Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: Stand By – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Dundee. Present day. The claustrophobic back of a police riot van. Four officers wait for a negotiator to do his job, wait while a samurai sword-wielding man is threatening to kill himself and his baby son.

From the pen of former Tayside police officer Adam McNamara, Stand By isn’t your stereotypical adrenaline-filled police thriller, instead it’s a thought-provoking and highly arresting (forgive the unintentional pun) drama about the grim realities of life in the police force in 2017.

McNamara’s very real experience of the subject matter imbues the production with credibility, coupled with the wholly naturalistic, and expletive riddled dialogue, means the whole piece is grimly realistic and entirely believable.

McNamara effectively (and amusingly) conveys the mundane realities and frustrations of existing in such close quarters with your colleagues, and the thick skin required to deal with it. But, underneath the banter, much bigger discussions arise about the consequences (for both the officers and the public) of constant financial cuts, the day-to-day dangers and the personal costs of the job.

McNamara carries off the role of team leader Chris, with his precarious personal life, with gravitas, and Andy Clark is sure-footed as Dundonian police veteran Davey, hiding his own personal problems behind a sharp tongue and a world-weary wit. Jamie Marie Leary is an effective young officer determined to drag her colleagues into the 21st Century, and Laurie Scott is suitably annoying as mouthie new transfer from The Met, Marty, a man with a closet full of skeletons of his own to hide.

The production is greatly enhanced by Natasha Jenkin’s clever set design which perfectly confines the action and engenders a sense of psychological claustrophobia, while never limiting the drama. The clever use of the single-earpieces the audience wear, that convey messages from the police control room in real-time throughout the play, adds to the experience and gives a small glimpse into the pressure officers on a call are under. (A nice touch is that the voices are provided by some of Scotland’s finest actors – Ron Donachie, Richard Rankin and Jack Lowden to name a few).

This is an absolutely gripping piece of theatre (that would make a perfect TV police drama), a breath of fresh air that deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.

By the end, you really do believe the oft-repeated mantra: “the job is fucked”, and can’t help wonder what on earth the consequences will be for us all.

REVIEW: The Kite Runner – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a literary juggernaut, spending over two years on the New York Times best-seller list, spawning a 2007 film and this adaptation for the stage in the same year by playwright Matthew Spangler (inspired by a meeting with Hosseini a year earlier). Originally performed at San Jose Repertory Theatre in 2009, surprisingly, it took until April 2013 to make its UK/European debut. Translated into 42 languages, it has also appeared as a graphic novel.

Amir, once a wealthy and privileged Pashtun from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, is now a refugee in the US. Covering a multi-generational period, it looks back at an incident from his Afghan childhood, involving his friend Hassan, Amir’s failure to act to help his friend, and the guilt that has undoubtedly shaped his subsequent life.

It tries, and largely succeeds in outlining a period of monumental political upheaval. Exploring themes of friendship, the relationship between fathers and sons, guilt and redemption, the divide between Sunni and Shia and the refugee experience, but it is Amir’s difficulty in coming to terms with the fate of Hassan, a poor Hazara, and the son of his father’s servant, that forms the backbone of the tale.

As with any page to stage adaptation, the narrative has been condensed and the expansive detail of the novel is, by necessity, lost. That said, it remains largely faithful to the novel’s central themes, it is moving and thought-provoking, but without the gut-wrenching emotion. The over-long second act that almost out-stays its welcome, is partly to blame, padding elements of the story in its desire to build tension and neatly come to a resolution.

Amir is played as both child and adult by David Ahmad, taking him from the streets of Kabul as a child to San Francisco in the 2000s. Ahmad gives a well-measured performance (of a largely unsympathetic character) as both young and older Amir, however, it is Emilio Doorgasingh and Jo Ben Ayed that deliver an emotional punch with their portrayals of Amir’s father and Hassan/Sorab respectively.

The set, though simplistic, evokes the heat and dust of Kabul as well as San Francisco’s skyscraper skyline with cleverly designed changes of lighting. The atmosphere is further enhanced by Hanif Khan’s tabla playing.

Emotive, informative and atmospheric, it gives a human face to a country that remains largely a mystery to the outside world. Well worth watching, but not an easy night at the theatre.

Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Robert Workman

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY – http://www.thereviewshub.com

REVIEW: The Swingcats, Sisters of Swing – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Three women in red satin dresses

According to their publicity, vocal trio The Swingcats have performed from Dublin to Dubai, Manchester to Marrakech, and by Royal command for Prince Albert of Monaco in Monte Carlo. Tonight, the group bring their show Sisters of Swing to Eastwood Park Theatre.

Paying tribute to the great female vocalists of the jazz and swing age, the show is packed full of standards made famous by Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, The Andrews Sisters and surprisingly, Marilyn Monroe.Three women in vintage black satin gowns

As well as two album releases under their belt, Alyson Orr, Laura Ellis and Nicola Auld have fronted some of the top big bands including The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The BBC Big Band and the RAF Squadronaires, and have appeared with jazz artists Annie Ross, Carol Kidd, Claire Martin and Martin Taylor, and their experience and talent shows. This is as slick vocally as you could wish for, with to-die-for harmonies. Each gets their own chance to shine, choosing personal favourites to perform solo,  but it is as a trio that they are at their strongest, The Andrews Sisters numbers in particular are stunning: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon and Chattanooga Choo Choo, just a few highlights.

the swingcats with feather fans

The rest of the evening’s selection is packed with crowd-pleasers: Doris Day’s version of Quizás, Quizás, Quizás better known as the sultry Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps; Noël Coward’s Mad About The Boy, Kiss Me Kate’s Too Darn Hot; Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend; Dream a Little Dream of Me; Satin Doll, Rum and Coca Cola; Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me – which is prefaced with a really interesting anecdote about Simone, from musical director Karen MacIver, the list goes on and on…there’s plenty of bang for your buck, and all delivered by three undoubtedly talented singers.

Worth mentioning too is the fact that the show features some unique arrangements from the group’s musical director Karen MacIver, complimenting the traditional vocals and all backed by the Karen MacIver trio.

This is a classy affair – for fans of Big Band and Swing – you can’t go wrong with The Swingcats.

TOUR CONTINUES AT:

Cumbernauld Theatre

9th September www.cumbernauldtheatre.co.uk

Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

7th October www.beaconartscentre.co.uk

Howden Park Centre, Livingston

12th October www.howdenparkcentre.co.uk

East Kilbride Arts Centre

27th October www.slleisureandculture.co.uk

Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow – Jukebox Memories

3rd & 4th November

0141 332 1846 www.paviliontheatre.co.uk

 

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

It’s astonishing to think that 1983’s Flashdance The Movie, took over $100 million at the box office. That level of success, coupled with the fact that nostalgia for the 80s sells (as evidenced by never-ending tours of Dirty Dancing and shows such as Fame, Footloose, 9 to 5 and The Wedding Singer), means it’s no surprise that it has resurfaced, in a shiny new production for 2017.

Unlike the frothy film, with its flimsy, escapist storyline and scenes that play like a series of 1980s MTV music videos, the musical pads out the simplistic screenplay with numerous sub-plots in order to add some depth and grit (pole-dancing clubs, shattered dreams of stardom, drug abuse…)

Alex(andra) Owens (Joanne Clifton), welder by day, exotic dancer at Harry’s Bar by night, longs to pursue her dream of becoming a trained, professional dancer. In her day job at the steelworks she catches the eye of Nick Hurley (Ben Adams), the son of the mill owner. Romance, inevitably ensues, as do a series of somewhat predictable hurdles until this working class gal does good.

The plot is similar to British classic Billy Elliot that followed a few years later (only this time done with a lot more class). There’s the promise of a rousing story of working class, female empowerment here, but it’s all a bit wishy-washy to be inspirational.

Joanne Clifton is casting gold – a national favourite from her stint in Strictly Come Dancing and a member of a British dancing family dynasty. Clifton astonished many with her decision to leave one of the top UK TV shows, especially in her year as reigning champion, but she is entirely justified in doing so. She has a bright future beyond the small screen (and away from a show whose producers are notoriously fickle at hiring and firing even the most popular of dancers). Unlike her recent role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Clifton’s voice gets a chance to really soar and her impressive American accent remains on-point throughout. It would be wonderful to see her in a show that truly showcases her considerable theatre skills.

