Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: Leah MacRae – My Big Fat Fabulous Diary – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It takes a brave actress indeed to decide to create your own solo show and take it on the road, especially an already successful one. Leah MacRae is well-known and loved as Julie in Gary: Tank Commander, Ellie in the Scottish soap River City and the lead in the spoof 50 Shades of Maggie, so you think she’d rest on her laurels. To lay bare your embarrassing teenage diary musings with the world and open up about your daily struggles with fat-shaming, and rejection in your industry, takes courage, even if it is couched in a musical comedy show.

The first impression of MacRae is that she is a fearless, bold, bigger than life personality, un-moved by the criticism of others, and to a certain extent that’s true (she bounds on stage looking like a bubblegum pink pantomime fairy), she even says: “if I were a size 10, I’d be a complete w****r”. However, as we scratch beneath the surface to get to the real message behind these stories and songs, there’s a world of hurt that’s had to be overcome. MacRae is here to spread the word about us all being a bit kinder to each other, that however positive a face we present to the world, these constant barbs and the constant career rejection because of your size, does hurt. That we should embrace and have confidence in who we are, whatever we look like. To never give up on our dreams. She hysterically cites Victoria Beckham as her unlikely inspiration, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think!

Split into two acts, there are few theatrical conventions the Glaswegian powerhouse doesn’t cover: there’s drama, lots and lots of comedy, funny songs, heart-breaking songs, big ballads, a mix-tape section!, dancing and a ton of banter with her hometown audience. While the first act is a mixture of all these, the second becomes a bit more reflective and the mood does take a bit of a dive, until we end with the ubiquitous This Is Me from The Greatest Showman.

There’s some good material here, but there’s a feeling it’s not all it could be. MacRae, talks about constant comparisons to fellow Glaswegian Michelle McManus. McManus has had her own one-woman show, also autobiographical, also funny and also featuring some knock out hits. While MacRae is a talented comedy actress, McManus is a natural born storyteller with an innate comic timing that can’t be learned, and an ability to gauge exactly what makes a perfectly pitched show. MacRae possibly needs some outside eyes to take this raw material with great potential and make it a knock-out from start to finish. There’s also the issue of nerves. MacRae is home, not only in front of her local fans, but her family and friends, and the pressure shows. She looks nervous and as a result the dialogue comes out so fast that it’s impossible to hear a lot of it from anywhere above the stalls.

It’s easy to warm to MacRae, this is an entertaining evening and it’s great to hear her unleash her big voice at full force, but there’s a lot of potential that’s not being fulfilled. Hopefully, there’s more to come. If this is the first version of her stage show, I can’t wait to see the next.

Leah MacRae continues to tour until June. See her website for details.

REVIEW: The Music Man – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Runway Theatre Company again prove their worthy position at the top of the tree of amateur companies in Glasgow, reviving Meredith Willson’s Tony and Grammy Award-winning, little-seen, musical theatre classic, The Music Man, with aplomb. A timely choice too, with the announcement that in 2020, Hugh Jackman will lead the first Broadway revival in nearly two decades.

It’s 1912 and the people of sleepy River City, Iowa really don’t know what’s in store for them when smooth talking swindler Harold Hill rolls into town. However, Hill’s plans to con the innocent townsfolk are foiled when his heart finally starts to rule his head.

Old-fashioned in the nicest possible way, this is a light-hearted, undemanding tale with a bunch of quirky characters and two of musical theatre’s most enduring tunes: the oom-pah-pah-ing 76 Trombones and the much-loved classic ballad, Till There Was You.

Its old-fashionedness is both its strength and its weakness. The public’s appetite for nostalgia is sated with the homely, feel-good storyline, the period costumes and score. However, the hokey dialogue has aged badly and the heightened characterisations required by the script, render it too caricatured at times. That said, any criticisms of this production are entirely at the hands of the source material not the actors or musicians.

