Yardley’s set design is simple, the 80s kitchen familiar to anyone who lived through the decade. Less successful is the rendering of the sun-drenched Greek island, the azure blue Mediterranean Sea more plastic camping tarpaulin than lapping waves. That said, it’s the words that matter, and those are glorious.

There’s enough here to still resonate with an audience in 2017; it’s a perfect balance of thought-provoking, self-searching, inspirational and life-affirming. It will make you, as Russell says in his script, “fall in love with the idea of living.” A British theatre classic and deservedly so.

Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB HERE

REVIEW: The Wedding Singer – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on the 1998 Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore romantic comedy of the same name, The Wedding Singer cashes in our nostalgia for the decade that taste forgot: big hair, big shoulder pads, and even bigger mobile phones.

Jilted at the altar, hapless romantic Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns), is resigned to living in his grandma’s basement and consigned to making a living singing at other people’s weddings. When he meets waitress Julia (Cassie Compton), she sets his broken heart a-flutter. Unfortunately, Julia is already engaged to oily, Wall Street banker Glen (Ray Quinn). As it always is in musical comedies, there’s many a misstep until the duo are ultimately united.

If you are a regular theatre-goer, you would be justified in being cynical about the seemingly never-ending trend of film to stage adaptations. With an audience almost guaranteed and less work required to convert an already written script, (here, it’s down to original screenwriter Tim Herlihy to adapt his own work) they are appearing from the woodwork at an alarming rate.

The flimsy plot is formulaic, and instead of being ‘hilarious’ as billed, it’s amusing. There’s also a high cringe factor with heavy-handed 80s references and cheesy jokes shoe-horned in. That’s those that you can hear over the over-amped band. And, yes, it’s supposed to be fluffy entertainment, but the two-dimensional characterisations of the women are woefully stereotypical: good girls longing to get married, slutty side-kicks and mad old grannies.

Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s score is largely forgettable. A few real-life 80s hits (as there were in the movie) may have elevated it above mere pastiche. That said, there’s a stand-out tune in Ray Quinn’s rendition of the ode to the dollar, All About The Green.

Nick Winston has laced the choreography with nods to MTV’s greatest video hits. There’s some impressive footwork in the all-male Single, and Ray Quinn shines in the few chances he gets.

Disappointingly Francis O’Connor’s costumes are less 80s excess than they could be, it all looks a bit polished, and ‘modern’ and the set design is functional rather than visually stimulating.

While the plot is thin and the music lightweight, there are a few stand-outs in the cast: Jon Robyns has been a West End leading man in waiting for years, here, he finally gets the chance to shine in a leading role. The talented Ray Quinn is underused and the biggest cheers of the night go to stage and screen veteran Ruth Madoc, who kicks up a storm as Robbie’s potty-mouthed, rapping granny.

There’s so much unmined potential here, an already well-loved film has been reduced to a mere ghost of itself and this over-long adaptation with its often unnecessary, repetitive and uninspiring songs, render this a shadow of what it could have been.

Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

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

REVIEW: All or Nothing – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

A guitar smashes, someone storms off stage and so starts the story of seminal Mod band The Small Faces.

Following in the footsteps of the Kinks’ musical Sunny Afternoon, All or Nothing capitalises on the wave of nostalgia for 60s bands, and covers the four short, turbulent years (1965-1969) from the band’s inception to frontman Steve Marriott’s departure, leaving the story of his replacement, (Rod Stewart) and reinvention as The Faces, for another show.

Narrated by an older incarnation of Marriott (Chris Simmons), the show retains the raw, rough-at-the-edges quality of the band whose story it tells. The story is depressingly familiar to fans of 60s music: exploitation, both financially and artistically by their management (in this case by Don Arden, famously the father of Sharon Osborne); gruelling schedules of endless touring and promotion, drugs, disappointment and creative differences. Along the way, there are cameos from musical contemporaries Dusty Springfield, Sonny and Cher, and Marriott’s one-time girlfriend P.P. Arnold as well as the word-mangling Stanley Unwin and Tony Blackburn.

The anger and swagger of the participants are well represented here, Marriott famously decrying Lennon and McCartney’s output as “Merseybeat girl music.” Described as a band that ‘looked sharp and sounded even sharper,’ the quality of the ‘band’ is critical to the show’s success. There’s a gig-like atmosphere throughout that adds an extra element of realism to the proceedings. The central quartet (Samuel Pope, Stanton Wright, Stefan Edwards and Josh Maddison) is completely on-point, and the group’s signature sound bounces off of the walls of the auditorium. The only gripe would be that we don’t hear enough of it. However, to its credit, the story doesn’t bend to fit the band’s hits. Instead, they occur naturally throughout the narrative.

All or Nothing is a highly detailed biography of a band that came from “bomb sites with no bathrooms,” and no stone is unturned in telling their story. However, it does result in a long set up and the sacrificing of some pace.

