Tag Archives: Review

REVIEW: Opera Highlights (Scottish Opera) – Motherwell Theatre

There’s much to delight in every season at Scottish Opera, but the annual Opera Highlights tour is always a shining star of the programme.

We’re invited to a beautiful country garden where our protagonists are setting the scene for a party. We’re not exactly sure who our host is, but while the action unfolds we are introduced to each character, a little of their back stories and their relationship to one other. The inevitable cases of mistaken identity, star-crossed lovers, heartache and romantic resolution ensue.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

Derek Clark, Scottish Opera’s Head of Music has again chosen an eclectic and engaging set of arias, from the comic to the heart-breaking on which to weave the lively narrative. Among pieces by Mozart, Handel, Lehár and Tchaikovsky there are works by Ambroise Thomas, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Mildred Jessup, Alfred Cellier and the great Kurt Weill. There is also a world premier from Scottish Opera’s Composer in residence Samuel Bordoli. As fitting for a tour that’s aim is to bring new audiences to opera, there are a large number of pieces in English, either pieces original written in the language or in translation, increasing the accessibility for opera newbies.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

As important as the selection of music is, much depends on the quality of the singers. This year the calibre is universally excellent. The quartet: Soprano Charlie Drummond, Mezzo Martha Jones, Tenor Alex Bevan and Baritone Mark Nathan, as well as having fine voices, are easy to warm to, each can act and draw the audience in, keeping them engaged throughout. Of note is Roxana Haines direction, which is tight and breathes even more life into the already sprightly programme.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

If you are an established opera lover or someone curious to find out more, Opera Highlights is the perfect event. The extensive tour continues throughout Scotland (see below for dates and venues).

As ever, a five-star production from Scottish Opera.

The Albert Halls

Stirling

Sat 14 Sep

Book Tickets

Stonehaven Town Hall

Stonehaven

Tue 17 Sep

Book Tickets

Duthac Centre

Tain

Thu 19 Sep

Book Tickets

The Macphail Centre

Ullapool

Sat 21 Sep

Book Tickets

An Lanntair

Stornoway

Tue 24 Sep

Book Tickets

Aros Centre

Portree

Thu 26 Sep

Book Tickets

The Corran Halls

Oban

Sat 28 Sep

Book Tickets

Volunteer Hall, Galashiels

Galashiels

Tue 1 Oct

Book Tickets

Perth Theatre

Perth

Thu 3 Oct

Book Tickets

Carnegie Hall

Dunfermline

Sat 5 Oct

Book Tickets

Thurso High School

Thurso

Tue 8 Oct

Book Tickets

Orkney Theatre

Kirkwall

Thu 10 Oct

Book Tickets

Haddo House

Ellon

Sat 12 Oct

Book Tickets

Ryan Centre

Stranraer

Tue 15 Oct

Book Tickets

Beacon Arts Centre

Greenock

Thu 17 Oct

Book Tickets

The Brunton

Musselburgh

Sat 19 Oct

Book Tickets

 

REVIEW: Bianca Del Rio It’s Jester Joke – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

Hands-down the most successful drag queen in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race, self-proclaimed ‘clown in a gown’ and winner of season 6, Bianca Del Rio is back in town with her gaudy, bawdy brand of biting comedy.

 

Despite touring to several large-scale venues in previous years, indeed this isn’t the first time Del Rio has sold out this enormous venue, this tour will be the biggest solo headlined drag tour ever in the UK.

Supported by the equally X-rated Wendy Ho (above), this is not a show for the faint-hearted, but I doubt that there’s anyone in the audience who isn’t familiar with the drag firebrand’s old-school insult comedy and reputation for saying the things the rest of us only dare to think to ourselves. I’m racking my brains to think of any group left un-insulted, from lesbians to Brexit, disability to straight people, from Naked Attraction to Catholic priests, everyone is treated with the same derision.

