Tag Archives: Review

REVIEW: Waiting For Gabriel – East Kilbride Arts Centre

Theatre Company Running Late have written and produced a real Christmas cracker of a show at East Kilbride Arts Centre this Festive Season.

It’s Christmas Eve and a group of strangers who were once friends wait for Gabriel. A vacancy has opened up so if they want that promotion, they’ll  have to impress him. They’ve each been waiting 2000 years, have plenty of work experience and the right skills for the job so they really shouldn’t let a little friendly rivalry distract them before he arrives.

Through its comedy and the unfolding competition that ensues as Loreli (Ailsa Courtney), Cassiel (Samantha Toyer-Wright), Ariel (Natalie Clark) and Tobias (Allan Gilmour) each vie for Gabriel’s attention, it prompts us to look at how seemingly random acts of kindness come along when we need them most, how do so-called miraculous feats of human strength and endurance happen when all hope is gone. Is it because of angels? And what about these angels? What happens when their faith and hope are tested?  Is it worth carrying on? Waiting for Gabriel is an original work that, though sprinkled throughout with gentle humour, (and some top-notch singing from Allan Gilmour) eventually takes us to a place that makes us ask some pretty big questions. To its credit it does it in the gentlest, most entertaining way.

Susan Arbuckle’s set is atmospherically dressed and there are some neat visual effects and director Lorna Gold steers the events along at a admirable pace.

Much of the success of the piece is due to its talented cast who perfectly deliver their own script. There’s a surety with the material and a conviction in what they are delivering. Running Late Theatre Company look set to be a company to watch. I look forward to seeing what’s next.

REVIEW: Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Lomond Auditorium, Glasgow

Unlike the 2011 film version, Florence and Richard Atwater’s 1938 book has been returned to its original era (with a change in location from the US to the UK) in Pins and Needles’ production of Mr. Popper’s Penguins and it’s all the better for it.

House painter Mr. Popper lives a quiet life with his wife in Stillwater, but Mr. Popper has dreams, dreams of being an Antarctic adventurer, reading everything he can on the subject and listening for every radio broadcast from his hero Admiral Drake at the South Pole. After he sends a letter to his hero, he receives a strange crate in return – that crate contains a penguin (Captain Cook) and the Poppers’ life is inevitably turned upside down. When Captain Cook starts to fall ill, Admiral Drake sends him a female penguin companion and lots of little penguins soon appear. With their finances under stress, the Poppers train the waddle as a Music Hall act. Animal activists need not get themselves in a twist – an entirely appropriate ending ensues.

This is good old-fashioned storytelling at its best. With a spare but effective set, warm lighting, a gaggle of pleasing songs, simple but appealing penguin puppets and a captivating finale with some gentle audience participation, this endearing show held the attention of the mostly under fives who filled the auditorium for the entirety of the hour-long running time. Sometimes, simple and charming is best for small children. Altogether a warm and thoroughly enjoyable show for tiny theatre-goers.

Runs until 6 January 2019

TICKETS HERE 

 

REVIEW: Six – Lomond Auditorium, Glasgow

DIVORCED, BEHEADED, DIED, DIVORCED, BEHEADED, SURVIVED – who would have thought that a musical about the sextet this mnemonic inspired, would end up taking the UK musical theatre scene by storm?

Written in ten working days over a period of six months, Six creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss had no formal musical theatre training. It started life at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performed by the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society and such has its impact been that it has had a second run at the Fringe, a West End run, a UK tour and an up-coming second stint in London.

Inevitable comparisons will be made with theatrical juggernaut Hamilton which also mixes 21st century music with historical subject material. However, Six manages to plough its own original and irresistible furrow. Staged like a mash-up between a stadium concert and a musical, it blends spot-on humour and history with a refreshing dose of self-awareness. Each Queen gets her chance to stand centre stage and state her case in an X-Factor style competition to see who had it worse at the hands of the infamous King. These women are here to kick ass and tell all. This they do in an array of musical genres: pop; rock ballad; R&B; electro euro-pop (the hysterical Kraut-rock/House mash up Haus of Holbein) and soul.

Each of these six women playing these six queens is phenomenally talented and all shine – equally, a rare and wonderful thing to see on stage, and are backed by the fine sounding, all-woman band, The Ladies in Waiting.

