Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts (GAMTA) have teamed up with Eastwood Park Theatre to present this year’s festive pantomime, Cinderella.
The set and costumes are a feast for the eyes, the glittering, decorated proscenium adds to the wonder before the curtain even rises. There’s glitz, glamour and special effects, all adding to the magic of the production.
While the youthful cast win in the energy and effort department, it is however, a dance-heavy, slow to get going, take on the traditional tale. There are some baffling additions to the story which seem to have been shoe-horned in to showcase GAMTA’s dance credentials, unfortunately they only add to an already over-long run time. It also suffers from the fact Buttons is being played by a young child and the object of his affections a clearly mature teen, it all adds a creepily uncomfortable element which will no doubt go over the heads of the children in the audience, but feels a tad uncomfortable for the adults.
Where it succeeds is in its comedy elements, Ciara Flynn and Rebecca McComb are a perfectly matched comedic double act as Ugly Sisters and provide the majority of the true highlights of the show.
The cast can’t be faulted for their skill or talent, however, they suffer from an over-long and overly-dull script that dilutes the magical potential the show could have had.
The SEC Armadillo pantomime has gone all-out in its efforts to sparkle and shine brighter than its rivals: even before you enter there’s the dazzling 5 foot high letters spelling out the title of the show, then there’s the twinkling lights from the 20 foot Christmas tree, the flashing neon of the big wheel and the rainbow-hued SSE Hydro right next door. For sheer sparkling extravagance in set, costume and lighting design, no expense has been spared in this year’s offering, Cinderella. Cinder’s starlit crystal coach is a particular highlight, sparkling as it flies out above the audience.
There’s the cast too, Scottish TV comedy giants Jonathan Watson and Gavin Mitchell, music, theatre and River City star Frances Thorburn, musical theatre star Keith Jack and veteran comedy duo The Krankies.
The storyline is a simplistic and very streamlined version of the traditional tale: the two ugly step-sisters are mean to poor old Cinders (though not as mean as they could be); Cinders can’t go to the ball; the prince masquerades as a servant and falls in love with our heroine in the woods; Cinders gets her glad-rags on and goes to ball in disguise; Prince and Cinders are re-united; slipper gets lost; slipper finds its owner; the lovestruck pair get married, and yes, they all live happily ever after.
There’s no slapstick, no audience participation and no sweetie throwing as expected from a ‘traditional’ panto. There is however heavy reliance on The Krankies to provide the light relief, but their smut-laden and entirely inappropriate dialogue is woefully outdated in 2018 – and this comes from someone who is very much not of the ‘snowflake generation’. Watson and Mitchell are fine comic actors and do their best with the material given and Thorburn and Jack, both gifted singers only have a few short moments to show their considerable talents. They are all supported by a hard working, top-notch adult ensemble and a well-drilled children’s troupe from JazzartUK.
Very much geared towards adults, this is a beautifully staged panto, but I can’t help think that opportunities were wasted by the script writers and director with such a talented cast of actors.
Following on from the critically-acclaimed new work, The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures delve deep into the back catalogue to 1997 to revive their much-loved production of Cinderella.
Re-set to World War 2, Cinderella and her shell-shocked, RAF pilot beau, meet and part during the horrors of The Blitz. The familiar elements of the story remain: the ‘wicked’ step-mother and (not so wicked) step-sisters (with a few step-brothers thrown into the mix), and while there’s no Fairy Godmother, there’s the (somewhat malevolent) platinum-haired Angel, whose sinister presence punctuates the action. Instead of facilitating the fairy-tale ending, it feels more like manipulation. The setting, and Bourne’s handling of it, perfectly encapsulates the fragility of love during wartime.
As ever, Lez Brotherston’s design is stunning, from bombed out buildings, the London Underground, the (ball substitute) evening at The Café de Paris, The Embankment to Platform 12 at Paddington Station, each element is breath-taking. The limited colour palette of greys, and blacks is darkly atmospheric and draw the eye to key features of the narrative: Cinders pure white dress, the red cape of a Red Cross nurse, it is a masterpiece of theatre design. It perfectly reflects Britain in its ‘darkest hour’. Paul Groothuis’ sound and Neil Austin’s lighting design only add to the magic.
Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score has been edited down in Acts 1 and 2, but remains intact for Act 3. The music written contemporary to Bourne’s re-setting of the story adds a dimension of authenticity to the production. The two together a match made in heaven. It just feels right, and draws on Bourne’s own love for classic black and white movies and their music.
As with much of Bourne’s work there’s always humour to light the darkness. Including the foot-fetishist step brother, and a myriad of tiny details in both setting and action, that will raise a smile.