Clad head to toe in an eye-popping electric pink sequinned jump suit, curly orange wig and turban, Del Rio rattles through an hour of brutally honest observations that have the audience howling, leaving us in no doubt why she was named the most influential Drag Queen by the New York Times.

Del Rio is a welcome change from a world in which everyone is desperate to be offended – refreshingly controversial.

 

REVIEW: Grease The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The first new production in 25 years, and with the promise of a return to the gritty, raw, original 1971 production, the odds would seem stacked in favour of this Leicester Curve production of Grease, one of the world’s most beloved musicals. However, spectacularly bad casting, lacklustre energy levels and poor vocals, render what should be a corker of a show, into a two and a half hour yawn-fest.

It’s 1959, Rydell High, and a dozen angst ridden teenagers negotiate the ups and downs of high school life: break ups, make ups, peer pressure and pregnancy scares, with a raft of familiar tunes wrapped around the action (if not in the order that fans of the movie are used too).

Principal among the faults of this production is the casting: Dan Partridge’s Danny Zuko is a non-descript leading man, he lacks any presence, his accent is appalling (something that seems endemic in the cast), and his singing voice even worse, and unforgivably there is absolutely no chemistry with the woefully underused Martha Kirby as Sandy, who manages to elevate proceedings in the few occasions she’s on stage. It is absolutely baffling why she would ever fall in love with this loser in the first place. Louis Gaunt is a charismatic Kenickie who makes his mark (the young actor seems as if he would be a much better fit as Danny). Of note too is Natalie Woods, who has a lovely voice and a nice presence as the body-conscious Jan, less successful are Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo, who looks thoroughly bored throughout and Darren Bennett, who provides an uncomfortable watch as the boob-grabbing old letch Vince Fontaine, the performance smacks of 1970s Benny Hill/Freddy Starr, not memories you’d want to evoke in 2019.

Are we are so far removed and so distanced from the times in which this is set, that it fails to resonate? Is that the main issue? There’s a moment in the cheesy dialogue when after a break up and a make up between Danny and Sandy where her asks her: ‘don’t you want my ring?’ you can almost hear the female audience cry: ‘no thanks I’d rather have a career’. The entire show plays out like a badly disjointed series of unrelated scenes and the lack of drive doesn’t help. On a positive note, Colin Richmond’s gymnasium design is effective, if simplistic and Guy Hoare’s lighting design tonally compliments it – it should be said though, that it’s particularly heavy on the dry ice.

The entire production from start to end lacks impact, there isn’t an ounce of sparkle and the lack of energy and commitment of the cast is astonishing. One could argue that it’s impossible to make Grease boring, but boy does this production succeed in achieving just that.

Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

Amélie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Amélie:The Musical is based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 Academy Award-winning movie about eternal altruist Amélie Poulain, whose desire to help others, through a series of simple acts of kindness, prevents her from finding love. Amélie escapes her dysfunctional childhood and unhappy home life to work as a waitress in a Paris café where she encounters a rag-tag bunch of bohemian misfits, whose lives she sets out to make that little bit better. This 2019 musical version has been significantly re-worked for the UK tour after a less-than-successful and hugely curtailed run on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for only 56 performances after a hefty 27 days of previews.

Any production has to compete with the visually arresting movie and the tobacco-stained design by Madeleine Girling, with gorgeous lighting by Elliot Griggs, largely succeeds in distancing itself from the iconic big-screen version and establishing itself as its own visual entity. It does however exploit many Gallic clichés in its presentation of the Montmartre café where the action takes place. That said, it is an absolute treat to behold.

The film is a series of quirky vignettes from Amélie’s childhood to her life in Paris (the journey necessary to understand Amélie’s future motivations) and as a result there’s a lot of time spent establishing the back story, resulting in the first act of the musical taking its time to come together and hit its stride. The second act is more cohesive and as a whole it manages to almost replicate the entire movie storyline in the confines of a small-scale, fixed set, an impressive feat.

