Tag Archives: Review

REVIEW: Scottish Ballet’s Wee Hansel and Gretel – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Scottish Ballet present “a wee version of a big ballet”, a perfectly distilled version of their family favourite Hansel and Gretel, specifically aimed at children aged three to eight.

A dangerous (well, mildly perilous but age-appropriate) adventure into the deep dark wood with the inquisitive siblings – Wee Hansel and Gretel faithfully follows the traditional tale: there’s the worrisome witch, her mysterious raven companion, the magic forest and the enchanted gingerbread house.

The addition of a narrator (James Siggens) who presents a rhyming introduction to set the scene and explanation of the unfolding action, is a neat touch. He engages the audience from curtain up with a whole heap of audience participation, including magically controlling the lights, much to the amazement of the tiny theatre-goers.

Set to the music of Engelbert Humperdinck, recorded by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, the production includes students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The tutu-clad trio provide the traditional costumes expected by the mini-ballet buffs, though these three tutus on stage are vastly outnumbered by the gloriously clad audience who are decked in their best ballet finery for the occasion. In the role of Hansel, Constant Vigier is, as always, a safe pair of ballet slippers and his Gretel, Alice Kawalek is a star in waiting.

This 50-minute tiny treasure of a production is small, but absolutely perfectly formed. The run time is ideal, the storytelling judiciously edited to fit in everything it needs to shine. It captures and keeps the attention for the entirety of the performance and provides a satisfying morning’s or afternoon’s entertainment for adults and children alike. More of this please!

The tour continues until October :  Glasgow tomorrow (Sunday 14 July) 

For complete touring dates and venues visit: scottishballet.co.uk/event/wee-hansel-gretel

Images: Rimbaud Patron

 

REVIEW: Little Miss Sunshine: A Road Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The epitome of dysfunctional, the Hoover family travel 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico in grandpa’s beaten up VW camper van to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, California, so the youngest member of the clan, the unlikely Olive, can compete. So goes William Finn and James Lapine’s adaptation of Michael Arndt’s double Oscar-winning 2006 movie.

The stage version, unlike the movie has had a bumpy ride to get to this point. Workshopped in 2009, it showed for two months in California in 2011, it was then re-worked and lasted another two months off-Broadway in 2013. With this less than encouraging history it then begs the question why anyone would gamble on taking a musical theatre version of what was always a quirky, niche, indie movie, less happy go lucky and more heart-wrenching and soul-searching, to the UK theatre-going public. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the sparse audience, this gamble hasn’t exactly paid off.

The ultra simplistic staging – a sunshine yellow, paint spattered backdrop with the iconic van reduced to six kitchen chairs on an MDF boxed base, serves up little to interest the eye, save in the last scene at the pageant. The costumes, of course necessitated by the everyday ordinariness of the characters, are the same from start to end, but it’s the musical content that’s utterly unforgivable. Every – single – song, is exactly the same as the others, so drab and relentlessly boring are they, that you are reduced to silently begging when the musical director raises her hand to cue in the musicians, that there’s not another song. William Finn is known as a quirky composer, that these songs are so plodding, so utterly unremarkable and forgettable, is astonishing, especially given how unconventional the source material.

The cast are experienced, but no matter how good they are, they are fighting a tedious script and bland music. Mum Sheryl (Lucy O’Byrne) is given unremittingly dull lines and songs that leave no mark and dad Richard (Gabriel Vick) is extremely hard to warm to. Thankfully Paul Keating as suicidal, Proust scholar Uncle Frank makes his mark as does Mark Moraghan as off-the-wall, coke-sniffing grandpa, but it’s ensemble member Imelda Warren-Green in a double turn as a hospital bereavement liaison and the Latina pageant winner, who shines brightest in the gloom.

I am astonished that any producer thought this would be a winner. It lacks bite, the almost insurmountable troubles of the movie are so perfectly written in its script, are less than perfectly translated here. Yes, the iconic quotes are present as is the storyline, but in this version it is a relentless two-hour, clock-watching slog with the final scenes the only pay-off. Do yourself a favour and watch the movie instead.

