It’s oft been quoted, but it bears repeating: “If God had a singing voice he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli”, so said pop diva Celine Dion of the vocal phenomenon and 90 million album selling superstar, and she’s not wrong, Bocelli’s voice is so sublime it’s almost divine.
The world’s biggest selling classical artist is accompanied on this spectacular evening by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cuban soprano Maria Aleida, flautist Andrea Griminelli, the Edinburgh Choral Union, some classical dancers and Britain’s own R&B queen Beverly Knight.
It’s hard to describe adequately the atmosphere, but it’s almost reverent, the audience are entirely rapt for the whole evening, it’s a warm, comforting feeling, old-fashioned but just, well…lovely. Every detail has been thought of and every artist a master of their craft, every note, every bit of staging (including massive panoramic projections) is of the highest quality. There’s no facile chit-chat, the music does the talking and does so, beautifully.
There’s a perfect mix of classical favourites, some personal choices from Bocelli, his classical crossover hits and duets with his guest stars, interspersed with clips from his recent movie The Music of Silence which provides some background on Bocelli’s childhood and sight loss. There’s also exquisite dancing accompaniment and a selection of Spaghetti Western themes from flautist Griminelli. Soprano Aleida delivers impressive vocal gymnastics including those on The Doll Aria from Les Contes d’Hoffman, Knight sings a relaxed version of her hit Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, and duets with Bocelli on Canto della Terra. The sentimental Glasgow audience erupt at Neapolitan classic O Sole Mio, Con te Partiro and Nessun Dorma which sends the audience home floating on a cloud.
Bocelli’s beaming smile at the rapturous reception says all that’s needed to be said about this perfect evening’s entertainment.
Since 2003 the Tron have enabled young people to experience a range of the career opportunities available within a fully operational theatre via the one-year Tron Ambassadors scheme. Through this scheme they foster deeper connections with the theatre itself, and the work they do both in-house and within the community, as well as an understanding of the wider theatre and creative arts industries.
Tron Ambassadors take part in regular workshops with Tron staff, external visitors and leading professionals to identify and develop transferable skills. Previous Tron Ambassadors have worked with the Tron’s production, marketing and front of house departments, theatre critics, set and costume designers and professional actors and directors. The programme also allows the Ambassadors to gain an Arts Award qualification from their full participation in the programme.
For the past four years, I have been lucky enough to work with these talented young people on the theatre criticism element of the programme. Always a joy to discover new voices and foster new talent in the field of arts criticism, I have also had the privilege of working with the most talented writers at The Reviews Hub.
Published here are the first batch of reviews of How Not to Drown, Dritan Kastrati’s perilous asylum story.
How Not to Drown
Reviewer: Holly Noble
Far too often we see on the news the horrific scenes of refugees fleeing their homes, family and friends just to get the taste of freedom. We see boats upturned, people struggling to swim and the terrifying death toll that increases every year. It isn’t often we hear a first-hand account from someone who was successful in the journey.
Dritan Kastrati’s How Not to Drown tells of his extraordinary personal story of loss, hardship and loneliness as he navigates his way to London, the danger of being caught always following him. What you often don’t hear is what happens after immigrants seek refuge. For Kastrati this was anything but easy; through learning a new culture and language, to trying to find a loving family through the foster care system.
The acting is excellent, giving you goose bumps, knowing that Kastrati is standing right in front of you as he tells you the story of his trials and tribulations.
The stage resembles a raft on an angle that spins around, this original device is effective in conveying the story. The small cast and the limited number of props are effective rather than distracting. The lighting and music is tied in well, giving you chills and adding drama.
After seeing How Not to Drown, it is clear, that it deserves all the recognition and awards it has received.
Reviewer: Astrid Allen
How not to drown is the story of Dritan Kastrati, an 11-year-old refugee from Kosovo travelling to the UK sent by his father to find his brother in London. Kastrati co-writer and actor performs his own life story, and the result is powerful and moving. The play explores what it is like to be torn between two cultures and the true inhuman nature of the UK fostering system.
In the first half of the play we get to see Dritan’s perilous journey on train, boat and lorry. The cast all have backgrounds in movement and director Neil Bettles choreographs movement with beautiful fluidity and keeps the audience in suspense during the journey.
When Dritan arrives in London he meets his 17 year old brother but they are soon separated and Dritan is put into foster care as his brother cannot legally look after him. He cannot understand why he would not be able to stay with his brother but he does not have the English to explain. Heartbreakingly, Dritan is put into a number of uncaring foster families until he is 16 and is legally allowed to leave care. He never truly feels at home with his carers and he can tell that none of them will ever really love him, Dritan misses his family and that feeling of being loved.
After his 16th birthday Dritan goes back to see his parents but they’ve moved from his childhood home and it doesn’t feel the same as it used to. Dritan is lost and no longer understands his own identity. This play is heart-wrenchingly honest, it holds nothing back from the audience and will invariably make you cry.
Reviewer: Devin McWhirter
Theatre has the power to portray important messages in an entertaining way and can draw a variety of emotions from audience members, and we see this in the extraordinary How not to Drown.
