Tag Archives: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

REVIEW: Street Scene – New Athenium Theatre, Glasgow

Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s 1946 “Broadway Opera” is rarely revived in Scotland, the last time, the 1989 Scottish Opera/ENO production.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Elmer Rice (who wrote the book for the opera), Weill considered the score his masterpiece. One of his exile works, it was written in the US after fleeing the rise of Nazism in Germany in the inter-war years. Street Scene also has the distinction of being the winner of the first Tony Award for Best Original Score.

It’s the stoop of a New York brownstone in the Lower East Side of Manhattan over two swelteringly hot summer days in 1946.

The gossip flows as the vast cast of characters float in and out of the action: Anna Maurrant is having an affair with the milkman, but in reality Anna is seeking some comfort away from her monstrous bully of a husband, Frank. Rose her daughter is torn between two men – one a safe choice, the other not so.

Street Scene inhabits an interesting place in the world of theatre. A transition between European Opera and what we now know as modern American musical theatre. It has been said it places perfectly between Weill’s own Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

The music on its own is absolutely intriguing, mixing operatic arias such as Somehow I Never Could Believe, which is almost pure Puccini, Jazz and Blues in I Got a Marble and a Star and Lonely House, Broadway in Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow and the Jitterbugging, Moon Faced, Starry Eyed. There’s light and shade, drama and comedy and romance and tragedy all in one show. The mix of musical styles mirroring the multi-racial melting pot of the tenement’s ethnically diverse inhabitants.

While the book can suffer from too much going on, writer Rice had his finger firmly on the vibrant pulse of New York in the 40s. Where this Royal Conservatoire of Scotland production wins out is the stupendous cast and the stunning visual design. Any qualms about it’s 3 hour-plus running time are assuaged by the glorious sound and visuals. The music sounding at its most goose bump-inducing in the ensemble numbers.

Bravo and brava to all concerned. This is a production of infinite quality and a fitting showcase of the performers of the future, who, on the basis of this production, can and will go far.

Images: © Robbie McFadzean

REVIEW: Side Show – West Brewery, Glasgow

Based vaguely on the true story of British-born conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, vaudeville performers of the 1920s and 1930s, Side Show isn’t your average, jaunty musical. Instead it’s the story of two women with very different inner lives, forever joined, whose hopes and dreams are subsumed by the other, their individual potential never to be fulfilled.

Violet wants a home, a husband, a ‘normal’ life, Daisy desires fame, fortune and the bright lights of the Orpheum circuit. Those whose care they’re in, their only aim – to make as much money as possible exploiting them. Would-be impresarios  Terry and Buddy enter their lives, to, on the surface, help the twins escape their side show lives, only to in turn exploit them for their own ends.

The cast of self-proclaimed ‘freaks’ who populate the side show include a bearded lady, the Cannibal King, a human pincushion and a lizard man. Played here by a cast of actor/musicians in minimal costume/makeup.

Having the distinction of having failed twice on Broadway, this 1997 musical is rarely seen and it is easy to see why. The faults lie entirely with the writing and not the performers.

Act One plods and it takes until well in to act two for it to hit any kind of dramatic stride. It barely scratches below the surface of these complex women’s lives. There’s a lack in variation in tone, too many songs and a discomfort at the subject matter that doesn’t sit well with the modern psyche. The book is quite frankly, badly written and the lyrics tediously bombastic.

What is a winner is the cast. Despite fighting with an overly loud band (that sounded frequently out of tune) and questionable acoustics (although in a hugely atmospheric venue) that deadened the lyrics almost entirely, the cast gamely fight on. Their quality never in question. On the occasions they managed to break through the cacophony they are sublime. Their harmonies glorious. Grace Galloway is magnetic as twin Daisy, overshadowing the less effusive (as her character dictates) Violet from Emma Harding. Callum Marshall’s (Sir) vocals are unfortunately drowned out by the band and the lyrics are lost in the important first few songs that establish the plot. None of this is Marshall’s fault as he is visibly projecting. The ensemble are talented, but it sounds as if musicianship is not their forte and the playing space is sprawling (long and narrow) leading to the audience’s focus dancing all over the room uncomfortably.

A brave attempt but it doesn’t feel fully thought through by the production team. What seems like a match made in heaven – unusual, atmospheric venue and a musical set in the 20s/30s about side-show freaks – doesn’t work in reality. There are practicalities that need to be thought out when you present to an audience. Their viewing experience is paramount. If the sound is distorted by the venue and the staging renders watching it a physical feat, you are doing a disservice to your viewers and also your actors, whose undeniable talent is masked through no fault of their own. All of this added to the fact that Side Show just isn’t a very good show, makes this a rare misstep from RCS.

Performances at West Brewery until 23rd May 2018.

