Tag Archives: Review

REVIEW: The Browning Version – Rapture Bites – EK Arts Centre, East Kilbride

Second up in the inventively curated Rapture Bites season is Terence Rattigan’s 1948 classic, The Browning Version. Almost always guaranteed to wring a tear from even those with the hardest of hearts, it again proves so today at a packed East Kilbride Arts Centre.

Dubbed “the crock” by his students and despised for his unyielding manner and humourlessness (unlike his unfaithful, younger wife), it’s the last day of work at an un-named English public school for Classics teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris (the Himmler of the Lower Fifth) before moving to a new post. It takes a gift from one of his pupils, to prompt him to reflect on his past, look to what his future may be, and think deeply how he is going to end his tenure at the school where he has spent the best part of his life.

Rattigan’s 70 year-old play speaks to us down through the decades, dealing as it does with universal themes: our increasing feelings of uselessness as we age, the guilt of remaining in a marriage of unequal emotion, the consequence of our decisions in early life, the regret at potential unfulfilled. Michael Emans’ again demonstrates his sure hand at the helm of the production. Every subtle nuance is coaxed out of every beautifully written line. 

This is one of the most exquisitely acted productions I’ve seen in a very long time, rarely have I seen such a perfectly cast and performed piece. Robin Kingsland is a beautifully judged Crocker-Harris (I defy you not to have a glimmer of a tear in your eye near the end) as is Paul Albertson as Hunter who despite being Crocker-Harris’ wife’s lover, shows the most compassion towards him at the end. Michael Mackenzie does a fine job of demonstrating Head Master, Dr. Frobisher’s crushing insensitivity towards the departing master, but, it is Dylan Blore as schoolboy Taplow who turns in an utterly scene-stealing performance. 

Rightly regarded as a 70-minute masterpiece, this production from Rapture Theatre is as close to perfection as you are likely to see on any stage – truly out-standing and proves that sometimes an anti-climax is the most perfect way to end.

 

REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It isn’t hyperbole to say that Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake changed the face of classical dance forever. Retaining Tchaikovsky’s original score, the rest of the ballet is turned completely on its head. For all its fantasy, in Bourne’s hands the story takes on a much more ‘human’ form. Instead of the Odette/Odile/Siegfried triangle it is now the tale of a melancholic, maternally rejected prince whose emotional demise we track through the course of this exquisitely conceived and delivered production. It is a dark and at times sinister tale of repression and sexual fantasy, punctuated throughout with clever humour. It is also, of course, that show with the gender swapped swans: instead of the prettily prancing pens, it’s a herd of predatory and powerful cobs sizzling with electricity and a large dose of menace. In ridding the story of its expected gender roles it has much more power.

Literally seen by millions around the world, it returns in 2019 with a fresh new (though not radically changed) look for the 21st Century at the hands of original designer Lez Brotherston, with a new lighting design from Paule Constable and with a few of the more tired background characters refreshed. This is a show that even without the changes can withstand multiple re-visits.

The stage bristles with life from curtain up and with intriguing choreographic ideas and mesmerising sequences of movement throughout, it is impossible not to be captivated. Dominic North’s Prince is beautifully danced and emotionally poignant and Max Westwell has a formidable presence, ensuring a searing and memorable performance as the Swan/Stranger.

Tchaikovsky’s 1875/6 score is re-ordered here and is sufficiently varied that a modern interpretation of the story can hang on it perfectly. It is fundamentally beautiful whichever order it is played in, and in whatever era its ballet is set.

Ballet snobs will hate it, but you would need to be emotionally and artistically devoid to fail to appreciate the visual spectacle and the sheer originality of storytelling and staging. Nearly a quarter of a century on it remains as utterly perfect as it ever was. Unmissable.

Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: Contributed

This post was originally written for the Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Collabro with special guest Kerry Ellis – Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Rarely does a review of musical theatre boy band Collabro start without mentioning their 2014 win in the eighth series of Britain’s Got Talent. It’s now five years, four albums and as many tours on from their triumph. From meeting to rehearse in a London pub to winning the show in a few short months, they’ve supported Barry Manilow on his arena tour and now they’re headlining venues around the country on their biggest tour to date – The Road to the Albert Hall. Such is their stature that they have managed to secure West End veteran Kerry Ellis as a supporting player in their latest two-hour show.