This is a show with a rousing chorus, the ensemble fill the auditorium with the biggest, most glorious sound you will have the pleasure to hear, and the quartet comprising Tom Russell, Ross Nicol, Cameron Leask and Bob McDevitt are just heavenly sounding. Brendan Lynch (Harold Hill), once again proves to be an adept leading man and a true triple threat, and Catherine Mackenzie (Marian Paroo) is a beautifully toned soprano. The costumes are of an excellent quality. The set and lighting are functional and easy on the eye and the transitions, especially in a theatre with no fly tower, are smooth and pacy. The child actors, of which there are many, are drilled to perfection as are the dancers – it’s unusual in an amateur production to have such universal quality.

A warm and comforting and very welcome blast from the past that will leave audience members of all ages thoroughly entertained.

Runs until Saturday 18 May 2019

 

REVIEW: Let It Be – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

2019 marks 50 years since The Beatles walked over that famous crossing on Abbey Road, 50 years since they played on the roof of the Apple Corps. building on Savile Row and 49 years since they released their last album. Seen by over two million people worldwide, Let It Be, continue their celebration of the music of The Beatles with a brand-new show for 2019.

The revamped show is split into two halves: the first a potted history of the Fab Four, starting from the famous Royal Variety Performance in 1963, through Shea Stadium to Sgt. Pepper and beyond. The second, is set a decade after The Beatles went their separate ways. It’s the 9th of October 1980, John Lennon’s 40th birthday, the band reunite for one night only for “the ultimate concert that never was”. Here we get a chance to hear some of the hits from each Beatles’ solo careers.

Let It Be is the Rolls Royce of Beatles celebration acts and the quality of the musicianship is outstanding. Emanuele Angeletti (Paul McCartney), John Brosnan, Ben Cullingworth (Ringo Starr) and Richard Jordan (John Lennon), go beyond simple impersonation. To the ear, this is as close as you are going to get to the real thing. Every specific tone and intonation of each man is captured in impressive detail.

While fans of the original show may wish to see something a bit different from the usual history and greatest hits of The Beatles, it is understandable that after seven years the performers and producers might want to shake things up a bit. This production is very much a show of two halves and while the quality of the vocals and musicianship never dips, the choice of songs in the second half mean that there’s a distinct shift in atmosphere. The joyous celebration of The Beatles early years is replaced by some more sombre moments from their later careers. That said, the whole evening ends on a high and with the audience on their feet, a series of Fab Four classics sending the crowd out into the rainy night with these musical masterpieces ringing in their ears.  Well worth catching if you can.

Review originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB | Image: Anthony Robling

 

REVIEW: Hugh Jackman – The Man. The Music. The Show. – SSE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

Eight years in the making and after months of anticipation since its announcement, Hugh Jackman is finally in town to kick off his world tour.

The man is truly a global superstar, there are few corners of this world where he’s not recognised. He’s Wolverine for goodness sake! the star of a legion of other hit movies, a Tony Award-winning stage superstar and let’s not mention the star of a certain movie and its soundtrack from 2017. As a result, the atmosphere is tangible and the reception he receives as he steps onstage is ear-splitting. When the night is over, the reaction is actually deafening – and deservedly so.

This is a great big, old-fashioned variety show delivered by a truly gifted, multi-talented performer. Accompanied by a 20-strong orchestra, ten backing dancers, a local choir, two didgeridoo players, two indigenous singers, and fellow star of The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle, Jackman manages to encompass his entire life and career and a greatest hits of popular entertainment, in the space of a few hours.

The atmosphere is a joy throughout, a coming together of fans of the man – utterly celebratory. There’s singing, of course: from the inevitable tunes from TGS, through the songs of the golden age of Hollywood movie musicals to some personal stage favourites, including a touching rendition of fellow Ozzie Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Saddler, there’s also a celebration of Australian music with a moving Aboriginal song; there’s a bit of acting – Jean Valjean’s soliloquy from Les Mis; tap dancing à la Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire – Jackman proves to be a stunning dancer; many anecdotes from his life and career, including a very personal moment about his world turning on its head at eight years old (referring his mother leaving him and his brother in Australia with his father, as she took his sisters back to England); we’re treated to the famous Wolverine roar and a drumming section. Is there anything this man can’t do? – err…no.

