Tag Archives: Review

Educating Rita – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

There’s an undeniable affection for Willy Russell’s 40-year-old, Pygmalion-like drama Educating Rita, from the great British theatre-going public. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and staged at what is now the Donmar Warehouse, it saw a much-loved and much-lauded film adaptation in 1983 starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

The story of 26-year-old, married, Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita (actually Susan) and her foray into the world of academia on an Open University course, and her tutor Frank, a career academic faded and jaded by university life, seeking solace in drink, this OU tutorship paying nicely for his alcoholic fix. Each feeds from the other: Rita’s world expands as she is exposed to the bohemian lifestyle of the students and Frank is energised by Rita’s lust for life. Each shines a light on the other: some truths are exposed, some assumptions shattered and inevitably, both Rita and Frank undergo changes, not necessarily for the better.

Four decades on (admittedly with a bit of updating from Russell himself for the 21st Century and this 40th anniversary tour) it still feels relevant, maybe depressingly so. Is it really still as hard for working class women, or those living in poverty to better themselves as it was in 1980? The ‘them and us’ world so prevalent then, is frighteningly familiar today.

Jessica Johnson and Stephen Tompkinson reprise their roles from the last national tour. Tompkinson’s natural hang-dog expression is perfectly suited to the world-weary Frank and he has time and time again proved himself to be one of the country’s most adept stage actors. Johnson’s Rita (Susan) is hugely likeable but her accent wavers frequently and her projection is such that it leaves you straining to hear much of her dialogue. That said, it is deservedly a British theatre classic, and still well worth watching.

Image: Robert Day

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: Sinderella – Motherwell Theatre

Capitalising on the British public’s insatiable appetite for all things Drag, producer Joseph Purdy has brought adult pantomime to the nation this winter with their naughty fairy-tale Sinderella, starring UK drag royalty Divina De Campo as the evil Baroness DDC and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Stacey Layne Matthews as the Fairy Drag Henny.

Essentially it has all the elements of the traditional Christmas pantomime tale: wicked step-mother; two ugly sisters; Buttons, the lovelorn side-kick; Dandini; Prince Charming and our heroine Cinders. There are colourful sets and lavish costumes, dance routines and high energy pop hits, however, that’s where the similarities with the family story start and end. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s an innuendo-packed smut fest from start to finish. That said, it is absolutely hilarious and the hugely talented cast feed off the audience energy so much with quick-fire asides, it all runs 45 mins over the running time.

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Queen Divina is a polished pro, from head to foot, word, note and step perfect, De Campo is phenomenally talented and adds that extra level of gloss on top of the glitter-sprinkled festivities. Davey Hooper has the stand-up comedian’s gift of audience manipulation as the cheeky Buttons and US Drag favourite Stacey Layne Matthews is in fine form but croaky voice as the Fairy Drag Henny, often looking slightly bewildered at the insanity that is UK pantomime. Worthy of note are our two ugly sisters Jamie Campbell – THE Jamie of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie fame and Troy Harris – are truly fantastic, Harris in particular is a superstar in the making. Britain’s Got Talent’s Rob King and Ibiza Weekender’s David Potts, give it their all to round out the cast as Prince Charming and Dandini.

Combining two of Britain’s best-loved entertainment traditions – drag and panto – means that it’s no surprise that this is a sell-out success. Bawdy British fun at its best.

REVIEW: God of Carnage – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

As with her almost universally acclaimed 1994 play Art, Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage is another comedy of middle class manners. This time, as it was in Art, the behaviour of the seemingly sophisticated adults involved descends into something akin to a playground fight, all the more ironic, as that’s precisely what’s brought them together in the first place.

Alan and Annette’s 11 year-old son Henry has had two teeth removed, incisors to be precise, by fellow pupil Freddie. The two sets of parents meet in that frustratingly PC way to civilly decide what action should be taken to facilitate the children having “a reckoning” and to teach them about “the art of co-existence”. As the alcohol is increasingly imbibed, the adults’ best intentions go by the wayside and the mud starts to get slung and everyone’s true colours come to the fore.