Jarneia Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon) starts the ball rolling with the sassy No Way followed by Millie O’Connell’s hysterical Anne Boleyn delivering the Lily Allen-ish Don’t Lose Your Head with the lyrics: “I tried to elope but the Pope said ‘nope'” and “everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will”. Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour) tugs at the heart-strings in the power ballad Heart of Stone. Alexia McIntosh (Anne of Cleeves) gives us the Rhianna-like Get Down and brings the house down with her “I’m the Queen of the castle, get down you dirty rascals” when ‘exiled’ to a life of luxury and independence after her divorce from Henry. Aimie Atkinson is a natural born comic throughout but when she delivers Katherine Howard’s All You Wanna Do, the lyrics make you question (in light of the #MeToo movement) has anything really changed for women in the past 500 years? And sheds new perspective on how she has been remembered in history. Maiya Quansah-Breed brings the women’s stories to an end absolutely beautifully with Catherine Parr’s torch song I Don’t Need Your Love. Each of these woman has is an utter power-house of a vocalist and would tear up any stage they appeared on. That said, the songs they are asked to deliver are pitch perfect and an utter joy to listen to.

Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography is sharp and original and perfectly executed by the cast. Gabriella Slade’s costume design is Ariana Grande does Tudor and it works fabulously as does Emma Bailey’s simplistic but effective set design and Tim Deiling’s rich lighting.

The face-off between the women is definitely a twisted sisterhood, they each fling the other’s sob story back in their faces, but this show of fierce womanhood is utterly irresistible. The dawning realisation by each woman that they only claim their place in history because of the man they married, reduced to: “just one word in a stupid rhyme” is actually heart-breaking. Thankfully they get “five more minutes” to set the record straight and send the audience to the street on an absolute high.

The succinct story telling packs a punch and the compact 75 minute running time is audience friendly. Marlow and Moss prove again that HISTORY + MUSICAL THEATRE = HIT. They have successfully distilled 500 year-old history into a perfect piece of entertainment for the 21st Century. SIX is one of the best things this reviewer has seen all year. Get a ticket while you can, you won’t regret it.

Runs until 30 December 2018 – TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

REVIEW: Cinderella – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

The SEC Armadillo pantomime has gone all-out in its efforts to sparkle and shine brighter than its rivals: even before you enter there’s the dazzling 5 foot high letters spelling out the title of the show, then there’s the twinkling lights from the 20 foot Christmas tree, the flashing neon of the big wheel and the rainbow-hued SSE Hydro right next door. For sheer sparkling extravagance in set, costume and lighting design, no expense has been spared in this year’s offering, Cinderella. Cinder’s starlit crystal coach is a particular highlight, sparkling as it flies out above the audience.

There’s the cast too, Scottish TV comedy giants Jonathan Watson and Gavin Mitchell, music, theatre and River City star Frances Thorburn, musical theatre star Keith Jack and veteran comedy duo The Krankies.

The storyline is a simplistic and very streamlined version of the traditional tale: the two ugly step-sisters are mean to poor old Cinders (though not as mean as they could be); Cinders can’t go to the ball; the prince masquerades as a servant and falls in love with our heroine in the woods; Cinders gets her glad-rags on and goes to ball in disguise; Prince and Cinders are re-united; slipper gets lost; slipper finds its owner; the lovestruck pair get married, and yes, they all live happily ever after.

There’s no slapstick, no audience participation and no sweetie throwing as expected from a ‘traditional’ panto. There is however heavy reliance on The Krankies to provide the light relief, but their smut-laden and entirely inappropriate dialogue is woefully outdated in 2018 – and this comes from someone who is very much not of the ‘snowflake generation’. Watson and Mitchell are fine comic actors and do their best with the material given and Thorburn and Jack, both gifted singers only have a few short moments to show their considerable talents. They are all supported by a hard working, top-notch adult ensemble and a well-drilled children’s troupe from JazzartUK.

Very much geared towards adults, this is a beautifully staged panto, but I can’t help think that opportunities were wasted by the script writers and director with such a talented cast of actors.

Runs until 30th December 2018

Tickets available HERE

REVIEW: The Overtones – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The Overtones are in Glasgow to have a party, a great big, joyous Christmas party, and while it totally and utterly fulfils this brief, in a year that has been more than challenging for the band, this is a night filled with huge happiness and just a little sadness.

This hasn’t been the easiest year for The Overtones, following the death of lead vocalist Timmy Matley and critical conversations about the future of the band, but from the moment they bound onto the stage to the strains of Womack and Womack’s Teardrops, you are utterly assured that their decision to carry on as a four-piece is the right one.