This bittersweet, raw, visceral show is a long overdue homage to a band that has sometimes been cruelly overlooked and a fitting tribute to not only Steve Marriott but Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, early member Jimmy Winston and Ian McLagan. Both long-time fans and those unfamiliar will be satisfied and it’s a welcome change from the fluff-filled, happy-ever-after jukebox musicals of old.

Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

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

REVIEW: The 8th Door / Bluebeard’s Castle – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Karen Cargill David Hayward Bluebeard's castle theatre Royal Scottish opera glasgow

You must admire the bold, brave, artistic choices that have characterised Scottish Opera’s current season. However, whether these choices resonate with its current, loyal audience remains to be seen.

Lliam Paterson and Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton’s new commission The 8th Door has been devised as a companion piece to Béla Bartók’s sublime Bluebeard’s Castle, the intention being that they, (according to the programme notes) “complement each other’s artistic ambition and vision, through a provocative evening”. This world-premiere work provides plenty food for thought.

A relationship plays out before us from its inception to its demise, two actors, facing video cameras, their backs to the audience, their emotions projected onto screens. From the pit, six voices, accompanied by a stunningly good orchestra, sing a text based on the works of Bartók’s artistic contemporaries: Endre Ady, Judit Frigyesi, Sándor Weöres and Attila József, as well as Edwin Morgan.

While Paterson’s score is innovative in its approach and delivery, it wears the influence of Bartók’s work on its sleeve. However, it suffers in comparison. While Bluebeard’s Castle is a masterpiece, a shimmering, intensely unsettling, but beautifully scored existential tragedy, The 8th Door feels unremittingly dull and repetitive. This coupled with Matthew Lenton’s direction and Kai Fischer’s design, which instead of bringing freshness and modernity, is oddly outdated. Locked in their own vision of ‘modernity’ they seem to have failed to notice the real innovations in staging that are currently happening in theatre. (On a side note, among the clock-watching and harrumphing, there were two different walk-outs at around the 10-15 minute mark in my corner of the auditorium, both only returning to hear Bartók’s piece).

While Paterson’s brand spanking new work seems long at 40 minutes, Bluebeard’s Castle whips along at a cracking pace. Bartók’s 1918 modernist horror work feeling more innovative, more compelling and more resonant. As Bluebeard and Judith, Robert Hayward and Karen Cargill are in stunning vocal form and the orchestra of Scottish Opera, in particular its brass section, have rarely sounded finer.

While a journey into darkness and an unremitting blackness unite the two works, it’s the near 100 year-old piece that really resonates.

Runs on selected dates until 1 April then touring to Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 5 and 8 April 2017

For more information visit http://www.scottishopera.org.com

REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil Varekai – The Hydro Arena, Glasgow

Having grown from 20 street performers in Quebec in 1984 to the largest theatrical producers on the planet, every superlative that could be, has been bestowed on the global cultural phenomenon that is Cirque du Soleil.

Varekai, in Glasgow this week, is one of the company’s oldest shows, and attempts to weave a narrative around what is basically a jaw-dropping display of what the human body can achieve.

Meaning ‘wherever’ in the Romany language, it draws on the myth of Icarus. However, after flying too close to the sun there the similarities with the Greek myth ends, and instead of plummeting into the sea and drowning, our hero lands in a verdant forest filled with magical creatures.

This enchanted realm teams with life and the magical creatures are attired in Cirque du Soleil’s trademark style, eye-poppingly coloured, the fabulously adorned costumes prove to be a visual feast.

But it’s not the eye-catching costumes, nor the gloriously voiced singers or first-rate musicians delivering the pounding soundtrack that steal the show, rather it’s the astoundingly talented cast, displaying feats of physical prowess that are frankly unbelievable.

Among many stand-outs, the male Aerial Strap duo, the stick balancing act and the Russian Swing troupe, particularly impress.

Despite the scale of the arena production, there is an intimacy to the show and the heart-stopping moments of astonishing courage and skill, register ever more greatly because of this.

Cirque du Soleil is everything people say it is – jaw-dropping, eye-popping and heart-stopping – quite simply the very best of the best.

Catch the global phenomenon at The Hydro Glasgow until 19 March 2017.

All images provide by and used with permission from Perla Global Media for Cirque du Soleil.

REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Cast the play that goes wrong mischief theatre theatre Royal Glasgow

A lot has changed in the few short years since the first national tour of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong. The award-winning theatre company has catapulted itself from the room upstairs at the Old Red Lion Pub Theatre to Olivier Award-winning success, has two productions currently running in the West End and an opening this week on Broadway, is riding high on the recent success of the BBC’s festive production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong and has single-handedly managed to bring the great British tradition of farce back to the fore.

