Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: Death Drop Back in the Habit – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Death Drop: Back in the Habit is the latest in what is fast becoming a drag-theatre franchise. In a previous incarnation, a murder mystery, this iteration is inspired by the slasher genre.

Billed as “The Sound of Music meets Scary Movie”. “A gaggle of fierce nuns are confined to their convent, but their peace and tranquillity is shattered by a serial slayer, slashing their way through the Sisters.” Thrown into the mix there’s a visitor from the Vatican, sent to find a missing priest. It’s up to Mother Superior and the eclectic sisters of St. Babs to save their convent and some souls.

The plot is more holey rather than holy but no-one is expecting high art here. It is filthy-minded, potty-mouthed, not for the easily offended, but full of fun. Writer Rob Evans would hands down win the prize for the most innuendo packed into a two hour show. However, despite a relatively short running time, it does suffer from constant repetition of the same tropes: frequent pregnant pauses and a funny but oft-repeated running gag. It also doesn’t know when to end, and fizzles to a finish rather than going out with the expected big bang.

Peter McKintosh’s set is relatively simplistic but it is actually hugely atmospheric and it is lit to perfection by Rory Beaton. Judicious use of dry ice and some ropey looking props all add to the madness.

The familiar faces in the cast are a hugely talented bunch: cis-gender drag queen Victoria Scone as Mother Superior, the much-loved Cheryl Hole as Sister Mary Berry, Kitty Scott-Claus is Sis Titis, drag king LoUis CYfer is Father Alfie Romeo and drag superstar Jujubee as Sister Maria JulieAndrews. However, with all this talent in the room, there’s a niggling feeling that the material isn’t serving them best. They give it their all, but there’s drag royalty on this stage, a better script, a better storyline and they could have given sooo much more. Drag Queens and the slasher genre is a match made in heaven.

Stand out is Victoria Scone whose theatrical training shines through, they are absolutely magnetic and pitch perfect throughout. Impressive too is Jujubee, already known for a killer sense of humour, they pull off the physical comedy with aplomb (complete with a respectable English accent). Fan favourite Cheryl Hole is grossly underused, but shines when given the opportunity.

If it’s a raucous, rollicking night out with your pals you are looking for, then Death Drop: Back in the Habit is the show for you. If you’re easily offended – then maybe not.

Continues touring | Image: Matt Crockett

Originally written for the Reviews Hub 

 

REVIEW: Movies to Musicals – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Director: Ross Gunning

Choreographer: Rebecca Curbelo Valdivia

It’s a brave producer indeed who puts a cast of young performers on the same stage as the very best of the best of the West End. Brave or foolish you might say, but Ross Gunning has gathered the cream of young, triple threat, musical theatre talent in Scotland together and boy do they deliver the goods.

This entire production Movies to Musicals exudes quality from curtain up to curtain down.

The choice of songs is inspired: opening on A Musical from recent Broadway smash, the Shakespeare spoof, Something Rotten (a musical that’s only had one staging in the UK at Birmingham Rep in 2021), it starts on a high and continues to build.

The rousing opening is followed by Queen of the West End, Louise Dearman singing She Used to be Mine from Waitress. Dearman is as good as it gets in musical theatre. There’s no better role model to aspire to. It is an inspiring choice by Gunning, but that’s not all, next up is fellow Wicked alumni Laura Pick who belts out the classic Don’t Rain on my Parade.

This masterclass is followed by the young cast performing a medley from the world-conquering Hamilton. This is a stunning presentation and it is accompanied by incredibly clever choreography from Rebecca Curbelo Valdivia, it is clearly inspired by original choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, but injects its own originality and freshness. Of note too are the young soloists on Quiet Uptown – just glorious.

Alistair Brammer the third of the night’s guest artists, beautifully performs Why God Why and Last Night of the World with Laura Pick, from one of the musicals he is most synonymous with Miss Saigon.

The quality just keeps on coming: songs from The Prom, A Little Night Music, Jesus Christ Superstar and Wicked (a rare treat to have former Elphaba, Laura Pick and the only actor who has every played the two feature roles in Wicked (Glinda and Elphaba) Louise Dearman, sing an outstanding Defying Gravity to bring the curtain down on Act One.

Act Two gets off to a flying start with a captivating trio of highlights from Wicked which includes the young ensemble and our two leading ladies and Brammer who played Fiyero in Wicked to great acclaim. Again, to choreographer Curbelo Valdivia’s credit, the choreography remains tight, no mean feat with such a large cast. 

