Tag Archives: Playhouse

REVIEW: Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical – Edinburgh Playhouse

With its origins as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 festive show, nine years down the line, Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has been seen by over eight million people around the globe. Winning awards and smashing box office records wherever it goes (and deservedly so) the transformation of a much-adored but thematically and emotionally challenging children’s book was never going to be easy, taking its creators seven years to develop from page to stage – but boy was it worth it.

There are few other musicals, let alone one largely written for a child audience, that is a genuine emotional rollercoaster, laugh-out-loud funny and entirely entertaining from curtain up to curtain down for an audience of all ages. Never shying away from the darker corners of human nature, it re-iterates throughout that despite this one having one, not all stories have a happy ending. An unexpected and unwelcome addition to the grotesque Wormwood family, five-and-a-half-year-old prodigy with telekinetic powers Matilda (Scarlett Cecil), takes solace in books – from Austen and Brontë to Dickens and Dostoyevsky and finds a kindred spirit in her gentle and downtrodden new teacher Miss Honey. While she relishes starting school, the cruelty she seeks to escape at home is heaped upon her and her classmates ten-fold by their larger than life, ex-Olympic hammer throwing head mistress Miss Trunchbull (played to utter perfection and with great relish by Elliot Harper).

With a two-hour 40-minute running time, jam packed with dialogue, tricky lyrics and hugely inventive choreography and scene changes, Matilda’s success relies in no small part to a well-drilled cast, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quality one than this. Scarlett Cecil, one of four Matildas is an absolute star, it must be remembered that this is a child taking on this role, a child who rarely leaves the stage during the entire production, a child who is delivering complex dialogue and lyrics that those treble her age would find challenging. The entire child cast are exceptional (the adults are pretty spectacular too) not a foot or word is out of place and the energy and gusto with which they attack every scene adds a youthful realism.

Both Kelly’s words (perfectly adapted from Roald Dahl’s original book) and Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are clever, clever, clever and prove that there’s no need to dumb down to provide entertainment with mass appeal. As perfect as it’s possible to be, Matilda remains an outstanding musical in the British theatrical canon.

Runs until 27 April 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Mamma Mia! – Edinburgh Playhouse

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Sometimes, all you need at this time of year is to escape the hustle and bustle of festive shopping, freezing temperatures and the shock of your ever-dwindling bank account. 17 years after its first appearance on stage, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ Mamma Mia!, still has the ability to help you do just that.

In one small corner of Scotland’s capital city, the sun beats down on the azure blue Mediterranean island idyll of Kalokairi. 20 year-old Sophie is about to marry her sweetheart Sky, and all she wants is her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is, she has no idea who he is. On finding her former party-loving mother’s diaries, she invites the three most likely candidates to share her big day. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go exactly to plan.

Essentially a thin storyline woven around the hits of one of the world’s greatest pop bands, it’s no less entertaining for that, and while it may seem like the young things are the centre of it all, it’s the more mature members of the cast who are the heart and soul of the piece. Sara Poyzer as mother Donna is a knock-out, both vocally and emotionally, the performance is a pitch-perfect portrayal of a mother losing her only daughter to the world. As Donna’s former band-mates Rosie and Tanya, Jaqueline Braun and Emma Clifford deliver the lion’s share of the laughs and are no slouches vocally either, and as the trio of potential dads Richard Standing (Sam), Tim Walton (Harry) and Christopher Hollis (Bill), imbue life and spirit into characters that could have easily been two-dimensional.

As undemanding as the whole endeavour is, it still packs an emotional punch and the glorious music never fails to get an auditorium on its feet at the end. It’s pure entertainment and does what most great theatre should do – transport you to another time and place for a few hours.

Resist the temptation to hibernate this winter, get yourself along to the Edinburgh Playhouse and bask in the reflected sunshine of this uplifting, feel-good show. A real tonic for the soul on these long, cold winter nights.

Runs until 7 January 2017 | Image: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

REVIEW: Guys and Dolls – Edinburgh Playhouse

So successful is Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2014 production of Guys and Dolls, that not only has it made the transfer to the West End but has also spawned a comprehensive national tour. Sad to say, however, it appears to have lost some of its five-star sparkle in transit.

