A more life-affirming, moving and ultimately inspiring “happening” (in the words of the performers), you are unlikely to experience than An Audience With… Created after choreographer and dance-maker Janice Parker put a call out to dancers from the Variety era who had performed on the stage of the Empire (now Festival) Theatre in Edinburgh. Answering that call from Parker were: Marie Duthie (94), June Don Murray (90) and Doreen Leighton-Ward (85), all seasoned stars of the Variety stage.
June Don Murray, Janice Parker, Marie Duthie, Doreen Leighton-Ward, Daisy Douglas and Katie Miller
Their rich lives and legacy are the core of this promenade performance. And oh, what lives they’ve lived. Their memories of the golden age of Scottish variety are a glimpse into an almost lost world.
June Don Murray still shows the spark that served her so well as a performer. Born into a family of performers and theatre managers (one of her father’s illustrations adorns the walls of the performance space, an illustration that the theatre knew no backstory to, until June herself spotted it), she takes us through our paces in a dance lesson, performs a dying swan ballet sequence and recounts some of the hair-raising feats she performed. Along with being a Moxon Girl, Scotland’s answer to the Tiller Girls, June was Australian illusionist The Great Levante’s assistant and was shot out of a cannon into a basket in the gallery of the theatre on a nightly basis.
June Don Murray
Doreen Leighton-Ward as well as being acclaimed for her dancing skills, organised a strike to obtain a pay rise and better contracts and conditions for Scottish dancers. An act that led one spiteful theatre manager to sack her, however, this quiet, but strong woman, expresses no regrets.
Marie Duthie née Pyper, began her dancing career as a toddler at her father’s amateur concert parties. In 1932, at the age of 9, she performed the dying swan solo and Edinburgh’s Evening Dispatch newspaper said, “memories of Pavlova are brought to mind”. By 1940 she toured the country with The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita and in 1942 became one half of The Raymond Sisters, extensively touring the UK on the renowned Moss Empire Circuit, ending the act in a mini kilt singing and tap dancing to Macphersin’ is Rehearsin’ to Swing.
The Ganjou Brothers and Jaunita with whom Marie Duthie toured.
We are led through the private corridors and side rooms of the theatre, experiencing different aspects of these remarkable women’s careers. They are joined by two more generations of dancers, creator Janice Parker, and two young dancers, Daisy Douglas and Katie Miller, whom the women are teaching to tap dance.
These women have never stopped dancing, and to this day are still passing on their techniques and wisdom to a new generation of dancers. Their legacy too, is getting the recognition it deserves with a book and film due next year.
Celebratory, moving and inspirational in turn, the joy in the room is palpable. The enthusiasm they transmit for dance is measured by the scrum to don tap shoes and take part in a lesson at the end. This life-affirming production proves that love for, and participation in dance, has no age limit, it will leave you with a song in your heart and wings on your heels. Truly joyous.
There are further performances of An Audience With… on 26 and 28 October 2017 at The Empire Rooms in Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
This stark and sleek version of Ibsen’s classic play, adapted by Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, demonstrates Hedda Gabler has resonance far beyond its time.
An ice-cold but electrifying Hedda (Lizzy Watts) returns from her honeymoon with new (but already unwanted and undesired) husband Tesman (played by Abhin Galeya as more youthful and vibrant than those that have come before him, but still more interested in his academic buddies, and still treating his wife like a trophy in a display cabinet), to the blank walls of her marital prison. Apparently lacking the means or self-motivation to free herself, Hedda sets out on a path of universal destruction.
The production plays out at a uniform pace which makes the unfolding horror all the more insidious. Hedda is a master manipulator, taking perverse pleasure in her malevolence. Whilst hurting and harming all those around her, every act of cruelty is ultimately harming only one person, Hedda herself. Her self-annihilation is uncomfortable to watch and every action, foreshadows the inevitable ending.