There are an astonishing 35 musical pieces in total, and if any gripe remains with the show, it’s the lack of variety in style and tone of much of the music, motifs are repeated just a tad too often. Yes, many are gorgeous, and they are perfectly played and sung by the actor/musicians, but many add nothing and arrest the progress of the narrative rather than advance it.

The cast are universally first class, Audrey Brisson (Amélie), a Cirque du Soleil veteran is a less soft but compelling version of our heroine and Danny Mac as the object of her unrequited admiration Nino, is sure-footed throughout.

Amélie seems to have largely overcome its previous faults. It’s a tad too long, something which seems to be endemic in most musicals, and there are a few too many musical intervals, but it looks beautiful and is imaginatively staged, with a plethora of tiny, quirky details to delight. And where else can you see ‘Elton John’, some people-sized, singing and dancing figs,  a suicidal goldfish, a Brazilian carnival dancing gnome and a leading lady coming and going by flying lampshade?

Runs until 24 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

There are few other shows so beloved or so enduring as the Rocky Horror Show. It’s a summer Monday evening and the theatre is packed from floor to rafters with fans clad in their best Columbia, Magenta, Rocky, Brad, Janet and even a few Frank N. Furter costumes for the latest tour of this nearly 50-year-old show.

The audience is in full-on participation mode and the excitement before curtain up is tangible. The second the Usherette (a fabulous Laura Harrison, who also doubles up as Magenta) steps onstage, the audience is raring to go. Every infamous call back is on cue, every moment for joining in is taken – this is a crowd that knows every word and every step to every song and is here to enjoy the night to the fullest.

There are many reasons why Rocky Horror has been performed almost continuously since its creation in 1973 – the big hits come thick and fast, the dialogue is cheeky and cheesy in equal measure, it never takes itself seriously, but the talent and commitment of the cast and the quality of Richard O’Brien’s genius writing means that under the 1950s B-Movie veneer, this is a show of quality.

Boy band royalty, Blue’s Duncan James steps into Frank’s glittered platforms and satin corset and boy does he give it his all. From entrance to exit he looks like he’s living his best life and judging from the ear-splitting reception from the audience they are loving every minute along with him. James is ably supported by dance royalty Joanne Clifton, who again demonstrates how multi-talented she is, singing and acting as Janet and there’s strong support from a fine-sounding James Darch as Brad. While Rocky Horror veteran and fan-favourite Kristian Lavercombe is indisposed tonight, his understudy Andrew Ahern is a revelation as Riff Raff and Philip Franks, arguably one of the finest narrators in the world of Rocky Horror, returns.

There are few shows that pack more entertainment into two hours, and few that stand up to repeat viewing like Rocky Horror. Hands-down one of the best musicals of all time and with this first-rate cast, it would be a crime to miss it.

Runs until 17 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Hair – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

While Hair has lost its shock value and the antics seem risible to a 21st Century audience, the celebratory and catchy songs still stand the test of time and the committed cast of this 50th Anniversary tour throw themselves fully into the action.

After a 15 minute delay and an unannounced change of leading man, we’re whisked to 1967 New York, where the shadow of the Vietnam War looms over the whole of the US, but particularly the East Village,where Berger (Bradley Judge) and his band of subversive misfits are railing against the world. It’s only Claude (Paul Wilkins) who doesn’t fully buy in to the Hippie counterculture, conflicted between turning on, tuning in and dropping out (to paraphrase Timothy Leary) and fulfilling his duty to his country after being drafted into the Vietnam War.

The plot is scant and there are times when the dialogue is reduced to merely shouting out anti-establishment phrases, so the songs need to be strong to sustain interest. There are plenty of stand-outs: Aquarius, Easy to be Hard, Good Morning Starshine, Let The Sun Shine In and the title track Hair, to name a few. The only gripes would be that there are so many of them – several could be chopped without being detrimental to the show. There’s also a lot less audience interaction – this is not as immersive as expected, at times, it seems more fun for those on stage than for the audience.

