Category Archives: REVIEWS

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

 

REVIEW: Bold Girls – Lanternhouse, Cumbernauld

Rona Munro’s 1990’s tale of the Troubles, Bold Girls, returns home to where it was first performed by the now legendary 7:84 Scottish People’s Theatre (well, to Cumbernauld Theatre’s newest incarnation at Lanternhouse).

The guns, bombs, helicopters, and RUC, though ever-present, are merely a backdrop to the stories of these bold girls. Marie, Cassie and Nora gather in West Belfast in the run up to a girls’ night out at the local club. An enigmatic young woman appears (almost An Inspector Calls-like) on Marie’s doorstep. Her presence and subsequent revelations break the bonds of the women’s friendship forever.

There’s plenty of banter woven around the reminders of the violence just outside the door, but the reality below the surface manages to quickly rise to the top. The desperation just seeps out. Desperation at the complete inability to escape your circumstances, desperation that you should be thankful your man didn’t hit you, desperation at the inequality of the expectation that you should spoil your sons and reproach your daughters, desperation at maintaining the façade of the perfect widow.

The staging is simplistic, allowing the focus to be on the storytelling and there’s a chemistry between the actors that serves the story well. Stand out among the ensemble is Leigh Lothian’s finely nuanced portrayal of Cassie, a woman wracked with anger and anguish. The tiny details in her characterisation are a delight.

Munro’s piece largely holds up, but one can’t help feeling that it hasn’t entirely stood the test of time. The dialogue, to 2022 ears, isn’t as naturalistic as it could be, and the ending could be trimmed for greater impact. There’s also the problem that the plot’s greatest revelations are a little too clearly signposted that they lack impact.

A worthwhile revival of Munro’s play, enough to tempt you to visit her latest work James IV – Queen of the Fight, the fourth of her James Plays, which tours this autumn.

Runs until 1 October 2022 | Image: Greg MacVean

REVIEW: Crocodile Rock – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Andy McGregor appears to be spearheading a resurgence in homegrown musicals. Crocodile Rock, originally performed as part of Òran Mór’s 2019 A Play, a Pie and a Pint season, is now embarking on a well-deserved national tour.

Steven McPhail is 17 and stuck on a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland, not knowing quite who he is, or what the hell to do with his life. His prospects boil down to working in his dad’s hard-as-nails pub, or his mum’s B&B. There’s that, and the daily humiliation of going to school to face the object of your affection who has made your life hell since you tried to kiss him.

Steven’s horizons expand way beyond the beaches of the Isle of Cumbrae to the bright lights of the big city, when he tentatively takes his first steps in stilettos and makeup after he meets the glorious Vincente the “queen from Barcelona”.

This one-man-and-a-band musical is absolutely what the Scottish theatre-going public needs right now; with places we know, references we whole-heartedly get, with characters we can really care about and a conciseness of storytelling (coming in at an economic under-90 minutes).

The fact that we care is not only down to McGregor’s emotional rollercoaster of a show, but the central performance on which its success firmly rests. Stephen Arden is utterly magnetic as Steven, completely compelling and thoroughly sublime from the get-go. He flits through a myriad of characters with stunning ease, making each distinct – no mean feat and one to be lauded. That coupled with an impressive vocal range of which he has complete control, it’s a sure-fire recipe for success.

This fabulous musical about finding your tribe is a must-see. It will leave you with a skip in your step and a song in your heart.

Runs until 1 October 2022 then touring | Image: Tim Morozzo

 

REVIEW: Stuntman – Platform, Easterhouse

Billed as “a new performance for anyone who has ever enjoyed a violent action movie (but felt a little bit weird about it).” Superfan’s Stuntman is a thoroughly engaging little gem of a mixed-discipline production. A musing on the relationship between young men and violence and how consumption of on-screen violence impacts on everyday life.

To the strains of an 80s action movie soundtrack, on an almost boxing ring-like stage, the actors (and their BSL interpreter Iain Hodgetts) draw the audience right into the heart of the story.

The action goes from intensely physical; an out-and-out child-like glee at re-enacting stunt scenes from action movies with their posturing and protracted death scenes, to heart-felt personal storytelling and beautifully synchronised choreographed sequences.

The production greatly benefits from the duet at its centre. Sadiq Ali and David Banks are critical to the success of the piece, managing to be both tough and tender in equal measure, a tenderness that belies their muscular exteriors (indeed Banks, covered in bruises bears the physical scars of his efforts). The magnetic duo’s intensity and commitment to the performance is arresting and engaging.

On the surface fun and silly, it has much greater depth, and the framing of the bigger issues in this dynamic way means it is delivered with a (thoughtful) punch. A small but perfectly formed piece of theatre.

Image: Brian Hartley

REVIEW: Alright Sunshine – Òran Mór, Glasgow

Less than 60 short minutes is all writer Isla Cowan has to weave her powerful tale of gender, self-identity and conditioning, Alright Sunshine, currently running as part of Òran Mór’s spring season of A Play, A Pie and a Pint.

