Loosely based on the 1935 Rene Clair film, The Ghost Goes West, The Sunshine Ghost from Richard Ferguson (the pen name of conductor and RCS guest lecturer Richard Lewis) and Andy Cannon, (founder of Wee Stories Theatre for Children) is a work in progress, a co-production between Scottish Theatre Producers and Edinburgh’s Festival and King’s Theatres. The cast of six developing the work as they tour Scotland.
It’s 1958 and love-struck US billionaire, Glen Duval buys a Scottish castle and ships it across the Atlantic for his fiancée, Hollywood astrologer Astrobeth, only to discover that the castle’s ghost refuses to be parted from his ancestral home. Mayhem ensues between Ranald the ghost, Duval’s archaeologist daughter and her soon-to-be-step-mother, including curses, ship-wrecks, a séance, a swipe at Donald Trump, and a Scottish history lesson on Bonnie Prince Charlie, via Prestonpans to the battle of Culloden!
While a work in progress, it runs at a very fully formed two and a half hours. The problem is there are just too many songs, many of them merely filler. There are no costume or set changes to cover and a fair number of them fail to advance the plot in any way. That’s not to say that they are unpleasant or unentertaining, they’re not. Most are evocative of those black and white Saturday afternoon movie musicals of the 40s and 50s, a bit cha-cha-cha and samba-like, there even seems to be a new genre invented – 1950s rap! There’s also an under the sea parody with some fabulously funny lyrics. We could however be doing with a few less songs, a greater variety of musical styles and the story moving at a faster pace.
There’s huge scope for comedy in the story and with the characters. There are some great comedic moments, especially when pianist (and composer) Richard Ferguson gets his chance to shine as the Library of Congress librarian – with comic timing like that he’s woefully underused behind the piano. It’s great fun as it is but the whole thing would be elevated if it tipped even further towards comedy.
The performances are universally solid and the set and props as they are – are cleverly utilised. It’s easy to see how this could be scaled up to a full-blown touring musical – with the rolling hills of Scotland and the castle looming in the moonlight, it could be a tartan shortbread tin of nostalgia.
With shades of The Ghost and Mrs Muir and Blithe Spirit, this has HUGE potential: it just needs a few less songs, more musical variety and more comedy and it could easily be a winner.
Striving to be more Blood Brothers than Jersey Boys, Tim Firth’s musical Our House based around the music of Madness, ultimately fails to fall into either camp. Neither dramatic play with music or full-blown jukebox musical it is an odd hybrid which sits uneasily between the two.
A cautionary story about the power of choice, it tells the story of Joe Casey who on the fateful night of his 16th birthday breaks into an empty luxury apartment to impress his girlfriend Sarah. From here onwards we enter a parallel universe where we see the consequences of both his choices: in one world Joe escapes and prospers pursuing a life on the slightly less than legal side of the tracks and in the other he does the honest thing, surrenders to the police and ultimately lands up in a young offender’s institution. The story twists and turns (to its credit it resists taking a predictable path) and ultimately our young hero gets what he deserves. Shoe-horned into all of this are the songs of 80’s superstars Madness.
The company of actor musicians play both multiple roles and instruments onstage throughout and equip themselves with energy and commitment but there’s an overwhelming sense of something missing about the whole endeavour. The sound quality suffers from being dampened by the tiny and distractingly busy set perched on the huge Festival Theatre stage and struggles to reach the volume needed to fill this huge auditorium. The dampened sound also reflects the reaction that met the end of each set piece. No number ends emphatically enough to prompt spontaneous applause and on many occasions the actors launch straight into dialogue at the end of a song leaving no time for the audience to show any appreciation they feel it might deserve. It’s all a pity as the company work hard to engage the audience and their enthusiasm can’t be faulted. It’s a case of bad material happening to good people.
Alexis Gerred (Joe) is an amiable enough lead and he manages the quick changes required of the role with aplomb but he’s a bit lacking in the personality department to convincingly pull this off. Worthy of praise though is Daniella Bowen as girlfriend Sarah, convincing as the moral compass of the piece. However, one criticism must be made of the younger members of the ensemble, whose diction is less than crisp, leading to a universal tendency to mangle dialogue and render punchlines flat. However, Sean Needham and Rebecca Bainbridge as Joe’s parents, lend the show a much needed quality and gravitas, both are accomplished actors as well as musicians and their class shines through.