The design by Maeve Black, complimented by Ben M Rogers’ lighting does evoke a trippy hippie camp and the costumes are largely on point, these are the final dates of a long tour, so the increased tattiness adds to the atmosphere.

The energetic and accomplished cast clearly give their all and play a large part in bringing the audience in. 

It doesn’t have the impact that it once had and the shock value has gone, even the full-frontal nudity barely raises an eyebrow, but it stands as a window to another time and provides some insight on a pivotal time in social history. It is still worth seeing as a cultural landmark – it, and the shows that followed in its wake, widened the boundaries, gave voice to the youth of the day and changed the theatrical landscape forever.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.

REVIEW: Confetti and Chaos – Imagination Workshop, Edinburgh

Interactive Theatre International’s Confetti and Chaos is back at its spiritual home, smack bang in the middle of the madness of the Edinburgh Festival.

The world’s worst wedding reception still has the ability to surprise and delight and it’s all down to the pin-sharp script and the enviable comedy acting and improvisation skills of its talented cast.

The whole idea is a winner, because we’ve all been there: the excruciating speeches, the wild cannon relatives, secrets tumbling out of the closet, lips getting looser as the alcohol flows freely, drunken dancing and worse, much, much worse. Just when you think it couldn’t get any crazier, it does. Did I mention that while all the madness unfolds we, the wedding guests, are all enjoying a three course meal?

While there’s a face-achingly funny script at its backbone, it’s the ability of the cast to interact and react with the ever-changing nightly audience that makes this more than just a performance but an event for the ‘guests’. No matter how effortless this looks, it takes phenomenally talented actors to pull it off. Nerine Skinner, Otis Waby, Helen Colby and Hayden Wood, double and triple-up on roles and manage to give each their own individual characterisation, and each is funnier than the last. The energy required is astonishing and the effort the actors put in is laudable.

Confetti and Chaos (formerly The Wedding Reception) remains as hysterical as it ever was, and stands up to multiple viewings. A show where quality is assured night after night.

Runs until 26 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

REVIEW: West End Producer: Free Willy, Assembly Studio Two, Edinburgh

The infamous and anonymous mystery man of London theatre, West End Producer has finally taken the plunge and headed north of the border to Edinburgh for the summer season with his rubber Willy under one arm and baby grand under the other.

WEP is in town to audition hopefuls for his proposed West End mega hit-to-be Free Willy: The Musical. In the process we are let in on a few theatrical secrets, partake in a lesson on the perfect jazz hands and are led in a theme appropriate dolphin vocal warm up, there are even some genuine soiled West End show pants on offer to one lucky auditionee.

The fun starts before the show does with our idol interacting with his public in the queue, we are assigned our audition numbers and given a mini task to perform. Audience participation-phobes don’t despair though, it’s all very non-threatening – what else would you expect, we know WEP is an absolute #dear.

As befitting WEP’s status among the stagey folks, the place is packed on this sunny afternoon and the large crowd really helps the atmosphere. This is a show that knows its audience – everyone is in on the West End gossip and the jokes and digs land, and the addition of a different guest each day, a fellow Fringe performer (today’s was comedian Patrick Monaghan) is a nice touch that delivers variety and a sense of what on earth is going to happen next? to the proceedings.

WEP is a man of many talents, as well as this being a well-conceived and executed show, he’s a gifted pianist and singer, and the comic songs are actually, in some cases, better than some of the drivel I’ve had to endure in real West End shows. WEP’s entrance on a blow up whale is also a sight once-seen – hard to forget.

If you are of a stagey disposition – this is a chance to get up close and personal with the enigma that is WEP. Go along and help West End Producer find his Willy – you won’t regret it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

REVIEW: Keith Moon: The Real Me – Gilded Balloon Teviot Wine Bar, Edinburgh

Mick Berry endeavours to delve deep into the psyche of the world’s greatest rock drummer – The Who’s Keith Moon, but succeeds only in proving how decent a drummer he is himself  (he’s the author of The Drummer’s Bible), in this odd mish-mash of a show. 

