There may be bigger casts, more expensive sets and smatterings of well-known faces on stages around the city this Christmas, but this year no one can beat the Cottiers panto The Pure Amazing Wizard of Oz for its infectious charm, fast moving and engaging plot, and its cast, without doubt, the best sounding in Glasgow.
Following the classic tale (reasonably closely!) with a few local add-ins, oh, and a Toto who’s a flatulent toad, poor star-struck Dorothy from Partick finds herself sucked into the tornado and transported to the strange land of Oz. There she meets a few new friends and learns a valuable lesson about home and heart.
The piece is punctuated with familiar chart hits (and ‘One Short Day’ from Wicked), cleverly adapted to fit seamlessly into the storyline and each is sung gorgeously by a cast who are universally deserving of praise.
The set is small but eye-catching and brilliantly inventive and the costumes manage to be both modern and witty but reassuringly familiar.
The cast are, to a man, faultless and the whole endeavour is well-judged, acted and staged with tremendous verve and utterly irresistible.
It proves that you don’t need fading comedians or minor TV actors to stage the perfect festive show. This quintet of gifted performers: Joanne McGuinness (Dorothy), Connor McAllister (The Wicked Witch of the West End), Neil McNulty (The Scarecrow), Alison Rona Cleland (Tin Wumman) and Lee Reynolds (The Lioness) pack a punch that many massive casts can’t muster, they radiate such charm that you can’t help but warm to them, and prove whole-heartedly that true talent will always win out.
A glittering little emerald-hued jewel of a show that will fill you to the brim with Christmas spirit and send you back into the cold December air with a spring in your step and your heart well and truly warmed. Give yourself a festive treat and get along and see it while you still can.
You would need to be cynical indeed not to fall for the charms of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the Tony Award-winning musical celebration of that peculiar and particularly American institution. Yes it’s tongue in cheek, yes it’s off-beat and up-beat, yes it’s unashamedly sentimental, but beneath its good-natured surface is a biting and very self-aware look at all that American society holds dear and the effect it can have on its young people.
In this inaugural production by Mad Props Theatre, the action cracks on apace under the pin-sharp direction of Sarah-Elizabeth Daly, allowing this new company to deliver an acutely observed and brilliantly executed show.
As the six kids face up to the challenge of the big competition and pit themselves against each other and the four rival spellers (culled from members of the audience) the words get more unbelievable, the definitions more hilarious and the six young spellers in the throes of puberty, and each with their own demons to fight, even more hysterical: There’s the (home-made) superhero cape-wearing, home-schooled misfit and self-doubting spelling star Leaf Coneybear, whose cross-eyed trance induced spelling state is perfectly captured by Alex Lyne; Paula Russell is the magnificently monickered Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, political activist, speech impaired, neat freak daughter of two over-bearing gay dads;
On the face of it Niall Murray (below) who plays Chip Tolentino, boy scout, defending spelling champion, social animal and jock has it easy but Chip’s raging adolescent hormones decide to quite literally rear their ugly head at the most inopportune moment and Murray elicits laughs a plenty in his delivery of the lament ‘My Unfortunate Erection’!
The allergy-ridden, chip on his shoulder, odious mega misfit William Barfée with the magic spelling foot is played convincingly by Ronan Radin (below), a young man who looks disturbingly like Peter Kaye’s love child; Laura McLusky turns in a nicely low key performance as sensitive soul Olive Ostrovsky whose mom is off on an ashram in India, whose dad is perpetually late to see her compete, and whose best friend is her well-worn dictionary, however if there’s any criticism to be made, she could have milked the sympathy angle even more to get the crowd on her side; Rachel Thomson ably charts the disillusion and downfall of Marcy Park – speaker of six languages, member of the hockey team, championship rugby player, player of multiple instruments, hider in bathroom cabinets and poster child for the over-achiever.
