Category Archives: REVIEWS

GUEST REVIEW: One Night Only – Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld by Fraser MacDonald

Musical Director: Fraser Morrison

Ensemble: Cumbernauld Musical Theatre Society

Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald

As a brand-spanking new company, Cumbernauld Musical Theatre Society waste no time in showcasing their talent in a number of One Night Only shows.

The intimate setting allows the audience to interact with its cast, whilst still keeping a strictly professional feel. Production values are high for an amateur company.

As musical revues go, One Night Only caters for all. It offers a selection of hit Broadway shows that are known to the masses as well as off-Broadway musical numbers. Combining the two offers a platform for less known standards that is refreshing to see in an amateur show.

Carousel’’s You’ll Never Walk Alone is a stand out piece, delicately arranged with the a cappella section ringing out to a dewy-eyed audience. Once We Were Kings from Billy Elliot is another gem in a packed set.

The extensive set may be lengthy, but it affords almost all of the ensemble a solo number. Each is of a standard far beyond expectations of a fledgling company on their first showcase.

The efforts of musical director president Fraser Morrison are rewarded in this first series of shows for the Cumbernauld Musical Theatre Society. If One Night Only is anything to go by, the Cumbernauld Musical Theatre society has a long and successful future ahead of it – this show certainly hits the right note!

Reviewed on 4 November 2017

Critic Contact: fmacdonald@live.co.uk 

 

REVIEW: The Wipers Times – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman take the quite frankly unbelievable true story of Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton) and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 24th Division, Sherwood Foresters, and produce an old-fashioned celebration of the Great British spirit.

1916, the mud-soaked trenches of Ypres, and arguably the most horrific conflict of the 20th Century. As the “gas-gongs” and “whizz-bangs” explode above their heads, Sergeant Tyler, a member of Roberts and Pearson’s troop, finds an abandoned printing press and so is born The Wipers Times (named for the Tommys mispronunciation of Ypres). Due to censorship the emphasis is on humour, the content entirely satirical: wry in-jokes lampooning the dire conditions of the trenches, spoof advertisements, gallows humour evident throughout.

It is subject matter usually treated with gravity, but as befitting the editor of Private Eye, Hislop has gone down the humorous route. Best described as a play with music, it is presented as a series of short scenes punctuated with music hall spoofs of the actual articles and ads, rather than a smooth narrative. Therein lies its problem. There is an overall feeling of disjointedness and an unnecessary amount of padding that hinders the pace of the production, at two hours twenty minutes, it outstays its welcome by a good half hour.

The performances are universally good, each cast member utilised to best advantage. However, there is an issue with diction and projection in this vast, unamplified auditorium, the rapid-fire dialogue lost at times. That said, this is a highly interesting, gently amusing and enjoyable evening at the theatre and a welcome relief from the more cynical blockbusters and celebrity-filled productions currently touring the country.

The Wipers Times itself may only have been flimsy newsprint, but it meant so much more to the morale of the troops in the trenches, and the fact that this almost lost piece of WW1 history is being seen by audiences the length and breadth of the country is a fitting tribute to the men involved.

Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Philip Tull

Originally written for the Reviews Hub at: www.thereviewshub.com/the-wipers-times-theatre-royal-glasgow/

REVIEW: Slava’s Snow Show – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s nearly a quarter of a century since Slava Polunin debuted his Snow Show. Described by Polunin as “a comical meditation on life, death, and the beauty of the universe”, it’s been a hit in over 80 countries, along the way becoming a 20th and now 21st Century theatrical classic.

At a purely surface level, there is much to wonder at: both adult and child can revel in the unfolding beauty of the visual effects, and the finely detailed clowning, but there is so much more to marvel at in the subtle subtext. The thread of longing, loss and loneliness threads its melancholy but beautifully affecting and touching way through the whole evening. Polunin himself has expressed his desire to extend the boundaries of clowning and “dive into tragicomedy, to measure the extent to which one can fuse drama with language”, and he thoroughly succeeds: the ghosts of Gogol and Beckett are evident in the over-arching atmosphere of the evening.

The vignettes, play out to an eclectic but emotive soundtrack. Highlights include the spider web that engulfs the entire stalls of the auditorium, the giant colourful bouncing balls let loose on the crowd that bring out our inner child, the beautifully touching sequence with a coat-rack, and the stunning, snow storm finale to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

The meaning behind each set-piece will almost certainly be over the heads of the children and it bears noting that small portions of the action could be unsettling for the youngest audience members, but it is breathtakingly beautiful and the awe on the faces of the children as the action unfolds is a delight to see. It is also proof that the language and art of clowning is truly universal.

