Tag Archives: Dance School of Scotland

REVIEW: Made in Dagenham – The New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

A fictionalised version of the true story of the sewing machinist’s strike at Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968, where the female workers walked out in protest against unequal pay for equally skilled work, Made in Dagenham is based on (but not wholly a copy of) Nigel Cole’s 2010 film of the same name. It drops many of the movie characters, introduces some new ones and expands parts of the storyline only touched on in the film version.

The stage version had a short, and somewhat problematic life in the West End in 2014, this time it’s tackled by the students of the Dance School of Scotland. What is always guaranteed from this unique school is quality, total professionalism and commitment to any work they tackle, however, the issues that plagued the musical’s short run in the West End remain. The book takes what feels like an eternity to get anywhere and the score, while lively in part, lacks the standout tunes that make a successful production ( Stand Up) the show closer, is the only one that gets near. It’s laudable that any show gives voice to women and to a life-changing moment in British history, but it’s unsubtly done, too caricatured and over-long.

That said, there’s terrific work from Charlotte Power (meant to play the role later in the week, but stepping in due to illness) as Rita O’Grady – the heart and soul of the dispute and the force behind the law change in 1970. The supporting cast of women (played by these high school aged pupils) also manage to breathe believable life into their parts, steering them clear of exaggeration and keeping them wholly realistic. The boys, while portraying men from an utterly different era, one of out-right sexism and derision towards woman, play it a lit bit too broad, too stereotypical, a little too out-there comedic. One wonders if these were directorial choices, or dictated by the script.

There were also issues to overcome with a band that totally overwhelmed the singers at points, (the venue can’t be blamed as it was purpose built for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with world-class acoustics) and poor and rushed diction (nerves may be to blame on this opening night) that rendered a lot of the script inaudible.

The sheer energy and vitality with which the company attacked the material, elevated it above the source material, and one can’t fault the commitment of each and every performer. With better material to work with this company of performers are sure to go far.

REVIEW: Dance School of Scotland – Batboy – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

It’s been 20 years since Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe’s Batboy first graced the stage (making it older than the entire cast of this Dance School of Scotland production). This musical theatre cult oddity is based on a 1992 Weekly World News schlock-horror story of a half-boy, half-bat found in a cave in West Virginia.

Expanding the story into themes of prejudice and acceptance, Edgar, as the titular batboy is re-Christened, is humanised by the family of the local vet, learns to speak in the finest RP English and is eventually introduced to the townsfolk. But, as with all the best B-movies, this happy acceptance doesn’t last. When a spate of cattle killings coincide with Edgar’s appearance it doesn’t take long for the townsfolk to turn. In classic B-movie style there’s every cliché about small town America here, right down to the flaming torch-wielding lynch mob.

With its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, this production, under the direction of Graham Dickie, manages to tread the fine line between sacrificing quality for cheap laughs and the acting remains on-point throughout. There ain’t no stage-school bad habits here. This is young talent at its finest, under tight direction.

What the cast lack in years, they more than made up for in ability. Matthew Wilson is a supremely talented young actor, as Batboy, his beautifully toned voice is an absolute treat for the ears, standout too is Kathryn Ronney (Mrs Parker) an actress with more talent and poise than many professionals decades older – this central pair should be assured of a bright future. That’s not to say they are the only highlights, both are more than ably supported by Samuel Stevenson as Dr Parker and Keir Ogilvy as revivalist minister Rev. Hightower, two young men who shine, as do the fine-sounding ensemble.

Mention must be made of the scenic design and staging which are as sublime as the acting, putting many national touring productions to shame with their quality and originality. This production is visually stunning and grabs the attention throughout.

Always an utter pleasure to watch, the Dance School of Scotland deliver sheer class and quality yet again.

REVIEW: Godspell – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

A knock-out cast, some fabulous, familiar tunes and a clear direction proves there’s life in the old dog yet in the Dance School of Scotland’s production of Godspell.

Always a tricky beast, John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz’s trippy-hippy treatment of the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke) has proved problematic in the past, however, here under the steady hand of director Graham Dickie, a clear narrative emerges amongst the disparate parables.

The Dance School of Scotland provide the creme de la creme of musical theatre students in the country and this year’s batch are no exception. Chief among them Ryan Kopel and Aaron Millar, two young men in possession of stunning and very different voices who will doubtless grace the stages of the West End and beyond in years to come. Kopel’s solo rendition of the classic “Beautiful City” is among the best I’ve ever heard.

This is a fitting showcase for the best of young Scottish musical theatre and a must-see in the theatrical calendar. I personally can’t wait until next year.




REVIEW: Betty Blue Eyes – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Universally acknowledged as a showcase for Scottish musical theatre stars of the future, The Dance School of Scotland’s 2014 show Betty Blue Eyes doesn’t disappoint.

Based upon Alan Bennett’s screenplay for the 1984 film A Private Function, Ron Cowen, Daniel Lipman and composing team Stiles and Drewe’s musical tells the tale of Austerity Britain. It’s 1947 and rationing is still in place two years after the war has ended. Fed up with eating Spam, some less than scrupulous Yorkshire business men decide to secretly raise an unlicensed pig to feast upon at the town’s celebration of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten. But into the mix comes mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers, his ambitious wife Joyce and Ministry of Food inspector Wormold and the best laid plans of the town’s great and good don’t quite go to plan.