 Image: Manuel Harlan

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The Lady Vanishes – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Relatively obscure British crime writer Ethel Lina White’s greatest legacy is her 1936 novel, The Wheel Spins, two years after publication Alfred Hitchcock directed the film The Lady Vanishes, widely regarded as one of British cinema’s greatest works, based on her book. Through the decades popular adaptations have appeared both on TV and film. This time it’s the turn of the Classic Thriller Theatre Company who bring the timeless tale to the stage.

It’s Austria, 1938 and Nazism is on the rise. Socialite Iris Henderson (Lorna Fitzgerald) is travelling back to London to marry, more for her fiancé’s title than for love. Before climbing aboard the crowded and already delayed train home, she receives an accidental blow to the head. She’s helped aboard by kindly, former governess Miss Froy (Juliet Mills) and the pair strike up a conversation on board, but Iris soon falls asleep. On wakening, Iris finds Miss Froy has disappeared and all her fellow travellers deny ever having seen her. She enlists the help of engineer and part-time musicologist Max (tonight played by understudy James Boswell) to get to the bottom of the mystery of the vanishing lady.

With a cast of curious characters including two cricket-loving Brits (stage veterans Robert Duncan & Ben Nealon), a suspicious Austrian doctor (Maxwell Caulfield), an Italian magician (Mark Carlisle), a stuck-up London lawyer and his mistress (Philip Lowrie & Elizabeth Payne), a Nazi officer (Joe Reisig) and a nun (Natalie Law), The Lady Vanishes mines every trope of the golden age of crime and proves that classic mysteries never go out of fashion. Also evidenced by the fact the theatre is packed on a sunny Monday evening in summer.

From the opening scenes on the station platform in Austria, through the train journey, back home to Blighty, Morgan Large’s set (coupled with Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting) manages to conjure up the feel of Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece. The 13-strong cast are solid, with understudy Boswell managing to shine brightest.

This is a well-constructed production, that, though undemanding, provides a thoroughly entertaining, escapist evening of entertainment.

Image: Paul Coltas

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Made in Dagenham – The New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

A fictionalised version of the true story of the sewing machinist’s strike at Ford’s Dagenham plant in 1968, where the female workers walked out in protest against unequal pay for equally skilled work, Made in Dagenham is based on (but not wholly a copy of) Nigel Cole’s 2010 film of the same name. It drops many of the movie characters, introduces some new ones and expands parts of the storyline only touched on in the film version.

The stage version had a short, and somewhat problematic life in the West End in 2014, this time it’s tackled by the students of the Dance School of Scotland. What is always guaranteed from this unique school is quality, total professionalism and commitment to any work they tackle, however, the issues that plagued the musical’s short run in the West End remain. The book takes what feels like an eternity to get anywhere and the score, while lively in part, lacks the standout tunes that make a successful production ( Stand Up) the show closer, is the only one that gets near. It’s laudable that any show gives voice to women and to a life-changing moment in British history, but it’s unsubtly done, too caricatured and over-long.

That said, there’s terrific work from Charlotte Power (meant to play the role later in the week, but stepping in due to illness) as Rita O’Grady – the heart and soul of the dispute and the force behind the law change in 1970. The supporting cast of women (played by these high school aged pupils) also manage to breathe believable life into their parts, steering them clear of exaggeration and keeping them wholly realistic. The boys, while portraying men from an utterly different era, one of out-right sexism and derision towards woman, play it a lit bit too broad, too stereotypical, a little too out-there comedic. One wonders if these were directorial choices, or dictated by the script.

There were also issues to overcome with a band that totally overwhelmed the singers at points, (the venue can’t be blamed as it was purpose built for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with world-class acoustics) and poor and rushed diction (nerves may be to blame on this opening night) that rendered a lot of the script inaudible.

The sheer energy and vitality with which the company attacked the material, elevated it above the source material, and one can’t fault the commitment of each and every performer. With better material to work with this company of performers are sure to go far.

REVIEW: Leah MacRae – My Big Fat Fabulous Diary – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It takes a brave actress indeed to decide to create your own solo show and take it on the road, especially an already successful one. Leah MacRae is well-known and loved as Julie in Gary: Tank Commander, Ellie in the Scottish soap River City and the lead in the spoof 50 Shades of Maggie, so you think she’d rest on her laurels. To lay bare your embarrassing teenage diary musings with the world and open up about your daily struggles with fat-shaming, and rejection in your industry, takes courage, even if it is couched in a musical comedy show.