To feel part of the show make sure you are sitting in the stalls, if you are happy to be an onlooker then the circles and gallery are the place for you, and don’t stay out of the auditorium too long at the interval as the mayhem continues in grand style.

Proof that thoughtful, gentle and truly beautiful theatre has global appeal.

Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Vladimir Mushukov

 

REVIEW: Soho Cinders – Webster’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s refreshing to see George Stiles and Anthony Drew’s little seen modern adaptation of Cinderella, Soho Cinders being staged in Glasgow, and highly anticipated when you know it’s Mad Props Theatre Company who are producing it. Known for fearless and original choices in their artistic output, Soho Cinders is another first for the company.

Life isn’t going well for skint student Robbie. His mother has died, and his lap-dancing club owning step-sisters have upped the rent on his beloved late mum’s launderette where he works and threatened to turf him out, coupled with that he’s fallen in love with the bisexual, engaged to a woman, London mayoral candidate, James. Oh, and to complicate matters even further, he’s also involved in a rather unconventional financial arrangement with a ‘fairy godfather’ Lord Bellingham.

The path of true love never runs smooth and needless to say there’s many a twist and turn until our Robbie is reunited with his mobile phone (the contemporary version of a glass slipper) and boy gets boy in the end.

There’s potential for Stiles and Drew’s work to be a bit more biting and make a bigger statement, but it remains a lightweight piece of fluff. The characters have been created with broad brushstrokes and the simplistic storytelling undermines the more serious points the musical is trying to make.

It has the feel both in tone and musically of Legally Blonde and Mamma Mia. There are also musical snippets that are reminiscent of Jesus Christ Superstar of all things. That said, the entire score is varied in style and pleasant on the ear. There are some knock-out tunes too – in particular, They Don’t Make Glass Slippers, sung by Mad Props stalwart Dominic Spencer (Soho Cinders marks his welcome return to the stage) they need him to elevate this average musical to something special, and he does. His rendition of this haunting ballad will leave you with goose-bumps. Marie-Anne McGrattan and Louise Daly-Creechan as Robbie’s grotesque step-sisters generate the lion’s share of the laughs, they look as if they’re having a ball and their energy transmits to the auditorium.

The supporting cast are universally solid and Jon Cuthbertson delivers a particularly repulsive turn as political aide William (his storyline uneasily resonant in light of the current sexual harassment scandals). Less successful is Stuart Taylor as Robbie’s love James. His voice doesn’t sound fully warmed up and it is often inaudible. On a side note, and a great coup for the company, the voice of Big Brother, Marcus Bentley provides the dead-pan narration.

Well worth watching for musical theatre aficionados who relish the chance to see less frequently staged works, and worth it alone to hear Dominic Spencer back in his finest form.

Runs until Saturday 4 November 2017 at Websters Theatre Glasgow.

Ticket details here

REVIEW: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Blackeyed Theatre have a penchant for the Gothic, evidenced by their previous works: Dracula and Frankenstein. Tonight, it’s the turn of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde. Glancing around the packed auditorium, the appeal of the story is clearly seen, there’s not an empty seat.

Stevenson’s novella warned, 190 years ago, of the implications of unregulated medical experimentation, and the dilemma of ethics versus scientific discovery is as relevant today as it always has been.

Adapter/director Nick Lane has taken the essence of Stevenson’s story, set it a decade later in the 1890s, a period of greater scientific and philosophical discovery and added a woman at it’s core.

Dr Henry Jeckyll is close to a medical discovery that will change neuroscience forever, however, he is forced to experiment on himself when his less than ethical methods are exposed.

The darkly lit, simplistic design sets the tone for what’s to come. A hodge-podge of dark wooden furniture becomes Jeckyll’s home and laboratory, the dark streets of Spitalfields, Wilton’s Music Hall, the mortuary, a horse-drawn carriage, Dr Lanyon’s house and Hyde’s lodgings.

The cast of four tackle all 16 characters with suitable Victorian melodrama and simple costume changes take them from role to role.