The evening gets off to a fine start with Georgia and the Vintage Youth whose breezy sound has Caro Emerald vibes delivered with an Adele/Amy Winehouse vocal. The trio have an enlivening effect and the audience appear appreciative of the chirpy, bluesy, ska, poppy tunes. The set is short and sweet and the Collaborators, as the band dubs their fans, are more than ready for the main attraction.

Undoubtedly classic musical theatre is still very much their metier, but Collabro have branched out into more popular jukebox musical territory in this latest set. They bounce onto the stage to the strains of Grease is the Word with choreography à la The Overtones, there’s also a spirited medley from Jersey Boys to close the first act, as well as an up-beat pop/soul encore. Rest assured though that all the classic musical theatre big-hitters are here: Maria, As If We Never Said Goodbye, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, On My Own, Why God Why?, are present in the first act, interspersed with Ellis’ rendition of a Brian May arrangement of The Way We Were. There’s Electricity with local 32-piece Stageworks choir, Glee’s version of Journey’s Faithfully, their original song Lighthouse, Bring Him Home, the almost inevitable medley of Greatest Showman songs, given a cabaret treatment by Ellis (This is Me and A Million Dreams), and Collabro’s own take on Never Enough, there’s Defying Gravity and the song that started it all for them – Stars, making up the second act.

While each singer has their own chance to shine, they are undoubtedly at their best when singing in harmony, sounding glorious when singing together. There are a few issues with pitch throughout, created mostly by matching the wrong song to the wrong singer and while the quartet feel like a thoroughly nice bunch of chaps, the dialogue to the audience seems stiff and contrived. There’s also an issue that the group themselves acknowledge – too many “sad” songs – the ballads overwhelm and while they are stunningly good, they do nothing to create a balanced journey through the course of the evening.

It will be interesting to see how the group move forward after several tours, to deliver something original next time. Collabro are polished and professional and undeniably provide a first class evening’s entertainment, fans will not be disappointed.

Continuing on tour throughout the UK this spring.

REVIEW: Love Me Tinder – The Town House, Hamilton

Much-loved journalist and broadcaster Cat Harvey, has her finger firmly on the pulse of West of Scotland woman (and man) in her new comedy play Love Me Tinder.

Exploring the minefield of dating in the 21st Century, it follows the story of a group of Glaswegian workmates who decide to embark on an online adventure in internet romance. There’s career girl Fiona (Cat Harvey) forever single and looking for Mr. Absolutely Utterly Perfectly Right; Nicola (Michelle McManus) the eternal good-time girl who is ready to swap parties for nappies; Cathy (May Miller), married for 40 years to Willie, who has apparently ran away with a 28-year-old Polish yoga teacher; Ryan (Liam Dolan) unaware of his sexual orientation, unlike everyone who knows him; Davie (Andrew Agnew) who is so commitment-averse he’ll date anyone and everyone “from legal to still breathing” and Davie (Johnny Mac) really Cupid in disguise, currently living in Cumbernauld and working his magic from the side-lines.

Harvey has an ear for Glaswegian patter and the naturalistic dialogue certainly strikes a chord with this largely female, sold-out audience. The laughs are sustained from start to end, and it’s no small thanks to a knock-out cast. From local cabaret star May Miller, the epitome of a ‘wee Glasgow wummin’ to TV stalwarts Andrew Agnew and Liam Dolan to panto royalty Johnny Mac and Pop Idol winner and Scottish national treasure Michelle McManus, a woman with the most enviable natural comic timing (and of course, a fabulous voice), each is an absolute gem.

Mac gets the chance to demonstrate his natural comedic talents and his exceptional audience wrangling skills, honed from years as a panto star. His fourth wall breaking turn as Cupid/Danny is warm, good-natured and laugh out-loud funny. As is McManus’ turn as the gobby Nicola. She manages to get the audience in tears with just a look, particularly hysterical is her disgust at Polish yoga teacher Klaudia stealing her big karaoke number, (which in an absolute belter of a theatrical trick) turns out to be McManus’ real-life Pop Idol winning tune ‘All This Time’.

The show is peppered throughout with party hits (you can’t not let Miller and McManus demonstrate what made them famous in the first place) and there’s even a chance for the audience to get in on the act with a rousing rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’.

The path of true love never does run smooth, and so it is here. To its credit there’s also a large dose of reality in the mix to temper the laughs. This is a relatable, realistic portrait of love and friendship in the 21st Century and it’s delivered with real heart and soul. Hopefully there’s more to come from the pen of Cat Harvey.

