An ageing Scottish hat maker is preparing for a visit from his teenaged Italian granddaughters who he hasn’t seen since they were toddlers, in Fuora Dance Project’s beautifully crafted dance drama, W-hat About?
An international, intergenerational tale of misunderstanding, memory and remembrance, it moves from awkward introductions, communication mishaps, teenage strops, ultimately to acceptance and celebration where the family members’ mutual creativity brings them together to remember the person they have loved and lost.
Played out on a simplistic but extremely imaginative set, the choreography is exquisite, expressive and eye-catching, it is also perfectly crafted to capture the imagination of the tiny audience members for whom it was created. That said, it is equally vibrant for the grown ups too. The way in which the language barrier is represented, the contrast between granddad’s lilting Scots and the rapid-fire Italian of the teenage girls is cleverly done. The use of shadow play is also hauntingly beautiful as the story reaches its conclusion.
At just 45 minutes long, W-hat About? is an exemplary piece of children’s theatre: filled with clever visuals, arresting choreography and a story that captures the hearts and minds of both young and old.
It’s rare that five minutes into a show you’re begging for an escape route from the auditorium and even rarer when the show does nothing to persuade you from fleeing to the exit for the entirety of its running time. Unfortunately, Liquid Sky is such a show.
Influenced by Doris Lessing’s feminist science fiction novel The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, which “traces the adventure of a queen forced into wedlock to save her territory from ecological demise, navigating beyond gender conflict by way of metamorphosis.” Liquid Sky aims to present an “alchemy of circus and new music” and “re-imagine the fabled Indian Rope Trick…the aerialist performs the miracle of holding herself airborne for 20 minutes whilst completely blindfolded”.
The artistic choices of the production render the whole experience an endurance test both aurally and visually. To an ear-harassing soundtrack by SUE ZUKI (Alicia Matthews), the introduction takes tedium to a whole new level, an excruciatingly laboured, repetitive sequence of ill-executed movements, drag on seemingly interminably. When the aerialist (Aedín Walsh, clad in a drab, ill-fitting unitard) finally ascends the rope the performance fails to elevate itself, every move looks full of effort, rather than the effortlessness one expects from proponents of this discipline.
The only saving grace of the whole event is the lighting design by Jack Wrigley which gives the eyes something to enjoy, that and its mercifully short running time.
The Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. Summer, but not any old summer. This was 1816, dubbed “the year without summer”, incessant rain, thunder and lightning, cock’s crowing at noon and orange snow covering the mountainsides. Months previously Mount Tamboro in Indonesia had erupted, spewing clouds of volcanic ash northwards, but this is the 19th Century, news travels slowly, superstition, not science still abounds. These sinister, portentous happenings lend an almost supernatural aura to events at the Villa. So, when Lord Byron challenges the gathered company to write a ghost story, it is no wonder that this special set of circumstances gave birth to both John Polidori’s The Vampyre, the tale that inspired Bram Stoker’s Draculaand Mary (Godwin) Shelley’s enduring masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of the novel, theatre company The Occasion take us on “an outlandish trip through the mind of one of literature’s most influential imaginations”. In doing so, they address the oft asked questions and rumours that have endured surrounding the writing of Frankenstein. How could a women, let alone an 18 year old, write this? It was really Percy Bysshe Shelley who wrote it. But this is no ordinary 18 year old. The daughter of feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin, this was a child born for greatness. A woman who, as a small child, received a tiny lectern as a present so she could join her father’s intellectual salon. Laudably, The Monster and Mary Shelley shines a light on the life of Mary. Did she write Frankenstein as a direct result of her unconventional past, or despite it? Tellingly she shouts to the monster, “you, you were the light relief”.
Stewart Ennis’ captivating script sparkles, weaving the contemporary with the classical. There’s high melodrama, horror and a huge dose of comedy. It also draws parallels between celebrity then and now, the hacks of the day following the perceived debauchery at the Villa Diodati as keenly as every move of a Kardashian. There’s also an ear-pleasing contemporary score from Richard Williams.
Catherine Gillard delivers a tour de force performance as Mary. Switching from child to teenage rebel to adult dealing with love, lust and loss. This is a well-judged piece of writing, one that will appeal to those interested in the historical events in the colourful life of Mary, and appeal to young audiences thanks to its quick, modern and witty prose. Highly recommended.
Reviewed on 25 April 2018 then touring | Image:Marc Marnie
In celebration of 200 years since the publication of her most famous novel Frankenstein, The Occasion Theatre has announced the Scottish tour of their new production exploring the life of Mary Shelley.
Director Peter Clerke, writer Stewart Ennis, and performer Catherine Gillard gives us some insight into the production that begins at the Tron Theatre on 20th April.
What drew you to a play about Mary Shelley?
Peter: Firstly, the details of her life; which was remarkable. The more you discover about what she achieved and lived through, the more fascinating she becomes as a person. Then there’s the whole period through which she lived, a time of enormous scientific discovery, of philosophical and cultural change. She was at the forefront of this new, bold world; a world rich with possibilities for dramatisation and of great relevance to the present day.