REVIEW: The Fiery Angel (Scottish Opera Sunday Series) – City Halls, Glasgow

Masochistic obsession, black magic, demons, mass possession, exorcism, skeletons, nuns, appearances from Faust and Mephistopheles, it’s no wonder Sergei Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, often called lurid and sensationalist, is seldom staged. This latest production in The Sunday Series from Scottish Opera sees the work given a stripped back concert style treatment and it’s all the better for it.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

While lacking a set, it lacks for nothing else. The principal cast is largely made up of native Russian speakers and some fellow Eastern Europeans and is supplemented by current students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland opera school. The expertise with the language is partly the reason for the quality of this production, that and the considerable singing and acting skills of its principal players. Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva is fine-voiced and gives a convincing, emotive performance throughout as the mentally unsound Renata, as is Azerbaijani baritone Evez Abdulla as Ruprecht and Russian tenor Dmitry Golovnin as Agrippa von Nettesheim, though it must be said that at times they, and their fellow singers find it hard to be heard over the outstanding orchestra (itself swelled in number by students from the Conservatoire), who, under the commanding baton of Mikhail Agrest, have rarely sounded more powerful.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

For all its, quite frankly insane subject matter, the score is an absolute winner: powerful, hypnotic, dissonant, majestic, bold and gripping.

Every aspect of this largely concert hall venue is utilised well: singers enter through the auditorium, sing from the balconies, orchestra stalls and act out the considerable drama in an arrangement of simply staged, but hugely effective scenes.

An absolute triumph for both Scottish Opera and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a fantastic opportunity to hear Prokofiev’s masterpiece sounding at its best.



REVIEW: London Road- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Chandler Studio Theatre, Glasgow

That anyone thought that a musical about the serial murders of five sex workers in sleepy Ipswich in 2006 would be suitable source material for a musical, might rightfully have been called utterly misguided – thoroughly insensitive, in fact, but that’s the premise for Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s London Road.

Delivered verbatim style, the lyrics are culled from interviews that creator Alecky Blythe conducted with the real inhabitants of London Road. The musical a reflection of how the residents, sex workers and media dealt with the terrifying and sensational events unfolding around them.

This work defies every preconception you might have about it. It is thoughtful, intelligent and utterly compelling and there’s not a whiff of exploitation or sensationalism throughout (neither the killer, Steve Wright (dubbed the Suffolk Strangler) nor his victims appear (save for a ‘blanket over the head’ moment when Wright is rushed to the courthouse). Each group involved are given their voice, no matter how unpalatable or un-PC it might be. The honesty and raw truth of it all is what sets it above its contemporaries. The plaudits the work received on its debut at the National Theatre, utterly deserved.

The work is in the safe hands of the 3rd year BA Musical Theatre students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, under the direction of Philip Howard, and their quality and commitment to the work, make it unmissable. The large ensemble cast is faultless. The set design from Meghan Grieve, suitably dark and atmospheric, with an abundance of beautifully realised tiny details, the choreography by EJ Boyle is innovative and eye-catching. The only gripe would be the ear-splittingly loud band which overpowers the vocals and drowns out the lyrics at times.

This is a work of the utmost quality and a refreshing change to the lightweight musical theatre fluff that abounds – tickets are like gold dust, but if you can secure one – you won’t regret it.

Runs until 1 December 2017

NEWS: Royal Conservatoire graduate, singing star Alexandra Silber publishes first novel

Most actors imagine a backstory for their characters when developing the roles they play. With her novel AFTER ANATEVKA, Broadway star Alexandra Silber has done the opposite. After playing the role of Tzeitel (Tevye’s oldest daughter) in the most recent Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof and previously playing Hodel (Tevye’s second-oldest daughter) in the West End, Alexandra has written a book about what happens after Hodel leaves the stage.

The result is a sweeping historical novel that continues the story that has captivated fans around the globe for decades.A sweeping historical novel in the grand tradition of Russian literature that imagines what happens to the characters of Fiddler on the Roof after the curtain falls. The world knows well the tale of Tevye, the beloved Jewish dairyman from the shtetl Anatevka of Tsarist Russia. In stories originally written by Sholem Aleichem and then made world-famous in the celebrated musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, his wife Golde and their five daughters dealt with the outside influences that were encroaching upon their humble lives. Alexandra Silber picks up where Fiddler left off. Second eldest daughter Hodel takes centre stage as she attempts to join her Socialist-leaning fiancé Perchik to the outer reaches of a Siberian work camp. But before Hodel and Perchik can finally be together, they both face extraordinary hurdles and adversaries— both personal and political—attempting to keep them apart at all costs.

After Anatevka is now available.


NEWS: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland launches new £2million Creative Campus learning and teaching complex

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) today unveiled a new purpose-built learning and teaching complex today as part of its170th-anniversaryy celebrations. The Creative Campus project, an investment of more than £2million, has introduced a contemporary two-level rehearsal facility, increasing practice room provision by 50%.

The exciting new addition provides students of Scotland’s national conservatoire with essential practical resources as they develop their potential. The project has created 27 acoustically separated rooms for individual practice and one-to-one teaching and two large ensemble rehearsal spaces. The facility will support performers of all ages and backgrounds, from undergraduate students and the young performers of the Junior Conservatoire to lifelong learners who study at the Royal Conservatoire at evenings and weekends.