Jan Versweyveld’s whitewashed representation of Hedda and Tesman’s new marital home is cell-like, and despite it’s vast size, feels claustrophobically confining. The sparseness reflecting Hedda’s own view of the physical and psychological walls between which she’s trapped. Indeed, van Hove and Marber’s adaptation shines a modern light on Hedda’s actions, actions that we would now associate as classic symptoms of depression. Versweyveld’s lighting is a triumph, almost a character in itself, subtly shifting the mood in the auditorium.
However, for all that does work, there are details that jar: video intercoms, but no mobile phones, Løvborg’s precious manuscript in handwritten form only, characters discussing riding coats and whether they should call each other by Christian names while swanning around in modern dress. While much resonates, it has been robbed of much its power to shock in transporting it to the 21st Century. While it is depressing to think that over a century on, gender imbalance still exists and many women are still trapped in stifling marriages due to financial and familial pressure, but most have, or can find, an avenue of escape or support. The nagging question keeps coming to mind: “Why in today’s world, doesn’t she just pack up and leave?”
Watts is impressive in the titular role as is Annabel Bates (below) as old schoolmate Mrs. Elvsted. While an object of Hedda’s torture both in the past and present, she has much that Hedda envies, and Bates imbues her with a steely backbone hidden behind the soft exterior. Adam Best, in an uncomfortably resonant display of sexual harassment, (in light of the Weinstein allegations) is suitably abhorrent as the bullying Brack.
Despite some questionable directorial choices, Hedda Gabler, while no longer shocking, remains unnerving, and this National Theatre production deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
Marie Duthie, June Don Murray and Doreen Leighton-Ward are three women from the golden age of Variety. Aged 94, 90 and 85 respectfully, they are all still dancing. Brought together by director and choreographer Janice Parker these consummate dancers are guaranteed to both awe and entertain.
In early 2016 Janice was approached by the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh to contribute to their engagement programme. Interested in the idea of authorship, agency and the legacy of older performers in today’s dance world, she put out a call looking for dancers from the Variety era who had at one time or another performed on the stage of The Empire, now Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.
Marie Duthie (nee Pyper) was born in 1923 and trained in Edinburgh. She first danced publicly as a toddler at her father’s amateur concert parties where she met her dance teacher Constance Gabrielle. By 1930 she was also training in ballet, tap and acrobatics with another Edinburgh teacher, Marjorie Middleton. In 1932, at the age of 9, Marie performed the dying swan solo and was noted by Edinburgh’s Evening Dispatch newspaper who said, “memories of Pavlova are brought to mind”. By 1940 she toured the country with The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita. Acrobatics was her speciality and in 1942 she became one half of The Raymond Sisters, extensively touring the UK on the renowned Moss Empire Circuit with her double act, which ended with them in mini kilts singing and tap dancing to Macphersin’ is Rehearsin’ to Swing.
Janice Parker Project – Festival Theatre Edinburgh
Marie herself says: “I’ve been dancing from the word go. My mother used to say whenever there was any music on I was twitching and moving, always dancing and doing my own version. I feel so at home the minute I put my tap shoes on”.
June Don Murray was born in 1927 into a theatrical family in Scarborough, the daughter of performer and theatre manager Roy Don Parker and dancer Phyllis Ward and grand-daughter of renowned Variety performer, Happy Tom Parker. The family moved to Edinburgh when June was three and her father became manager of the Palladium Theatre. June began her formal training at Madame Ada’s dance school and went on to perform across Scotland and the UK with the Adaline Calder Girls, the Hamish Turner Dancers and then with the Moxon Girls. In 1955 June became the assistant to Australian illusionist The Great Levante, taking part in disappearing acts, bullet tricks and was regularly fired out of a canon.