We are treated to songs from TV show Smash, The Greatest Showman, Les Mis, Jersey Boys, A Star is Born, an instrumental interlude Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission and the out-right, hands-down smash of the evening, a medley from arguably Britain’s best new musical of the last decade, Six. To say this reviewer was blown away was an understatement, more like knocked out. The six young women who performed this were as good as any professional cast I’ve seen of this musical and it’s a musical I have seen a lot.

It takes a helluva lot of hutzpah to mix West End and Broadway performers of great acclaim with young, up and coming performers. Producer Ross Gunning has that hutzpah, and it has paid off. This is a class act, Rolls Royce quality from start to end. The only negative thing is that it will be next year before we can enjoy it again. Unmissable.

REVIEW: Home I’m Darling – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Laura Wade’s Home I’m Darling opens on a lovingly decorated two-story, 1950s home. A women, who we find out is Judy (Jessica Ransom) is clad in a candy stripe circle skirt, puffed out with petticoats and a frilly pinny. The dialogue delivered is pure RP. It all looks like any of Doris Day’s pastel-hued 1950s domestic comedies, or at least, the perfect presentation of post-war life in the London suburbs. That is, until Judy opens a drawer and pulls out her laptop.

All is not as it seems.

It transpires that three years ago, a once very 21st Century woman Judy, has taken voluntary redundancy and eschewed the trappings of modern life. She throws herself whole-heartedly into becoming the perfect 1950s housewife, right down to the assumption of very traditional gender roles.

But, the signs of strain appear: the redundancy money has run out; husband Johnny (Neil McDermott) has missed a much-need promotion and is wearily bearing the over-attentiveness of his out of touch wife. Judy’s mother Sylvia (Diane Keen) is frustrated with her daughter’s obsession, and reminds her how hard-won women’s rights were and how real life in the 50s was about harsh survival and recovery from the scars of war. Friends Fran (Cassie Bradley) and Marcus (Matthew Douglas) love the vintage vibes, but for them it’s just a harmless hobby, Judy, however, is neck-deep in her 1950s fantasy, spiralling, detaching herself further and further from reality, the bubble she has built is getting closer and closer to exploding.

Wade’s play is an examination of gender roles past versus present, and how all that we wish for through rose-tinted glasses may not be what we need or want.

Ransom’s Judy is as arch as she could be, she swirls around dusting, carpet-sweeping, endlessly baking, cocktail making, shoe-removing and generally being as perfect as she could possibly be. However, it tips too far into utter unbelievability for you to want to understand the psychology, let alone give her any sympathy, even as she unravels it sounds and feels like a sanitised episode of Watch With Mother. There’s no light and shade in the characterisation.

McDermott, as husband Johnny actually garners the most sympathy intentionally or otherwise. He plays along until he can play no more. However, even at moments of crisis, it’s all very polite.

Judy’s mother Sylvia played by TV veteran Diane Keen is the voice of reason in the midst of this madness. Poking holes in her daughter’s “gingham paradise”, utterly bemused why anyone would wilfully return to the grey 1950s, a world of fear and intolerance.

Enjoyable in parts, one can’t help feeling that this could all have been a bit harder-hitting without the extreme stereotypes and with some judicious pruning, both in text and in the time-wasting, choreographed interludes between scene changes. Winner of the 2019 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, the laughs are also surprisingly few and far between. A fine enough effort from all involved but ultimately unsatisfying.

Originally reviewed for The Reviews Hub.

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty – Platform, Easterhouse

Playwright Lewis Hetherington presents a refreshing new take on the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty at Platform this Christmas. Addressing the fact that in the regular re-telling poor beauty is either off stage or in her bed sleeping throughout most of the production. This time our “B” (Yolanda Mitchell) is a feisty teenager with an independent spirit, confined by her loving dad Jimmy (Irene Allan) (who loves to dress up and impersonate Elvis) to the family mattress shop, but B longs for bigger things and a world outside the four walls. She sneaks out every night to the local woods with her trusty dog Rocket (Itxaso Moreno) looking for adventure. There is, of course, a curse, but there’s a twist in the tale that you’ll have to go along and find out.