The first impression of MacRae is that she is a fearless, bold, bigger than life personality, un-moved by the criticism of others, and to a certain extent that’s true (she bounds on stage looking like a bubblegum pink pantomime fairy), she even says: “if I were a size 10, I’d be a complete w****r”. However, as we scratch beneath the surface to get to the real message behind these stories and songs, there’s a world of hurt that’s had to be overcome. MacRae is here to spread the word about us all being a bit kinder to each other, that however positive a face we present to the world, these constant barbs and the constant career rejection because of your size, does hurt. That we should embrace and have confidence in who we are, whatever we look like. To never give up on our dreams. She hysterically cites Victoria Beckham as her unlikely inspiration, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think!

Split into two acts, there are few theatrical conventions the Glaswegian powerhouse doesn’t cover: there’s drama, lots and lots of comedy, funny songs, heart-breaking songs, big ballads, a mix-tape section!, dancing and a ton of banter with her hometown audience. While the first act is a mixture of all these, the second becomes a bit more reflective and the mood does take a bit of a dive, until we end with the ubiquitous This Is Me from The Greatest Showman.

There’s some good material here, but there’s a feeling it’s not all it could be. MacRae, talks about constant comparisons to fellow Glaswegian Michelle McManus. McManus has had her own one-woman show, also autobiographical, also funny and also featuring some knock out hits. While MacRae is a talented comedy actress, McManus is a natural born storyteller with an innate comic timing that can’t be learned, and an ability to gauge exactly what makes a perfectly pitched show. MacRae possibly needs some outside eyes to take this raw material with great potential and make it a knock-out from start to finish. There’s also the issue of nerves. MacRae is home, not only in front of her local fans, but her family and friends, and the pressure shows. She looks nervous and as a result the dialogue comes out so fast that it’s impossible to hear a lot of it from anywhere above the stalls.

It’s easy to warm to MacRae, this is an entertaining evening and it’s great to hear her unleash her big voice at full force, but there’s a lot of potential that’s not being fulfilled. Hopefully, there’s more to come. If this is the first version of her stage show, I can’t wait to see the next.

Leah MacRae continues to tour until June. See her website for details.

REVIEW: The Music Man – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Runway Theatre Company again prove their worthy position at the top of the tree of amateur companies in Glasgow, reviving Meredith Willson’s Tony and Grammy Award-winning, little-seen, musical theatre classic, The Music Man, with aplomb. A timely choice too, with the announcement that in 2020, Hugh Jackman will lead the first Broadway revival in nearly two decades.

It’s 1912 and the people of sleepy River City, Iowa really don’t know what’s in store for them when smooth talking swindler Harold Hill rolls into town. However, Hill’s plans to con the innocent townsfolk are foiled when his heart finally starts to rule his head.

Old-fashioned in the nicest possible way, this is a light-hearted, undemanding tale with a bunch of quirky characters and two of musical theatre’s most enduring tunes: the oom-pah-pah-ing 76 Trombones and the much-loved classic ballad, Till There Was You.

Its old-fashionedness is both its strength and its weakness. The public’s appetite for nostalgia is sated with the homely, feel-good storyline, the period costumes and score. However, the hokey dialogue has aged badly and the heightened characterisations required by the script, render it too caricatured at times. That said, any criticisms of this production are entirely at the hands of the source material not the actors or musicians.

This is a show with a rousing chorus, the ensemble fill the auditorium with the biggest, most glorious sound you will have the pleasure to hear, and the quartet comprising Tom Russell, Ross Nicol, Cameron Leask and Bob McDevitt are just heavenly sounding. Brendan Lynch (Harold Hill), once again proves to be an adept leading man and a true triple threat, and Catherine Mackenzie (Marian Paroo) is a beautifully toned soprano. The costumes are of an excellent quality. The set and lighting are functional and easy on the eye and the transitions, especially in a theatre with no fly tower, are smooth and pacy. The child actors, of which there are many, are drilled to perfection as are the dancers – it’s unusual in an amateur production to have such universal quality.

A warm and comforting and very welcome blast from the past that will leave audience members of all ages thoroughly entertained.

