Category Archives: REVIEWS

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

REVIEW: Sister Radio – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Silence. Silence is what sisters Fatemeh and Shirin live in every day in their Edinburgh tenement flat. The reason for the imposed silence is slowly, elegantly and heartbreakingingly, revealed in Sara Shaarawi’s Sister Radio.

Spanning over 40 years, from the 1970s, when Shirin moves into her older sister Fatimeh’s flat after their father has sent them ostensibly to Scotland to study (but in reality, to escape the impending Islamic Revolution in their homeland Iran), to the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Through monotonous repetition of their present-day domestic routines and flashbacks coloured by the ever-present radio, to their younger lives together, the story unfolds, adding a little more, and a little more with every scene.

The thoughts of the idealistic Shirin in the 1970s, who desperately wants to return to fight for her homeland, actually gives chills, given the benefit of hindsight and the horrifying case of Mahsa Amini at the hand of the country’s ‘morality police’ last month. Sister Fatimeh is much more accepting of her new life created in Scotland. However, it is a personal betrayal that is at the heart of the piece.

Both Lanna Joffrey (Fatemeh) and Nalân Burgess (Shirin) handle the piece with commendable restraint and deliver a believable chemistry between older and younger sister, indeed theirs is a five-star acting performance in a not-quite-perfect play. The domestic monotony does become too monotonous unfortunately, and the ending is a little stretched out, a little too sentimentally drawn together, which deprives the piece of the impact it could have had. That said, the post-curtain call speeches from both actors delivers a dose of the present-day reality in Iran that brings the audience to tears.

Runs until 22 October 2022 then continues touring | Image: Fraser Band

REVIEW: Unbecoming – Platform, Easterhouse

Unbecoming is an unravelling happening before our eyes. A solo tour-de-force from Anna Porubcansky, it is billed as a work about “loss and rage told by a woman and mother.”

Sucked into a vortex of fears, fears that bombard a woman, a wife and a mother and how those fears prevent you from becoming what you long and want to be, instead leading to your unbecoming.

There is much to relate to here, Porubansky cleverly weaves the narrative in an hypnotic way, using beautiful, crystal-clear vocals in a traditional song, mesmeric movement, jarring interludes and looping and layering of sounds to ultimately create an original and entrancing performance that highlights difficult subject matter. Sensitively tackled, I look forward to what comes next from Porubcansky.

 

REVIEW: South Pacific – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Unlike other works of the period, Richard Rodgers, Joshua Logan and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1949 musical South Pacific, has largely stood the test of time. Originally written with the intention of sending a strong progressive message on racism, it also benefits from a re-imagination in this incarnation originally staged at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2021. There are re-orchestrations, the introduction of a prologue, additional music from the 1958 film version and most importantly, a fixing of the racial overtones and elimination of the ethnic stereotypes in the characterisations of Bloody Mary and her daughter Liat.

Set during World War Two on an island in the Pacific, it is essentially two intertwining love stories; Ensign Nelly Forbush (Gina Beck) falls for older plantation owner Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) but despite the strength of her feelings, Arkansas native Nellie struggles to accept his mixed-race children. The tandem love story is that of Princeton educated, US Marine Lieutenant Cable (Rob Houchen) and Tonkinese woman Liat (Sera Maehara), and the pressures on their mixed-race relationship.

The set is simplistic, projections on a corrugated back drop with different scenery rolled in and out, and no less effective for it. The lighting too is gorgeous and atmospheric. It all provides a darkness that the subject matter warrants and a suitable back-drop to the talent on stage.

From the first swelling bars of this lush-sounding orchestra to the final notes, this is a work of infinite quality, it simply oozes perfection from every pore, there is not a weak link among this large and hugely talented cast. Gina Beck is suitably perky as nurse Nelly and a rich-voiced Julian Ovenden is perfectly pitched as a more realistic, well-rounded, less caricature Emile. Instead of swanning around in a white linen suit, this Emile looks as if he might actually work on a plantation in the south Pacific. The male chorus are unmatched in the memory of this writer, the sound they create is simple sumptuous, and the female cast give them a good run for their money. The two child actors who portray Emile’s children are again, much more realistic, less stereotyped. The casting overall, couldn’t be better.

That such subject matter, and songs like Carefully Taught, shone a light at racism in America in 1949 is brave indeed, but there’s a discomfort to some of the material to 21st Century ears. Of particular note, is the re-orchestration of the usually saccharine Happy Talk, sung by Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil). Here it is a pleading tune of desperation at the fate of her daughter and the American serviceman, instead of a silly ditty written (in a now uncomfortable to hear) pidgin English.

Almost every aspect of this production is to be lauded, from its design, its re-imagination, re-orchestrations and ultimately its astounding cast. This is a production not to be missed.

Runs until 8 October 2022 | Image: Johan Persson

Originally published at The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: A New Life – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

It all starts off chirpy enough in Andy McGregor’s musical, A New Life. Career-driven Jess and Robbie’s only worries are where their next exotic destination is going to be or whether they should get a new SMEG fridge. She’s on track to be the headteacher of her primary school, his latest computer game is about to be picked up by Nintendo. As we all know, the most predictable thing about life is its unpredictability, and a great big baby-shaped spanner is thrown in the works with a very unplanned pregnancy.

McGregor tackles some tough subject matter here: post-partum depression; the grim reality of what motherhood can make you; suicide. He dares to say the unsayable, but is it best delivered through the medium of musical theatre? McGregor can really write a tune and there are some real crackers here. However, the tunes (and their sublime delivery by Kim Shepherd) are not enough to carry this new work – not yet anyway.

The relationship between Jess and Robbie (Kim Shepherd and Simon Donaldson) is presented as a given, but there’s no time to establish their real bond, or for you to get on-side and root for them. The work is only around 80 minutes long and you’d be forgiven for rushing to the heart of the matter, but the descent into darkness is steep and prolonged, taking up much of the running time. The only (and much needed) light relief comes in the form of six-foot, nappy wearing, tap dancing, back-talking baby Barry (Stephen Arden) who steals the show with his outrageous antics.

Hats off to McGregor for even trying to tackle the subject matter and he delivers a dose of harsh reality in a largely palatable way. However, the balance between the light relief and the hard-hitting realities is a little off kilter. Never one to ask for a work’s running time to be extended, A New Life has huge potential and with a bit of work could strike the right balance and take its place at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing.

Reviewed on 29 October 2022 at the Tron Theatre and continues to tour Scotland with Crocodile Rock | Image: Tim Morozzo

 

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