It’s hard to find fault in any aspect of this production, the dancers led by Ashley Shaw and New Adventures favourite Dominic North as Cinders and her Prince, are exquisite and unlike many Ballet companies, their acting ability and deftness at conveying the emotions of the story, not only match their dancing abilities but are head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Liam Mower as always leaves his mark as the Angel, as does Anjali Mehra as Sybil the exquisitely clad and coiffed, Step Mother.
With the now legendary Swan Lake to tour again next year, one can only wait with bated breath to see what new adventures are next for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. As ever, there are never enough superlatives for this incomparable company – simply unmissable.
Christopher Hampson’s production, originally created for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, finally arrived in Glasgow this month after a European premiere and a festive stint in our capital city. Set to Prokofiev’s 1945 score and on Tracy Grant Lord’s grand set, it faithfully follows Charles Perrault’s much-loved, rags to riches story as we know it.
Whilst there is much to admire here, the complex choreography will delight ballet aficionados and the dancers largely deliver their roles with aplomb, the nearly two and half hour running time and the lack of visual ‘sparkle’ leaves it lacking that certain something that makes for a truly spectacular festive ballet treat, and the tiny audience members (of whom there were many) were wriggling and restless by the end.
Bethany Kingsley-Garner as the titular heroine is a divine dancer, but her fixed expression lacks the range of emotion the character requires. Christopher Harrison, usually a sure-footed and assured performer, suffered from some serious wobbles as the Prince and again the lack of emotion left one feeling cold. Most successful are Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin as the ‘wicked’ step-sisters, the pair are an absolute delight and their acting skills admirable (the company will feel the loss of Mutso greatly as she leaves to pursue a career as a freelance dancer/choreographer after this tour). This is a company with undoubtedly talented dancers, but one can’t help feel that they are lacking somewhat in the acting/emotion department.
Richard Honner and the Scottish Ballet Orchestra are on fine form and the sound throughout is sumptuous. This is a thoroughly entertaining production, with some real highlights but one can’t help feeling it could have been so much more.
Over the past few years Kieran Brown has managed to firmly establish himself in the West End with roles in such blockbuster shows as: Love Never Dies, Wicked and the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2. As well as this Kieran is an established international concert and cabaret performer and pantomime veteran. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to ask him some questions in a rare break from his hectic schedule.
You’ve just finished appearing in Scotland’s biggest pantomime as Prince Charming at The King’s Theatre; tell us how the panto experience compares to your usual musical theatre and concert work.
Well, I’ve done quite a few panto’s before, but nothing NEARLY as big (or important to me) as the Kings in Glasgow – it’s the one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy, when I used to come see them as a child. It’s just been the most TREMENDOUS fun with the BEST company of people, who treated it with respect and care, which is what so many other panto companies and productions don’t do. The rapport that you get to have with the audience in Glasgow is second to none. Every friend of mine who visits Glasgow with a production mentions how “up for it” and friendly the audiences at the Kings are and it’s true!
Jenny Douglas and Kieran Brown as Cinderella and her Prince Charming at this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime.
Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
Not sure really. Certainly I was encouraged by my old Drama teacher/Mentor, Bill Graham who died a few years back. He had a HUGE influence on me, from when he directed me in the Falkirk Children’s Theatre and throughout high school and my time with Tryst Theatre Company. He really gave me the very best base training, encouraged and prepared me for drama school. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to him for that.
What advice would you give to any aspiring performer?
Be realistic about your goals, don’t take anything personally, and persevere. If it’s really your passion, then take the knocks (and there are many!) but don’t give up.
You have a full CV ranging from musicals, concert performances, cabaret, as well as directing; where does your heart really lie?
At the moment it is still performing but I have done a bit of directing and I think certainly in the future it is where I want to go. I can’t see me ever wanting to give up performing, so if I can flit between then great. I am a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and it is very hard when as an actor you are asked to do something by a director that you KNOW inside you is the wrong choice, but my job as an actor is to do what I am told. Directing however, is different, and a HELL of a lot more stressful, but it’s definitely what I want to do more of. I am currently assistant director for a very exciting new production of Chess at the Union Theatre. A very good friend of mine, Chris Howell is directing and I am enjoying watching his processes and reasoning as he guides his actors to get the best out of them and the piece.
You have been involved in mega musicals such as Wicked and the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert; what is it like to perform in something so big and so beloved by so many?