It’s one of those nights that will truly blow you away. It’s taken a few days to write this down, but the feeling stands, the warm and fuzzies are still here – one of the greatest shows I have ever seen.

REVIEW: Kinky Boots – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

In 1999, the BBC’s documentary series Trouble at the Top featured Steve Pateman and his century old, struggling shoe manufacturing business in the village of Earls Barton in Northamptonshire. Pateman’s way out of trouble (unfortunately only temporarily) was to create a line of fetish shoes, Divine Footwear. His story inspired the 2005 Geoff Deane and Tim Firth film Kinky Boots and in turn the 2012 Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical from Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell. Like his inspiration, Charlie Price inherits his father’s failing shoe factory, when a chance meeting with drag queen Lola, leads him down a path to survival, producing a line of high-heeled boots for men. Largely following the movie storyline, albeit with a considerable number of Americanisms removed from the Broadway version, the musical preaches a largely predictable message of tolerance and acceptance all festooned in sparkling sequins.

Essential as it is in building the narrative and developing character, the production takes a little while to hit its stride, and it takes Lola and The Angels’ arrival to breathe life into the show and so it remains throughout: there are lulls in the action which are thankfully alleviated when the sequin-clad lovelies appear. Performance wise, as much as Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) is vocally excellent, he’s a little hard to warm to, and his vehement outburst at Lola and her lifestyle is a bit too quickly and easily forgiven as we hurtle towards the feel-good ending. Kayi Ushe as Lola, is a star – tough and sassy but equally damaged and vulnerable, it’s a fine line to walk, but Ushe does it with class and grace and a beautifully toned singing voice. Paula Lane imbues her performance with life and humour as Lauren, however her vocals are not exactly musical theatre standard and her diction is tremendously lacking. Collectively the Angels are multi-talented and on-point throughout, as are the entire ensemble.

Cyndi Lauper’s songs for the show include moving ballads, some big ensemble anthems, a few uninspiring fillers, with many having a whiff of the 1980s about them, and all sung with an annoying American accent despite the rest of the dialogue being delivered in a strangled Northampton one. To their credit though, most nicely match the emotions of the narrative, and the rousing feel-good numbers serve the production well in getting the audience on-side and up on its feet.

For all its faults, you will be sure to walk out feeling thoroughly entertained and not a little uplifted – well worth watching.

Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Helen Maybanks

REVIEW ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: The Magic Flute – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Set in a steampunk landscape inspired by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne: a wicked queen, a handsome prince, a damsel in distress, high priests, a comedy side-kick, magical instruments, a serpent and some sorcerers are all given new life in Scottish Opera’s revival of Sir Thomas Allen’s joyous production of The Magic Flute. 

While the work’s misogyny and Masonic undertones have been long debated, it is impossible to judge an opera written in 1791 by 2019’s standards and this utterly charming, gorgeous looking and sounding version is guaranteed to win over even the hardest of hearts. Its three-hour run time passing by in the blink of an eye.

Of note are the irresistible Papageno, so cleverly and cheekily played by Richard Burkhard, his bang up-to-date, witty asides and ability to wrap the audience around his little finger are a delight; Dingle Yandell’s beautifully sung Speaker; a sure-sounding Sarastro in James Creswell; Gemma Summerfield – a radiant and glorious Pamina, and talent to look out for, Julia Sitkovetsky, who handles Der Hölle Rache, one of the most famous arias in all opera, absolutely beautifully.

This five star production is thanks to the stars aligning in every aspect of its creation: sure-footed direction, lively conducting, a laugh-out-loud and oh-so clever translation, perfect casting, an orchestra on top form and an innovative and captivating stage design. It’s not often achieved, but this is as near to perfection as it’s possible to get. 

