Tag Archives: Alex Bourne

REVIEW: Annie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

As a populist piece of entertainment Annie, Thomas Meehan, Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse’s 1977 musical has always appealed to those who love their shows schmaltzy and sentimental and taking it as such, Nikolai Foster’s revival will surely entertain many. There are sunny tunes a-plenty, wall-to-wall energetic tots and a tug at your heart strings story, but high art it isn’t and the plot that threads together the musical theatre mega-hits is paper-thin.

The tale of 11-year old Annie left on the steps of a New York orphanage as a baby, still clinging to the desperate hope that her parents will return to claim her, is one of hope and optimism in the face of adversity. Set during the Depression, the plot has a familiar resonance – the wide-spread poverty and desperation are not so far removed from the world outside the doors of the theatre, however, the uneven book has its lulls and at times the attention drifts (a fact seemingly acknowledged by the director, who sends the cute canine member of the cast, Sandy (Amber) on stage to enliven any moments of boredom).

Foster’s new production has more than the hint of the RSC’s Matilda about it, from the jigsaw piece decorated set (building blocks in Matilda) to the sharp, modern choreography (which is absolutely first-rate), it shows its influences on its sleeve. That said, the set design and lighting are a visual treat.

The first-rate cast is deserving of high praise: Alex Bourne’s Oliver Warbucks is fine-voiced, fleet-footed and assured and Holly Dale Spencer’s Grace is a pitch-perfect, well-judged delight. The pint-sized orphans are well-drilled, energetic and characterful, the ensemble is universally razor-sharp and Elise Blake’s Annie is highly competent if lacking a little warmth.

Musicals have come a long way since Annie’s appearance in 1977 and Foster’s production delivers visually for a modern audience, but there’s just something missing in the musical itself that a great director, innovative choreographer, talented set designer and first-rate cast just can’t overcome. If you like your entertainment sweet, syrupy and sentimental and thoroughly family-friendly then you’ll love it – those looking for something with a bit more grit should look elsewhere.

Runs until 20 February 2016 |Image: Matt Crockett

REVIEW: Peter Pan – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s 50 years since the King’s Theatre launched its first family pantomime and almost a year ago to the day since it was announced that the 50th pantoversary show would be the never-before-seen Peter Pan. A host of panto favourites and TV talent were cast: Glasgow’s favourite panto villain Gavin Mitchell, riding high on the success of a record-breaking run at mega-arena The Hydro in the recently resurrected Still Game stage show would take the role of Captain Hook, Scottish TV stars Greg McHugh (Gary Tank Commander, Fresh Meat), Scott Fletcher (Gary Tank Commander, River City) would be Smee and Peter Pan and comedian and Capital Radio presenter Des Clarke, Starkey. Stakes were also set high when it was revealed that an expected 85000 tickets would be sold, a daunting fact that would also test the mettle of most actors.

So when Captain Hook’s ship found itself sailing into some stormy waters; panto favourite Mitchell had to withdraw from his pivotal role due to injury, only to be replaced by Luther‘s Warren Brown who then pulled out 24 hours before curtain up on opening night, it was going to take the most seasoned of veterans to step into the breach and onto the deck of the Jolly Roger at the eleventh hour. That veteran turned out to be Alex Bourne, an established West End actor, having starred as Buddy in the Buddy Holly Story, played six years as Khashoggi in We Will Rock You and Oliver Award nominated for his dual role as Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate at Chichester Festival Theatre and the Old Vic.

It is testament to Bourne’s professionalism and talent that with a mere few days rehearsal we get a word perfect, classic pantomime villain. The only pity being, that having heard Bourne’s wonderful voice in previous roles, we don’t get to hear it here. He deserves applause for merely agreeing to take this on, that he does it so well deserves a standing ovation.

This is no radical re-boot of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale nor is it a slavishly faithful re-telling, rather its a local re-working that sticks fairly closely to the major plot lines of the story: the Darlings are asleep in their beds in Glasgow when Peter Pan comes to visit, taking them on the adventure of a lifetime to Neverland via Tiger Lily’s camp, Dead Man’s Rock and of course Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger.

As with almost all pantos, subtlety has gone out of the window, though not too far in this case; the script gets laughs in all the right places from the audience of all ages and manages to refrain from cheap innuendo to do so, the design is relatively tasteful and naturalistic rather than garish and tacky and the music is a mixed bag of relatively recent hits and familiar old classics.

However the amplification levels of the orchestra, who it must be said were absolutely top notch, seemed to be set to stun or should I say deafen – coming in somewhere between road drill and jumbo jet take off, rendering the vocals of Joanne McGuinness (Wendy) and Jenny Douglas (Tiger Lily) inaudible; both have proved to have strong vocals in other productions so maybe a better balance is called for.

The stand out star though is McHugh, who utilises his persona as the effete Gary Tank Commander to full effect. With a raise of an eyebrow or a deadpan aside he has the audience in tears. He has you wishing the scenes away when anyone else is on just to see what he comes up with next. McHugh is ably supported by fellow comedian Des Clarke who, in his third appearance in panto at the King’s, knows just how to wrap a Glasgow audience around his little finger. The ensemble and supporting cast too deliver solid performances throughout.

It all adds up to become classic, family friendly entertainment of the highest order.

Runs until Sun 11th January 2015