June says: “Oh, it’s a laugh a minute, we love it, but nobody knows what goes into making a show, the time it takes, how hard we work, the precision”
Doreen Leighton-Ward was born in 1931 in Edinburgh and began her dance training in Madame Ada’s Dance School in Picardy Place Edinburgh as one of the Calderettes. At the age of 15 she becomes a Calder girl and toured in pantomime across the country before becoming head girl with The Hamish Turner Troupe. In 1953 Doreen attended an Equity meeting, initiated a strike, and successfully challenged and changed the working pay of dancers in Variety theatre. She appears as an unnamed mystery woman in a photograph of that meeting in The Scotsman. Doreen went on to dance in musical theatre and to appear in many TV dramas. She was recently choreographer for The Last Post, directed by Susan Worsfold as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase 2017.
Doreen says ‘’Ours was a small piece of a large jigsaw from which other dance styles evolved. I’ve a renewed sense of worth in the work we did 65 years ago. This is exciting, heady stuff.”
Director Janice Parker commented: “These women have never stopped dancing and continue to transmit their love of the art form and for the act of dancing. They have so much knowledge, skill and passion. True forces of nature. For a year now we have been working together a day a week collecting, gathering, exchanging and dancing. We have two young dancers in their 20s in the company, Katie Miller and Daisy Douglas, who are learning choreography and technique from Marie, June and Doreen. They are also learning about the life of these women and its relevance and contribution to dance now.
We are three generations of dancing. I turn 60 this year and long to give agency, authorship and relevance to older women dancing, to their continuing possibilities and to the stories our bodies tell.
There is so much to share. At the peak of their careers Variety dancers were in the main unnamed. Some weeks they were doing 13 shows a week and travelling to the next venue with their costumes, sheet music, and the occasional dog and kangaroo. And all on their day ‘off’!” An Audience With… is a way of giving voice and recognition and a means to share the energy and vivacity of these dancers.”
The live events take place, aptly, in the Festival Theatre’s Empire Rooms. Structured loosely around a guided tour. An Audience With… is a live and virtual experience with six dancers, from three generations who share their dancing lives, past, present and future.
Marie, June and Doreen say: “We dance. We talk about dance. We talk about the profession then and the profession now. We talk about ourselves. We’ve danced in the studio, the dressing rooms, in the theatre bar, in the foyer and back on the main stage Janice, Katie and Daisy are learning to tap dance. We do the five positions of ballet. We work on portable tap mats and sometimes ballet barres. We experiment with seated dance, and a bit of creative contemporary. We teach class. We talk about dance not just as the mastery of steps but also as the ‘feeling’ of movement, swinging, hanging loose and feeling the music. We know the importance of rehearsal and repetition. We choreograph. And we think about what it means to be an older dancer, what it feels like to not be able to do what you once could and did do, and what it means to do it differently.”
Paul Hudson, Forget Me Not Co-ordinator says: “To actually have people in-residence in the building has brought our history and our stories alive and gives perspective on what we are doing now. The staff love watching these women dance and hearing about their time on the Empire stage.”
In 2018, An Audience With… will also produce a book and a film, and the dancers will continue meeting weekly. They are also interested in meeting other dancers from that era.
An Audience with… will be at the Empire Rooms in the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh on Saturday 21, Thursday 26 and Saturday 28 October 2017 from 3pm to 4.30pm.
The venue is wheelchair accessible and guide dogs are welcome.
Despite 15 years passing since its premiere, Matthew Bourne’s boundary pushing The Car Man is still managing to captivate, enthrall and excite audiences around the globe.
Taking as its inspiration James M. Cain’s classic novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, and set to Rodion Shchedrin’s Bolshoi Ballet version of George Bizet’s Carmen (with additional music composed by Terry Davies) The Car Man is renowned for its no holds barred portrayal of sex, violence and homoeroticism and I’m glad to report, it has lost none of its power down the years.
It’s the early 60’s in small town Harmony, opportunistic drifter Luca (Tim Hodges) rolls into town and changes the lives of everyone he meets. First seducing Lana (Ashley Shaw) the local garage owner’s young wife, then the timid and much picked upon Angelo (Liam Mower), he incites and inspires lust and jealousy in equal measure eventually resulting in murder, miscarriage of justice and finally revenge.