Runs until 18 May 2019 then touring. Images – James Glossop.

 

REVIEW: The Girl on the Train – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

British writer Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel The Girl on the Train became a runaway best-seller around the globe, with a Hollywood movie adaptation following on its heels quickly a year later, albeit with a re-setting to New York instead of London. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s 2018 stage version restores it to its original location and a somewhat less glossy and more realistic environment.

Binge drinking Rachel Watson passes her old house and her ex-husband and his new life (and wife and baby) every day as she commutes to work. While her attention is initially on ex Tom and trophy wife Anna, whom she harassed relentlessly, it strays to a house a few doors down where she fixates on “Jason & Jess” as she’s dubbed them and their seemingly perfect life. Little does she know that “Jess” is far from happy. When she wakes up one day bloody and injured with little recollection of what has happened she finds out “Jess”, actually Megan, is missing. She inveigles her way into the investigation, befriending Megan’s husband Scott and visiting her psychotherapist Dr. Abdic under false pretences. As Rachel slowly sobers, her memories become gradually clearer and there’s a whole school of red herrings before we come to the shocking conclusion.

Unlike the book and movie, the lion’s share of the action takes place in Rachel’s hovel of an apartment, it’s more The Girl in the Flat rather than The Girl on the Train but that said, the design by James Cotterill is clever enough to portray multiple locations including Megan and Scott’s and Tom and Anna’s homes, a police station, a psychiatrist’s office, the crime scene and the train itself. There a few sound and lighting effects thrown into the mix to keep the interest.

It’s must be said that it is a little slow to get into gear, possibly necessitated by the establishment of the complex layers of the story, but the tension does ramp up in the second half. Where it also differs from both previous incarnations of the story is the frequent black humour, which provides light relief in this dark tale. The scenes between Rachel and sardonic D.I. Gaskell (John Dougall) are particularly well-played.

TV veteran Samantha Womack is Rachel, and delivers a well-measured, low-key performance, keeping it entirely within the bounds of believability in her portrayal of a woman on the brink. There are no cheap histrionics here, and certainly no glamour, much to Womack’s credit. It is refreshing to know that in having a star like Womack, the producers haven’t traded talent for ticket sales. She is ably supported by a sure-footed ensemble cast.

Another question that deserves addressing (almost the elephant in the room) for those who have read the book or seen the movie – does it affect the enjoyment knowing the sting on the tail? Not entirely. While knowing what’s coming, it is still sufficiently interesting to see how it has been achieved.

Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

REVIEW: Prince Charming – Perth Theatre

illustration of prince charming as a child

There’s a lot of pressure being charming all the time. So many expectations. It’s enough to make you take to your bed and stay there in the same pants for three months. Prince Charming is crippled with anxiety, worrying about the dark, being struck by lightning, getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle, living up to his legendary name, falling into quicksand, fighting dragons and the last day of the world – to name a few. Our prince is “too busy with his brain” to get out of bed. It takes the kindly Gomo to help overcome his anxieties and coax our hero out from under his duvet.

Jenny Worton’s delightful tale reminds us that every worry has equal weight when you are a child and that worry unites us all, no matter whether you’re big or small. It also reminds us all that it’s perfectly OK not to have all the answers, we’re all in this together.

Giulia Innocenti’s Gomo is a warm guide through the story and Nix Wood manages to represent the whole gamut of human emotion in our strange-looking, but appealing, little wooden hero in blue Y-Fronts and a vest. There are a few musical numbers including the fabulous I’m Not Special (when it comes to worry), which reminds this reviewer of the unexpected and slightly subversive songs of Tim Minchin in Matilda. The set is simple but effective and the lighting, particularly the ceiling of stars is particularly beautiful.

There is as much entertainment for the adults as the children here. It all gets a bit meta as our Prince has an existential crisis: he’s already a “one size fits all character”, “general not special”, never the title character – there’s no story called Prince Charming, when he finds out he’s really a puppet, something that threatens to send him right back under the bed covers. But after he breaks the fourth wall and the tinies in the audience get up close and personal, all is well in our theatrical world.