This is an atmospheric, engaging fairy tale where gripping storytelling is at the front and centre of the production. There are moments of real darkness and light throughout. There are also plenty of the usual panto tropes to satisfy the traditionalists: an evil queen (Jo Freer) and her sidekick (Julia Nsimba); a spooky forest; magical creatures; puns a-plenty.  It’s chock-full of familiar hits with cleverly re-written lyrics all sung by the hugely talented, fine-voiced cast. The cast are strong and cohesive and drive the action along. The fantastic set by Claire Halleran is relatively simplistic but fills the stage perfectly and looks gorgeously creepy. The set is also complemented by creative lighting by Michaella Fee. Lewis Heatherington’s Sleeping Beauty delivers throughout and serves us up the much-wanted happy ending.

The economical running time (just over an hour) is perfect to keep the tiniest audience members fully engaged and the ticket prices are affordably priced for many. This is (slightly non-) traditional storytelling at its best. Platform in Easterhouse is a true gem in the East End and the constant, consistently highly quality of their productions deserve to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, Sleeping Beauty is no exception.

Runs until 23rd December – tickets here: Sleeping Beauty : Platform (platform-online.co.uk)

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Despite it being the first day in December, pantomime season is well and truly in its groove. Eastwood Park Theatre in Giffnock have hit the ground running with the well-oiled machine that is The Wizard of Oz.

Largely a re-telling of the L. Frank Baum tale, it does take a few diversions off of the yellow brick road, (there’s a magic microphone involved) but it is very much a traditional family panto with wide appeal. The double-entendres are at a minimum and there’s enough slapstick for the little ones, TikTok dances and familiar chart hits for the teens and political jokes for the grown-ups.

It all starts with a bang, when we are treated to a rip-roaring version of Proud Mary in the first five minutes: the fine-voiced cast have their first of many chances to shine. With the interest levels up, the audience is carried along on a wave of energy.

To their absolute credit, there isn’t a weak link anywhere in the compact cast and there’s a palpable chemistry between Dorothy’s three chums: Jamie Lemetti (Scarecrow), Alan Mirren (Tin Man) and Liam Webster (Lion) who have an ease and fine timing with each other that ensures each joke lands its punchline. Stand out among the cast is the engaging Garry King who manages to deliver an eye-watering number of roles with a glint in his eye and a spring in his step, getting the audience firmly onside from the get-go. The dancers are well-drilled, and the choreography is sufficiently diverse to keep the interest up. For those wondering, yes, there are Munchkins, many, many, Munchkins, played by members of local dance and drama organisations. The Wicked Witch is sufficiently over-the-top camp and Stephen McLaughlin who plays her, has a powerful but soulful voice which he utilises to great effect here as does Kate Richards as the Good Witch (and Aunt Em).

If it’s bang for your buck you are looking for then you need look no further than Eastwood Park. At almost two and a half hours long, the show is packed with content, delivered by an enormously talented cast, everyone giving their all no matter what their role.

Eastwood Park is an exemplary theatre: great programming; a theatre with excellent sight lines; accessible; friendly, helpful staff and family affordable tickets – what more could you want?

Runs until 30 December 2022 – Tickets here

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical satire on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Book of Mormon, is finally in Glasgow after a postponement due to a little thing called COVID.

Premiering on Broadway in 2011, winning nine Tony Awards and after running in the West End for nearly a decade, its reputation precedes it, but you’d be wrong to judge without seeing for yourself. On the surface crude, cruel and pushing the envelope, it is certainly not for the easily offended, but dig a little deeper and it is so much more than that.

Two hapless, polar opposite LDS missionaries, the wide-eyed, idealistic Elder Price and the pathological liar Elder Cunningham, are sent on their two-year Mormon mission to a remote Ugandan village. Suffice it to say, the locals aren’t exactly welcoming them with open arms. Added to that there’s the AIDS crisis, famine, poverty and a despotic warlord for good measure. Of course, there are the inevitable ‘journeys’ everyone embarks on to find one’s true self, all done with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek.

It is a musical that heavily relies on shock and surprise, and it would be churlish to give away the funniest scenes. There are laughs on laughs and foot tapping tune after tune, all delivered by a knockout cast. Principal among them are Conner Peirson as Elder Cunningham, who steals every scene he’s in; the beautiful-voiced Aviva Tulley as Nabulungi and Jordan Lee Davies wrestling gloriously with his homosexual urges as Elder McKinley.

It’s clear that the whole thing has been written with affection by Parker and Stone and of course, musical theatre royalty Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, Frozen, Coco) there is no way that it could get away with what it does, if it were purely cruel rather than impressively clever.