The action takes a while to warm and the pace is languid throughout. It takes to just shy of the interval for the first glimpse of the transformation from Jeckyll to Hyde, however, the slow-motion attack sequence at the end of Act One is hugely effective and beautifully realised. But, pace is the problem, while the novella is short and sharp, the inclusion of extraneous characters and the need to justify the reasons behind Jeckyll’s experimentation, slow the pace to a plod. The reason Stevenson’s story has endured is that it is close to perfect, tinkering isn’t necessary.

Entertaining, and surely handled, but a quickening of pace would have given this Gothic classic more power and punch.

ALBUM REVIEW: Songs from the Stage by Leading Ladies

Three of the most lauded leading ladies of the London stage united in friendship when they all appeared in the West End at the same time, as the friendship blossomed they decided to team up to produce an album of theatre classics.

That album Songs from the Stage, is available on 17 November 2017.

Every track means something to the singers, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight, and Cassidy Janson – some of the material chosen from shows they have appeared in or a musical they personally love. 

The problem with many theatre performer’s albums is the poor production values, however, the calibre of the singers has been recognised here, Songs From The Stage is produced by Grammy Award-winning British producer Brian Rawling, who has worked with Cher, Tina Turner and Lionel Richie. The album’s sound is rich and befitting performers of this quality, with lush arrangements and full orchestral backing.

 

Songs From The Stage track by track review:

1. One Night Only (Dreamgirls)

The musical that cemented Leading Lady Amber Riley’s reputation as a theatre star. The three singers feature on lead vocals – a short, snappy, high energy 1970s disco influenced opener to the album.

2. Seasons of Love (Rent)

For fans of musical theatre this really is a song you mess with at your peril. The vocals are a bit thin and nasal in parts and the backing vocals synthesised. The production detracts from one of the best-loved modern musical songs.

3. I’m Every Woman (The Bodyguard)

Off to a fantastic start with Britain’s Queen of Soul Beverley Knight leading the vocals, this builds into a fantastic, feel-good dancefloor-filler. Arguably the best track on the album.

4. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman (Beautiful)

The music stays true to Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s original but Janson’s country-tinged vocals, lend it a different dimension.

5. Wind Beneath My Wings (Beaches)

This is probably the weakest track on the album. It’s neither original nor powerful, which a song covered this many times has to be to make any impact.

6. Helpless (Hamilton)

The inevitable track from Lin Manuel Miranda’s theatre juggernaut Hamilton. This is an upbeat R n B track that doesn’t deviate from the original. A good fit for the trio.

7. Memory (Cats)

The trio tackle Cats’ big tear-jerker. Pleasant, if nothing spectacular.

8. Somebody to Love (“We Will Rock You”)

Another pleasant cover with all three singers sharing the lead.

9. Falling Slowly (“Once”)

This is a beautiful song, but the voices and arrangement left me cold. It has a heavy country tinge that strips away the emotional impact of the original.

10. Love Will Stand (“Memphis”)

Knight is undoubtedly the stand-out vocalist. This allows her powerhouse voice to soar.

11. Raise The Roof (“The Wild Party”)

An odd choice, this Latin number is a bit of a filler. There are better songs out there to showcase the talent here.

12. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (“Beautiful”)

The trio harmonise on a pared-back, slowed down of Goffin and King’s spectacular classic.

13. Don’t Rain On My Parade (“Funny Girl”)

Janson delivers a true to the original, good old fashioned, roof-raising version of the Funny Girl show-stopper. There’s more than a touch of the Streisand about it.

14. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (“Meet Me in St. Louis”)

Just in time for the festive season, the album ends with Meet Me in St. Louis’ enduring Christmas classic.

The sheer quality of the vocalists, instrumentation and production elevate Songs From The Stage above its peers. The clever choice of tracks, that includes some pop and rock big-hitters that have appeared in theatre shows is clever and gives the album wider appeal. There are some show-stoppers, some interesting new arrangements and a few less successful choices, but this is a work of quality from these stars of the stage and an ideal stocking-filler for the musical theatre fan in your life.

REVIEW: Love Song To Lavender Menace – Platform, Glasgow

It’s easy to forget about Section 28 and it’s ramifications, living life closeted in the shadows, the Gay scene largely, if not entirely underground, the height of the AIDS crisis and the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1980. While things aren’t exactly perfect now, a lot has changed.

James Ley hadn’t even heard of Lavender Menace, the Edinburgh LGBT bookshop founded by Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielson, that existed from 1982 to 1986, when he won a LGBT History Month Cultural Comission to write a new play.