An amalgamation of three of Damon Runyon’s Broadway fables; The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, Pick the Winner and Blood Pressure: shifty, small-time crook Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield), in need of money to host ‘the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York’, bets charismatic cool-cat and inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman), that Masterson can’t get frosty missionary Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) from the Save-A-Soul Mission, to go with him to Havana on a date. A merry band of misfits help colour the tall tale, from eternally engaged, fourteen years a fiancée Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman), to local low-lives Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse.

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The witty words of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows are regarded as among the funniest in the musical theatre canon and they remain intact in Gordon Greenberg’s revival. However, the pace and direction of Greenberg’s production lacks the spark required to bring Runyon’s stories fully to life, playing like a poorly connected series of stand-alone scenes rather than a flowing whole.

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None of the faults of the production can be blamed on the cast, with West End leads Louise Dearman, Anna O’Byrne, and Richard Fleeshman and seasoned actor Maxwell Caulfield at the helm, then quality is assured. Dearman turns in an especially effective turn as a Lucille Ball-like Miss Adelaide, managing to balance the humour and pathos brilliantly and Fleeshman conveys the easy charm and charisma of Masterson with aplomb. The supporting cast too is of the highest quality.

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Peter McKintosh’s set design is essentially simple, an arc of lightbulb-ringed adverts and a series of roll-on-roll-off accents, which only really brings the vivid world of New York alive when fully lit. The choreography of Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and West End stalwart Andrew Wright has been placed firmly centre stage, with extended dance sequences throughout. The duo’s work is especially effective in the ballet-inspired crap game in the sewers with its athletic, inventive sequences and a nod to Acosta’s ballet background in the Swan Lake line up.

With such a top-notch cast and first-rate creative team, it’s hard to see how this could go wrong, but Greenberg’s production falls flat in too many places that if fails to do full justice to the stellar cast and this musical theatre classic. Ultimately unsatisfying.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

Images: Johan Persson

REVIEW: Love Me Tender – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

This seemingly ‘new’ musical is actually a decade old, starting life on Broadway in 2005 as All Shook Up, it has been freshened up by director and choreographer Karen Bruce and is now touring the UK prior to a hopeful West End transfer as Love Me Tender.

The story is a familiar one, indeed it takes as its unlikely inspiration Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: charismatic drifter Chad moseys into a one-horse town where the downtrodden locals are under the control of the zealous mayor who has enforced the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act “no loud music, no public necking and no tight pants” with a guitar on his hip and mischief in mind. Cue love at first sight, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and general mayhem.

Unashamedly cashing in on the eternal popularity of the music of Elvis Presley, the 25 songs are either cleverly or wittily inserted into the script, indeed central to it’s success is the fact that it whole endeavour doesn’t take itself seriously at all, the knowingly silly but witty book moves along at a fair pace  and manages to keep the interest levels high throughout. There are also a raft of witty visual gags to look out for. However, the sheer volume of music leaves little room for complex dialogue or fully developed characterisations. Another gripe is the fact that the rough rock ‘n’ roll edges have been well and truly smoothed off the songs which have all been given a musical theatre gloss over, indeed some of the arrangements are so far removed from the originals that they are rendered almost unrecognisable.

The sheer good natured fun of it all more than makes up for any gripes though, and the cast are universally top-notch: Ben Lewis as Chad has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout and has a good stab at some of The King’s greatest hits, needless to say Mica Paris impresses as bar owner Sylvia and the ever-reliable and loveable Shaun Williamson provides the lion’s share of the evening’s laughs. There’s strong support too, in particular from Mark Anderson as nerdy Dennis and a fine-voiced Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s feisty daughter Lorraine and poor Laura Tebbutt deserves a medal for enduring the least flattering costume ever as the cross-dressing Natalie/Ed.

Shakespeare it isn’t but it is hugely entertaining, silly, escapist fun. If it’s a good-natured pick-me-up you’re looking for then look no further.