Runs until Saturday 18 May 2019

 

REVIEW: Let It Be – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

2019 marks 50 years since The Beatles walked over that famous crossing on Abbey Road, 50 years since they played on the roof of the Apple Corps. building on Savile Row and 49 years since they released their last album. Seen by over two million people worldwide, Let It Be, continue their celebration of the music of The Beatles with a brand-new show for 2019.

The revamped show is split into two halves: the first a potted history of the Fab Four, starting from the famous Royal Variety Performance in 1963, through Shea Stadium to Sgt. Pepper and beyond. The second, is set a decade after The Beatles went their separate ways. It’s the 9th of October 1980, John Lennon’s 40th birthday, the band reunite for one night only for “the ultimate concert that never was”. Here we get a chance to hear some of the hits from each Beatles’ solo careers.

Let It Be is the Rolls Royce of Beatles celebration acts and the quality of the musicianship is outstanding. Emanuele Angeletti (Paul McCartney), John Brosnan, Ben Cullingworth (Ringo Starr) and Richard Jordan (John Lennon), go beyond simple impersonation. To the ear, this is as close as you are going to get to the real thing. Every specific tone and intonation of each man is captured in impressive detail.

While fans of the original show may wish to see something a bit different from the usual history and greatest hits of The Beatles, it is understandable that after seven years the performers and producers might want to shake things up a bit. This production is very much a show of two halves and while the quality of the vocals and musicianship never dips, the choice of songs in the second half mean that there’s a distinct shift in atmosphere. The joyous celebration of The Beatles early years is replaced by some more sombre moments from their later careers. That said, the whole evening ends on a high and with the audience on their feet, a series of Fab Four classics sending the crowd out into the rainy night with these musical masterpieces ringing in their ears.  Well worth catching if you can.

Review originally written for THE REVIEWS HUB | Image: Anthony Robling

 

REVIEW: Hugh Jackman – The Man. The Music. The Show. – SSE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

Eight years in the making and after months of anticipation since its announcement, Hugh Jackman is finally in town to kick off his world tour.

The man is truly a global superstar, there are few corners of this world where he’s not recognised. He’s Wolverine for goodness sake! the star of a legion of other hit movies, a Tony Award-winning stage superstar and let’s not mention the star of a certain movie and its soundtrack from 2017. As a result, the atmosphere is tangible and the reception he receives as he steps onstage is ear-splitting. When the night is over, the reaction is actually deafening – and deservedly so.

This is a great big, old-fashioned variety show delivered by a truly gifted, multi-talented performer. Accompanied by a 20-strong orchestra, ten backing dancers, a local choir, two didgeridoo players, two indigenous singers, and fellow star of The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle, Jackman manages to encompass his entire life and career and a greatest hits of popular entertainment, in the space of a few hours.

The atmosphere is a joy throughout, a coming together of fans of the man – utterly celebratory. There’s singing, of course: from the inevitable tunes from TGS, through the songs of the golden age of Hollywood movie musicals to some personal stage favourites, including a touching rendition of fellow Ozzie Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Saddler, there’s also a celebration of Australian music with a moving Aboriginal song; there’s a bit of acting – Jean Valjean’s soliloquy from Les Mis; tap dancing à la Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire – Jackman proves to be a stunning dancer; many anecdotes from his life and career, including a very personal moment about his world turning on its head at eight years old (referring his mother leaving him and his brother in Australia with his father, as she took his sisters back to England); we’re treated to the famous Wolverine roar and a drumming section. Is there anything this man can’t do? – err…no.

It’s one of those nights that will truly blow you away. It’s taken a few days to write this down, but the feeling stands, the warm and fuzzies are still here – one of the greatest shows I have ever seen.

REVIEW: Kinky Boots – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

In 1999, the BBC’s documentary series Trouble at the Top featured Steve Pateman and his century old, struggling shoe manufacturing business in the village of Earls Barton in Northamptonshire. Pateman’s way out of trouble (unfortunately only temporarily) was to create a line of fetish shoes, Divine Footwear. His story inspired the 2005 Geoff Deane and Tim Firth film Kinky Boots and in turn the 2012 Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical from Cyndi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Mitchell. Like his inspiration, Charlie Price inherits his father’s failing shoe factory, when a chance meeting with drag queen Lola, leads him down a path to survival, producing a line of high-heeled boots for men. Largely following the movie storyline, albeit with a considerable number of Americanisms removed from the Broadway version, the musical preaches a largely predictable message of tolerance and acceptance all festooned in sparkling sequins.