REVIEW: The Twelve Pound Look – East Kilbride Arts Centre

Published in 1910, in the midst of the suffragette movement, J.M. Barrie’s The Twelve Pound Look, is an astonishingly relevant, early feminist drama, rightly regarded as one of the most perfect examples of a one-act play in contemporary drama.

Rapture Theatre are to be lauded for their decision to stage the play as part of their inaugural Rapture Bites lunchtime classics, theatre season, which is being presented here at East Kilbride Arts Centre and in slightly different forms at: The Byre Theatre, St. Andrews; Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock; Eastgate Theatre, Peebles; Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkaldy; Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine and CatStrand, New Galloway. The afternoon includes a light lunch, tea, coffee or soft drink as well as a top-quality play from Scotland’s premier touring theatre company.

Harry Sims is the classic example of a man of his time: a pompous, upper class, status-obsessed chauvinist. On the eve of his Knighthood, Harry has enlisted the help of his simpering, supportive, younger, second ‘trophy’ wife to help him practise for the ceremony. Such is his blind self-belief, that he hires a secretary from an agency to respond to the avalanche of correspondence that he expects on the announcement of his award. The secretary turns out to be Kate, the first Mrs. Sims who left him unceremoniously in the middle of the night years before, leaving behind only a note. Harry knows no reason why any sane woman would leave him. The first Mrs. Sims eloquently avails him of the precise reasons why and how she came to secure her freedom.

That such serious subject matter is doused in such humour, shows the adroitness of Barrie. The script is sharp and astute and exquisitely written. While on the surface it all seems like a perfectly palatable piece of fluff for an Edwardian audience, it carries a much deeper message. Who knew that Barrie was such a supporter of the equality of the sexes?

Much of the success of the production is the clarity of direction of Michael Emans and the attractive yet uncomplicated production design, but it is the central performance of Julia Watson as Kate that seals the deal as a polished jewel of a production. Watson is captivating, the elegant fluency and calm assurance with which she skilfully takes Harry down more than a peg or two, is an utter delight to witness.

Rapture Bites, is a welcome addition to the lunchtime theatre movement and with quality such as this, an entertaining time seems assured.

Next up in the series is Terrence Rattigan’s classic The Browning Version on 10th March and Harold Pinter’s A Kind of Alaska on 31 March.

*Please note that this writer has no affiliations with the venues, playwrights or theatre companies whose productions are reviewed on the blog. 

REVIEW: Someone Like You: The Adele Songbook – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It’s over a decade since Adele burst onto the music scene with her debut album 19. From there the then teenage sensation has matured into a world-dominating megastar. With Adele on a seemingly infinite sabbatical, Katie Markham’s Someone Like You: The Adele Songbook is both a fitting tribute to the star and an excellent substitute.

Former X Factor finalist Markham was chosen to appear in the TV special Adele Live at the BBC presented by Graham Norton, an event that was to change her life. Not only did she get to sing with her idol, that appearance inspired Markham’s decision to create the show Someone Like You, a show that has now toured Britain. A wise decision, as the superstar’s music transcends both musical genres and the generations as evidenced by the large and diverse audience in the Theatre Royal this evening.

Markham manages to capture Adele’s vocal and physical nuances, but she is clearly a gifted singer in her own right and accompanied by a talented four-piece live band and two backing singers, she more than delivers the goods. From Hometown Glory through: Chasing Pavements; Make You Feel My Love; Set Fire To The Rain; Someone Like You; Rumour Has It, Rolling In The Deep, Skyfall to Hello, every hit and some lesser known album tracks are here as well as some tributes to Adele’s musical heroes. There’s even an astonishingly good version of Cheryl Cole’s Promise This, originally performed for Radio One’s Live Lounge, proving that a class act like Adele can make a silk purse out of any musical pig’s ear. Markham’s talented backing vocalists also get their chance in the spotlight with a knock-out version of Natural Woman.

It takes a brave performer indeed to take on arguably the world’s best female vocalist, thankfully Markham is a class act like her musical idol, and Someone Like You is a highly entertaining two hour musical treat.

Katie returns to Scotland next month with shows on:

11th March – Eden Court, Inverness
12th March – Music Hall, Aberdeen
13th March – Webster Theatre, Arbroath 

REVIEW: Abigail’s Party – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

If ever there was a play that was well and truly burned into the memory of all those who saw it, Mike Leigh’s 1970s masterpiece, Abigail’s Party is it. There are few who haven’t seen the 1977 BBC Play For Today production of the stage play, who can’t recite a plethora of our leading lady Beverly’s famously barbed lines (16 million people watched the original broadcast alone): “Laurence…Angela likes Demis Roussos, Tony likes Demis Roussos, I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: so please, do you think we could have Demis Roussos on?” “Cheesy pineapple?” – the two words alone got a roar of laughter from the expectant crowd as does the moment when Beverly pops off to chill the Beaujolais. With Leigh’s then-wife Alison Steadman’s once seen (and heard), never forgotten performance so synonymous with the role, those that follow in her gold strappy sandalled footsteps invariably suffer in comparison.