Occupying a unique niche in the market with their blend of modern Doo Wop, the band truly have wide, multi-generational appeal. Added to their vocal talents, this is a quartet who put their hearts, souls and considerable physical and emotional energies into every performance.

The audience are literally on their feet from the first notes, and the feel-good hits just keep coming: You To Me Are Everything, Runaround Sue, My Girl and Rockin’ Robin particularly fit their vocal harmonies and set the party atmosphere. However, the audience inevitably knows that a remembrance of Matley’s life would come. And so it does in the form of a trio of songs specially chosen to celebrate him: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (their last song recorded as a 5-piece), the Spice Girls’ Goodbye and I Say a Little Prayer, the poignancy added to by the sight of Matley’s beaming smile projected behind the band as they sing.

Before the interval, the band manages to ramp the happiness back up, delivering Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

The festive factor is represented by a clutch of Christmas classics: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Let It Snow and Driving Home For Christmas and there’s a duo of ear-pleasing original songs from the latest album, new single Stand Up and By My Side. But it’s the party tunes that have the sold-out audience dancing in the aisles: Love Really Hurts, Get Ready and Gimme Just a Little More Time, have the joint jumping.

While the loss of Matley’s vocals is of huge consequence, Mike Crawshaw and Lockie Chapman more than step up and are, as always perfectly supported by Darren Everest and Mark Franks. Fans will be delighted to know that the sharp and original choreography is still very much in evidence and beautifully executed.

The band round out the evening of mutual love with the entirely appropriate Love Is In the Air and leave the audience on a high.

The Overtones prove that good, old-fashioned quality will always win out, and if the reaction of this Glasgow crowd is anything to go on, it will continue to do so for many years to come.

REVIEW: Nativity! The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The clocks have gone back, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are over, so, of course, Christmas is here. Seven weeks early, but who’s complaining when it’s the stage version of Bafta Award-winning Debbie Isitt’s hugely loveable 2009 movie, Nativity?

For those familiar with the big-screen trilogy, the stage plot is lifted entirely from the first film. Mr. Maddens (Scott Garnham) is a less than effective primary school teacher, having previously been an even less than successful actor. With the festive season approaching, the school Nativity show looming and a broken heart courtesy of his ex-girlfriend Jennifer (Ashleigh Gray) who dumped him to pursue her career dreams in Hollywood, things can’t possibly get worse. Unfortunately they do. Competition arrives in the form of his former best friend, Gordon Shakespeare (Andy Brady), who is now receiving plaudits for his festive extravaganzas at a rival primary school. Maddens declares that a Hollywood producer is coming to film his Christmas show, needless to say they’re not, and mayhem ensues, aided and abetted by hyperactive classroom assistant Mr. Poppy (Simon Lipkin).

With such well-loved source material, the cast need to step up and fortunately they more than match, and in some cases exceed that of the film. For West End theatre buffs, this is dream casting. Scott Garnham is entirely believable as the lovelorn Mr. Maddens with a gorgeous voice to boot, Ashleigh Gray makes her mark in the relatively small role of Jennifer and manages to showcase her phenomenal vocal skills, Andy Brady is a suitably manic Mr. Shakespeare (his Herod is a gem) but it is the utterly irresistible Simon Lipkin as Mr. Poppy who thoroughly steals the show. Lipkin is a star in everything he’s in and here he gets to showcase his formidable talents while still bringing out the best in everyone around him.

But what about the kids?, after all, this really is a children’s show. The local children cast as the pupils of Oakwood Primary School are drilled to perfection, but the pupils of St. Bernadette’s are truly phenomenal. Added to an already spectacular cast, there’s also an irresistible pooch called Cracker to crank up the cute factor.

The production values are high and the set looks as good as anything your likely to see on a West End stage, and the choreography from the always reliable Andrew Wright is perfectly reflective of that of children in 2018. The roster of musical numbers has been significantly upped from the half a dozen songs in the movie and each is a catchy delight.

Nativity! starts on a high and the entertainment factor never diminishes for the entire running time. It knows how to tug at the heart strings without becoming over schmaltzy, you’d need to be hard-hearted indeed not to be touched by this. This is a show of infinite quality from start to finish and stands head and shoulders above most festive offerings.

It preaches a laudable message of the power of a positive mindset and that sometimes the good guys can win in the end. Ultimately it’s a festive, feel-good, feast for the eyes that fills you with the warm and fuzzies.

Beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket, this really is an unmissable show.

Runs until November 2018 | Image: Richard Davenport

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub. The UK’s leading and most prolific digital portal for the performing arts. With 150 reviewers spread across the UK, managed by 10 editors, The Reviews Hub publishes reviews, previews, features and interviews on entertainment throughout the whole country.

 

REVIEW: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

The mighty Mischief Theatre return. Hoorah! On the heels of their world-wide success with The Play That Goes Wrong (Olivier Award-winning, a run on Broadway and around the globe and several UK tours) and Peter Pan Goes Wrong (West End, UK tour and a screening on the BBC), it’s now the turn of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. Needless to say, this isn’t the Hatton Garden Robbery or Brink’s-MAT.

It’s summer 1958, Minneapolis, USA. A clutch of utterly clueless Canadian crooks attempt a diamond heist on Prince Ludwig of Hungary’s priceless jewel, cue the astonishing physical feats, witty wordplay and visual puns a-plenty with which this indefatigable theatre company are now synonymous.

The whole production plays out like a glorious 1950s, screwball B-Movie with harks back to the Golden Age of British comedy, there are nods to Morecambe and Wise and Two Ronnies sketches, and the wonderful stage adaptation of The 39 Steps (the show Mischief Theatre followed into the Criterion Theatre in the West End). The visual and physical gags are as jaw-dropping and inventive as ever (to state here what they are would ruin the effect).

The cast are universally top-notch, but it’s great to see Mischief founding member Dave Hearn (seemingly replacing Sean Carey) as con artist Sam, his pin-sharp timing is a joy, Julia Frith as bank manager’s daughter Caprice, is a glorious mix of Lucille Ball and Gloria Grahame, Jon Trenchard is hugely entertaining as the put-upon Warren and Ashley Tucker’s Mrs. Monaghan has more than a touch of Karen Walker from TV’s Will and Grace. The cast also do a brilliant job in their sung scene changes, fabulous 50s Doo-Wop hits cover all the transitions.

There’s a ‘turn up your nose’ snobbery about slapstick and farce, but there’s no denying that Mischief Theatre’s trademark comedy is universally appealing. It also has to be acknowledged how much intellect and acting skill is required to pull this off so successfully.

It does take a while for the first half to get into its stride and there are a few too many filler moments but, though it feels hackneyed to use the phrase ‘a laugh a minute’, it really ramps up to being just this, the visual and verbal comedy is relentless.

Mischief Theatre still have the power to please an audience. It leaves you wanting more and wondering what’s next from this powerhouse production team.

Runs until November 2018 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Summer Holiday – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Taking as its source the classic 1963 Cliff Richard movie, Summer Holiday is a feather light piece of escapism for all the family with a hard-working, talented cast and more than a few much-loved, familiar tunes.

It’s yet another miserable British summer, when Don and his fellow London bus mechanics persuade their bosses to let them borrow a double-decker bus to escape the grey skies. They set off for the south of France. On they way, they encounter a trio of female singers (the Do Re Mi’s) who have broken down on the way to a gig in Athens. Thrown into the mix is an American singing sensation (Barbara) disguised as a boy, on the run from her over-bearing mother and her agent. Cue some old-fashioned frolics and farce.

First turned into a stage musical in 1996, it has become a favourite of amateur dramatic societies up and down the UK, and as a work that’s fondly regarded by the great British public, it is ripe for a revamped professional tour. In order to ensure mass appeal, some of Cliff’s earliest releases have been shoe-horned into the song list along with those culled from the soundtrack of the movie. It must be said that there are more than a few that are pure filler, and unnecessarily extend the running time without adding much entertainment value, but for the most part the hit songs are a winner: Do You Wanna Dance, The Young Ones, Move It, Living Doll, Bachelor Boy and the famous title song get the audience on-side the moment the first bars ring out.

The energy level of the cast is critical in a work as lightweight as this, and thankfully they are giving their all. Their commitment to their roles is universally deserving of praise. In the ‘Cliff Richard’ role of Don, Ray Quinn is a hugely reliable, likeable and sure-footed leading man, he’s more than proved his chops in the singing department, but he’s also a gifted dancer. His trio of mates: Rory Maguire (Cyril), Billy Roberts (Steve) and especially the hugely talented Joe Goldie (Edwin) provide solid support, each singing, dancing, acting and breathing life into their roles with energy.