In support, former A1 singer Ben Adams turns in a commendable performance as boss and love-interest Nick. The duo between Clifton and Adams Here and Now is an absolute corker.

The ensemble are strong and their effort is palpable, even in the auditorium. However, they are let down a bit by some less than scintillating choreography, which in the confined playing space, looks cramped.

If it’s an evening of undemanding froth you’re after then Flashdance is the show for you. Get out the lycra and leggings and catch it as it tours the UK.

REVIEW: La Cage aux Folles – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The much-loved La Cage aux Folles has had a long history: from Jean Poiret’s original 1973 play, then the 1978 French/Italian movie production, it became a stage musical in 1983 before becoming the English language film The Birdcage in 1996. It’s surprising to learn that despite numerous Broadway and West End revivals this is the first professional UK tour.

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Georges (Adrian Zmed) and Albin (John Partridge) run the most glamorous nightclub in St. Tropez, where Albin stars as the glamorous drag artist Zaza. When Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Dougie Carter) announces his plans to marry the daughter of a straight-laced homophobic politician set on closing the nightclub, mayhem ensues.

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It’s astonishing to think that this show is nearly 45 years old and even more astonishing to think how long it has taken for attitudes to change. This story of tolerance and acceptance is wrapped up in a blinding amount of sequins and feathers, and yes, it is awash with every camp cliché, but thankfully, Tony Award-winning Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation does justice to both the original subject matter and the message it conveys. It may sound glib to say it, but La Cage aux Folles is truly heart-warming, and the oohs, aaaahs, whistles and boos it elicits from its audience and the absolute warmth with which the whole production is received is enough to melt the most frozen of hearts.

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Gary McCann’s design reads well in the auditorium, the full-on glamour of the club contrasting well with the faded glamour of Georges and Albin’s apartment and the costumes are universally on-point.

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Partridge is an oustanding Albin/Zaza, it is a role tailor-made to showcase his acting, dancing and singing skills and US TV favourite Adrian Zmed is a fine Georges, there’s a deftness of touch in his portrayal of a character that could easily have been rendered a caricature, he is also in possession of a fine singing voice. Dougie Carter as son Jean-Michel is also a stand-out, a fine actor, his classic, musical-theatre tenor voice is a joy. Unusually, and wonderfully, there isn’t a single weak-link in the entire production.

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This is a production that will put a spring in the step and a song in the heart of even the most jaded theatre-goer. In a theatre scene brimful of repeated revivals and lacklustre works, this is a breath of fresh air – a genuine must-see.

Runs at Glasgow, King’s Theatre until Saturday 29 July 2017

All images: Pamela Raith

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Railway Children – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Edith Nesbit’s 1905 tale is as quintessentially British as strawberries and cream and cucumber sandwiches. The subject of four television series, a feature film, a made for TV movie and a radio dramatisation, The Railway Children lives long in the hearts of the nation. That, and the seemingly endless appetite for nostalgia is doubtless the reason why it is currently touring the country.

Dave Simpson’s family-friendly adaptation is faithful to Nesbit’s original. Three affluent children whose father has left, (it transpires that he works for the foreign office and has been imprisoned, suspected of spying) move to Three Chimneys, a cottage in a small Yorkshire village next to a railway, and to impoverishment. The children befriend, then enlist the help of an ‘old gentleman’ to help prove their father’s innocence.

Fans of the piece will be glad to know that all the story’s famous moments are here, the red petticoat scene, the game of Paper Chase and the famous reunion. However, key scenes seem rushed and there’s unnecessary time spent on extraneous detail.

Timothy Bird’s set design manages to overcome the potential technical challenges, bathed in sepia tones, and looking like a scene from a picture book, it is staged cleverly and with imagination. The use of projections allows the trickier effects to be realised.

Firstly, it must be said that the ‘children’ are played by adults. Millie Turner as eldest child Roberta is a perfect mix of childish naivety and earnestness, deftly portraying her blossoming maturity.  Katherine Carlton shows spirit and provides the moments of humour as middle child Phyllis and Vinay Lad’s character Peter, underdeveloped in the first act, livens up, as does the action, as the piece progresses. Stewart Wright as station master Perks (the backbone of the tale) provides the narration.