It’s the dinner party from hell where the clearly bored, bitchy, utterly unhappy, suburban social climber Beverly, is hosting neighbours Angela and her husband Tony, and Susan, mother of the titular Abigail who’s having her first teenage party a few doors down. The evening descends into the most cringe-worthy example of social torture as Beverly demeans her uptight, reserved husband Lawrence, belittles both Susan and Angela and tries to seduce neighbour Tony.

Jodie Prenger wafts around Janet Bird’s highly detailed brown and orange, sheepskin rugged, wood-clad walled set in a colour-co-ordinating Paisley patterned kaftan and eye-popping blue eyeshadow. Prenger manages to produce a fair impersonation of Beverly’s nasal whine but overall hers is a more low key, less passively aggressive portrayal. While highly competent, it lacks a bit of the physical energy (and sharpness of timing) that would have truly made this gathering nerve-shredding. Daniel Casey is Lawrence, whose descent into utter contempt for his crass wife is very well-judged. TV soap veteran Vicky Binns’ Angela is a fawning sycophant to the older Beverly, who laps up every compliment while throwing thinly disguised barbs back at her young neighbour. Calum Callaghan’s monosyllabic Tony is an eerily accurate portrayal of a quietly abusive husband and Rose Keegan’s  truly middle class Susan is perfectly pitched, every line is delivered perfectly on point.

It may feel to some that Abigail’s Party perfectly preserves in aspic an era in British social history, when class barriers were supposedly being broken down and the ‘upwardly mobile’ were well and truly on the rise. But, it also speaks at a deeper level of how far and how little women’s freedom has come in the 40+ years since the play was written.

Abigail’s Party is the perfect example of something so well-written, that it still has the power (in a very different world) to be hugely entertaining, decades on from its creation.

Runs until 9 February 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan 

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB

 

REVIEW: Benidorm – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

An admission must be made, despite being familiar with the success of Benidorm over the course of its ten series run, this reviewer has never actually seen an episode of the sun, sea and sangria soaked hit ITV comedy. However, it’s evident from the deafening applause that greets each beloved character as they step onto the stage, that I am firmly in the minority. That said, ignorance of the TV show is no barrier to enjoying the bawdy antics of the barmy sun-seekers.

The action takes place after a threatened takeover of ownership of the resort and the staff fearing for their jobs. Things at the Solano hotel couldn’t get any worse, when word gets out that undercover hotel inspectors are here from their proposed new owners, farcical antics, and mistaken identity ensues with a few song and dance routines thrown in for good measure.

The chemistry that has no doubt built up over the ten year run of the programme is evident in the slickness with which the whole production runs. Every gag lands perfectly and there’s an ease between the lead actors that can only be easily achieved through familiarity. Jake Canuso gets the loudest cheers of the evening as lothario Mateo and displays his formidable physical skills from his previous life as one of Europe’s top dancers (the Flamenco sequence is fabulous). One gripe would be that he is seriously underused, though, in an ensemble cast, writer Litten has given everyone onstage equal chance to shine. Tony Maudsley as Blow ‘n Go salon owner Kenneth sports his trademark saucy slogan T-shirts and eye-wateringly tight shorts and along with Canuso, is an undoubted audience favourite. Adam Gillen is also a treat as naïve hairdresser Liam.

Mark Walters’ transforming set is a triumph, it brings the warmth of Spain and the vibrancy of a cheap and cheerful holiday resort gloriously to life. It transitions between hotel reception, poolside, the Blow n’ Go salon and Neptune’s Bar with ease. The costumes are pitch perfect too and the whole thing is beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell.

As with the TV show, this is not for the easily offended, the jokes are adult in content, though nothing that would embarrass your granny too much, and subtlety has been thrown to the wind throughout. It plays like a 1970s British sitcom. The story is as slim as Mateo’s hips but, that said, this is firmly aimed at the audience it attracted in the millions over the decade long run of the ITV show. The auditorium is packed to the rafters and while it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, it has to be applauded for knowing its audience well and delivering the goods for its fans.