If the kids aren’t off the wall enough for you, then their adjudicators: former spelling bee winner Rona Lisa Peretti, the down-right unhinged Vice Principal Panch and Official Comfort Counselor Mitch Mahoney (a man completing his community service to the state of New York), round out the odd-ball cast. Meghan Crosby has a fine soprano voice and impeccable American accent as Peretti, there’s fabulous characterisation by Ben Galloway as Panch, his dead-pan delivery never failing to raise a laugh and Dominic Spencer as misfit Mitch has the most astonishing range and tone to his crystal clear voice.
It takes clever direction to get the best from this minimally staged production and on this static set with simple props this story is seamlessly told. Credit must also go to John Gerard McFaulds for his inventive and cleverly varied choreography and Connor Going for his tight musical direction of his note-perfect and fantastic sounding ensemble.
This is the unlikeliest of musicals on the unlikeliest of subjects with the most unlikely heroes, but the quirky and charming cast of outsiders, ably portrayed with unremitting drive and energy and spot-on characterisation by this tremendously talented cast make this a joyous evening of theatre that’s impossible to resist.
I urge you to get a ticket before it ends its run on Saturday.
Oh, and if all of that doesn’t convince you to go – there’s even an appearance from Jesus!
The show runs from Wednesday 12th June until Saturday 15th June (Saturday matinee 2.30pm) tickets are £12 and are available by calling the box office on 0141 357 4000 or by visiting cottiers.com/events
Mad Props Theatre is a brand-new theatre initiative with all profits from its shows going to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. It was founded by Sarah Daly with the goal of raising money for the charity whilst bringing new theatre to the area. The group has recently been supported by Calendar Girls composer Tim Firth and Fresh Meat star Greg McHugh.
Originally written in 1948, in 1984 George Orwell envisioned a totalitarian future where love for Big Brother and the State is maintained and controlled at every level, including within the hearts and minds of the people. In this hideous vision of the future (and perhaps disturbing reflection of our present), Motherwell College’s BA (Hons) Acting graduating class present Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of Orwell’s most affecting novel.
Michael Gene Sullivan’s tightly-crafted, condensed script demonstrates an arresting approach to storytelling, whilst throughout, retaining both the relentless claustrophobia of the original work and its shattering emotional impact.
This was never going to be an easy watch: the subject matter so inexorable, so soul-destroying, so unvarying in tone and indeed so worryingly resonant that the fate of this piece is truly in the hands of the actors. So intense is their focus and so tight their grip on the audience’s emotions that you could hear a pin drop throughout the entirety of the performance and in their thrall we remained from start to finish.
In a clever piece of casting, the small ensemble cast were each allowed to play to their strengths: Ross Watson manages to convey the physical vulnerability and emotional turmoil of Winston Smith in the hands of his captors, however, some of his discourse was lost in his sometimes less than crisp diction; John Rennie skilfully gives life to Winston Smith’s words as the 1st Party Member who re-enacts the captive man’s journey from free-thinker to broken soul; Steve Lauder-Russell delivers a well-judged performance as the earnest 3rd Party Member – retaining an intense focus throughout; Colin McGowan is sure-footed as the 4th Party Member – his performance allowing him to showcase a range of characterful voices and allowing us a glimpse of the life beneath the soulless party member. Making an impact were Rachael Logan-Stott and Jordan O’Hara. Logan-Stott’s unerring focus never falters – her intensity as both the 2nd Party Member and Julia is disturbingly compelling. O’Hara does much with a small role – he is a powerful presence on stage – demanding the audience’s full attention in his hugely accomplished, assured and authoritative depiction of O’Brien.
Sparsely but effectively staged (with functional props that were more than likely gathered from whatever source the company could find), it did however add an effective timeless quality to the piece.
Again credit must go to the brave artistic choice – each of the three pieces on show here at Cottiers in Glasgow have a particular relevance and resonance to this place and time. And credit of course to this fine cast who promise much for the future of Scottish acting.
