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REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Sometimes a production comes along that sends you to the street with a smile on your face, The Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young’s Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is one (sort of).

Promising to deliver a re-worked version of the Jane Austen classic for a 21st Century audience, it certainly delivers on that front: the five-strong, all-female cast doubling and tripling up on roles male and female; a script choc-full of clever lines; a host of visual jokes; characters clad in Regency garb belting out classic pop tunes through a karaoke machine and scoffing cereal straight from the box; social parallels (unfortunately) travelling down the 200 years since the work was written, it may well strike a chord with a youthful audience, however, the production is not without its faults.

While promoted as entertaining for those unfamiliar with the work, it could be argued that much of the humour only really hits home with a knowledge of the original text, otherwise it’s rendered surface and slapstick and while, to its credit, little of the original plot is sacrificed in this re-telling, that itself is a problem, at over two hours 45 minutes, for all its ability to entertain and amuse, it is a physical marathon.

Its greatest asset is its universally excellent cast. Meghan Tyler is a particularly appealing Lizzie and the sheer joy with which the cast tackle the lengthy script, singing and slapstick can’t fail to impress.

A brave choice for adaptation, and a largely effective and highly entertaining evening’s theatre from a top-notch cast, but far from perfect.

Runs until 14 July 2018 | Image: John Johnston

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Love From a Stranger – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Adapted from a 1934 short story Philomel Cottage, Agatha Christie wrote an unperformed stage version of the same name which itself was re-written as Love From a Stranger by actor and playwright Frank Vosper in 1936. Director Lucy Bailey, for Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton, re-sets the action two decades later to the 1950s, all cut-glass accents and limited female opportunity.

This psychological thriller provides a great night’s entertainment, but be aware that this is a slow burn that smoulders along without ever fully bursting into flame.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) comes up trumps in a sweepstake, and while Cecily wants to live large on her substantial winnings, her dull as ditch water fiancé Michae (Justin Avoth) arrives back from the Sudan to dash her plans and resign her to a life of domestic drudgery. When an attractive and adventurous American, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frencham) comes on the scene, Cecily’s world is turned on its head. Cecily marries Bruce, moving to an isolated cottage in the country.

The red herrings are positively scarlet. From the beginning it’s clear that Lovell isn’t what he seems. He lurks in the shadows, surreptitiously taking pictures of Cecily, sniffing her lingerie, constantly scribbling in a notebook. Moving her from friends and neighbours, the gaslighting continues until Cecily is an apparent puppet in Lovell’s hands, but all is never as it seems on the surface with Christie. As the tension builds and perspectives change, we are entertainingly led along the crooked path that Christie is so well known for.

This entire production is quite obviously influenced by Michael Powell’s 1960 British cinema classic, Peeping Tom. The sense of unease is cleverly created on Mike Britton’s sliding wall set with opaque panels where we can watch Lovell’s voyeuristic goings-on. Richard Hammarton’s sound design and Oliver Fenwick’s crimson-tinged lighting are characters in themselves, helping to ramp up the creeping tension.

The cast are uniformly solid given how affected the original dialogue sounds to an audience’s modern ear and the ‘heightened’ characterisations skirt (just) on the right side of caricature.

Christie rarely puts a foot wrong, and as a piece of ‘good, old-fashioned’ entertainment it is undoubtedly a winner.

Runs until 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed, review originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: The Band – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Firstly, a fact needs to be stated that this is not the Take That story. The words Take That are never uttered in the entire two and a half hours of the show. You would also be mistaken for thinking that the boyband recruited from the BBC reality show Let It Shine were the crux of the production, and while they feature large, they are far from the centre of the story.

Instead, it’s a story of five friends that spans 25 years. A story of growing up, love and loss, opportunity unfulfilled, of hope, peppered throughout with the hits of the biggest British boy band of the past quarter of a century. It is also more story with music rather than jukebox musical.

Writer Tim Firth clearly has the target demographic in his sights. The mature version of these 90s teens are the heart of the show. Take That the soundtrack to their lives. The pop culture references abound: Smash Hits posters on bedroom walls, Top of the Pops, Ceefax, cassette taping Top of the Pops, it unashamedly taps into the unquenchable thirst for nostalgia.