There’s material a-plenty to plunder in Moon’s life, both actual and mythical, but this one-man version misses the mark in so many ways. Berry has apparently been working on this show since 2013, when a version appeared at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, that time with the support of some fellow musicians playing his band-mates in The Who. This one-man version is neither straight biography, though there are many dis-jointed biographical moments, nor musical tribute to the great musician.

As the famous chords of Baba O’Reilly ring out and Berry batters out the ear-splitting, accompanying beat, there’s a sense of optimism that this might be a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll tale, but that quickly subsides the moment Berry opens his mouth and the worst British accent since Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Mary Poppins comes out. During the course of the show it travels from Cornwall to Cockney to Canberra. There’s also the issue of Berry’s insistence in shouting out disjointed sequences of dialogue that are drowned out by the backing track and Berry’s own drumming. Other minor issues are Berry’s insistence on replicating Moon’s famous two-handed drumstick twirling that looks laboured, something he continues to try to do throughout. Despite his evident drumming skills, to a Who fan’s ears there are moments when he quite evidently fails to keep on these famous beats. Berry also looks uncomfortably nervous, whether with the material itself or the muted reaction of the small audience, it’s hard to tell. Moon managed only 32 years on this earth, and Mr. Berry is a man of advanced age that’s hard to hide in a small venue.

There’s little attempt to “pierce Moon’s insane exterior to get inside of this rock legend” or provide a “deeper, more personal, volatile and intimate exploration” as promised in the advertising material. It merely grazes the surface in the most superficial and confusing way. It smacks of self-indulgence and is badly in need of a pair or two of outside eyes to take what could be a dynamite story to the place where it should be to be a fitting tribute to one of the rock and roll greats. On a more positive note, the drumming’s good and there are snippets of some of the biggest hits of the greatest rock band Britain ever produced.

REVIEW: Madagascar The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Madagascar, the much-loved, 2005 Dreamworks’ movie returns to Glasgow in its musical form, just in time to catch the school holiday crowd.

Our familiar friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo: Alex, ‘the king of the urban jungle’ (2016 X-Factor winner, Matt Terry), Marty the rapping zebra (Posi Morakinyo), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Connor Dyer) and Gloria the sassy hippo (Hannah Victoria) and, of course, King Julien the Lemur (Kieran Mortell) are all here, supplemented beautifully by Max Humphries’ penguin puppets and a colourful set design from Tom Rogers.

For the few who don’t know the story, it’s Marty’s tenth birthday, and when he finds that penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private have decided to escape, he begins to long for ‘the wild’. After following the penguins out, Alex, Gloria and a reluctant Melman try to persuade their pal to return. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and the quartet find themselves on a boat bound for Africa.

It would be hard not to like this, Madagascar is as engaging a story on stage as it is on screen and has enough multi-layered humour to satisfy both adults and children alike. The songs are catchy, especially the ear-worm I Like To Move It, it’s delivered with humour and conviction and it boasts a small but top-notch cast to boot.

Matt Terry, despite what your prejudices might be about TV talent show winners, has a fine, strong voice, carries off the choreography with style, has an engaging personality and can act. He is ably supported by Morakinyo, Dyer and Victoria, who, again, perform with energy and commitment and keep the tiny audience members gripped throughout. The penguin puppeteers not only breathe life and character into their feathered characters but double and triple up on an array of human and animal parts and Kieran Mortell, of course, makes his mark as the hysterical tyrant King Julien.

For a production so seemingly simple there are small but notable details, chief among them Fabian Aloise’s choreography, which goes from urban/street in New York to more African/Tribal tinged in Madagascar.

This isn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning writing, it’s a simple story of friendship, but it’s perfectly-pitched to its audience and remains engaging and entertaining for all ages, throughout.

Runs until 4 August 2019 | Image: Scott Rylander

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

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