But the question is, does the show that started it all stand up to repeat viewing? In a word – yes.
For those who don’t know, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is endeavouring to stage 1920s mystery thriller, The Murder at Haversham Manor, but a lack of talent, finance and sheer common sense makes for theatrical mayhem. Needless to say, everything that can go wrong, does, and the more the mayhem, the bigger the laughs.

Clearly influenced by Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, it’s theatre people sending up theatre people and exploiting every cliche there is about the am-dram world, and while it may not exactly be original or sophisticated, boy they do it well. The sheer cleverness of the writing of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and the split-second timing of this new cast ensures that Mischief Theatre’s smash-hit remains a rib-tickler.

The humour in the first act is relentless, at times it’s impossible to catch every gag, and it is genuinely tear-inducing, however, the production’s original faults remain, the second act lags a little, either down to audience fatigue at the number of jokes that have assaulted your senses and/or the fact the original production ran for a tidy one hour instead of the current two hours ten minutes. One can’t help feel a little judicious trimming would make this near-perfect show truly faultless. That said, any faults are easily forgiven due to the sheer entertainment value of the whole production. Just remember to wear waterproof mascara.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: A Life With The Beatles – EK Arts Centre

Entering to the strains of Billy J. Kramer’s version of Lennon & McCartney’s Do You Want to Know a Secret; actor Ian Sexon takes the audience on a blisteringly paced account of the life of Neil Aspinall. A man at the very heart of The Beatles’ story, a man who shared their brightest and darkest moments, a man, who, unlike almost everyone else associated with the group, took his secrets to the grave.

Aspinall went from school pal of Paul McCartney and George Harrison to trainee accountant to first ever roadie, driving his beat-up Commer van the length of the country, to CEO of Apple Corps, The Beatles’ global business conglomerate. Notably,  in helping to sustain The Beatles’ legacy, it was Aspinall who masterminded the creation of the world-wide, best-selling, Beatles Anthology documentary, three-volume double album and book.

Davide Verazzani’s A Life With The Beatles seeks to shed light on some of the most famous moments in the band’s history, most notably, the ground-breaking and quite frankly, bizarre, making of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Verazzani’s writing grips from start to end, while you may think you know everything about The Beatles, there’s enough insight here to surprise even the most die-hard fan. There’s a perfect blend of emotive drama and clever humour. Sexon is a natural storyteller, and his performance in this one-hander is a tour de force, with only four suitcases, a smattering of props and some simple back projections, he has a hypnotic hold over the audience throughout.

This 60-minute show is a little belter, proving that sometimes smallest is best.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Image: Gary Daniell

REVIEW: Thoroughly Modern Millie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews, which was itself inspired by the 1956 British musical Chrysanthemum, Jeanine Tesoro, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris’ musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, has always had considerable shortcomings. While some outstanding cast members and a polished set design by Morgan Large elevate the source material in this production, this pastiche written in 2002, remains lacking that certain spark a show needs to be truly entertaining.

It’s 1922 and small-town girl Millie Dillmount comes to big city New York to marry for money rather than love, but events take a sinister turn when she checks into the Hotel Priscilla for single women, not knowing it’s owned by Mrs Meers, the leader of a white slavery ring.

Racky Plews’ current production does little to address the show’s many faults. Instead of skilfully evoking the era, it feels uncomfortably out of step and in 2017, increasingly offensive. While it may be argued that the character of Mrs Meers, a pantomime “Chinese” landlady, is sending up racial stereotypes, the recent yellowface casting controversy in Howard Barker’s play In The Depths of Dead Love, means that any director allowing such a grotesque characterisation, even if it’s played for comedy, as that of Michelle Collins (chopsticks in hair, unintelligible Pidgin English), really needs to be called to account for their choices. There are also some uncomfortably out of date sexual references which would make any feminist’s toes curl and the running time is an issue at a posterior-numbing two hours 45 minutes – some judicious trimming wouldn’t go amiss.

Save for the title tune, the music is utterly unforgettable despite clever borrowings from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, most songs, like the musical itself, are over-long. So it’s down to the cast to save the show. Strictly Come Dancing‘s current champion, Joanne Clifton, is undoubtedly a fine dancer, and in possession of a surprisingly effective voice, but she lacks the acting chops to pull this off completely convincingly. In support, both Katherine Glover as Millie’s naive roommate Dorothy Brown and Graham MacDuff as her boss Trevor Graydon are superb. MacDuff, in particular, gives a masterclass in comic acting. The ensemble is universally first class.

Shining bright above all else in the production is Morgan Large’s Art Deco set (borrowed from a previous production staged at Kilworth House), shimmering silvery grey, it transforms seamlessly between the show’s locations.

This remains a show with a dodgy plot and characters, and a host of largely forgettable tunes, but the beautiful set and the hugely talented, well-drilled cast are enough to make it an amusing distraction for a dull winter’s evening.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Image: Darren Bell

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