This is clearly a show of two halves: the central quartet of Heather (Emily Joyce), Rachel (Rachel Lumberg), Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) and Zoe (Jayne McKenna) are fine actresses with a wealth of talent, and it is only when the story fully centres on this quartet that it achieves any real depth. Tim Firth’s dialogue for the mature characters is utterly believable, it is less so for their teenage versions, where it is largely contrived and one-dimensional.

The quartet’s younger selves are played by Katy Clayton (Heather), Faye Cristall (Rachel), Sarah Kate Howarth (Claire) and Lauren Jacobs (Zoe) with Rachelle Diedricks as teenage pal Debbie. Their schoolgirl antics, while familiar, are a tad contrived and their diction is poor, rendering most of the lines a garbled mush. The first half also suffers from a strange selection of Take That songs that don’t exactly fit the narrative. With a back catalogue as fine as this, the choices seem plain odd.

‘The Band’ as played by Five to Five: A.J. Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T. Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon prove just how good Take That were, and still are. These songs, while seeming easy to sing, just aren’t, and the quintet while having a solid go at it, never fully do the songs justice.

For anyone who has ever seen Take That live, the set design will look familiar. The production values of the band who are the producers of the show are replicated here. It’s big and bold and the stage is jam-packed with effects.

This show has had it’s fair amount of flak, its detractors have been many, but there’s a fundamental question to be asked: are they the target audience? I am pretty sure that the producers made no claims to enlighten or educate. Indeed, the programme notes say it’s a “love letter to the fans”. It’s intended for the Take That fandom, if you’re here and you’re not a fan of Take That, I’d question your choices. Sometimes theatre is made just to be entertaining. But, this reviewer is very much the target demographic, like most of the audience, knowing the words to every one of these tunes and willing this to be a joy, and while the second half was superior to the first, it ultimately doesn’t do enough to overcome its faults. I am sure The Band will be a satisfying night’s entertainment, a piece of pure escapism and nostalgia for many and it may fulfil its brief as ‘a love letter to the fans’, but for this audience member, there are more feelings of disappointment than delight.

Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett review originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub.

 

REVIEW: Sunshine on Leith – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Stephen Greenhorn’s original musical, Sunshine on Leith, predates the movie version by seven years. Originally commissioned by Dundee Rep’s artistic director James Brining. Brining, now artistic director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, returns to the work, breathing new life into the piece for this 2018 tour and you can almost hear the fanfare of trumpets that herald the musical’s return to its homeland.

Greenhorn’s tale is Scottish to its very core, but the themes of love, loss and opportunities taken or missed, are universal. Soldiers Davy (Steven Miller) and Ally (Paul James Corrigan) return from Afghanistan home to Leith. Ally pursues his former love Liz (Neshla Caplan), Davy, her best pal Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill), but in the joy of their return home there are problems too, not least with Davy’s parents Rab (Phil McKee) and Jean (Hilary MacLean).

The political and social climate has changed much in the 11 years since its creation, but the story still has the power to move, and it’s in no small way down to the music and lyrics of Craig and Charlie Reid. At first glance the songs of The Proclaimers may not seem like a match made in heaven for a musical, but they are. Playing a crucial part in driving the plot along. The familiarity of the lyrics to the Scottish audience, heightens the emotion in the parts of the narrative they serve to enhance. That said, the emotional moments aren’t exactly subtle, but the narrative is treated with such a deft hand and sufficient originality elsewhere, that it’s easy to forgive any tiny quibble. Greenhorn’s dialogue is pitch-perfect for this story of ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’ people, a hard thing to pull off in musical theatre and every joke lands slap-bang on its mark. Greenhorn also manages to address the eternal issue of the emotionally stunted, stereotypical Scottish man with thoughtfulness as well as humour.

Worthy of note is Emily-Jane Boyle’s outstanding choreography. It is intricate and original, but still looks like real people dancing – a feat that’s hard to achieve convincingly.

The cast are joined on the transforming pub set (comparisons will inevitably be made with the musical Once) by the seven-piece band who (as they are not hidden in the pit) bring a raw immediacy to the music. The arrangements of these familiar songs are worthy of note too: the ears pricking up at some of the original treatments of them.