The Do Re Mi’s prove a likeable trio and Alice Baker (Alma) Laura Marie Benson (Angie) and especially Gabby Antrobus (Mimsie) do their best with the slim material they are given. Sophie Matthew is pleasant enough but unremarkable as Barbara and Becky Bassett as her mother Stella, is at least two decades too young to play the part.

Racky Plews choreography is as reliable and inventive as ever and is executed with precision and energy throughout. The scene to Move It in particular, is cleverly realised with ski poles and pairs of Heelys.

The minimal (read for that cheap looking) set doesn’t do much for the production, it is played out to a stark black background throughout which lends no sense of place, it is clear all the money has been spent on the realisation of the double decker bus, which is thankfully effective.

The script is weak and the characters are utterly two-dimensional, however, the fact that the cast are clearly giving their all makes up for the short-comings in the writing. The humour gets to the levels of mildly ‘seaside saucy’ and there are some lazy stereotypical ‘Johnny Foreigners’ replete with dodgy accents, if you’re being kind you could say it’s a hark back to a more innocent and simplistic time, less kindly you could call into question the taste/judgement levels of the production team. Criticism could also be made of an all-white cast in a musical in the UK in 2018.

It’s simplistic, it’s undemanding but it’s ultimately good old-fashioned, feel-good fun.

Runs until 3 November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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

REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s astonishing to think that Saturday Night Fever is over 40 years old. Bee Gee’s manager and producer Robert Stigwood’s gritty, 1977 movie, based on British journalist Nik Cohn’s 1976 New York magazine article ‘Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ (later revealed to be pure fiction) has stayed in the public consciousness since then. It has even been declared “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry.

First appearing as a stage musical in the West End in 1998, it has undergone a myriad of incarnations since then, some less successful than others. This time it’s the turn of Bill Kenwright to tackle this seminal tale of the disco subculture.

 

Living at home with his parents and little sister, 19 year-old Bay Ridge boy Tony Manero (Robert Winsor), spends his days working in the local paint store and his nights escaping to the 2001 Odyssey disco. Eager to dig himself out of his dull life, he sets his sights on the $1000 prize in the local dance competition. Conflict arises with his friends and his potential dance partners: local girl Annette and the comparatively sophisticated Stephanie. Thrown into the plot are rape, abortion and suicide.

Unlike other productions, The Bee Gees (played by Ed Handoll, Alastair Hill & Matt Faull) appear onstage to provide musical accompaniment to the action, and do so phenomenally well, their vocals almost indistinguishable from the real thing. They are accompanied by a fine-sounding band, who are musically on-point throughout. Only a few of the characters in this ‘musical’ sing the songs that drive their character’s narrative: Tragedy by Bobby C (Raphael Pace) and If I Can’t Have You by the spurned Annette (Anna Campkin), and when they do it seems utterly incongruous. It feels as if it should be an ‘either/or’ choice, either a play with an accompanying soundtrack or a full blown musical. The soundtrack as it is delivered by the onstage band and vocalists is strong enough to eschew any need for the characters to burst into song.

The multi-level set is cleverly conceived and smoothly transitions from family home to paint store to local diner, to dance studio to the cacophony of colour at 2001 Odyssey, it is evocative and suitably evocative of the era. It beats the catastrophic 2014 actor/musician version that played out on an awful multicoloured cube strewn set, hands-down.

 

The cast work hard with the material they have, each is clearly giving their all. Richard Winsor as Tony has the most fully-formed character, with a beginning, development and end. Winsor’s acting is undoubtedly solid, as is his dancing. I can testify to Winsor’s dancing credentials, having seen him performing as part of Matthew Bourne’s company, and he is clearly a gifted ballet dancer, however, he looks uncomfortable with this loose disco style. He looks as if he is fighting between his classical training and the freedom of these moves. Less well rounded are those without fully developed and resolved stories: the spurned and sexually assaulted Annette and the tragic Bobby C, to name two, their story lines are introduced, then left to hang in the air with no satisfactory conclusion.

Bill Deamer’s choreography is lively, but as someone who has seen the original West End production, he has borrowed liberally from Arlene Phillips very memorable original choreography.

The writing is the production’s weakest link, with better material, this hard-working cast could have done so much more. Entertaining escapism, but there’s a lot of unfulfilled potential here.

Runs until Saturday 20 October 2018 at Glasgow King’s Theatre.

Images: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: W-hat About? – Platform, Glasgow

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.

Continues on tour around Scotland.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

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