It’s largely undemanding and while it all bobs along very nicely and is undoubtedly hugely charming, some scenes are over-long for a production aimed at children. There’s a degree of unnecessary padding and the saccharine sweet dialogue is a tad too twee at times for modern ears. That said, it looks beautiful and it remains as heart-warming as it has always been, touchingly sentimental, it harks back to a gentler era and is a welcome escape from the harsh realities of the world outside the theatre doors.

Runs until Sunday 9 July 2017 | Image: Mark Dawson

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Wonderland – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

In Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s Wonderland, their take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice is now a 40-year-old divorcée. After a particularly bad day: lost her job, car stolen, ex-husband about to get re-married (you get the picture), the White Rabbit appears to Alice and her teenage daughter Ellie. Alice follows Ellie and her next-door neighbour (and secret admirer) Jack down the rabbit hole (a broken high-rise lift shaft) so far, so psychedelic and the trio embark on a voyage of discovery and redemption for both Alice and the whole of Wonderland.

Despite initial impressions that this is merely a modernised Alice, it’s actually a riff on finding yourself, moving forward instead of remaining mired in the past and the corruption of power, with a few dozen extra plot lines unfamiliar to anyone’s who has read Carroll’s work thrown in for good measure. All wrapped up in such a coating of saccharine sweet sentiment that any message it hoped to convey is in a diabetic coma. The song titles alone indicate the production’s intentions: I Am My Own Invention, This is Who I Am, I Will Prevail.

Festooned in eye-popping visuals (it’s a rainbow smorgasbord of colour) and delivered at road-drill volume, this mish-mash relies heavily on its performers to keep the attention, thankfully, they are largely excellent. Leading lady Rachael Wooding is a fine-voiced Alice as is Jersey Boys veteran Stephen Webb who provides some memorable comic relief. TV favourite Wendy Peters particularly impresses with a phenomenal set of pipes. Less successful is Naomi Morris as Alice’s daughter Ellie, in a rush to machine-gun her lines out, they are completely garbled. The supporting performers and ensemble are universally strong.

While the songs are executed well, they are largely forgettable and every one of them, two verses too long. It’s all a bit Eastern European Eurovision Song Contest circa 1990. Untroubled by any sense of self-doubt or skills of self-criticism, it’s never knowingly understated.

While this is a colourful spectacle with a fine cast, the material is just too in your face and the sentiment too forced to have any impact.

Runs until 8 July 2017 | Image: Paul Coltas

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Idina Menzel – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

idina menzel standing arms aloft

Tony Award-winning Broadway superstar Idina Menzel is in town once again with her individual blend of musical theatre classics, pop standards and self-penned songs from her new album.

As ever it’s an eclectic mix: The Beatles’ Dear Prudence melding into Do You Want to Build a Snowman?, a clutch of the songs from the shows that made her Broadway name – Seasons of Love and No Day But Today from Rent, Defying Gravity and For Good from Wicked, some very introspective offerings about her divorce, her son and finding new love from the album idina and, of course, the ubiquitous Let It Go from Frozen – which she performed with a clutch of tiny fans at her side, oh, and a Led Zeppelin tune.

Menzel is best described as ‘quirky’ and this unevenly paced and toned production is a reflection of that. At times utterly distant: there’s little dialogue in the first 20 minutes or so save the occasional ‘thank you’, then in turn confessional: disclosures about her divorce from actor Taye Diggs, her relationship with her son and her recent engagement, then utterly accessible: chatting and singing with fans. The result, though keeping the audience on its toes, is a little unsettling at times – there’s no build of excitement and in the moments when the audience has the chance to get truly engaged it crashes to earth with another sensitive ballad. As a huge fan, and someone who has seen her in concert and in stage roles many times, it all seemed a little too self-involved, even for a performer as kooky as Menzel. Engaging – yes, entertaining – yes, a bit all over the place – a definite yes.

Menzel is a unique talent, and despite a few wavering notes, still in fine form. Not her best, her previous UK tours had more impact, but still packing a punch and still with the power to move.

REVIEW: Dirty Dancing – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on the much-adored 1987 movie, the 2006 musical theatre version of Dirty Dancing was the fastest-selling show in West End history, with advanced sales of a staggering £15 million. And its popularity shows no sign of abating, despite an atrocious 2017 TV movie remake.