Paul James Corrigan (Ally) returns to a stage he is more than familiar with and feeds off of the energy of his home crowd. There’s an extra spring in his step which transmits to the auditorium, well-known and loved for his comedy performances, he impresses as a singer and dancer too. The crowd with him every step of the way. Steven Miller (Davy) is a fine dramatic actor and has an even finer voice to match, he gets the chance to show off his comedy chops here, Jocasta Almgill is excellent as Davy’s love interest Yvonne, and Phil McKee and Hilary MacLean as Davy’s parents are perfectly played.

This story (to its credit) resists the urge to tie everything up in a neat bow and resolve every plotline, ultimately, this is a life-affirming story about ‘real lives’ that will resonate with most, if not all, of its target audience. If the eardrum bursting reaction of this audience at the end is anything to go by – it more than hit all the right notes. To borrow from The Proclaimers themselves, this is guaranteed to make your heart fly.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Flight of the Conchords sing Flight of the Conchords – SEE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

It’s been a long seven years since the “almost award-winning, fourth most popular folk duo in New Zealand” have toured the U.K., made longer by Bret McKenzie’s recovery from a broken wrist, sustained from a nose dive down a flight of stairs at the start of the tour.

Flight of the Conchords have come a long, long way both physically and metaphorically. From bumbling young cult duo trying to find their niche in the comedy world to a 13000 person audience at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena via Bret McKenzie winning the 2012 songwriting Academy Award and Jemaine Clement’s glittering movie career going from strength to strength.

Their 90-minute set is a perfect mix of old and new, launching straight into Father and Son, a seemingly tender ballad that takes an unexpectedly dark turn. There are highlights throughout, so many it would read like a setlist, but Deana and Ian, a tale of inter-office romance is hysterical; The Ballad of Stana a disturbingly funny traditional country story-song; Summer of 1353, a madrigal, yes, you read that right, complete with recorder solos, and two old favourites, Bowie and Foux du Fa Fa (who doesn’t love a lyric that rhymes haricots verts with pomme de terres), the list goes on and on.

The duo acknowledge that they look a lot older than they did in their TV show days, and apologise for reminding us of our own mortality, but the wit and intellect and self-deprecating humour is still there. They remain utterly irresistible and, if anything, funnier than they have ever been. This reviewers’ love for the pair remains undiminished. Just perfect.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Following on from the critically-acclaimed new work, The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures delve deep into the back catalogue to 1997 to revive their much-loved production of Cinderella.

Re-set to World War 2, Cinderella and her shell-shocked, RAF pilot beau, meet and part during the horrors of The Blitz. The familiar elements of the story remain: the ‘wicked’ step-mother and (not so wicked) step-sisters (with a few step-brothers thrown into the mix), and while there’s no Fairy Godmother, there’s the (somewhat malevolent) platinum-haired Angel, whose sinister presence punctuates the action. Instead of facilitating the fairy-tale ending, it feels more like manipulation. The setting, and Bourne’s handling of it, perfectly encapsulates the fragility of love during wartime.

As ever, Lez Brotherston’s design is stunning, from bombed out buildings, the London Underground, the (ball substitute) evening at The Café de Paris, The Embankment to Platform 12 at Paddington Station, each element is breath-taking. The limited colour palette of greys, and blacks is darkly atmospheric and draw the eye to key features of the narrative: Cinders pure white dress, the red cape of a Red Cross nurse, it is a masterpiece of theatre design. It perfectly reflects Britain in its ‘darkest hour’. Paul Groothuis’ sound and Neil Austin’s lighting design only add to the magic.

Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score has been edited down in Acts 1 and 2, but remains intact for Act 3. The music written contemporary to Bourne’s re-setting of the story adds a dimension of authenticity to the production. The two together a match made in heaven. It just feels right, and draws on Bourne’s own love for classic black and white movies and their music.

As with much of Bourne’s work there’s always humour to light the darkness. Including the foot-fetishist step brother, and a myriad of tiny details in both setting and action, that will raise a smile.

It’s hard to find fault in any aspect of this production, the dancers led by Ashley Shaw and New Adventures favourite Dominic North as Cinders and her Prince, are exquisite and unlike many Ballet companies, their acting ability and deftness at conveying the emotions of the story, not only match their dancing abilities but are head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Liam Mower as always leaves his mark as the Angel, as does Anjali Mehra as Sybil the exquisitely clad and coiffed, Step Mother.