The sweltering heat of the setting, story line and the sensual movement pervades the auditorium. If this doesn’t leave you hot under the collar then I’m not sure what would. There is full-frontal male nudity and frank portrayals of sex throughout but it is oh so skilfully done, never gratuitous and at all times essential to the plot.
The pacing as well as the footwork is perfect, the story line is driven along at a blinding pace and the choreography captivating and impeccably executed throughout. It is a visual feast scenically as well as choreographically, Lez Brotherston’s inventive transforming set and its complementary lighting from Chris Davey are wonderfully evocative.
The Car Man remains a sizzling hot sensation which still excites. Matthew Bourne really can do no wrong.
If it’s a great big glittery Hallmark card of a show you are after, filled with nostalgia, sentiment and good old-fashioned Christmas spirit thenIrving Berlin’s White Christmas at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre is the show for you.
Based upon the 1954 Paramount Pictures’ classic movie, and following its storyline with a few edits here and there for the stage, fans of the original film will not be disappointed. It tells the story of two army veterans Phil Davis (Paul Robinson) and Bob Wallace (Steven Houghton). De-mobbed after WWII the pair become TV stars and at the height of their fame are contacted by an old army pal with two sisters trying to get their big showbiz break. Instead of rehearsing their new show in Miami the guys follow the gals to an inn in Vermont where they are performing for the winter season. There they find the owner, their old General, Henry Waverly (Graham Cole) and his feisty concierge (and Broadway veteran) Martha (Wendi Peters). Unseasonably warm weather has driven the tourists away and General Waverly is in danger of losing everything. Mayhem, mishaps, misunderstandings and munificence ensue and the true spirit of Christmas shines through.
This is a sparkling, sumptuous and sure-footed show staged with great charm. Beautifully realised, the production scores highly on period detail; Anna Louizos’ sets are as much of a star as the talented cast. The songs of Irving Berlin, in particular ‘Blue Skies’, ‘I Love a Piano’ and, of course, the title song, are a treat for the ear and will delight both fans of this musical era and those new to the tunes.
There are a brace of fine central performances, in particular Wendi Peters as Martha, a pint-sized Ethel Merman with a Broadway belt and Paul Robinson as Phil, a true triple threat, he has fine comic timing to add to his acting, dancing and singing skills. As sister act Betty and Judy Haynes, Rachel Stanley and Jayde Westaby perfectly evoke that glamorous feisty 1950’s gal. The ensemble too are universally worthy of the highest praise particularly in the big, show-stopping production numbers and tap-dance fans will delight at their execution of Randy Skinner’s vibrant choreography.
There were undoubtedly a few opening night nerves which shook a bit of the Christmas glitter off and ultimately robbed the show of a fifth star in the rating but as the cast bed further into their roles I’m sure it will fulfill its potential to be the show to see this Christmas.
Vivid, vibrant and visually stunning, a treat for the ears and eyes and set to be as timeless a classic as its movie namesake.
Runs until 4th January 2014 at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
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.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Richard Wagner was a not a very pleasant man, in fact a rather unpleasant man indeed, a man with an ideology almost whole-heartedly abhorrent to a modern audience, an ideology that encompassed: anti-Semitism, racism and rampant misogyny. The question that needs to be asked then is: Does the quality of his work transcend what we might feel about the man himself?
The answer here is a resounding yes. Scottish Opera make an triumphant return to form with the company’s first Wagner opera since 2003 and it’s first revival of The Flying Dutchman for 25 years.
Based upon the legend of the Captain of the aforementioned ghostly ship, who, in return for safe passage through a storm, is cursed to sail the seas until eternity unless he can find a women who will love him with utter fidelity until she dies.
Director Harry Fehr and designers Tom Scutt and James Farncombe have acknowledged the difficulties that a 21st century audience may have engaging with a storyline Wagner originally wrote reflecting his belief that women should wholly subjugate themselves to their menfolk and have tried to navigate away from the unavoidable misogyny at the core of Wagner’s tale.
