Category Archives: REVIEWS

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

REVIEW: The Red Shoes – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

woman with red hair clutches pair of red ballet shoes

Taking Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948, Technicolor masterpiece of British cinema, The Red Shoes and turning it into a fully-fledged ballet, sounds like madness, but, in the hands of dance superstar Matthew Bourne, it’s an unmitigated triumph.

Along with young composer Julian Craster (Dominic North), aspiring dance star Vicky Page’s (Ashley Shaw) quiet determination takes her from the chorus line to centre stage when she impresses the Diaghilev-like ballet impresario Boris Lermontov. However, it soon becomes a case of be careful what you wish for when she has to choose between love and her obsession for dance.

As ever in New Adventures work, this cinematic production is replete with tiny detail and humour (the cigarettes dangling from the dancers’ mouths and the principal dancers miming their way through rehearsals are particularly funny). Lez Brotherston’s clever set design, enhanced by Paule Constable’s atmospheric lighting, takes the action seamlessly from the elegant salons of London, to front/back stage of the ballet, the streets of Monte Carlo to a run-down East End music hall. The moving proscenium arch design is particularly clever and sweeps the action along at a break-neck speed.

Terry Davies’ orchestrations of the legendary work of Bernard Herrman (taken from The Ghost and Mrs Muir and Citizen Kane) are faultless and lend the piece the suspense it requires. There’s also clever work from Paul Groothuis, whose sound design amps up the atmosphere in the auditorium.

The dancers are universally outstanding, as ever, and the choreography detailed and utterly absorbing. There’s little more you can say save that this is an outstanding piece of dance theatre – more please.

Images by Johan Persson/Tristram Kenton

 

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

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