With the now legendary Swan Lake to tour again next year, one can only wait with bated breath to see what new adventures are next for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. As ever, there are never enough superlatives for this incomparable company – simply unmissable.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: 20th Century Boy – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Four decades after his untimely death, 20th Century Boy aims to shine a light on the man once dubbed “The Electric Warrior”, the “King of Glam Rock” and the “Godfather of Punk”, Marc Bolan. Setting out on a path for fame since childhood, the story takes us from young Marc Feld’s early years in Stoke Newington to stardom as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s untimely death a few days shy of his 30th birthday, almost assured him a legacy as the glittering epitome of an era of excess, but it’s to its credit that 20th Century Boy is more docu-drama than jukebox musical. It shows Bolan’s failures and flaws equally as it does his triumphs and talent.

We never got the opportunity to see the ageing pop star, to see where his career trajectory would eventually take him, to see what happened when the effects of his life of excess finally took their toll. However, this musical certainly gives us a glimpse of what might have been. You see a cock-sure, but ultimately nice guy, become consumed by the self-created myth he wove around himself. To see the rise of Punk on the horizon, the uncertainty creep in as to where he could go next.

Last seen in 2011, this new, touring version of John Maher’s show has been re-written with new material added by Nicky Graham and Colin Giffin. The first act covers the early 50s to early 70s, the second, takes a darker turn towards the inevitable tragic end.

The set is simplistic but utterly effective, enhanced by projections that move the timeline along, but it’s the music that’s key and boy, is it utterly, utterly brilliant. The live musicianship is astonishing, it’s pure rock concert, not a watered-down musical theatre version of these tunes, and as a result it stands head and shoulders above its peers.

The cast is headed up by Olivier Award-winning George Maguire as Bolan. Maguire is a star, a magnetic presence in any role he tackles, and it’s no different here. A fine musician as well as actor, he manages to perfectly capture Bolan’s idiosyncrasies, as well as his distinctive voice. He achieves what every actor playing a legend dreams of doing, he makes you forget this is an actor playing a role, he IS Bolan in this show. There can be no compliment greater than to say he utterly convinces. Ellena Vincent is a strong presence as Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones as is Sarah Moss as Bolan’s wife June Child and Derek Hagan as producer Tony Visconti. But, there’s not a weak link anywhere. The choreography by Cressida Carré and its execution are faultless, neither parody or pastiche, it is utterly evocative of the eras it represents.

As with any show with a tragic ending, there really has to be an uplifting musical encore, a celebration where the audience can dance away the tears, and so we are treated to a roof-raising medley of Bolan and T-Rex’s greatest hits, so enthusiastically received, it makes the famous dress circle at The King’s Theatre literally bounce.

“Will people remember me?” a ghostly Bolan asks after the car crash that ends his life and starts this show. That this production is touring the UK 40 years after his death, filling theatres, and having people quite literally dancing in the aisles and singing every lyric, answers that question resoundingly.

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

 

REVIEW: Alfie Boe – Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow

Blue sky, cheeping birds, the warm breeze rustling the green leaves of the beautiful trees, a flock of geese low-flying in formation above the picturesque and intimate setting of Kelvingrove Bandstand. The ideal night, and the ideal setting for a concert from one of Britain’s best-loved singers. After a few (highly successful) years in partnership with musical theatre treasure Michael Ball, Alfie Boe is back on his own, and arguably at his best.

Boe looks happy, he looks comfortable and totally at ease, sharing anecdotes about his life since bursting to prominence, he banters and cracks jokes, the crowd too are revelling in this perfect early summer evening, and the result is arguably the best concert Boe has ever delivered. There’s no interval, Boe arrives, bag-piped on to the stage at 8pm precisely and so lost in the moment is he, that the set runs 50 minutes over and skirts close to the 10.30pm curfew, ending (lit by the light of a few thousand mobile phones) in Snow Patrol’s Run. The set itself is hugely eclectic but surprisingly, absolutely perfect. There’s a mix of Italian classics, musical theatre, country, jazz and blues, pop standards and an absolutely barn-storming set of covers of The Who’s classic rock songs.