It’s quite surreal to begin with but the most important thing is to remember that these people love the piece and they have paid a lot of money to watch it, so you HAVE to do the best that you can do. With Wicked, it’s such a well oiled machine and is VERY carefully looked after by a brilliant team who know the piece inside out so you know you are in safe hands. It’s the same with most of the big, long(er) running shows. What I’d love though is to be involved in something new. That’s a real goal – to be in the original cast and create something that hopefully people will love in years to come. I am SO envious of all these amazing performers who were involved with the original productions of shows like Les Mis, or Phantom etc. That’s really a dream of mine.
Wicked is known for its rather devoted fans; did you have any interesting stage door encounters with the super-fans?
They are really the most amazingly dedicated bunch and I have met some real sweethearts and lovely people at the stage door, who’ve become good friends! The support from some of them has carried on after I left Wicked – a few even come up to Glasgow to see me do Cinderella and came to my cabaret “A West End Christmas In Glasgow” which I was really touched about. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you walk out of stage door and you see people “greenified”! I usually didn’t get recognised as I had to have a shaved head for the show. You do get a few who are a bit pushy/rude and are only interested in the two lead females, but on the whole it’s a great atmosphere. Takes a bit of getting used to. On our last night (Rachel Tucker’s last) it was CRAZY! I’ve never seen so many people at stage door anywhere before! My favourite was at the last night of Love Never Dies. Hundreds of people, and one lady asked if she could have a picture with me. I obliged (of course!), and the woman behind asked if I would sign her programme. When I did, the lady with the camera came to me and asked if I was the Phantom. “I wish” I replied, then she said very disappointedly “Oh” and promptly deleted the picture of me right in my face…! I just laughed!
Kieran as Raoul in Love Never Dies
I see you’ve worked extensively in Vienna as an actor, concert soloist, and as a director; can you tell us about that?
I spent 6 years on and off living in Vienna and dividing my time between there and the UK. It’s really one of my favourite places to be and like my second home so I try to visit my friends there as much as I can. There is a great theatre scene over there and I worked for the International Theatre, which is now sadly closed, and the Vienna Theatre Project (sic). I recently did a series of three cabaret concerts called “West End Winters” with a German musical star Caroline Frank, which sold out, so we are hoping to make them a regular thing and do some more in a couple of months. There is nothing like that on the theatre scene in Vienna and word of mouth quickly spread so by the last night we had 30 people queuing for returns which was a lovely feeling! Vienna also gave me an opportunity to direct – I did “Over The Threshold” (which I was also in) and “A Christmas Carol”. It was a great place to dip my toes in the directorial water and I really learned a lot from the processes.
A Christmas Carol in Vienna
What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?
Well, to direct more, do a bit more TV again, and there are a few parts I’d love to play – Phantom in “Love Never Dies”, Joe in “Sunset Boulevard” (and there was me thinking I wasn’t such a Lloyd Webber fan!!!). I really want to do more plays/straight theatre again though. I’d love to do a period drama, like Bleak House, or Downton Abbey or something similar.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in what would it be and who would you cast alongside you?
Eeeek, this is a hard one! Well, ANYTHING with Dame Judi Dench, of course! Sorry if that’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.
What do you do to chill out when you’re not on stage?
Not much! I find I have VERY little time – I’m always doing gigs or concerts so my spare time is somewhat precious! I’ve made a resolution to create more time for myself this year though, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll have time to discover a hobby!
Tell us what’s next for Kieran Brown.
At the moment, I have no idea! Chess will keep me busy for now, but I’m generally waiting on my agent to call with auditions! I will be back to Vienna I’m sure in the spring to do some more concerts, I am a guest performer for Annemarie Lewis Thomas (Principal and founder of the MTA in London), alongside the AMAZING Ria Jones, Shona White and Caroline Kieff at the Landor Theatre on Feb 15th. Other than that… watch this space!
Since her first appearance as an 18 year old on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Dorothy in Over The Rainbow, Jenny Douglas has made a huge impact on the musical theatre scene. Personally headhunted by Queen’s Brian May to star in the tour of We Will Rock You, she has gone from strength to strength as a performer, with her powerhouse voice winning her a legion of fans the length and breadth of the UK. I had the chance to catch up with Jenny to ask her about her phenomenal achievements in the few short years since leaving Over the Rainbow.
You’ve just finished your first pantomime as Cinderella back home in Scotland; how does the panto experience compare to something like We Will Rock You?
Cinderella was my first Panto and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it’s so different to anything I’ve done before! I had such a blast at the Kings! There is so much audience participation to keep you on your feet! And with an audience like Glasgow there’s never a dull moment! Panto gives people a chance to let go and get involved.
Did you learn any panto tricks or tips from your co-stars?