Reza has a masterful touch at highlighting the foibles of the middle classes and delivering them with a punch, but it needs a strong cast to deliver. As author Veronica (currently writing a book about Darfur) Elizabeth McGovern is seemingly the voice of reason, pushing the apology/reconciliation agenda between the two boys. Household goods salesman husband Michael (Nigel Lindsay) doesn’t quite fit seamlessly into this middle class idyll, a bit rough around the edges his loyalties are tested and exposed as the evening progresses. McGovern takes a little while to hit her stride, but she ramps up the emotion and elicits the laughs as the piece reaches its conclusion. As always, Lindsay delivers an absolute masterclass in comic acting, each word and action perfectly timed, as does Simon Paisley Day as driven lawyer Alan, when not throwing well-timed barbs, he’s barking advice to his clients down his constantly ringing phone, the ever-impressive Samatha Spiro as “wealth manager” Annette, is, as always, on-point.

The dialogue is as expected, razor sharp, Reza knows her audience well, and while this couldn’t be described as cutting edge, it is hugely entertaining, escapist fun, scratching the surface of the well-polished veneer of the middle class. Well worth an evening of your time.

Review originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

The panto-going citizens of Glasgow raised a cheer when the cast of the SEC Armadillo’s pantomime Snow White was announced. The almost universally adored Greg McHugh – he of the much-missed Gary, Tank Commander would star as court jester Gary, his TV co-star Leah MacRae would play Nanny McWee his mother (not sure the lovely Leah should be best pleased at that!), River City’s Frances Thorburn would be our heroine Snow White and a doyenne of British comedy acting, the wonderful Doon Mackichan would be the evil Queen Lucretia.

The quality cast, coupled with the sheer scale of the spectacle, add up to the city’s most fabulous, funny festive offering. There’s a camaraderie from the cast that just radiates to the audience, who are on-side with the high jinks from the start. McHugh is undoubtedly the star and his antics as the cheeky but naïve Gary are the highlights of the show, but there are star turns a-plenty, especially from Mackichan who is an absolute treat as the evil queen.

The only negative notes are a troupe of mildly horrifying looking woodland animals whose costumes look like they’ve been culled from the leftovers of the abattoir, all the more incongruous in such a spectacularly glitzy show and the auditorium itself, whose vast size does tend to engulf any audience reactions.

Definitely the most spectacular panto in town and certainly the most star-studded.

REVIEW: Cinderella – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts (GAMTA) have teamed up with Eastwood Park Theatre to present this year’s festive pantomime, Cinderella.

The set and costumes are a feast for the eyes, the glittering, decorated proscenium adds to the wonder before the curtain even rises. There’s glitz, glamour and special effects, all adding to the magic of the production.

While the youthful cast win in the energy and effort department, it is however, a dance-heavy, slow to get going, take on the traditional tale. There are some baffling additions to the story which seem to have been shoe-horned in to showcase GAMTA’s dance credentials, unfortunately they only add to an already over-long run time. It also suffers from the fact Buttons is being played by a young child and the object of his affections a clearly mature teen, it all adds a creepily uncomfortable element which will no doubt go over the heads of the children in the audience, but feels a tad uncomfortable for the adults.

Where it succeeds is in its comedy elements, Ciara Flynn and Rebecca McComb are a perfectly matched comedic double act as Ugly Sisters and provide the majority of the true highlights of the show.

The cast can’t be faulted for their skill or talent, however, they suffer from an over-long and overly-dull script that dilutes the magical potential the show could have had.

REVIEW: We Will Rock You – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

From a rocky start in 2002, We Will Rock You has defied critical backlash to become one of the UK’s best-loved musicals. Seen by over 6.5 million people it ran for 4600 performances at the Dominion Theatre in the West End, where the famous gold statue of Freddie Mercury guarded the patrons from his perch high above the entrance. This revived, re-designed and re-energised new touring production is even better than the original and boasts a cast of such quality, it is impossible not to be completely won over.