4 ****

Runs until Saturday 25 July 2015, visiting Glasgow King’s Theatre from 3 – 8 August 2015

REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar – Edinburgh Playhouse

The well-loved Jesus Christ Superstar is very much a show of its time, wearing its hippy-era roots on its sleeve. That said, this is a high quality revival from Bill Kenwright with much to recommend it. Unlike the ill-advised arena tour of a few years ago, this production returns the show very much to its origins as an emotive, though-provoking piece of theatre: much more subtle, yet more powerful than its bombastic predecessor. It features an impressive cast most notable Tim Rogers’ Judas and last-minute stand in Johnathan Tweedie as Pilate, both of whom are impressive.

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An extension to the tour has been announced so there’s a chance to catch it when it comes to Glasgow at the King’s Theatre from 5th to 10th October.

Tickets: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/jesus-christ-superstar-2/kings-theatre/

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REVIEW: Jersey Boys – Playhouse, Edinburgh

This review was originally written for and published by www.thepublicreviews.com

Oh what a night it is as Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s West End and Broadway smash Jersey Boysarrives in Scotland’s capital. The rags to riches tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has always been a sure-fire winner with audiences and this first UK tour doesn’t disappoint.

Those coming to the tale expecting the run of the mill jukebox musical will be pleasantly surprised, while most may have heard the astonishing back catalogue of hits, many may be less familiar with the real-life antics of the quartet and the gritty reality provides a welcome foil to the showbiz glamour. This is so much more than a thinly drawn narrative stringing the band’s greatest hits together: the whole show has heart and guts and something to get your teeth into.

Though ever so slightly streamlined from the West End version, Klara Zieglerova’s simplistic but effective set is still very much in evidence, as is Sergio Trujillo’s iconic choreography, but what elevates this production is its cast. As Valli, Belgian actor/musician Tim Driesen is an absolute knock-out, he has the rare distinction of being able to sing at full power in every part of his range and oh boy what a range he has, going from baritone to eye-watering falsetto with ease, his New Jersey accent is also pitch-perfect. He is more than ably supported by Sam Ferriday (Bob Gaudio), Lewis Griffiths (Nick Massi) and Stephen Webb (Tommy DeVito), each in possession of impressive vocal chops and the combination of all four provides many a hairs on the back of the neck moment. They rival and at times, vocally surpass the original West End cast. Matt Gillett’s Bob Crewe also provides some welcome light relief throughout the piece.

This is a crowd pleaser in every way: great songs, great story, great singers and actors and the perfect antidote to the chilly autumn blues. It’s one of the world’s best-loved musicals and it isn’t hard to see why. Do yourself a favour and get along to see it if it comes to a city near you.

Runs until 25 October then touring

REVIEW: Puttin’ on the Ritz – Playhouse, Edinburgh

The appeal of music from the golden age of movie musicals would seem to be endless.With shows like Top Hat, Singin’ in the Rain and 42nd Street currently or recently completing tours, it’s no surprise that Spirit Productions have launched their self-proclaimed ‘song and dance extravaganza’ Puttin’ on the Ritz.

Utilising the music of the big three; Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin, the show features six vocalists, a troupe of sixteen dancers and special guest star Lorna Luft. Taking the form of a musical review, the action moves along at a brisk pace, each classic hit segueing into the next on a whistle-stop tour of the greatest hits of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’.

Whilst each featured vocalist is entirely competent, the dancers adept, the choreography inventive and the costumes and set suitably glittery, the whole affair is lacking a certain sparkle. The singers appear under-amplified in the cavernous auditorium, the sound failing to reach or make any impact on the circle where this reviewer was seated. The projection screen titles and flat introductions by the cast members also fail to build any rapport with the audience; a bit of chat would have gone a long way to drawing the audience in.

Special guest star Luft, the daughter of arguably the greatest movie musical star of all time, Judy Garland, appears briefly in each act singing a selection of her mother’s most famous songs. Her presence on the bill, undoubtedly the major draw, adds a direct connection to the songs we are experiencing here, and she endeavours to conjur up a rapport with the crowd, sharing some Hollywood anecdotes and revealing that Garland’s ancestors were from Aberdeen to curry a bit of favour with the locals. But it just isn’t enough and her appearance is all too brief.

There is no question that the raw material is all here, the music of the great American Songbook is amongst the greatest ever written, each of the performers undoubtedly talented, but on the whole Puttin’ on the Ritz is lacking that certain something that makes for a truly great night at the theatre.

Runs until 20 September 2014