It’s seems glib to say that something is heart-warming but Prince Charming truly is. Not only does it open up conversations on mental health in children in the most fabulous way, there are also laughs a-plenty, mild peril, some ear-worm songs and a whole lot to ruminate over, but ultimately it all adds up to a fabulous piece of entertainment for all ages that will send you to the street with a smile on your face.

Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Glengarry Glen Ross – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

There are no means, moral or otherwise, left unutilised to secure a sale, be it by lying, cheating or stealing, in David Mamet’s Olivier, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross. A searing portrait not only the dog-eat-dog world of US real estate in the 1980s, but of the consequences of a society inherently driven by capitalism and the pervasive culture of toxic masculinity.

Set over two days in the life of four Chicago salesmen and their quest to be top of the office leader board: Shelly Levene (Mark Benton), once top dog, now down on his luck and scrabbling for every potential lead from his younger superior; Ricky Roma (Nigel Harman) the man of the moment and front-runner to win the star prize of a Cadillac; George Aaronow (Wil Johnson), veteran salesman worn out by the work life he has to lead and veritable Pit Bull Dave Moss (Denis Conway) a seething ball of rage and fury.

The expletive-laden, staccato dialogue in Mamet’s 36 year-old play is delivered at machine gun pace from the mouths of four unscrupulous, highly flawed and hard to like protagonists, and at times the dense text and fractured phrasing proves to be a challenge to some of the cast. Whole swathes of the dialogue are swallowed by the vast auditorium – that coupled with some less than perfect American accents, relieves the play of some of its punch. While this is a cast of experience and quality, there are issues with some of the acting which appears forced at times and renders some of the characters more caricature than fully-formed forces of nature. That said, this is as strong an ensemble cast as you are likely to see, particularly Johnson and Conway.

Chiara Stephenson’s exquisite sets are some of the most finely detailed you will have the privilege to see on a UK tour: from the beautifully lit Chinese restaurant to the shabby down-at-heel real estate office, they are a feast for the eyes.

Glengarry Glen Ross remains a savage examination of a way of life that largely failed to pervade the UK, a snap-shot of a period of time that thankfully is all but gone, but, to be frank, it has lost some its power as the years have passed. Worth watching even if only to celebrate a culture and way of life best left behind.

Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Marc Brenner

This review was originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Scottish Opera Orfeo & Euridice – Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

Gluck’s innovative, influential and hugely popular Orfeo & Euridice is the latest production from Scottish Opera’s Young Company.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

Following Gluck’s own lead, (he produced three versions of this work to suit the differing tastes of the audiences it was presented to and the voices singing it: Vienna 1762, Parma 1769 and Paris 1774) the company presents its own English language version for its young cast. Starting with the original Viennese version, it splits the role of Amore into three mischievous Cupids and Amore’s Act 1 aria is re-arranged for trio and chorus. It utilises Euridice’s Act 2 aria from the Paris version but with chorus and Gluck’s famous ballet music features the entire company.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

This whole production is a treat for both the eyes and the ears. It takes the best of the three versions to present a ‘greatest hits’, audience-pleasing edition. Musically it is simply beautiful and the young singers lead by professionals Daniel Keating-Roberts (Orfeo) and Jessica Leary (Euridice) display immense talent and promise for the future. Keating-Roberts counter-tenor can be an acquired taste, but entirely fitting for the role. Leary is glorious sounding as Euridice.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

Visually, Finlay McLay’s design, though minimalistic, packs a punch and Roy Herd’s lighting design is simply gorgeous – atmospheric and evocative.

Scottish Opera – Orfeo & Euridice © Julie Broadfoot

At 75 minutes running time, with a familiar subject matter (the myth of Orpheus), beautiful and undemanding music, inventive design and execution, this is an ideal introduction to opera. Not only is it an impeccably staged and delivered production, the Young Company shows hope for the future of opera in Scotland.

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