It is a giant juggernaut of a show and serves up a slice of unashamed satire that’s much needed in our easily offended world. If you needed any other reason to see it, ask yourself where else will you see Genghis Khan playing guitar with the Devil onstage in Glasgow on a weekday night?

Runs until 26 November 2022 | Originally published at The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Enough of Him – Platform, Glasgow

Glasgow-based, writer May Sumbwanyambe’s Enough of Him is the first in a series of planned works based on the historical experiences of Black people in Scotland.

This first work is based on the life of Joseph Knight, a young Guinean man brought to Jamaica and enslaved to Sir John Wedderburn on the Ballendean Estate near Inchture in Perthshire. A young man who was, to a degree, successful in arguing that Scot’s Law could not support the status of slavery. After being inspired by the Somerset v Stewart case in 1772, Knight seeks his own freedom, culminating in his own legal battles in the 1770s.

Sumbwanyambe’s work deals less with the historically significant legal case and the cause of Abolitionism, rather the personal relationship between Knight and Wedderburn.

Played out in front of a backdrop of Alexander Nasmyth’s Landscape, Loch Katrine, atmospherically lit by Emma Jones (it breathes Jamaican fire and dreich Scottish skies in equal measure) and to an unsettling soundtrack from composer John Pfumojena, there is a discomfort that pervades the whole work, a claustrophobia and unease.

Regardless of how often Wedderburn proclaims, “my boy”, “my Joseph”, or invites Knight to dine at his table much to the chagrin of the lady of the manor, plays chess with him or discusses Plato, it is abundantly clear who is master and who is most definitely servant.

Matthew Pidgeon is flesh-crawlingly abhorrent as Wedderburn, both in his dealings with Knight and in his intimacy issues with his desperate wife (Rachael-Rose McLaren). Catriona Faint delivers a tower of strength performance as servant Annie, the object of Knight’s affection and his future wife. Crucial to the play’s success is Omar Austin’s central performance as Knight. He exudes a quiet power and dignity throughout despite walking the tightrope of his mercurial master’s emotions on a daily basis.

By no means a comfortable watch. It thrusts a mirror in our faces: on the surface there may seem to be plenty to pat ourselves on the back about Scotland’s seemingly enlightened attitude towards slavery in the 18th Century (and this triumph in the law courts) but the reality was far, far murkier.

An enlightening, unsettling, uncomfortable but masterfully written play from Sumbwanyambe. There is much to look forward to if promised works on Robert Wedderburn, James McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass, Ira Aldridge and Tom Johnson are produced.

Continues on tour to Cumbernauld, Musselburgh, and Perth.

Images: Sally Jubb

REVIEW: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Sir Alexander Gibson Opera Studio, Glasgow

The Master of Music Opera students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland present a bold and brave, rarely seen contemporary opera double bill at the Sir Alexander Gibson Opera Studio this autumn.

First is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Michael Nyman’s opera based on one of the case studies in the 1985 book of the same name by neurologist Oliver Sacks.

Dr. P a renowned singer and music teacher, has visual agnosia. He sees line, colour, simple shapes, patterns and movement but cannot recognise or make sense of what he sees. In Nyman’s opera, Dr. P’s condition is revealed through a series of scenes of gradual diagnosis.

Oliver Sacks himself declared the idea of turning this subject matter into an opera as simply ‘mad’, and one can’t help but agree as it proves to be a somewhat challenging work. That each scene comprises almost identical content and indeed the music, largely comprising extracts of Schumann (most especially Ich grolle nicht from Dichterliebe) lacks contrast which in turn lends itself to tedium despite its short running time. That the opera is based on such a well-regarded text doesn’t do it any favours in comparison.

 

The production team are of the finest quality, director Caroline Clegg, conductor William Cole and designer Finlay McLay have enviable CVs and indeed, any failings are not at their hands.

As Dr. P’s wife Marie Cayeux is vocally sound but her diction leaves a lot to be desired. To have to read the surtitles of an opera that is sung entirely in English is distracting to say the least. In a cast of three the balance is thrown out and any shortcomings thrown very much to the fore. Ross Cummings’ (above, centre) Dr. P is fine sounding throughout, however his exaggerated facial expressions are somewhat distracting in such a small auditorium. Standout among the trio is William Searle as Dr. S who delivers a finely measured acting performance to compliment a beautiful singing one.