The play portrays the true story of Dritan Kastrati’s childhood and the dangerous journey from his war ridden home to the safety of his brother in London.
How Not to Drown, has the power both to draw you to the edge of your as it portrays Kastrati’s dangerous journey to get to London, and evoke anger and sadness at the discrimination and hardships he has had to face from the Law, Child Services and the carers he was forced to live with. It also moves greatly, particularly the scenes of him being torn away from his family.
How Not to Drown is a very relevant and important story that should be see and listened to by the widest audience possible.
Reviewer: Amy Waterston
How Not to Drown is an exquisite piece of theatre which is a perfect example of theatre being a “mirror of society.”
The production’s use of the five versatile actors in multiple roles, not only showcases the cast’s acting ability, but also the intricate direction of the production, forcing the audience to realise the true horror of what is happening to people living in care today.
How Not to Drown captures these raw issues, due to the storyline following the real life of the lead actor Dritan Kastrati. The physicality of the piece draws the audience’s attention to the whirlwind of issues that Kastrati experienced. As an audience member, the piece really hits home as its impossible to question fact. This emphasised the upsetting reality and was a prime example of how powerful physical theatre can be.
Reviewer: Jacob McMillan
The story of a young Kosovan refugee and his treacherous journey through human smugglers, foster care, and life; told first-hand by the man he has become.
This play, from the staging to the sound design to the performances, is both heart-breaking and heart-warming. Caught in the middle of the Kosovan-Albanian war, Dritan Kastrati left his home at eleven but didn’t know that he would never truly find it again.
The staging in this performance is incredible; the slanted stage is simply genius. Throughout the play, the performers lean out, as if to tell a secret, to the audience. This creates a sense of involvement for the audience, you are on the smuggling boat or in the foster home with the protagonists. It is no wonder why this play won the Scotsman Fringe First Award.
Truly brilliant, it will be interesting to see what comes from next from Kastrati.
Reviewer: Stanley Stefani
How Not to Drown is a masterclass in theatrical storytelling, portrayed by the man who went through it.
Utilising the very clever use of a rotating slanted stage to add to the creativity throughout the play, Dritan Kastrati tells the emotionally compelling story of growing up and being forced to leave his home country to join his brother his London. Conveying the full journey that 11-year-old Dritan takes in order to escape the wars in his home.
This is a beautifully told story and is a must see for anyone with an interest in amazing pieces of theatre.
Reviewer: Euan Warnock
It is interesting to think that How Not To Drown is named the way it is, not just because of the instances of our real life protagonist panicking under the depths, but also because of the feeling that the performance engenders in you, a ‘sinking feeling’, right down to the caverns of your soul.
Right from the opening five minutes, all the way to the final third… as a matter of fact, those would be the most brilliant part of an already great drama, How Not To Drown manages to keep its audience captivated with an ever-twisting, ever-turning, (most of the time quite literally, with the remarkable stage design) real life tale of a little refugee boy trying to worm his way through the British asylum system.
The innovative set design, especially the smaller and raised addition on which the actors spend almost the entire performance, causes the show to feel even smaller in scale, but this disadvantage is used to a wonderful degree. Whenever the stage feels small, it is because it is meant to feel claustrophobic, and the way it moves, without spoiling anything, is used fantastically.
One of the main draws of this production is that it is a real life story, written and performed by the man (Dritan Kastrati) who lived through it, and for the final third of the play it becomes quite clear that he isn’t fully acting, he is still clearly feeling all of the emotions of how it happened all those years ago.
This is a five-star production, unique and expertly staged, with incredible acting, and a captivating story of a little boy washed up in the United Kingdom, trying to find his way along the path to happiness.
More Tron Ambassadors reviews to follow in part 2.
If you’re looking for a creative team of infinite quality and a performer of prodigious talent (sometimes rare at The Fringe), then look no further than Richard Marsh and Jessica Sharman’s musical play, Phoenix.
Marsh and Sharman’s enviable track records include Marsh winning a Fringe First Award, a BBC Audio Drama Award, and a run in the West End with previous show Dirty Great Love Story, and in Sharman’s case, co-writing Ward Thomas’ record-breaking No.1. Country album Cartwheels.
This play is so much more than its simplistic blurb. It’s a big story in a small-sized show. On the face of it, it’s a tale of a wannabe rock star for whom fatherhood subsumes his hopes and dreams of stardom, but its themes are much greater than these few words, instead delivering a highly-relatable story of love and sacrifice.
There’s an elegant fluency to the writing, the beautifully constructed script has a completely developed story arc, fully rounded characters, all interwoven with some expertly crafted songs, and all packed into a 70-minute running time. The combination makes for an irresistible, gripping, funny, life-affirming show.
In a piece of master casting, multi-instrumentalist (guitar – electric and acoustic, keys, drums, looping) singer and actor Andy Gallo plays Ash, and proves to be a rare find. He manages to perfectly pitch the gamut of emotions required of this marvellously layered tale, all the while banging out tunes on a plethora of instruments and singing. He has the audience transfixed from the start.
This is an astute piece of theatre. Well thought out, cleverly crafted and refreshingly surprising. This is the perfect five-star start to this year’s Fringe.