This revamped version (new sets and songs from the movie not originally in the stage musical) from director Federico Bellone, choreographer Gillian Bruce and designer Roberto Cometti, is currently playing to packed houses up and down the UK.

Almost entirely lifted scene for scene from the movie: It’s 1963, Camp Kellerman, an upscale Catskill resort. On the surface, it’s playing Simon Says, horseshoe tossing, tennis lessons and singing around the campfire. Behind the scenes though, the staff are having a rather raunchier time. When shy, middle-class teen Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman stumbles on this parallel world and charismatic bad boy Johnny Castle, a whole new world opens for her.

While themes of racism (there’s a rendition of We Shall Overcome, mentions of Freedom Riders, and a snippet of Dr Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech), abortion and classism are touched upon, they are delivered with a great big dose of sugary schmaltz. The overwhelming feeling is celebratory, it certainly honours the memory of the movie and those oh so quotable lines and pounding early 60s hits are all here.

Roberto Cometti’s set is certainly head and shoulders above recent tours, which were laden with back projections, as well as being visually pleasing it is inventive, and the scenes change with an admirable fluidity. It laudably evokes the feeling of a 1960s country retreat.

Lewis Griffiths is charismatic and supremely polished as the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Johnny, and there’s a tangible chemistry between Katie Eccles’ Baby and himself. Carly Milner provides strong support as Penny.

Federico Bellone has certainly breathed new life into the old dog and returns it to the rawer movie original. The supporting cast of players are grittier and sexier than before and the set and lighting design, especially in key scenes, now fully enhances the action. The only gripe would be the unevenness of the two acts, the first rattles at breakneck speed through the plot and the second gets to the point where it outstays its welcome. That said, this was never intended to break new ground. Shakespeare, it ain’t. Instead it’s good, old-fashioned, escapist fun and if the ecstatic reaction of the audience is anything to go by, Dirty Dancing will continue to run and run.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here

 

REVIEW: Funny Girl – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It needs a glittering and glorious central performance to elevate the thin story of early Broadway star Fanny Brice to something spectacular, and that is precisely what Natasha J Barnes delivers in Michael Mayer’s stunning revival of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s classic Funny Girl.

From a 15-year-old at Keeney’s Theater in Brooklyn, through the Ziegfeld Follies to super stardom, Brice’s beaming Broadway smile disguises a world of personal pain, mostly at the hands of her devastatingly handsome, inveterate gambler of a husband, Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell). Ultimately, Brice’s success is her downfall. After landing the man of her dreams, her generosity, and disbelief at her luck in doing so, leads to Arnstein’s emasculation and his departure.

With the 1968 film performance of a certain Barbra Streisand indelibly etched in the memory, Barnes has a big job to make the role her own. It requires an actress that can take Fanny from the big Broadway belters to nuanced comedy, to searing heartbreak and back to slapstick, and boy does Barnes deliver in spades. A natural comedienne, Barnes handles the laughs with ease, not an easy achievement when the comedy is as broad as this. There’s finesse and there’s charisma, and there’s an impressive set of pipes on display.

As Arnstein, the object of Brice’s desire and devotion, and the cause of her emotional downfall, Darius Campbell, here in his home city, is a commanding presence and ably matches Barnes’ dazzling central performance. His deep, dark baritone and undoubted good looks eliciting oohs and ahhs throughout.

In support, Broadway and West End veteran Rachel Izen is particularly memorable as Fanny’s formidable mother as is Joshua Lay as Brice’s long-time friend and close confidant Eddie Ryan – Lay has impeccable comic timing and is a fine dancer. The ensemble is universally on point, Lynne Page’s beautifully detailed choreography executed with energy and precision. Mention must also be made of the crystal clear diction of the entire cast, something that is woefully lacking in most musical theatre casts today, every word, every lyric landing perfectly on its mark.

Michael Pavelka’s set, framed with an off-kilter proscenium arch, takes us seamlessly from New York’s Lower East Side tenements, to back (and front) stage of the Ziegfeld Follies, a Baltimore train station, and Fanny’s Long Island mansion.

Yes, the story of this woman, a self-proclaimed ‘bagel on a plate of onion rolls’ is a bit thin, but the performances are faultless. This is an unmissable, memorable and long-overdue revival of a musical theatre classic. Pure class from curtain up to curtain down.

Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here

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