Cowan’s impressive writing and Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s equally impressive acting combine perfectly to deliver this multi-layered tale.

Police officer Nicky McCreadie has been conditioned from birth by her policeman father, to be the perfect officer. Giving over her private life and her personal will to be an unquestioning defender of the city of Edinburgh. Nicky weaves her personal tale of dealing with joggers; radges with ferrets; pissed, pale-faced prom queens; Morningside Mummies on The Meadows; beer, BBQs and bravado; domestic dilemma and wrecked relationships.

Cowan is a master of language, the rhythmic, sometimes alliterative script delivers a powerful punch from a seemingly velvet glove. Cowan’s writing allows you to enjoy the story at its amusing face-value, but equally allows you to scratch below the surface to reveal the much darker and less palatable aspects of Nicky’s present and past lives.

The combination of Cowan’s lyrical writing, Jarrett-Scott’s tour-de-force acting and Joanna Bowman’s tight direction is not to be missed.

REVIEW: Educating Rita – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

There’s an undeniable affection for Willy Russell’s 40-year-old, Pygmalion-like drama Educating Rita, from the great British theatre-going public. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and staged at what is now the Donmar Warehouse, it saw a much-loved and much-lauded film adaptation in 1983 starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

The story of 26-year-old, married, Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita (actually Susan) and her foray into the world of academia on an Open University course, and her tutor Frank, a career academic faded and jaded by university life, seeking solace in drink, this OU tutorship paying nicely for his alcoholic fix. Each feeds from the other: Rita’s world expands as she is exposed to the bohemian lifestyle of the students and Frank is energised by Rita’s lust for life. Each shines a light on the other: some truths are exposed, some assumptions shattered and inevitably, both Rita and Frank undergo changes, not necessarily for the better.

Four decades on (admittedly with a bit of updating from Russell himself for the 21st Century and this 40th anniversary tour) it still feels relevant, maybe depressingly so. Is it really still as hard for working class women, or those living in poverty to better themselves as it was in 1980? The ‘them and us’ world so prevalent then, is frighteningly familiar today.

Jessica Johnson and Stephen Tompkinson reprise their roles from the last national tour. Tompkinson’s natural hang-dog expression is perfectly suited to the world-weary Frank and he has time and time again proved himself to be one of the country’s most adept stage actors. Johnson’s Rita (Susan) is hugely likeable but her accent wavers frequently and her projection is such that it leaves you straining to hear much of her dialogue. That said, it is deservedly a British theatre classic, and still well worth watching.

Image: Robert Day

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: Sinderella – Motherwell Theatre

Capitalising on the British public’s insatiable appetite for all things Drag, producer Joseph Purdy has brought adult pantomime to the nation this winter with their naughty fairy-tale Sinderella, starring UK drag royalty Divina De Campo as the evil Baroness DDC and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Stacey Layne Matthews as the Fairy Drag Henny.

Essentially it has all the elements of the traditional Christmas pantomime tale: wicked step-mother; two ugly sisters; Buttons, the lovelorn side-kick; Dandini; Prince Charming and our heroine Cinders. There are colourful sets and lavish costumes, dance routines and high energy pop hits, however, that’s where the similarities with the family story start and end. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s an innuendo-packed smut fest from start to finish. That said, it is absolutely hilarious and the hugely talented cast feed off the audience energy so much with quick-fire asides, it all runs 45 mins over the running time.

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Queen Divina is a polished pro, from head to foot, word, note and step perfect, De Campo is phenomenally talented and adds that extra level of gloss on top of the glitter-sprinkled festivities. Davey Hooper has the stand-up comedian’s gift of audience manipulation as the cheeky Buttons and US Drag favourite Stacey Layne Matthews is in fine form but croaky voice as the Fairy Drag Henny, often looking slightly bewildered at the insanity that is UK pantomime. Worthy of note are our two ugly sisters Jamie Campbell – THE Jamie of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie fame and Troy Harris – are truly fantastic, Harris in particular is a superstar in the making. Britain’s Got Talent’s Rob King and Ibiza Weekender’s David Potts, give it their all to round out the cast as Prince Charming and Dandini.

Combining two of Britain’s best-loved entertainment traditions – drag and panto – means that it’s no surprise that this is a sell-out success. Bawdy British fun at its best.

REVIEW: The King and I – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The King and I is undoubtedly one of the finest musical’s from the Golden Age of musical theatre and so rarely seen that this touring version of New York’s Lincoln Centre production has been waited on with baited breath. Thankfully this sumptuous staging with its universally first class cast, deserves every plaudit thrown its way.