Despite a somewhat muted reaction throughout, the audience did give hearty applause at the end, though one can’t help think that it was for the hard-working cast rather than the material. The show should be applauded though for attempting to rise above the run of the mill jukebox musical fodder but it needs a clearer narrative and a more charismatic lead to pull it off.
Arguably the world’s favourite dancer and in On Before Carlos Acosta presents his most personal work to date. This new show builds on Acosta’s unique dance vision and features Royal Ballet principal dancer Zenaida Yanowsky with new choreography by some of the world’s leading dance makers including Russell Maliphant, Kim Brandstrup, Edwaard Liang and Miguel Altunaga. The show also features a wide ranging score from Handel to new commissions from Cuban composer Omar Puente and culminates in a moving finale featuring the live choral work of Morte Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium performed here by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus.
There are few dancers who can command an audience or who have captured the public’s imagination quite like Carlos Acosta. The nine short pieces in On Before present so many changes in mood and tone and provoke so much emotional response that it is impossible to be anything other than mesmerised from start to finish. Acosta appears to adhere to the “always leave your audience wanting more” philosophy and as the audience rose to its feet as one amid roars of approval and with curtain call after curtain call, this Edinburgh crowd certainly wanted a whole lot more. Both Acosta and Yanowsky are artists at the pinnacle of their career and as a showcase for all that’s best in the world of modern dance then you can’t get any better than this.
Leading Scottish tenor Nicky Spence is an ENO Harwood Artist who trained at the Guildhall School and the National Opera Studio. Following significant success in the British Opera houses including his acclaimed portrayal in the lead role of Brian in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the London Coliseum in 2011, he will make his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the same production in 2013. Nicky is recognised as one of the UK’s finest young singers and is increasingly in demand internationally. He is an ambassador for Age UK and the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to talk to this rising star in a rare break in his hectic schedule.
Can we go back to your beginnings, tell me a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a classical singer?
I used to sing everything from Whitney Houston and Tom Jones to The Mamas and Papas; whatever was in the record collection when I was a kid. Then someone gave me a ticket to see The Magic Flute when I was 15, a neighbour had a spare ticket, I went and a love affair began. From there, my music teacher thought that I had the potential to be more of a classical singer and said that it would be a shame to let my voice go to waste, so I had singing lessons from the age of 16. I applied for the Guildhall School in London, got in, and went to study there when I was 17.
You are currently in rehearsal for The Flying Dutchman with Scottish Opera; tell us about your role and how rehearsals are going?
The rehearsals are going really well – I am literally about to get onto the ship as it were! I’m playing the young Steersman who I suppose is the token young tenor who falls in love – he’s the voice of youth and inexperience, which I often am onstage! The Flying Dutchman is an epic piece, a tale of unrequited love and destiny and I’m looking forward to performing in it.
What has been your favourite role to play so far in your career?
So far I’d say it was probably Lampwick in The Adventures of Pinocchio with Opera North as I got to be a twelve year old and have fun, it gave me license to be really naughty. I enjoyed Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress because of the dramatic arc I had and Tamino in The Magic Flute with Scottish Opera last year.
I’d love to play Tom Rakewell again and Albert Herring. There are things I need to do before I get too old, too bald or too fat! I’d love to get those under my belt.
You’ve recently released your debut recital recording, As You Like It – Shakespeare Songs; can you tell us a bit more about how you came to choose this particular material to record?
I thought Shakespeare was a great source, like Robert Burns, Shakespeare was a bawdy bard – with twelve suicides in his plays there was plenty of room for melancholy as well, and at our fingertips was about 400 years of song settings to work with. It was a massive field to look into and hopefully I’ve chosen some interesting bits to listen to. It’s also in English, so for my first recital recording it was nice to have that immediacy with my audience.
You’ve just completed a tour with Scottish Opera to the farthest reaches of Scotland, spreading the word about opera – how was that experience, it looked like you had a great rapport on stage.
We had such fun; it was great, just super. It was also great to see the audience reaction at such close quarters, but it was really hard work travelling to all those remote places. I also think it is really important from the point of view of bringing opera to those who wouldn’t have the chance to see it or to those who don’t know very much about it. It’s especially effective in fulfilling Scottish Opera’s aim of have opera no more than thirty miles from anyone in the country.
What other highlights do you have coming up this year?