What can people expect when they come to see The Monster and Mary Shelley?
Catherine: An entertaining production which celebrates the fascinating life of Mary Shelley and asks questions about how and why she went about writing her most famous novel. As a one woman performance the story is told from Mary’s point of view using different incidents from her life, but we look at these from a contemporary view – as if Mary was here today and looking back from now. This isn’t a naturalistic drama – it’s an atmospheric and abstract interpretation of what she might be thinking today looking back.
Peter: It’s been a fascinating show to work on and the contributions from everyone involved – writer, musician, actor, set and lighting designers – have been immense. We think it’ll entertain, introduce a very significant writer and thinker to a new audience and, hopefully, provoke a few questions along the way.
How did you approach writing The Monster and Mary Shelley?
Stewart: I read a couple of biographies of her including an early one by Muriel Spark, who revisited and revised her Mary Shelley biography throughout her life. Then of course, when we discovered that 2018 was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, along came a never-ending stream of books, articles, lectures, radio documentaries etc. That said, this was never going to be a straightforward historical drama with an actress dressed up in period costume, telling us Mary Shelley’s life from the day she was born until the day she died. It was more a case of forming an impression of Mary Shelley that allowed us to be playful with her but which also felt truthful and respectful, and figuring out how this extraordinary woman’s life and work had relevance for us today.
Rehearsal image: Stewart Ennis
The play explores some of the events in Mary’s life that led to the creation of Frankenstein. How do you weave humour into this at times tragic story?
Stewart: I think that a creative spirit like Mary Shelley must have had a sense of humour; her letters and journals suggest as much. Yes, there was a great deal of tragedy in her life, and a lot of it is explored in this show, but it feels important not to define her by it, or in some way to present her as tragic or as a victim. She lived a life and she dealt with her troubles, and like any human being, humour is one way of dealing with that. The style of the show also helps in that respect. The language is quite anachronistic but we have also included readings from Frankenstein, songs, and theatrical elements from her time, such as melodrama.
Catherine: We have to remember that Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein. She didn’t lead up to writing this book with the idea that it would define her – she was just living and coping with everything that life threw at her. And it wasn’t all wonderful – her mother died shortly after Mary’s birth; her father remarried soon afterwards and Mary didn’t get on particularly well with her new stepmother; she was well educated then bundled off to Scotland around the age of 14; and then she met Percy Bysshe Shelley who was already married. They fell in love and ran away to Europe. She was sixteen! She wanted her own life, she was a teenager – she must have been pretty wild and that on its own gives a humour. A spark of life, not just a tragedy. All this plus the fact that she was hanging out with artistic, radical libertarians – they were all for challenging the norms. There had to be funny stuff going on!
Having delved into the life Mary Shelley, what do you most admire about her?
Catherine: I found it extraordinary that by the age of 25 Mary had lived through the loss of her mother, 4 children and her husband, not to mention the suicide of both her half-sister, Fanny and her husband’s first wife, Harriet. Her ability to cope with this level of tragedy and continue to live and work in a society where female writers were still not accepted was amazing. Most of all I admire her imagination and intelligence – to write a novel that continues to fascinate and spark ideas to this day is an astonishing achievement.
How relevant is Mary Shelley today?
Peter: Very – perhaps, unfortunately. The issues that she was most concerned with, of equality, freedom of expression and acceptance have progressed in the past 200 years but, in the #Metoo campaign, ‘fake news’ scandals and the continuing persecutions of minority communities these are still very live issues. Mary Shelley was undoubtedly ahead of her time; we, it can perhaps be argued, are somewhat behind.
What are your views on the original Frankenstein novel?
Stewart: I first read it about thirty years ago and to be honest only had a vague recollection of what it was all about. I had been brought up on the countless Frankenstein films (the Boris Karloff Universal, the Christopher Lee Hammer, the Mel Brooks and the Abbot & Costello) all of which coloured my vision. It was one of the real pleasures of this process to go back to the original novel (or novels, she did a major rewrite many years later) and discover/be reminded that the creature is not some lumbering mute monstrosity with bolts through its neck, but agile in body and in mind and with such a deep longing to be loved. You could say that he – the creature – is a product of an absolutely terrible, brutal, loveless upbringing and his actions are a reflection of that. It’s a more complex book than I think people imagine, and if our play moves people to read the novel, then I’d be delighted.
Atmospheric, moving and darkly comic with a pulsing, cinematic score, this is a contemporary voyage into the life of Mary Shelley – the Gothic Girl who electrified the world. Presented by The Occasion Theatre.
Senga McWhittington presides over the Oldie Weegie Sweetie Shoppie in dear old Glasgow town, but her son Ricky has different ambitions – he’s set to head to the bright lights of the big city. When Senga’s shop becomes over-run with vermine, all under the control of the stinky Queen Rat, Senga needs her boy back to help save the day. Helped by Fairy Gallus Alice and a cast of colourful pals, will the shop be saved, will Ricky fulfil his destiny and will Senga get her man? That’s the story of Ricky McWhittington, this year’s festive offering from Platform.
