Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: South Bend – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

The problem with actor/playwright Martin McCormick’s autobiographical (or so he claims) South Bend, is that the minute he asks the audience to “trust me”, it has the opposite effect. You desperately want to believe this tall tale, but the nagging seed of doubt is sown in those two words. That said, there’s no doubt that this is precisely what McCormick wants to achieve in his theatrical road movie.

Obsessed since childhood with the US, he dreams of the world of Saved by the Bell, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Blossom and Seinfeld. When he eventually arrives for a semester at college in California, his every childhood dream is fulfilled. There he falls in love. Unfortunately, his time there is limited, and he has to return home. With promises from his love to visit him in Scotland ringing in his ear, he heads home.

When time passes, and the phone doesn’t ring, he heads to South Bend, Indiana to find his girl. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go to plan. On the receiving end of hostilities from his girlfriend’s step-mother, McCormick finds himself in a domestic version of Dante’s nine circles of hell.

How much of these antics are actually reflective of McCormick’s real experiences is questionable but the quality of the storytelling is just enough to entertain. McCormick is a better playwright than actor and his delivery does detract at times, it plays like someone playing the part of McCormick, rather than the person who is supposed to have experienced this madness.

Live foley artist David A. Pollock effectively provides the on-stage sound effects and a very Glaswegian voice of reason and Jess Chanlieu is chameleon-like playing all other characters.

South Bend is ultimately an undemanding, entertaining hour of theatre, but there’s a nagging feeling that it could have been so much more.

Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

REVIEW: Opera Highlights (Scottish Opera) – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Four singers, one piano, seventeen venues, Scottish Opera’s much-anticipated Opera Highlights returns (yippee!) and as always, it never fails to delight.

Director Daisy Evans has framed this year’s production as an electronically created playlist of opera gems. An “on-stage opera newbie” goes on an “emotional musical voyage” discovering, via Spotify and Google via Alexa, just how music has the power to move. Evans is a director to watch, and her staging undoubtedly adds greatly to the enjoyment of the evening. It’s funny, clever, accessible, inclusive, all the things that good theatre of any genre should be. It also looks great. A neon door and window and a few wooden crates serve as the only stage dressing, but coupled with the brightly coloured suited, booted and co-ordinating nail-varnished cast, it works brilliantly.

Freed from the constraints of remaining in a single character, the singers’ personalities are given the chance to shine in a variety of roles, and the warmth just radiates from the quartet. The acoustics in this small auditorium are as close to ideal as it is possible to get in a theatre and the voices give goose bumps. Soprano Sofia Troncoso, Mezzo Sarah Champion, Tenor Richard Pinkstone, Baritone Dawid Kimberg are exceptional as is pianist Jonathon Swinard.

The programme, designed by Scottish Opera’s Head of Music Derek Clark, delivers something for everyone. The range of composers, styles and moods, genuinely runs the gamut of human emotion.

Scottish Opera’s annual ‘Highlights’ tour, and indeed the whole of the company’s programming, is a model for how a national company should operate. A hands-down, five star, exemplary evening of entertainment.

Currently on tour to: Ayr, Drumnadrochit, Wick, Forres, Ullapool, Stornoway, Portree, Lanark, Helensburgh, Dundee, Inverurie, Laurencekirk, Perth, Dumfries, Musselburgh and St. Andrews.

More information at Scottish Opera

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Another day, yet another iconic 80s movie is adapted as a stage musical. This adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman by Douglas Day Stewart (with Sharleen Cooper Cohen) of his own original 1982 screenplay, is a cheesy, overblown but ultimately likeable production with a plethora of hits of the decade.

For those unaware of the original source material, An Officer and a Gentleman follows the story of a group of new recruits at the United States Naval Aviation Training Facility in Pensacola, Florida, and the band of local factory women who strive to hook one of these would-be officers in an attempt to escape the drudgery of their dead-end jobs. Principal among them is the relationship between troubled Navy brat Zack (Jonny Fines) and “townie” Paula (Emma Williams). Oh, joy, another story where a man has to ‘rescue’ a woman in order to give her a better life, I hear you cry, and while hackles may rise in 2018, it just about gets away with it due to its early 80s setting and the corniness with which it’s delivered.

The action takes place on a dull but functional set by Michael Taylor. The colours, drab blues, brown and greys are evocative of the workers situation and the Naval Base but, are a trifle uninspiring to the eye. It does however change smoothly, quickly and effectively between the many locations in the story.

The whole score could be a Now That’s What I Call The 80s album and there are some stomping anthems: Livin’ on a Prayer (given the volume it deserves), Alone and I Want to Know What Love Is and a corking version of We Don’t Cry Out Loud from Williams and Rachel Stanley as her mother Esther, but, there are some baffling arrangements that are less easy on the ear: Heart of Glass and a caterwauling Kids in America to name two.

The greatest asset of the production is its actors, there are some knock-out performances from a refreshingly representative cast in age, gender and race. There are no weak links, veteran Ray Shell is highly effective as Drill Sgt Foley, and the central quartet of Williams and Fines as Paula and Zack and Ian McIntosh (who delivers an emotive performance and has a beautiful voice) as Sid and Jessica Daley as the hard-hearted Lynette are all excellent.

This is not going to challenge your intellect but, was never intended to. It is a piece of easy escapism that will entertain both fans of the film and those new to the story.

Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Liquid Sky – Platform, Glasgow

It’s rare that five minutes into a show you’re begging for an escape route from the auditorium and ever rarer when the show does nothing to persuade you from fleeing to the exit for the entirety of its running time. Unfortunately, Liquid Sky is such a show.

Influenced by Doris Lessing’s feminist science fiction novel The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, which “traces the adventure of a queen forced into wedlock to save her territory from ecological demise, navigating beyond gender conflict by way of metamorphosis.” Liquid Sky aims to present an “alchemy of circus and new music” and “re-imagine the fabled Indian Rope Trick…the aerialist performs the miracle of holding herself airborne for 20 minutes whilst completely blindfolded”.

The artistic choices of the production render the whole experience an endurance test both aurally and visually. To an ear-harassing soundtrack by SUE ZUKI (Alicia Matthews), the introduction takes tedium to a whole new level, an excruciatingly laboured, repetitive sequence of ill-executed movements, drag on seemingly interminably. When the aerialist (Aedín Walsh, clad in a drab, ill-fitting unitard) finally ascends the rope the performance fails to elevate itself, every move looks full of effort, rather than the effortlessness one expects from proponents of this discipline.

The only saving grace of the whole event is the lighting design by Jack Wrigley which gives the eyes something to enjoy, that and its mercifully short running time.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil OVO – SSE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

Originating in Montreal in 2009, and created to celebrate Cirque du Soleil’s 25th anniversary, OVO is making its way around the country on its debut UK tour. Billed as: “a headlong rush into a colourful ecosystem teeming with life, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. The insects’ home is a world of biodiversity and beauty filled with noisy action and moments of quiet emotion. OVO is overflowing with contrasts. The hidden, secret world at our feet is revealed as tender and torrid, noisy and quiet, peaceful and chaotic. And as the sun rises on a bright new day the vibrant cycle of insect life begins anew.”

While many of Cirque du Soleil’s themes seem either esoteric or downright baffling, OVO’s insect inspiration seems a match made in heaven for these otherworldly performers. Opening on a colony of foot balancing red ants, the dexterity with which the act manipulates the ‘kiwi fruits’ and ‘sweetcorn’ is mind-boggling.

A plethora of creepy creatures follow, the most stunning of which is the throbbing colony of shimmering beetles that pulsate into life above the auditorium, giving way to the most awe-inspiring, herculean show of strength on the Russian Cradle, their split second timing is heart-stopping.

Impressive too are the unicycling Slack Wire artist, the Diabolo act who manages to keep four illuminated diabolos in constant motion, never missing a beat and the final act, with a dozen acro-athletes trampolining, tumbling and scaling a vast wall in the arena, seeming to defy gravity.

While undoubtedly talented, some acts don’t leave as lasting an impression, the Cocoon aerial silk act, the Slinky-like Creatura and the Acro Trio are skilled performers but lack that certain sparkle that marks the truly memorable and while the ‘clowning’ seems to be less in this production there’s still too much slapstick filler that takes up a lot of time but with little pay-off.

OVO is truly awe-inspiring, a mesmeric showcase of what the human body is capable of. Another must-see from Cirque du Soleil.

Runs at the SEE Hydro Glasgow until Saturday 9 September 2018.

 

REVIEW: Daniel Franzese Yass! You’re Amazing! – The Stand, Glasgow

US star of Mean Girls, Daniel Franzese is making tentative steps onto the UK stand-up comedy scene and tonight’s show at The Stand marks his Scottish debut.

Best known for his extensive TV and movie work: Looking, Recovery Road, Conviction, Bully, I Spit On Your Grave and as the irresistible Damian in the aforementioned Mean Girls, as well as his current YouTube series, Shit Italian Moms Say, Franzese treats the audience to a show that’s more amusing life story than true Stand Up – and that’s not a bad thing.

In a world of negativity and down-right hate, this is a warm hug of an evening. Franzese is a charmer and his stories of growing up in Brooklyn with his more Italian than Italian’s in Italy mom, his behind the scenes experiences with his co-stars (of course Mizz Lohan gets a few mentions) and his forays into finding love, are delivered with genuine warmth.

Fully involving his audience, he does it in the most inclusive and non-threatening way, Franzese just radiates glee, it feels like a group of pals getting together to share stories over a few glasses of fizz.

This is still a work in progress, the content needs some bulking out, but Franzese is onto a winner with this joyful show.

REVIEW: Sinatra Raw – Bier Keller Frankenstein’s Pub, Edinburgh

This isn’t the Sinatra who screaming Bobby-soxer’s threw themselves at, nor the rose-tinted twilight years legend, this is Palm Springs, 1971, Frank Sinatra is in the biggest decline of his illustrious career. The era of Glam Rock beckons and retirement looms. We’re gathered here for one, last, intimate show.

This is a night filled with memories, both bitter and brilliant. Behind-the-headlines anecdotes intersperse this collection of greatest hits. British-born, now Las Vegas based Richard Shelton delivers this brand new, self-written play with both sass and class. There’s meat on the bones of this show, the memories private and painful, show a little seen side of the showbiz Titan, illuminating the breadth and depth of Sinatra’s many grudges and regrets. Hugely entertaining, this is a classy little number housed in the basement of a tatty Edinburgh pub.

Shelton is a class act and this play a little gem.

 

 

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.

 

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