There has been plenty of artistic license taken when adapting Margaret Langdon’s Anna and the King of Siam, which was in turn taken from British governess Anna Leonowens’ own memoir of her time teaching the children of King Mongkut of Siam’s children. However, the good old-fashioned plot gives the audience something to hold on to, it’s richly drawn, there’s humour, pathos, laughter, tears, and the roller coaster of emotions in the beautifully constructed script, make the three-hour running time race by.

As much as the lavish set and costumes, the familiar rich tunes and the atmospheric lighting transport you, it’s the cast on whose shoulders the experience lies. Annalene Beechey delivers an assured central performance as Anna, she has a formidable but perfectly controlled presence and diction that would make Julie Andrews jealous. Kok-Hwa Lie as Kralahome the King of Siam, manages to balance the duality of the monarch – on one hand striving to modernise his country while still enjoying the trappings of tyrranical rule, and all with some humour thrown in. Cezarah Bonner delivers a regal performance as no.1 wife Lady Thiang and on as Tup Tim, Jessica Gomes-Ng is an absolute revelation, a real star in the making, she has a sublimely beautiful voice. Worthy of note are Ethan Le Phong as Lun Tha and Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn, as are the most adorable and talented children as the off-spring of the King. It’s a rare thing – there isn’t a weak link anywhere, every single person on the stage is the finest actor/singer/dancer for the role.

Worth mentioning too, and utterly mesmerising, is the ballet within the play, Tup Tim’s adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Small House of Uncle Thomas, is so beautifully executed that you can’t peel your eyes from the stage.

This production of The King and I is an entirely satisfying evening of theatre, richly deserving acclaim. It is masterfully executed, replete with gorgeous detail, it looks and sounds glorious and has a phenomenally talented cast. From the overall design to the tiniest details in the fabrics and lighting, and the rich orchestra, it all adds up to an evening of infinite quality. The word unmissable is thrown about lightly but this is a truly unmissable show.

Runs until 8 February 2020 | Image: Matthew Murphy

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: God of Carnage – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

As with her almost universally acclaimed 1994 play Art, Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage is another comedy of middle class manners. This time, as it was in Art, the behaviour of the seemingly sophisticated adults involved descends into something akin to a playground fight, all the more ironic, as that’s precisely what’s brought them together in the first place.

Alan and Annette’s 11 year-old son Henry has had two teeth removed, incisors to be precise, by fellow pupil Freddie. The two sets of parents meet in that frustratingly PC way to civilly decide what action should be taken to facilitate the children having “a reckoning” and to teach them about “the art of co-existence”. As the alcohol is increasingly imbibed, the adults’ best intentions go by the wayside and the mud starts to get slung and everyone’s true colours come to the fore.

Reza has a masterful touch at highlighting the foibles of the middle classes and delivering them with a punch, but it needs a strong cast to deliver. As author Veronica (currently writing a book about Darfur) Elizabeth McGovern is seemingly the voice of reason, pushing the apology/reconciliation agenda between the two boys. Household goods salesman husband Michael (Nigel Lindsay) doesn’t quite fit seamlessly into this middle class idyll, a bit rough around the edges his loyalties are tested and exposed as the evening progresses. McGovern takes a little while to hit her stride, but she ramps up the emotion and elicits the laughs as the piece reaches its conclusion. As always, Lindsay delivers an absolute masterclass in comic acting, each word and action perfectly timed, as does Simon Paisley Day as driven lawyer Alan, when not throwing well-timed barbs, he’s barking advice to his clients down his constantly ringing phone, the ever-impressive Samatha Spiro as “wealth manager” Annette, is, as always, on-point.

The dialogue is as expected, razor sharp, Reza knows her audience well, and while this couldn’t be described as cutting edge, it is hugely entertaining, escapist fun, scratching the surface of the well-polished veneer of the middle class. Well worth an evening of your time.

Review originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

The panto-going citizens of Glasgow raised a cheer when the cast of the SEC Armadillo’s pantomime Snow White was announced. The almost universally adored Greg McHugh – he of the much-missed Gary, Tank Commander would star as court jester Gary, his TV co-star Leah MacRae would play Nanny McWee his mother (not sure the lovely Leah should be best pleased at that!), River City’s Frances Thorburn would be our heroine Snow White and a doyenne of British comedy acting, the wonderful Doon Mackichan would be the evil Queen Lucretia.

The quality cast, coupled with the sheer scale of the spectacle, add up to the city’s most fabulous, funny festive offering. There’s a camaraderie from the cast that just radiates to the audience, who are on-side with the high jinks from the start. McHugh is undoubtedly the star and his antics as the cheeky but naïve Gary are the highlights of the show, but there are star turns a-plenty, especially from Mackichan who is an absolute treat as the evil queen.

The only negative notes are a troupe of mildly horrifying looking woodland animals whose costumes look like they’ve been culled from the leftovers of the abattoir, all the more incongruous in such a spectacularly glitzy show and the auditorium itself, whose vast size does tend to engulf any audience reactions.

Definitely the most spectacular panto in town and certainly the most star-studded.

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