Every panto trope is here: the goodies and the baddies to cheer and hiss and boo; the rhyming dialogue; the fantastically clad panto dame ready to harass some unsuspecting (male) audience members; a young couple falling in love, some up-beat pop numbers to dance to, and the traditional ‘cloot’ so we can sing along together at the end.
This is a panto full of charm and heart and perfectly pitched to its young, local audience. The cast are universally excellent, the acting so good, the tiny audience members know exactly who to boo and hiss for from the start, and hearteningly the girls kick ass and can stand their ground against any foe.
This is a panto who knows its audience well – both child and adult friendly, the audience is fully engaged from start to end. An absolute charmer from a fantastic cast, in a wonderful theatre with the friendliest and most welcoming staff in the city.
Esmerelda is one unhappy chicken, not only does she want to be called Joyce now, she’s also in no mood to provide the much needed eggs for the poor storytellers Christmas dinner – two poor storytellers who have no cards and no presents either. Esmerelda decides that she’ll only lay an egg if the pair re-tell her favourite story, that of Rudolph the famous red-nosed reindeer.
Rudolph (for pre-schoolers) is as far removed from the brash, candy-coloured pantomimes on offer around the city, this is the gentlest of storytelling, played out on a beautiful, naturalistic cottage-yard set, illuminated by the most beautiful lighting effects from Sergey Jakovsky.
While it does tend to stray on the side of the bizarre – there’s a strange ‘birthing’ sequence for Rudolph and Olive (the other reindeer) relishes her torment of poor Rudolph at reindeer school, it’s a gentle introduction into modern theatre for the tiniest of audience members.
The highlight of the night is when the only song of the evening plays from the radio Edwin Starr’s HAPPY Radio and the tiny dancers in the auditorium burst into life. The creators would do well to take note of the effect of music on young children – it speaks to their very soul. At only 45 minutes long it should fly by but it lacks the necessary life it takes to make it a real hit with its target audience, there’s a lot of restlessness around. A work of quality but not without its faults.
It’s easy to forget about Section 28 and it’s ramifications, living life closeted in the shadows, the Gay scene largely, if not entirely underground, the height of the AIDS crisis and the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1980. While things aren’t exactly perfect now, a lot has changed.
James Ley hadn’t even heard of Lavender Menace, the Edinburgh LGBT bookshop founded by Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielson, that existed from 1982 to 1986, when he won a LGBT History Month Cultural Comission to write a new play.
But that is exactly the subject matter of his celebratory play, Love Song to Lavender Menace.
Bookshop workers Lewis (Pierce Reid) and Glen (Matthew McVarish) spend the last night of Lavender Menace packing up the remaining stock while rehearsing their “homage” to Bob and Sigrid. The dreaded ‘W’ word – Waterstones is moving to town, LGBT literature is becoming available in mainstream bookshops, and Bob and Sigrid are moving on. With every book packed away comes a memory, from the early days as a bookstall in the cloakroom of Princes Street nightclub, Fire Island, through life as a Gay man in Edinburgh in the 80s, to the spectre of Section 28, which looms on the horizon. All the while, exploring the significance of some seminal pieces of LGBT writing, and all done with humour and pathos.
This is a tiny slice of life, from a very specific time and place, and because of that, all the more engaging and relatable. While the tone can be almost flippant at times, its serves as a timely reminder of the groundwork that has gone in to raising the profile of the LGBTIQ community in the public eye. Pierce Reid is mercurial as the idealistic Lewis, Matthew McVarish endearing as the more pragmatic Glen. Pierce in particular looks to have a glittering career ahead of him.
Charming, amusing, though-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. A worthwhile work, written and performed in such a way that it will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. It also leaves you wanting to see what’s next for playwright Ley and these talented actors.
Shrimp Dance began with conversations between dancer Paul Michael Henry and marine biologist Dr. Alex Ford. Ford had shown that Prozac levels in the rivers and coastal waters of the UK are now so high they’re affecting the behaviour of shrimp, with the creatures abandoning their dark habitat to swim up towards the light to be eaten by predators.
Henry describes it as “a great wave of human sadness sent out to sea”. Utilising Butoh dance theatre and self-composed music, Henry performs a hypnotic hour of dance drama. The themes explored are huge: ecological crisis, mental health and consumerism, yet the moves are minute and precise – the sheer range, expressiveness and emotional impact of these are a testament to Henry’s considerable skill.
Performed as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, it opens up conversations on how mental health and its treatment can have a wider global impact and how the arts can be an avenue through which these conversations can be generated.
Utterly compelling, the astonishingly talented Henry has much to say and hopefully the dialogue will continue.
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.
Platform, Easterhouse is a 210 seat tiered auditorium.
There are ten main rows of tiered seats with a gallery row directly behind that separated by a rail. Two small sets of slip seats are also located on this level.
The seating is unreserved, however, this is not an issue as the sight lines from all seats in the auditorium are excellent and the size of the auditorium is such that in any seat, you feel close to the action.
The legroom is good, there is a footboard at the back of each seat to prevent kicking the one in front.
The seats are straight backed with arm rests and firmly upholstered.
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