I fell ill towards the end of the run and the term “Hot Toddy” got thrown around a few times! Basically – have a wee whisky to coat yer throat lol!
You’ve achieved so much at such a young age, can we go back to where it all started? When did you discover that you had a talent for performing; was it at a very young age or did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue a career in theatre?
I have always loved musical theatre; it’s a big family thing. I’ve always loved changing my voice to different characters and styles it’s just so much more fun than straight up acting or singing!
We can’t go without mentioning Over the Rainbow; what are your best and worst memories from your time on the show?
My best and worst memory from Over the Rainbow was when we were at the Dorothy Farm with the final 50 girls. We were split into groups and asked to perform our final song and then the judges would whittle it down to the top 20 for the live show. Once we had performed we were asked in true reality TV style to line up and sing “Over The Rainbow” repeatedly. Charlotte Church was given the awful task of then walking around the lines of girls and tapping the unsuccessful girls on the shoulder and that would be the end of their journey. Charlotte did so well to remember all the girl’s faces from the photos she was given but had accidentally tapped my shoulder. I knew this was it for me and joined the other girls who were going home… It was safe to say I was gutted. The final 20 where left and it was then that a producer came towards me and said: “You’re meant to be over there Jenny” You can imagine my absolute disbelief and pure joy as I joined the final 20! I’ll never forgot how that felt, all in a matter of 3 minutes I had experienced both sides! A total roller-coaster!
You interrupted your training to appear on Over the Rainbow, is there anything you regret about giving up your studies?
I did at first, I had so much more to learn and had always thought I’d spend at least four years training up in Scotland. Everyone has different paths to take in life and mine just happened to lead me to learning on the job. I learned so much playing Meatloaf in We Will Rock You and to be honest no matter how long you train for you never stop learning ! 🙂
Have you changed as a performer since we saw you in Over the Rainbow?
Absolutely! I was 18 when I auditioned for Dorothy and I had no training or experience behind me which wasn’t great for my self-confidence, especially being surrounded by so many talented girls: some who had trained for years at top London schools and others who had even done West End shows! It was safe to say I felt out of my league! It’s the same as any job there’s always going to be people who excel in things you don’t, the important thing is to believe in your own abilities and give it everything you have!
In a short time you went straight from appearing on TV to a starring role in We Will Rock You. It must have been a complete whirlwind, how did your life change after these amazing things started happening?
By this point I had just turned 19 and I was about spend 18 months away from home which was really hard to comprehend. I’m really independent but without sounding cheesy “There’s no place like home” ha ha! I actually met my boyfriend on the tour and we have lived together for just over two years now and that was something I never expected to happen! I also got my courage up and climbed Kilimanjaro in the summer – it was a truly awesome year!
Meatloaf is such an iconic stage role. How did you make your own mark on the character?
I saw “Meatloaf” as this real comical character. She is one of the Bohemians searching for the lost music, a scavenger who has just happened to rummage across a studded corset, ripped denim shorts paired with some fishnets, suspenders and zip-up biker boots! She stomps around on stage, never crosses her legs and barks orders at all the other Bohemians…. Including her other half Britney Spears. In short; she’s the Boss, she wears the trousers… well hot-pants!
Two of the actresses who have played Meat (Kerry Ellis and Rachel Tucker) have gone on to play Elphaba in Wicked; would that be a role you’d like to play?
I’d love to, a girl can only hope.
Are there any other stage roles that you’d love to play or shows you’d like to be in?
Oh jeez there are so many…I don’t know how much space you have! I’d love to do Mamma Mia and My Fair Lady… If Calamity Jane ever comes back I’d be on it like a car bonnet!
In a long tour like We Will Rock You, you’re away from home for long periods of time, what home comforts do you take with you?
My hot water bottle.
What interests do you have away from the stage?
I play my guitar in any spare time I have and I occasionally paint, but I am truly awful at it.. I think I just like to get messy.
What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?
Honestly, as far as theater goes it’s just such an unstable job to have I’d be happy just to work consistently. I’m easily pleased. I would like to be able to get to a higher standard on my guitar as at the moment I’m just starting to comfortably accompany myself.
What advice would you give any aspiring performer?
“It’s never a NO… It’s just not right now.” Auditions can be tough and you can face a lot of rejection, The important thing to remember is to believe in your abilities!
What have you got planned for 2013 and beyond?
Auditions. Auditions. Auditions… and unpacking as I’ve just moved flat … not got round to it yet he he!
Do you have any message for your fans?
Oh jeez…Thank-you! To everyone who voted for me on Over the Rainbow right at the start of my career… I have you to thank for everything that’s come my way. Honestly I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys ! 🙂