Tag Archives: Julie Brown

REVIEW: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Woodside Hall, Glasgow

In the atmospheric surroundings of Glasgow’s Woodside Hall, Psycho-like screeching strings from the barefoot orchestra clad in Edwardian garb and flashing strings of fairground lights, transport the audience back to turn of the century and the world of Dr. Caligari.

Taking as its inspiration the 1920 silent movie classic of the same name, Scottish Opera’s Connect company’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari moves back in time to 1901 and resets the action to Glasgow instead of Germany.

Francis takes his girlfriend Jane and her best friend Ellen to the fair at Glasgow Green, among the fortune tellers and snake oil salesmen, in his Cabinet of Fate, Dr Gallagher presents a somnambulist, Cesare who can predict the future while in his sleeping state. When Cesare’s prophecy that Ellen will die that very night comes true, and Francis comes under suspicion for the murder, he and Jane begin to investigate with devastating consequences.

Under Julie Brown’s sure-footed direction, and enhanced by Lisa Sangster’s set and Kate Bonney’s lighting design, a comprehensive cast of characters colour the stage in Karen MacIver and Allan Dunn’s atmospheric and melodic work. The music and libretto are compelling throughout and its short running time (around 75 minutes) ensures that the audience is gripped from start to finish.

Despite the small size of the performance venue there are issues with projection from the young company who are often overwhelmed by the fine-sounding orchestra and dialogue is lost in several places, however, in the cast of 32 there are some stand-out performances which bode well for the future of opera in Scotland. Previous Scottish Opera Emerging Artists Andrew McTaggart and Sarah Power’s experience clearly shows, both delivering strong vocal performances as Caligari/Gallagher and Jane, the female chorus too are beautifully harmonious. Young tenor Glen Cunningham shows promise but needs to work on projecting his melodious voice and as Cesare, Daniel Keating Roberts provides novelty with his countertenor voice, but is somewhat lacking in his delivery.

Scottish Opera’s Connect programme provides the only opportunity for young Scottish musicians aged 14-21 to explore the world of opera and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is the third world premier in eight years for Connect. The company’s commitment to innovation and the creation of new work must be applauded and if future works are of as high quality and as engaging and entertaining as Caligari then the future of opera in Scotland looks bright.

 

REVIEW: And The Beat Goes On – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

It would seem at first glance that a play about a pair of Sonny and Cher obsessives would be the perfect excuse for a night of high camp glitz and glamour, more sequins than substance, but Stef Smith’s new work,And The Beat Goes On proves to be a much darker and more satisfying beast.

It’s 1989, somewhere in the US, behind the closed doors of their breeze block garage, ex-pat Scots Peter (Johnny McKnight) and Lily (Julie Brown) spend their evenings recreating the entire TV back catalogue of the outrageously clad singing duo, but the arrival of new neighbour Joan (Julie Wilson Nimmo), a Molly Ringwald-esque vision in Barbie pink satin, sees Peter and Lily’s fragile existence start to disintegrate.

The explanation for this eccentric behaviour, the reasons that Peter and Lily are living a life “beyond normal” is slowly unravelled in Smith’s economical 75 minute work. The greatest strength of the piece (apart from the obvious chemistry between long-term collaborators McKnight and Brown) is the establishment of a sense of tension and unease from the very first moments and the air of mystery is maintained to the end: tiny hints are dropped into the dialogue, just when we thought it was predictable the clues which led us down one path veer us off onto another.

To say any more would reveal all, but safe to say, it plays upon the thirst for works like Gone Girl and draws upon real-life events and prompts commentary on the shelf-life of what was once news-worthy, and the world in which we live where “tragedy is tedious”.

This is an intriguing and thoroughly satisfying work, an accomplished piece of writing, briskly directed and beautifully acted (save for Julie Wilson Nimmo’s American accent, which is forgivable given the character).

Don’t be fooled by the high camp publicity posters, “a little darkness didn’t do anyone any harm”, Lily declares, indeed, in the case of And The Beat Goes On, a little darkness goes a hell of a long way to restoring your faith in new writing in Scotland.

Runs until 28th March at the Tron Theatre then touring

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.the public reviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/and-the-beat-goes-on-tron-theatre-glasgow/

REVIEW: Aladdin – macrobert, Stirling

Scotland’s undisputed King of Panto, Johnny McKnight serves up the first treat of the holiday season with his disco-tastic, glitterball spangled version of Aladdin at the macrobert in Stirling.