 

The bravery of programming challenging works is to be lauded. However, the subject matter is tediously repetitive and provides little to sustain interest. The piece ends with the eminent doctor declaring that his only prescription is more music, but maybe not this music.

Continues its run at the RCS next week.

Images © Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/Robbie McFadzean

REVIEW: Downs With Love – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Cutting Edge Theatre’s Downs with Love, explores love and disability and the complex and challenging problems that ensue.

Beth (Abigail Brydon) has Down’s Syndrome. She lives a simple, independent life. Helping with this independence is her new support worker Tracy (Rachel Still). The pair become friends and Tracy expands Beth’s horizon by taking her to the local pub with her to watch singer Mark (Calum Barbour). Beth falls head over heels for Mark, but Mark is in love with Tracy who loves them both. Boundaries are crossed that drive a wedge between the trio. Difficult questions need to be asked and answered.

Writer Suzanne Loftus has approached a difficult and rarely talked about issue with sensitivity and a light touch, taking into consideration many of actor Abigail Brydon’s personal experiences to add authenticity to the piece. It shines a beacon on the issue of who should ‘police’ a disabled person’s love life? What right do those who are not disabled to ‘protect’ or indeed make decisions on their behalf? It highlights the frustrations of having to deal with constant, patronising behaviour and assumptions. It also tackles the issue of non-disabled/disabled relationships and society’s discomfort with the idea of them. All of this it does in a non-aggressive, non-confrontational way.

It presents carer Tracy as the one with lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence and gripped with a raft of fears, unlike her charge, the gutsy Beth. It does, to its credit, also highlight the importance of routine to Beth and love and relationships from her (often simplistic, black and white) point of view.

Abigail Brydon is magnetic in the central role of Beth; she has a verve and charm that wins you over from the first scene and Loftus’ words delivered by a Down’s Syndrome actor and written in collaboration with Brydon, have added weight. Calum Barbour as Mark, the object of everyone’s affection, gives a nicely nuanced performance, sensitively but strongly questioning Tracy’s idealistic views on Disabled people and relationships. Barbour also sings and plays guitar beautifully throughout the play. Rachel Still’s Tracy is probably the least rounded character, well-meaning, sweet, but lacking any depth or intellectual curiosity. Still does her best with an under-written role.

Theatre should be a mirror of society. The world is a large and diverse place and it’s refreshing to see different types of representation on a mainstream stage. Theatre needs much more of this in order to truly appeal to the largest possible demographic, and to question and expand our artistic horizons.

Well-worth seeing – both a charming and challenging piece of theatre.

(This production features fully integrated BSL)

REVIEW: Rocket Post – Platform, Easterhouse

The story of the Rocket Post (the subject of two films and this stage production) is a long-told but largely forgotten Scottish legend.

It’s July 1934 in the Western Isles and there’s a crowd gathered on a sandy beach to watch German scientist Gerhard Zucker. Zucker wants to connect the world and believes the future of communication is rockets, more specifically, rocket post. He chooses a 1600 metre flight path between the Isles of Harris and the (now) unpopulated Scarp to deliver his cargo. Zucker loads the letters, lights the fuse and… well, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty as it happens. The gunpowder fuelled rocket disintegrates into a hailstorm of singed paper confetti and he only has three days to fix it.

Revived from the original 2017 National Theatre of Scotland production, this utterly charming musical play aimed at children aged six plus, combines, to great effect: storytelling; puppetry; clever and captivating props, and a mix of songs old and new in German, Gaelic and English.

It is a story of hope and optimism, of faith in the future, traditional versus new, the status quo versus change, life at home or venturing into the big wide world as well as a subtle musing on the effect of technology that resonates down the years. Amid great scepticism and a little anti-German sentiment from the local population, Gerhard pursues his dream and along the way inspires local woman Bellag to see beyond her horizons.

The mark of success for this production is its ability to appeal to its wide-ranging audience. The smallest members are awe-struck at the storytelling and stage craft, and the writing is highly amusing and has a cleverness that has much to be appreciated by the adults. The cast (David Rankine, MJ Deans and Ailie Cohen) have a magnetism that draws you in and keeps you enthralled. Utterly, utterly charming, it leaves you with a feeling of warmth as you step out into the cold Autumn night.

Reviewed on 24 October 2022 and continues touring | Image: Contributed

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