Set in a dystopian future, it’s 2310, and music has been outlawed. All thought is controlled by Globalsoft Corporation, and life is lived entirely on the internet. There’s no place for originality or free spirit. A rag-tag band of free-thinking ‘Bohemians’ set out to find the last surviving musical instrument on the planet and bring back the mythical ‘Rock and Roll’. That the subject matter is treated with complete knowingness, with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, is one of its greatest strengths. The laughs in Ben Elton’s script come thick and fast.

However, it’s the music and in particular, the spectacular cast’s delivery of it that makes this production unmissable. As our hero Galileo Figaro, Olivier-nominated Ian McIntosh is an absolute standout, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe his outstanding voice and stunning range. As Scaramouche, Elena Skye is a wise-cracking wonder with fabulous vocals. TV regular Michael McKell provides the lion’s share of the comedy, bringing genuine belly laughs and impressive vocals as Buddy Holly, Amy Di Bartolomeo is also a memorable Oz. One small crimp in the evening is Jenny O’Leary as Killer Queen whose vocals are quite frankly messy, only exacerbated by the fact that these songs are world famous and her co-stars are at the top of their game. That said, the positives overwhelm any negatives.

If it’s an uplifting, feel-good night, with the music of Queen, a crazy, fun story, delivered by a world-class cast you want, then I’d beg, borrow or steal a ticket to this warm-hearted wonder of a show.

Runs until 28 December 2019 | Image: Johan Persson

Originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The Overtones Christmas Party 2019 – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

It has become a sign that the festive season is approaching when The Overtones land in town. It’s been a decade since they burst on the scene and they’ve honed their craft over the years, with five top 10 albums, nine sold out UK tours and despite a rough few years personally, they manage to deliver the perfect pre-Christmas celebration.

It is, as always a mix of classic golden oldies, album favourites and a few less expected tracks, but most of all it’s a spirit-lifting evening where you can dance the night and your troubles away. There’s a warmth to each member of the band, they genuinely look as if their having a ball, and new member Jay James has seamlessly transitioned into the gap left by the death of Timmy Matley and the departure to pastures new of the much-loved bass vocalist Lachie Chapman.

Their greatest gift as an act is the ability to pick their set list, it’s all killer, no filler. These classic tunes are floor fillers, instantly recognisable, the audience are on their feet and singing along from the first few bars. Among many highlights, some standouts are their joyous version of Earth Wind & Fire’s September, Womack and Womack’s Teardrops, Dion’s Runaround Sue and old favourite Gimme Just a Little More Time from The Chairmen of the Board. There’s also a freshly arranged version of Walking in the Air, the contemporary twist has breathed new life into a twee festive tune.

The Overtones are a timeless band whose modern-vintage style has wide appeal, but it’s their endearing personalities, effort and energy, love of what they do and devotion to their fans that stands them head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Their ability to fill auditoriums up and down the country, proves that there’s still a place for class and quality. Here’s to many more years.

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

If it’s a big traditional panto with plenty of glitz and sparkle you’re looking for, then Glasgow King’s certainly delivers year on year.

This year’s offering is Jack and the Beanstalk, starring local panto treasures Elaine C. Smith and Johnny Mac, and save for these two local favourites, it’s a minor TV celeb-free zone and all the better for it.

The story largely follows the traditional tale: there’s a huge furry cow, some magic beans, a growing beanstalk, a fabulously realised giant and the requisite evil baddie, some familiar tunes – mostly oldies, there are no new pop hits. It’s re-set to Glasvegas with some familiar local references thrown in and most of the usual panto tropes intact. There’s no slapstick, a tiny bit of audience participation, the dame is a woman, the princess doesn’t need a man to vanquish the foe and proposes to her beau – all a refreshing move in the right direction. It needs mentioning though that a sequence between Mac and Smith incorporating the names of famous chocolate bars, was seen last year almost exactly in Cinderella at the SEC Armadillo.