There are afros, flares and platforms a-plenty as well as enough synthetic fabric to start a disco inferno as we boogie on down to Discotopia. Along with her two kids Wishee Washee (Robert Jack) and Aladdin (Dawn Sievewright), dear old Marge O’Reen Twankey (Andy Clark) runs the last launderette in town, the Dream Cuisine and Dry Clean, an establishment which does a natty turn in pies and bridies as well as washing and ironing.

Marge’s eldest Aladdin is in love with the campest prince in town (Martin McCormick) and as it ever was in Pantoland, the path of true love never runs smooth. In “the worst case of panto romance ever seen”, Aladdin and the blonde hair-flicking, disco-posing object of her affections encounter opposition and obstacles in the form of the Prince’s class-conscious mother (Helen McAlpine) and evil “Aunty” Lilith (a spectacularly clad and suitably menacing Julie Brown), and of course there’s the small matter of a rusty old lamp hidden in a deep dark cave.

As with the best pantomimes there’s as much here for adults as children, there are canny contemporary cultural and political references for the grown ups and the requisite number of slapstick, bum and bogie jokes for the teenies. The music too, manages to include the widest demographic, from 70’s disco and pop classics such as: “Lost in Music”, “Night Fever” and “We Built This City” albeit this time on sausage rolls not rock ‘n’ roll! through current hits: Pharrell’s “Happy” and a knock-out version of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” from Mrs. Twankey ( an hysterical Andy Clark) to the ubiquitous “Let it Go” from Frozen, which as well as being a sing-a-long favourite with the young audience, provides the perfect vehicle to highlight Dawn Sievewright’s stunning vocals.

McKnight eschews the ordinary panto fare and the writing remains clever and on-point throughout, never needing to resort to cheap smuttiness or crudity to get the laughs. There’s also an excellent take on the famous Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” sketch, whose wordplay goes down a treat with the young audience,proving that classic writing never fails to be funny.

Complementing the writing is a truly outstanding cast led by some of Scotland’s most highly regarded and accomplished theatre actors. Andy Clark as our beloved dame, deserves a medal, not only for his comedy skills but for agreeing to wear Marge O’Reen’s eye-watering ensembles, all of which seem to feature a bikini!, each entrance is accompanied by gasps and in one instance a covering of the eyes in disbelief at what we are seeing. Robert Jack (a familiar face from the much-loved Gary, Tank Commander) is a revelation, his timing and physical comedy skills are of the highest order, managing to raise laughs even when he’s not at the centre of the action. Dawn Sievewright is a fabulously feisty Aladdin and her vocals are world class. Hilarious support is provided by Helen McAlpine (The Queen/Jeanie) and Martin McCormick (Prince Jasper) – there really is not a weak link anywhere in this production.

Mention must be made of the quality of the set design by Karen Tennent and the seamless transitions between the multiple changes, which would put most larger theatres to shame.

There’s no magic carpet here: “we’ve no got the budget”, but this Aladdin is all the better for it. This truly is a Christmas cracker, it’s a witty, wonderful, disco-tastic spectacular for the whole family – the perfect start to the festive season.

Runs until 4th January 2015

Tickets available here: http://www.macrobert.org/event/aladdin/

REVIEW: The Snow Queen – Cumbernauld Theatre, Cumbernauld

Snow_Queen_low res

This piece was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews at;

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-snow-queen-cumbernauld-theatre-cumbernauld/

Writer: Hans Christian Andersen

Dramaturge: Roderick Stewart

Director: Ed Robson

Associate Director: Tony Cownie

Designer: Ed Robson

Composer: Philip Curran

Video Artist: Craig Kirk

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★★

The wish for any festive show is that you leave the theatre feeling thoroughly entertained, filled to the brim with Christmas spirit and if you’re really lucky, a little bit heart-warmed; Cumbernauld Theatre’s glorious production of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen delivers all of this and a whole lot more.

The eternally popular tale of friendship and the triumph of love over evil, The Snow Queen follows the story of a young girl Gerda who is forced to battle the wicked Snow Queen in order to save the heart of her best friend Kai. She journeys through the four seasons, facing a series of obstacles in the shape of a series of whacky and sometimes alarming characters, until she finally confronts the evil Queen in a battle for her friend’s heart.