But that is exactly the subject matter of his celebratory play, Love Song to Lavender Menace.

Bookshop workers Lewis (Pierce Reid) and Glen (Matthew McVarish) spend the last night of Lavender Menace packing up the remaining stock while rehearsing their “homage” to Bob and Sigrid. The dreaded ‘W’ word – Waterstones is moving to town, LGBT literature is becoming available in mainstream bookshops, and Bob and Sigrid are moving on. With every book packed away comes a memory, from the early days as a bookstall in the cloakroom of Princes Street nightclub, Fire Island, through life as a Gay man in Edinburgh in the 80s, to the spectre of Section 28, which looms on the horizon. All the while, exploring the significance of some seminal pieces of LGBT writing, and all done with humour and pathos.

This is a tiny slice of life, from a very specific time and place, and because of that, all the more engaging and relatable. While the tone can be almost flippant at times, its serves as a timely reminder of the groundwork that has gone in to raising the profile of the LGBTIQ community in the public eye. Pierce Reid is mercurial as the idealistic Lewis, Matthew McVarish endearing as the more pragmatic Glen. Pierce in particular looks to have a glittering career ahead of him.

Charming, amusing, though-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. A worthwhile work, written and performed in such a way that it will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. It also leaves you wanting to see what’s next for playwright Ley and these talented actors.

Images: Aly Wight

REVIEW: An Evening with Kristina Rihanoff & Tristan MacManus feat. A1’s Mark Read – The Town House, Hamilton

Shows from current and former Strictly Come Dancing stars are plentiful and popular, and before curtain up at The Town House, the packed auditorium is buzzing. Unfortunately, when the curtain rises and the show gets on the road, the atmosphere takes a turn for the worse.

Instead of her usual partner Robin Windsor, Russian bombshell Kristina Rihanoff has teamed up with Irish dancer Tristan MacManus for this UK tour, An Evening With… while Windsor is a fleet-footed dancer with a completely endearing personality, MacManus is a leaden-footed whinger with a great big chip on his shoulder, who puffs and pants and wipes the sweat of his brow continually throughout the evening. For Rihanoff it’s her first tour since giving birth to her first child and she is in peak form, showing none of the effects of late nights, lack of sleep and nappy changing. MacManus too admits he hasn’t danced for aroung sixteen months, living in Australia and enjoying his new daughter, however, for him, it shows. He admits that he’s had a problem getting in to his old costumes, and from the design of the new ones we can clearly see that. His fitness levels leave a lot to be desired.

This show feels very different from the rest of the Strictly alumni. It almost feels as if the dance is incidental to the music. Host Mark Read from 90s boy band A1 is onstage throughout, providing the musical accompaniment, musical interludes and the interlinking chat that is intended to keep the show flowing. The end result feels more like a Mark Read concert with some dance breaks. Like Strictly, none of the dances last more than 90 seconds to two and a half minutes, these are then punctuated with lengthy music or chat breaks to allow for the multitude of costume changes and chances for the dancers to catch their breath. Unlike other ballroom shows, there are no other dancers, save for a performance by a local stage school with whom Rihanoff has a commercial interest. There’s a overwhelming feeling that corners have been cut in the production at every turn to the detriment of the paying audience and to the benefit of the performers’ pockets.

The usually cringe-worthy Q and A section is almost abandoned when no-one fills in the  question cards at the interval (a member of staff manages to rustle something up to save the day), MacManus uses this opportunity to whinge at his time in Strictly and wax lyrical about his time in Mrs Brown’s Boys. There’s then a lengthy (fifteen minute) section where the audience is encouraged to join in with Land of a 1000 Dances, then judge the volunteers on stage. The end of the concert is announced by Read, Rihanoff and MacManus join him for a quick turn around the floor, then it’s all over.

The show is a sell-out, but unlike fellow pro Giovanni Pernice who almost raised the roof in the same venue, the atmosphere is polite, but uncomfortable. People have turned up here from Elgin, Mallaig, Galston, Glasgow and every town that surrounds. For some it’s a helluva long way to travel for this lacklustre evening. Rihanoff remains the consummate professional, and her dancing is as stunning as ever, however, her partner lets her down badly.

 

REVIEW: The Steamie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

There’s a nostalgia for and great expectations of any production of Tony Roper’s Glasgow classic, The Steamie, and audiences can rest assured that this 30th anniversary production does the much-loved work complete justice.