The audience are free to wander to the front, dance in the aisles, the sight lines are excellent, the sound quality sublime, the relaxed atmosphere a joy to be part of. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Simple excellent.

REVIEW: Birdsong – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Rachel Wagstaff has gamely adapted Sebastian Faulks’ sprawling, nearly 500 page novel Birdsong, into a two hour 20 minute stage play. First seen in the West End in 2010, it’s now, in its revised form, on its timely fourth and final UK tour, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war.

This version, unlike the West End original has had a structural overhaul. The play flashes from past to present, love to war. To Wraysford’s life in 1910 in Amiens, where as a young man, he is in France to study the textile industry at the factory of René Azaire. Where he meets and falls in love with René’s much younger wife Isabelle and to 1914-16, the Somme and Wraysford’s life on the French frontline.

While the ill-fated love story between Isabelle and Stephen constitutes a major plotline, it is rendered somewhat wishy-washy in comparison to the war scenes, the chemistry between Wraysford (Tom Kay) and Isabelle (Madeleine Knight) lacking any spark. That this ice-cold pair could ever warm up to passion just doesn’t convince.

It is at its most gripping when it concentrates on the stories of the young men in the trenches. Enough time is given to develop a backstory for each and as a result the audience are emotionally invested in their fates: Sapper Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar) catapulted from a life digging tunnels for the London Underground to a life digging trenches for the British Army, under-age Tipper (Alfie Browne-Sykes) traumatised by the day-today reality of warfare and ever-chipper Welsh farm boy Evans (Riley Carter) hiding secrets behind the smile.

The set, sound and lighting design add much to the viewing experience and bring the audience closer to the action and the action is enhanced by folk musician James Findlay’s plaintive punctuation of the action.

A play about the horrors of war is always a hard sell, and while this reviewer remains to be convinced of this newest production, in focussing on the human beings behind the gunfire, makes it a gripping, timely and ultimately moving story that deserves to be seen.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

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

Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s Titanic: The Musical first appeared on Broadway in 1997, winning five Tony Awards in the process. Director Thom Southerland’s stripped back production, first seen at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013, was revived to great acclaim in 2016, and is now touring the UK.

While the subject matter may seem unlikely (an event where 1517 people lost their lives), even morbid, composer Yeston has himself claimed that the musical isn’t based on tragedy alone. Instead, it represents the hopes and dreams of all those on board: the 3rd Class passengers, their dreams of immigration to a new life; those in 2nd Class with their aspirations to live life like those in 1st Class; the 1st Class passengers hoping to forever maintain their positions of privilege in the New World. Writer Peter Stone achieves this. There’s yearning, optimism and a finger firmly on the pulse of society (both high and low) in the early years of the 20th Century.

It also neatly catalogues the seemingly endless list of wrong decisions that set the ship on its tragic course, the desire to make history eerily prophetic: ignoring warnings not to push the ship hard; constantly pushing the speed; ignoring almost constant warnings of icebergs from fellow ships on the same journey; the feeling of invincibility over common sense; changing course to save a few hours (to get some publicity) which puts the ship on a collision course with tragedy, the list is too long to chart here. This is a work of infinite quality, wonderfully researched, that manages to stir the heart and soul. These are the stories of the real people who boarded the ship for that fateful journey, this is no lazy dramatization.

Whilst written by Americans, this is a uniquely British story. Stylistically the music too is quintessentially British: heavily influenced by both Elgar and Vaughan Williams it is simply beautiful. The ensemble shine and when singing as one, have the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

In a cast that is uniformly excellent, it seems churlish to single out any member but Matthew McKenna as First Class Steward Henry Etches is an actor of exceptional quality, who is infinitely watchable throughout.

If any criticisms can be levelled at the work it is the sheer number of characters who appear, as each is given their moment, it makes the running time a hefty two hours 40 minutes, that said, this is also laudable as it gives voice and equal weight to every type of passenger and crew. The actors do a fine good job of paying respectful tribute to these real people’s lives, Titanic – The Musical truly has the power to move.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter or puerile previous adaptations of the story on screen, this is a respectful, perfectly judged piece of writing that packs an emotional punch.

Runs until 26 June 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

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