Elaine C. Smith is much-loved and a solid pair of hands for a production as big as this and Johnny Mac is entirely loveable and endearing as Jack, the audience is onside from his first wide smile. Less effective is Anne Smith as the panto baddie Mrs. Blunderbore, an unfortunate visual joke from Jack about her performance being a bit flat, is unfortunately accurate, and in contrast to her co-stars her costumes are utterly lacklustre – more Poundland than Pantoland.

All in all, it’s exactly as you would expect every year from the King’s – big, bold and beautifully executed. A fine night of traditional entertainment.

Runs until 5 January 2019

Image: Richard Campbell

Originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Jinkx Monsoon and Ben DeLa Creme – All I Want For Christmas is Attention – Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Ben DeLa Creme and Jinkx Monsoon are back in Glasgow at the atmospheric Old Fruitmarket with their all-new seasonal spectacular, All I Want For Christmas is Attention.

The two Seattle Super-Queens make for an unlikely, but absolutely perfect pairing. DeLa is billed as ‘all sugar’ and Jinkx ‘all spice’ but their two very different Christmas/Holiday ideals provide plenty of laughs.

All I Want for Christmas is Attention marks DeLa’s first producer credit for an international tour, and there’s a lot at stake, but, if the full auditorium and the audience reaction is anything to go on then she has nothing to worry about.

Presented like a 1950s Holiday TV special, but with 21st Century sensibilities and content. There are sketches and songs, and plenty of bickering, and of course, lots of glam costume changes. There’s an undeniably warmth, and feel-good atmosphere about the whole evening and the fact that these are two of the most accomplished queens on the scene means that they know how to structure a show. For all the crazy content this is as professional as it gets.

A masterclass in polished, elevated drag, that plays to the special talents of its stars, this is a pairing not to be missed.

REVIEW: Cinderfella – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

There has thankfully been a seismic shift in the Pantosphere in recent years to reflect the society we actually live in, and at the forefront has been the Tron Theatre, and more specifically those works from the pen of the wonder boy of panto fabulousness, Johnny McKnight. That said, this is the festive show I’ve attended since childhood and from the days of Peter Capaldi, Forbes Masson, Alan Cumming and Craig Ferguson, it has never felt the need to conform to Christmas norms or patronise its audience. It has a special place in my heart and year on year it never fails to entertain on every level and for every age.

The smashing of gender stereotypes features large in this year’s offering Cinderfella, and boy do they do it with tons of style and even more humour. Poor, orphaned Cinderella is fighting to keep her late parent’s vintage store afloat, her only hope is to meet fashion entrepreneur Princess Charmaine and persuade her to invest in the failing family business. However, the only way a poor pleb like Cinderella can get near the Princess is to get an invite to her annual ball. However, this year the guest-list is a male-only affair – so what’s a girl to do?…

The music is chart-toppingly catchy and composer Ross Brown has obviously caught West End smash Six, another celebration of female strength, there’s also a nod to You’ve Got a Friend in Me in Muttons big solo number.

The all-female cast is absolutely dynamite. Sally Reid, all wide-eyed innocence and guilelessness is the titular hero and her comic timing is masterful. Lauren Ellis-Steele doubles up as “Scotland’s answer to Beyoncé” (more an Adele look-and-sound-alike) and also the Wicked Stepmother – it’s a perfectly pitched performance and Ellis-Steele has a fine set of pipes, and as with all McKnight festive offerings, she gets to go full-on Mariah in All I Want For Christmas, the song that traditionally brings the shows to an end. Jo Freer as Cinderella’s loyal sheep side-kick Muttons is a scene stealer as are Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Daisy Ann Fletcher as Cinders’ hapless and hopeless step-brothers Harry and Larry in eye-popping male-drag. 

This ‘estrogen epidemic’ is so well conceived and so well delivered, you can’t fail to be thoroughly entertained and its message of female self-reliance will make your heart soar. I can’t praise it highly enough – a fantastic, five star, festive feast.

Image: John Johnstone

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