Essential as it is in building the narrative and developing character, the production takes a little while to hit its stride, and it takes Lola and The Angels’ arrival to breathe life into the show and so it remains throughout: there are lulls in the action which are thankfully alleviated when the sequin-clad lovelies appear. Performance wise, as much as Joel Harper-Jackson (Charlie) is vocally excellent, he’s a little hard to warm to, and his vehement outburst at Lola and her lifestyle is a bit too quickly and easily forgiven as we hurtle towards the feel-good ending. Kayi Ushe as Lola, is a star – tough and sassy but equally damaged and vulnerable, it’s a fine line to walk, but Ushe does it with class and grace and a beautifully toned singing voice. Paula Lane imbues her performance with life and humour as Lauren, however her vocals are not exactly musical theatre standard and her diction is tremendously lacking. Collectively the Angels are multi-talented and on-point throughout, as are the entire ensemble.

Cyndi Lauper’s songs for the show include moving ballads, some big ensemble anthems, a few uninspiring fillers, with many having a whiff of the 1980s about them, and all sung with an annoying American accent despite the rest of the dialogue being delivered in a strangled Northampton one. To their credit though, most nicely match the emotions of the narrative, and the rousing feel-good numbers serve the production well in getting the audience on-side and up on its feet.

For all its faults, you will be sure to walk out feeling thoroughly entertained and not a little uplifted – well worth watching.

Runs until 18 May 2019 | Image: Helen Maybanks

REVIEW ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: The Girl on the Train – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

British writer Paula Hawkins’ 2015 novel The Girl on the Train became a runaway best-seller around the globe, with a Hollywood movie adaptation following on its heels quickly a year later, albeit with a re-setting to New York instead of London. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s 2018 stage version restores it to its original location and a somewhat less glossy and more realistic environment.

Binge drinking Rachel Watson passes her old house and her ex-husband and his new life (and wife and baby) every day as she commutes to work. While her attention is initially on ex Tom and trophy wife Anna, whom she harassed relentlessly, it strays to a house a few doors down where she fixates on “Jason & Jess” as she’s dubbed them and their seemingly perfect life. Little does she know that “Jess” is far from happy. When she wakes up one day bloody and injured with little recollection of what has happened she finds out “Jess”, actually Megan, is missing. She inveigles her way into the investigation, befriending Megan’s husband Scott and visiting her psychotherapist Dr. Abdic under false pretences. As Rachel slowly sobers, her memories become gradually clearer and there’s a whole school of red herrings before we come to the shocking conclusion.

Unlike the book and movie, the lion’s share of the action takes place in Rachel’s hovel of an apartment, it’s more The Girl in the Flat rather than The Girl on the Train but that said, the design by James Cotterill is clever enough to portray multiple locations including Megan and Scott’s and Tom and Anna’s homes, a police station, a psychiatrist’s office, the crime scene and the train itself. There a few sound and lighting effects thrown into the mix to keep the interest.

It’s must be said that it is a little slow to get into gear, possibly necessitated by the establishment of the complex layers of the story, but the tension does ramp up in the second half. Where it also differs from both previous incarnations of the story is the frequent black humour, which provides light relief in this dark tale. The scenes between Rachel and sardonic D.I. Gaskell (John Dougall) are particularly well-played.

TV veteran Samantha Womack is Rachel, and delivers a well-measured, low-key performance, keeping it entirely within the bounds of believability in her portrayal of a woman on the brink. There are no cheap histrionics here, and certainly no glamour, much to Womack’s credit. It is refreshing to know that in having a star like Womack, the producers haven’t traded talent for ticket sales. She is ably supported by a sure-footed ensemble cast.

Another question that deserves addressing (almost the elephant in the room) for those who have read the book or seen the movie – does it affect the enjoyment knowing the sting on the tail? Not entirely. While knowing what’s coming, it is still sufficiently interesting to see how it has been achieved.

Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

« Older Entries