After The Flying Dutchman it’s back down to London to do some work with the ENO, after that I make my debut with Grange Park Opera in Dialogues des Carmélites then it’s off to New Zealand to play Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni then I’m making my debut at The Met in New York with the role of Brian in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys which I created at the ENO. I’m really looking forward to playing him again, especially as he’s so different to myself.
Finally what composers works would you recommend to encourage people to get into opera?
Tosca is a great one, from the first chord there’s drama and it’s really accessible, La bohème is a great one, Puccini has a way of really manipulating the listener’s heart, it’s a great place to start and Marriage of Figaro is great too.
In the last few years Sophie Bould has been steadily gaining a reputation as one of the most gifted stage actresses in the country. From her West End debut in the original Andrew Lloyd Webber production of The Sound of Music, to her recent role as Lily in The Secret Garden, Sophie has been winning lead roles and rave reviews. This week Sophie comes to Scotland in High Society at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre alongside Michael Praed and Daniel Boys. Glasgow Theatre Blog had a chance to chat to Sophie about this much loved show.
You’ve just embarked on an extensive UK tour; how does it feel to be out on the road for such a prolonged period of time?
I’m pretty excited actually as I’ll be visiting a lot of cities I’ve never been to before. I’ve been on a national tour before with the Michael Frayn play Noises Off which visited Glasgow, but this time because it’s six months I’ll be seeing a lot more of the country. I do miss home though.
Do you take any home comforts with you on tour to make things a bit easier?
I always take a few bits and pieces, I have lots of photographs with me: some wedding ones to pin to my pin board and ones of my little nephews, oh and the odd scented candle, just a few little creature comforts to remind me of home.
High Society is such a well-loved story, why do you think it still has such appeal after all this time?
I think it can resonate with anyone, anyone of any age or any walk of life. At the heart of it it’s about love and finding the person you truly love, I think will resonate with anyone who comes to see it. In this production in particular we have some wonderful people in the roles. Michael Praed (Dexter Haven) and Daniel Boys (Mike Connor) are wonderful, the boys are beautiful and I love them, so I’m just grateful to be playing opposite such lovely and talented men.
You’re following in the footsteps of Grace Kelly in the movie musical and Katharine Hepburn in the original Philadelphia Story; what have you done to make the character of Tracy Lord your own?
As you say they are quite large shoes to fill in that sense and I am quite wary of that. I haven’t watched the Grace Kelly movie since I was a child and when I found out I had the part I deliberately chose not to watch it in case I inadvertently picked up any of her mannerisms. I wanted to create Tracy Lord for myself in the rehearsal room with the director and the rest of the cast I’m playing opposite. We’ve talked a lot about the Philadelphia Story and I personally have done a lot of research on that and where the character of Tracy Lord actually came from. Philip Barry who wrote the original play, based the character on Philadelphia socialite Helen Hope Montgomery Scott and I researched her. It’s really interesting to base a character on a real life human being and make my own choices how to play her.
The choreography for the tour has been created by the award-winning Andrew Wright, he’s known for his innovative and often intricate work, are you a natural dancer or have you had to work hard at it?
Well I trained as a dancer years ago so it was in me somewhere and even though I haven’t done it in a while it was lovely to put the tap shoes back on. Andrew is such a genius, he is such a talented man and a lovely one too, it really was an honour to work with him especially after just winning his award for Singin’ in the Rain. Yes, the choreography is tricky and its intricate but its not impossible, and as my mum always says practice makes perfect – I just watched repeated and thankfully by the end of rehearsals I’d got it. The ensemble are wonderful, they really carry all the amazing dance routines.
Do you have any favourite songs or scenes from the show?
There are so many I don’t think I could choose. There’s a wonderful scene at the beginning of act two which starts with Let’s Misbehave and goes into Well Did You Evah and its such a big, feel good, group number. I love the really meaty scenes in this though, the script is wonderful, Arthur Kopit who wrote it worked really closely with us, altering the script as we went along, it is an absolute honour to have him on board. All the scenes with Tracy and Dexter and the scenes with Tracy’s father who is played by Craig Pinder I love.
Finally, do you have any plans for when the tour finishes apart from putting your feet up?
Definitely putting my feet up! But at the moment no plans. I guess auditioning will start again relatively soon. I will probably be going back into auditions in the next couple of months.
High Society opens Tuesday 5th March and runs until Saturday 9th March at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh and visits Glasgow from Tuesday 30th April until Saturday 4th May.