Despite being a traditional fairy tale, this production is inventive and thoroughly modern, and unlike the usual pantomime fodder it has real heart and soul: for all the laughs and moments of physical comedy the piece never shies away from the darker aspects of the tale, and as with all great fairytales there are moments when there is a tangible sense of peril. It is testament to the fantastic writing skills of dramaturge Roderick Stewart and the impeccable eye of director/designer Ed Robson that those cynical at the start were quickly entranced and completely and utterly won over after the first scene; thoroughly gripped, they hung onto every word until the end. The interactions from the audience were elicited, not from cheap humour or the goading and haranguing that most Christmas shows resort to, but instead relied on enchanting storytelling, fine acting and an excellent script to prompt genuine emotion from the onlookers; the children and adults alike feeling actual concern for the characters. There’s plenty to laugh at too, the simple but clever humour elicits laughs from the children as do the subtle but equally clever asides designed for the adults.

Highly atmospheric, the excellent script and acting are wonderfully complimented by clever lighting design and video projections by Craig Kirk, the visuals are used judiciously and to great effect throughout. There’s magic in the tiny details: ice cracking underfoot as Gerda makes a perilous crossing of the frozen lake to reach the Snow Queen’s palace; the crow’s wings made from flapping socks, the teeny, tiny Welsh Guards and a fabulous frog in a rowing boat all delight the eyes.

The huge array of colourful characters are ably handled by the small ensemble cast, as well as Gerda (Samantha Foley) and Kai (Colin McGowan) and the titular Snow Queen (Julie Brown) there’s also Dougie the dug, a Glaswegian Labradoodle (and the highlight of the night, hysterically played by Nicky Elliot) the Flower Lady and a crow that sounds suspiciously like Sean Connery. The multiple and lightning-quick changes are seamlessly achieved by the actors and each different character is unique and distinct.

This is an utterly absorbing tale eloquently and magically told. It is genuinely uplifting and will leave even the coldest of hearts warmed. Captivating, intelligent, gripping, entertaining, and absolutely joyous. Miss it at your peril.

Image courtesy: http://www.cumbernauldtheatre.co.uk/

REVIEW: The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam

1see_thru_sam0003-300x209

This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer: Johnny McKnight

Director: Johnny McKnight

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

Fifteen year old Sam McTannan has a superpower, the ability to make himself invisible: invisible to the cool kids at school, invisible to his teachers and invisible to the girl of his dreams. It’s a superpower he’s really rather happy with, ensuring as it does a pretty quiet life. But one tragic day all that changes when Sam’s beloved parents Chip the Grip and Sheila the Feeler, are killed in a car crash. Sam’s superpowers desert him, placing him firmly centre stage, where he has to deflect the attention of well-meaning teachers, his nemesis Uncle Herbie and the horrific school bully Chunk, boyfriend of his teenage crush Violet.

The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, this heart-breaking, thought-provoking and ultimately life-affirming play comes to us from the assured pen of Johnny McKnight and manages the difficult feat of being genuinely laugh out loud funny and deeply moving in equal measure. It has emotional pull from the very first scene, grabbing you and tugging at your heart strings, pulling you this way and that, throughout the whole 80 minute roller-coaster ride.

To his great credit McKnight never shies away from confronting difficult themes and his fine ear for comic dialogue and finger on the heartbeat of the shunned in society strikes a chord, not only with the high school students in the audience, but all of those who have survived their teenage years.

The actors are universally deserving of praise, Julie Brown and James Mackenzie take on multiple and diverse roles with ease, and manage the lightning quick changes with a slickness that defies belief. Particularly successful are Brown’s perfectly judged portrayal of Mrs. Timmins, the eccentric but well-meaning Home Economics teacher and Mackenzie’s hysterical turn as Sam’s best buddy Walrus. As Sam, James Young carries the weight of the dialogue on his shoulders and manages to switch between direct audience address and dramatic interaction with admirable skill. He is utterly and heartbreakingly convincing as the ill at ease teen negotiating his way through the minefield of growing up, grief and love.

The set design by Lisa Sangster deserves special mention. Through the stunning use of Jamie Macdonald’s ingenious animations and Kim Beveridge’s video design we are not only fully immersed in Sam’s world but also party to his innermost thoughts.

Innovative, emotive and unmissable, I defy you to leave the theatre without a lump in your throat. See it if you can.

Reviewed on 24 September then touring Scotland.