This early work has been re-set by the creative team in the 1970s, in a beleaguered port in the north east of Scotland and gets right to the heart of the tale of two lonely people so desperate they will do anything for the chance of love. This decision, cleverly removing any barriers the audience may have engaging with Wagner’s originally mystical and misogynistic piece, gives it an instant familiarity and greater reality that grabs the audience’s attention from the start.
Much of the enjoyment of the piece though lies in the central performances of Senta, daughter of a ship’s captain, lonely, unloved and trapped in the claustrophobic confines of the fishing port where she lives, and the mysterious Dutchman, forlornly roaming the seas searching for love. As Senta, Rachel Nicholls is on stunning form, from the first to the last note she thrills: carrying the audience along on her journey through loneliness and obsession to optimism and happiness to inevitable tragedy with a finely tuned performance and a sublime voice that grabs and holds the attention throughout. Less successful is the casting of Wagnerian specialist Peteris Eglitis as the Dutchman. With a voice which was underpowered and often overwhelmed by the majestic sounding orchestra, Eglitis failed to make up for these shortcomings by lacking in charisma as well.
In support tenor Nicky Spence as the young helmsman particularly shone, the mischievous glint in his eye and spring in his step as well as his soaring voice of clarity and power was especially enthralling. The male chorus too cannot go without mention for providing many of the “hairs on the back of the neck moments” when they sang as one.
Arguably one of Wagner’s most accessible works The Flying Dutchman is a powerful, engaging and emotional tale made all the more so by this tremendously talented creative team and cast.
Runs until: 19th April
Photo: James Glossop
*INTERVIEW WITH STAR OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN NICKY SPENCE HERE
Wealthy socialite Tracy Lord is in the midst of planning her lavish summer wedding to dull but reliable George Kittredge, when ex-husband, C. Dexter-Haven turns up to disrupt the proceedings in an attempt to win her back.
Meanwhile the notorious Spy magazine, in possession of embarrassing information about Tracy’s father, sends reporter Mike Connor and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover the nuptials. Tracy begins an elaborate charade as a means of revenge on the pair, pretending that her Uncle Willy is her father Seth Lord and vice-versa. To complicate matters Connor falls in love with Tracy. Amid the farce she must choose between three very different men. As the day of the wedding draws nearer we’re left guessing which groom the bride will eventually choose.
There are few musicals that are as beloved as High Society, starting life in 1939 with Philip Barry’s play The Philadelphia Story, then coupled with the classic songs of Cole Porter for the 1956 MGM musical, even the hardest of hearts can’t fail to enjoy this tale of true love.
This production oozes class from start to finish, reminiscent not only of a time and way of life gone by, but also a style of musical from another era. That said, with both Singin’ in the Rain and Top Hat riding high in the West End, the public’s appetite for golden era shows is at a peak, and indeed the packed house at this performance is testament to that.
The cast, principals and ensemble alike, carry the show with refinement and skill. Michael Praed ( C. Dexter Haven) and Sophie Bould (Tracy Lord) both turn in highly polished, delicately refined performances: deftly handling the glorious songs of Cole Porter as well as the moments of drama and comedy.
In support Teddy Kempner as roguish Uncle Willie raises the biggest laughs and little sister Dinah (Katie Lee) is the 12 year-old voice of reason in the piece.
As reporters Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie, Daniel Boys and Alex Young provide a healthy disregard for the ways of these high society folk, the highlight of Boys’ performance being his delivery of the classic You’re Sensational. However, Young’s tendency to resort to comic voices in almost every line she delivers only serves to garble much of what she says and grates as the show goes on.
Special mention must go to the ensemble who are particularly slick here: executing the intricate and period-perfect choreography of award-winning Andrew Wright flawlessly. The set design by Francis Connor and the beautiful lighting by the talented Chris Davey are also particularly effective.
This is pure escapism, go along and allow this show to take you on a beautifully performed, picture perfect journey to a world of glamour and style.
High Society comes to Glasgow from 30th April to 4th May – tickets and information here