Hogmanay, a Glasgow wash house. The race is on to get the laundry done before the midnight bells. As the 1940s give way to a new decade, the four women: Dolly (Libby McArthur), Mrs, Culfeathers (Mary McCusker), Margret (Carmen Pieraccini) and Doreen (Fiona Wood) chew the fat, share the details of their lives and provide much-needed support to one another as they reflect on their hard lives, their hopes and dreams, and their often, useless men.

Heralded for its reflection of real Glasgow women’s lives, the camaraderie between these women delivers as many laughs as tears, a more perfectly pitched piece of writing you would be hard to find. Roper is a master manipulator of your feelings: just as the sentimental tears roll down your cheeks, a killer comic line is delivered so precisely that your emotions are tugged in completely the opposite direction.

Fans will be glad to know the now legendary Galloway’s mince routine is still as hysterical as is always was, as are Dolly’s peat bath purge and the imaginary telephone conversation, iconic scenes that have a firm place in Scottish theatre goers hearts.

That a play about a public wash house, set in a time when a sense of community and neighbourliness still existed, a world that is beyond the ken of a vast portion of the audience, still has the ability to pack out a two week run in a theatre is testament to the quality of the writing. Roper’s expert grasp on the rhythms of his native tongue, make this play as sharp today as it has ever been. Nostalgic it may be, and Glaswegian to its very core, however, the themes of friendship, loneliness and of womanhood transcend the years.

The roles are perfectly cast, these women deliver a masterclass in acting (and singing) and Roper’s own direction ensures it remains tight and true to the original.

You will be hard-pressed to find a work that tugs at your heart strings and equally make your heart soar. A classic, and deservedly so, this 30th anniversary production is simply unmissable.

Runs until 4 November 2017 | Image: Douglas Robertson

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/the-steamie-kings-theatre-glasgow/

REVIEW: Keith Jack: Movie Nights – Wild Cabaret, Glasgow

Astonishingly, it’s a decade since Dalkeith native Keith Jack was runner up in the BBC’s search for a ‘Joseph’ in Any Dream Will Do. Only 19 years old at the time, much has happened in the ensuing years, with Jack eventually donning the technicolour coat on the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Currently on tour to promote his third and latest album, Movie Nights, Jack returns to Glasgow with an up-close and personal show at Glasgow’s Wild Cabaret. Sitting at tables, under twinkling candlelight, it’s a hark back to the golden days of cabaret.

Eschewing any of the musical theatre tunes that have made him famous, the entire set comprises Jack’s personal movie favourites. There’s no doubt that Jack possesses a voice that would blow a set of barn doors off, but there’s a sense of holding back in this small venue. The sound levels are also a tad imbalanced, the three piece band (drums/keys/guitar) headed by MD Scott Morgan, often overpower Jack – and that’s no mean feat.

The songs in the two-hour set are treated to some new and unusual arrangements from Morgan, the most successful of which are the ballads, especially She’s Like the Wind from the much-loved Dirty Dancing, accompanied only by the piano, Jack’s voice gets to shine fully. A particularly nice touch is the inclusion of children’s choir Vivace who provide depth and colour to I Believe I Can Fly and the title song from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Less successful are Jack’s backing singers who are almost inaudible. The set list as a whole is eclectic, and there really is something for every taste.

Jack’s bubbly personality shines through, and he manages to gee the crowd into life as the night progresses. This is a lovely, small venue and the chance to see a performer of Jack’s calibre and interact with him in such an intimate setting, is a rare treat – it is a great way to spend a Sunday evening – you just can’t help pine for some of those big musical theatre belters to let Jack’s phenomenal voice soar…maybe next time.

Keith Jack: Movie Nights at Wild Cabaret, Glasgow, Set List:

Viva Las Vegas

Love Me Tender

Jailhouse Rock

Staying Alive

Love Is All Around

A 1000 Years

You Got a Friend in Me

So Close

I Just Called to Say I Loved You

I Believe I Can Fly

Beauty and the Beast

She’s Like The Wind

Eye of the Tiger

Somewhere Out There

Bright Eyes

When You Believe

Kiss From A Rose

Run To You

Everything I Do (I Do It For You)

Jailhouse Rock (reprise)

Keith Jack’s album Movie Nights is available from: http://officialkeithjack.co.uk/shop.php

 

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