As TV to stage adaptations goes, this is the perfect example of how it should be done.

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB.

REVIEW: Rebus: Long Shadows – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It is a retired John Rebus who appears in his first stage outing, Long Shadows. Currently trying to keep off the cigarettes and booze, Ian Rankin’s best-selling and much-loved detective is living a very different life in his Edinburgh flat. Not exactly in graceful retirement, he is haunted by thoughts of the one’s that got away – the criminals not the romantic kind.

Rebus is plunged straight back into investigation and firmly back off the wagon, when the daughter of the victim of a 17-year-old unsolved murder appears at his door. His once loyal colleague DI Siobhan Clarke has to tread carefully when it transpires that Rebus’ actions in the past may put the conviction of a rapist and murderer and her promotion to DCI, in jeopardy. As every reader of the best-selling novels knows, where Rebus’ past is concerned, it is inevitable that his arch nemesis Big Ger Cafferty will soon appear firmly centre stage.

Playwright Rona Munro has created the first Rebus play based on an original story by Rankin, and as has become her trademark, it is long on dialogue and drama. Tightly written and atmospheric throughout, fans of the novels will be pleased that it has just as many twists and turns.

Scots TV veteran Ron Donachie steps into Rebus’ well-worn shoes and curmudgeonly character. His deft touch and naturalistic portrayal of the often larger than life Rebus is a masterclass in exquisitely judged acting. What could so easily have been an excuse to ham it up, is instead a perfectly pitched portrayal. John Stahl is a suitably oily Cafferty, living the highlife in his 7th floor penthouse, clad in some eye-catching threads. Stahl, another much-loved Scottish acting veteran, has fabulous chemistry with Donachie, something essential to the success of the piece, due to Rankin’s 30-year development in print of the pair’s relationship. Less successful is Cathy Tyson’s portrayal of Rebus’ former police partner, DI Clarke, she is under-used and a little stiff in comparison to the easy chemistry between Donachie and Stahl.

The staging is darkly atmospheric, the only criticism would be the lack of one of its most essential elements – the city of Edinburgh. Rankin delivers such a sense of place in every novel, the atmosphere of the place oozes from every page, so much so that our capital city is almost a character in itself.

Expectations are high when any much-loved Scottish character makes their way to the stage, and thankfully Munro’s adaptation of Rankin’s beloved character delivers plenty of thrills and chills to entertain. Hopefully Rebus’ life continues to expand beyond the pages of Rankin’s novels. Well worth watching for crime fans.

Runs until 2 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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

REVIEW: The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

Gillian Duffy’s comedy The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns is a total wee charmer of a show, more than helped along by two first rate actors in the central roles.

Heartbroken author Ariel Winters (Morna Young) takes herself to her aunt’s old cottage in Ayrshire to get over her cheating ex. As she celebrates Burns night alone, wishing that the right man would show up, she gets a visitation slightly different than she’d hoped for. The ghost of Rabbie Burns (James MacKenzie) appears to give her some dating advice – and boy does he know what he’s talking about, but Ariel has a few things to teach Rabbie – Tinder and modern day dating parlance to name just two.

A modern rom com, The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns also manages to weave in a raft of fascinating facts about the Ploughman Poet, the narrative perfectly enhanced by the inclusion of the brightest and best songs and poems of Burns. Both Young and Mackenzie do a fine job of showcasing the bard’s work: My Love is Like a Red Red Rose; Ae Fond Kiss; Charlie is my Darlin’ ; John Anderson, My Jo and of course, Auld Lang Syne (with some audience participation) are just beautiful.

For all the comedy, there’s poignancy and behind the laughs there’s a message of hope and optimism. There’s also the dawning realisation that the dynamics of dating and relationships have barely changed in 200+ years.

Scottish TV favourite James MacKenzie is ideally cast as the “rose-tinted idealist” Burns – physically epitomising our collective image of our national poet. With a cheeky glint in his eye and a deft comedic touch, he charms the audience from the moment he steps on stage. Morna Young is a perfectly pitched Ariel, thoroughly relatable she is also in possession of a gorgeous singing voice.

Small in scale but absolutely perfectly formed. An unexpected gem that really warms the heart.

TOURING TO:

29 JAN – Oran Mor, Glasgow

30 JAN – Barrfields Theatre, Largs,

31 JAN – Harbour Arts, Irvine

1 FEB – Cumbernauld Theatre,

2 FEB – Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock

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