The Boys in the Photograph is a reworking of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton musical The Beautiful Game,set in the troubled Northern Ireland of 1969. The musical is the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation and follows the fortunes of a group of teenagers, all members of a local football team, and their friends.
Under the watchful eye of team coach Father O’Donnell, John and Del both show enough promise to pursue careers as professional footballers. When they find love they become swept up in the events that engulf their community and, as time passes, each has to decide whether or not to follow their hearts.
A show about the northern Irish troubles isn’t the likely choice for a musical, nor a typical subject for your average evening’s entertainment but that is exactly what The Boys in the Photograph is – and boy does it pack an emotional punch.
Unlike its short-lived existence on the West End stage, this production, here in Glasgow by Motherwell College’s BA(Hons) Musical Theatre graduating class, has found a home and an audience with whom its themes of sectarianism and bigotry still resonate.
This is a clever choice of material to showcase the talents of the actors, avoiding the well-worn classic fare as well as the recent preponderance of Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown productions, allowing as it does the opportunity for powerful and highly emotive acting as well as strong vocal skills. Packed with memorable and vibrant songs from heart-rending ballads to stirring Irish anthems, it would be a hard heart indeed who failed to be moved this piece.
The show benefits from a strong ensemble that deserves credit for effectively supporting the central cast. In the pivotal role of John Kelly, Martin Murphy not only delivers a perfectly judged performance of powerful emotion but also demonstrates fine vocal talent. As Mary, Fiona Harris subtly travels the path from spirited anti-violence protestor to dispirited wife and Bobby Weston turns in a highly-charged performance as Thomas, the classic angry young man blinded by a cause. Credit must also go to Steven Dalziel who deftly handles the only moments of comic relief as the tragic Ginger and the strong-voiced Gill Beattie as Christine.
The spare staging and costume design, also deserve mention, allowing the focus to be firmly on the cast, yet perfectly conveying a sense of place and time.
I can’t overstate how powerfully this material speaks to its audience or the quality of this cast – the audience remained transfixed from start to finish. This is an arresting tale, expertly realised and richly deserving acclaim – leaving a lasting impression long after the final note has rung out. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of this musical or this fine cast.
It’s heartening to know that the future of Scottish acting is in safe hands. This production of Scottish playwright Rona Munro’s adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is the perfect showcase for the nine young actors in this final performance for Motherwell College’s BA Acting degree.
Originally set in Andalusia, Munro’s resetting of the play to the East End of Glasgow has retained Lorca’s central story but added a vividly familiar depiction of the female members of a crime family in the aftermath of a murder. The play ramps up the claustrophobic atmosphere as mother Bernie tightens her stranglehold grip on her daughters as she tries to retain a tenuous hold on both them and her hard-won lifestyle.
Munro plays upon the exclusion of male characters from the action: slowly and climatically building up the tension as the women remain trapped together, the feelings of repression, the unrequited passion and displays mental fragility are all acutely displayed.
As head of the household Bernie (a role written large by Munro), Dawn Chandler manages to rein in a character who could so easily have descended into parody, to deliver a performance which wrings every drop of venom from every line as the formidable she-wolf slowly consuming her cubs.
The interactions of the sisters perfectly reflect the often brutal but ultimately loving relationships that exist between siblings. That said, some are more successful than others: Noemi McShane delivers a nicely nuanced performance as the mentally fragile Marty but her child-like looks render her slightly miscast as the older sister of flighty youngest Adie. As Adie, Christie Brown manages to perfectly convey those particularly annoying “in your face” traits of idealistic teenagers who think they know everything about love and are willing to do anything in its pursuit. Lauren Daley turns in a convincing, naturalistic performance as both the put-upon care-worker and pensioner family friend. Credit must also go to MJ Deans as Bernie’s long-term friend/employee Penny – capturing that West of Scotland former good-time girl teetering on the tightrope wire of a friendship on which her livelihood depends with aplomb.
These young women give hope for the future of Scottish theatre and I personally look forward to following their careers with interest.