The cast are, as usual, a knockout, in particular Mari McGinlay as Joyce, in possession of a stand-out voice, a pitch perfect accent and a finely nuanced acting performance, this is a young woman who, to all intents and purposes, is ready and set for the West End right now. As last year, Ryan Hunter turns in a magnetic performance as Dr. Swaby, he is a young man of immense talent and charisma which belie his years. Both can look forward to sparkling careers ahead. The ensemble are universally deserving of praise – maintaining focus and sharpness throughout as well as producing a full and rich sounding chorus.

The set  is simple but effective and high praise must go to the puppet team who successfully bring Betty the pig to life. As someone who saw the 6 figure animatronic version in the West End it was with great interest I awaited Betty’s appearance – I’m happy to say she doesn’t disappoint.

Where the whole endeavour falls down (and indeed the reason for its short West End run) is not the actors or the set or the direction but with the piece itself. Though there are highlights throughout, it is missing that elusive sparkle that makes a show a hit and it ends on a bit of a damp squib. That said, it doesn’t detract from the first-rate performances of the young cast. I look forward to following their future careers.

REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone – Dance School of Scotland at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

drowsy-chaperone A modern day musical theatre addict known simply as the ‘Man in Chair’ drops the needle on his favourite LP and from the crackle of his hi-fi, the uproariously funny 1928 musical magically bursts to life on stage. The “show within a show” tells the tale of a Broadway starlet’s wedding day and how it is complicated by a motley crew of zany guests, including a gin‑soaked chaperone assigned to keep a watchful eye over the bride.

It’s hard to believe that the cast of this highly accomplished show are aged 18 and under – any qualms about their ability to portray the vast array (and ages) of characters is dispelled the moment Ryan Hunter as Man in Chair takes to the stage, impeccable American accent in place and with a characterisation that would put more seasoned performers to shame, he takes us back to 1928 and into the tale of his favourite musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Hunter never leaves the stage for the entirety of the show (including the interval) and his focus never wavers throughout – the only pity is that it would have been nice to find out if his voice matched his considerable acting skills.

Stand out among the cast is Ronan Burns as Robert the starlet’s groom – with a pitch perfect golden age of Broadway voice and even sharper footwork, he is deserving of the title Young Scottish Musical Theatre Performer of the Year which he won against stiff competition (his leading lady being one of them). In true “”show must go on” style, principal Janet Van De Graff (Erin Hair) had lost her voice that morning and would act the part which would be sung from the pit by Morgan Harrison, a young woman whose voice on hearing is so stunning you would question the decision to have her hidden in the chorus in the first place. Credit must go to both actors who seamlessly accomplished this difficult feat.

The leads are ably supported by a cast of colourful characters chief among them Adolpho (Dylan Wood) milking all the laughs he could from the caricature comedy foreigner role.

If any criticism is to be levelled at all then it is with the musical itself – the plot starts off thin and only gets thinner and eventually ends up as a series of set pieces of uneven quality and style that are merely there to give everyone in the cast their moment in the spotlight – while this might be a great idea for a showcase it makes the storytelling rather uncohesive.

The Dance School of Scotland has an enviable reputation for producing the highest quality West End performers – indeed, many of the Scottish performers interviewed for this blog have passed through its doors. The show’s faults are minor in the scheme of things. This is a stunningly accomplished cast in a highly entertaining show and it’s a chance for the audience to say in years to come that you saw them here first.

The Citizens Theatre – Saturday 15th / Monday 17th – Wed 19th June

Tickets available from Citizens Theatre Box Office on 0141 429 0022

REVIEW: Bye Bye Birdie – The Dance School of Scotland, Citizen’s Theatre Glasgow 20th June 2012

It’s the late 1950s and teenagers from across the United States are going crazy  for the handsome rock star, Conrad Birdie.  Meanwhile, his manager, Albert  Peterson, is going into debt and has staked his financial future on Conrad’s  success.  Albert’s secretary, Rosie, is increasingly frustrated with the time  and money Albert is losing on his project.  Disaster strikes when Conrad  receives a draft notice to join the military. Thus, Albert attempts to stage a  farewell party for Conrad in which he is to kiss one lucky fan on the Ed  Sullivan Show before he leaves for the army.  Kim MacAfee, from Sweet Apple,  Ohio, is the lucky girl chosen to be kissed.  But conflict arises when her  boyfriend, Hugo Peabody, gets jealous…

Showcasing the skills of the Musical Theatre students of the Dance School of Scotland this is a chance to see the best of young musical theatre talent before they hit the big time and I would urge you to take the chance. The overall quality of the performances was exceptionally high but I must single out two of the leads who are undoubtedly destined for greater things:

Ewan Black by John Cooper  www.johncooperphotography.com.

In particular Ewan Black (above) playing Albert, (finalist in the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year) a young man possessed of an acting talent as good as anything I’ve seen on the professional stage and Kara Swinney, so utterly convincing as his mother Mae.

That talent of this quality is nurtured in this country is something to be proud of – shout it from the rooftops – but not before you’ve bought a ticket to see this.

Runs until Saturday 23rd June at The Citizens Theatre.