Helping to officially open the complex are twins and trainee music teachers Hannah and Morgan Charleston from Larkhall, 18-year-old violinists who are in the first year of a BEd degree.


The launch of the Creative Campus comes at the start of the 170th anniversary year of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. A new tartan has been created to celebrate the occasion which is modelled by Scottish actor and Conservatoire graduate, Kevin Guthrie, who stars in this summer’s World War II movie, Dunkirk.

Established in 1847, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is one of the world’s most multi-disciplinary conservatoires, offering specialised teaching across dance, drama, music, production and screen. It is ranked sixth in the world for performing arts education and number one in Scotland for graduate employability, endorsing its status as a national and international centre of excellence for the performing arts.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:

“Students are at the heart of everything we do at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and we’re thrilled to hand over this wonderful learning and teaching complex that will support them on their journey with us.

“An inspiring environment is crucial to the student experience and this purpose-built space gives our talented students and lifelong learners a place to grow and develop as performers. Not only will it be a hugely beneficial practical resource, it will also further enhance our dynamic culture of creativity, collaboration and innovation.”

The Creative Campus project has been financed through a fundraising campaign with support from trusts, foundations and individuals including The Robertson Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Hugh Fraser Foundation, The Sackler Trust, PF Charitable Trust, Wolfson Foundation and W A Cargill Charitable Trust.

Professor Nick Kuenssberg, OBE, Chairman of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:

“We believe exceptional talent and tuition deserve the finest facilities and our new learning and teaching complex, which increases individual rehearsal space by 50%, is an outstanding new addition to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Our facilities are among the best in Europe and creating them wouldn’t be possible without the very generous support of our donors. We deeply thank those who play a vital role in nurturing the performing arts at the Royal Conservatoire – a top ten world conservatoire that Glasgow and Scotland can be proud of.”

Lesley Macdonald, Head of Giving at The Robertson Trust, said:

“The Robertson Trust is pleased to support the Creative Campus project at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. By providing a platform for young people who face barriers to achieving their goals, the Royal Conservatoire is recognised both nationally and internationally for the work it does in widening access to the arts. We hope that our support will help the Royal Conservatoire continue and expand on this work and we believe the campus will be a real asset to the students.”

Dr Kenneth Chrystie, Chair of The Hugh Fraser Foundation, said: “As a long-standing supporter, it’s a pleasure for The Hugh Fraser Foundation to play our part in enabling the Conservatoire to enhance and optimise the learning and teaching experience for all students. The practical design to increase space is creative and productive and I have every confidence this will be a well-used and much valued asset.”

Music students Hannah and Morgan Charleston said there is a buzz around the opening of the new facility: “The new practice rooms will be extremely beneficial – it’s great that these extra spaces are here,” said Hannah.

Morgan adds: “Everyone is really excited about the rooms. I’ll use them a lot during the week when I have gaps between classes or if I have time before choir at night.”

Helen Lucas, of Helen Lucas Architects who led on the Creative Campus project, said: “This effective intervention into the lively and bustling building is designed to accommodate spaces for both social interaction and the singular dedicated pursuit of improvement which is the lifeblood of the Conservatoire.”


NEWS: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland celebrates 170th anniversary with the launch of new tartan

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) starts its 170th-anniversary celebrations in style … with the launch of a stunning new tartan. Scotland’s national conservatoire has created the fabric to mark its milestone year and its world-class reputation for performing arts education.

The tartan, inspired by the rich history of the Conservatoire and its bold and dynamic vision, is modelled by Scottish actor and Conservatoire graduate, Kevin Guthrie, who stars in this summer’s World War II drama, Dunkirk. The tartan will be formally adopted from Wednesday, January 25 when the Conservatoire opens the doors to its Creative Campus, a new purpose-built learning and teaching complex within the Renfrew Street building.


The tartan, a blend of blue, purple and grey to represent the Conservatoire’s schools and art forms, features in a new collection of accessories which are available to buy from the Conservatoire’s website. Every purchase supports scholarships for students. The launch is the start of the Conservatoire’s historic 170th year which will be celebrated with gala performances and special events.


Established in 1847, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is one of the world’s most multi-disciplinary conservatoires, offering specialised teaching across dance, drama, music, production and screen. It is ranked sixth in the world for performing arts education and number one in Scotland for graduate employability, endorsing its status as a national and international centre of excellence for the performing arts.


From Charles Dickens and Buffalo Bill to honorary doctors Emma Thompson, Tilda Swinton and Billy Connolly, there have been many significant moments – and people – to celebrate since 1847. At the first official soiree, the inaugural address was delivered by Charles Dickens. In 1892, Bram Stoker and Colonel William Cody (better known as Buffalo Bill) attended a supper for the actor Sir Henry Irving. In 1892 the first professor was appointed, Madame Emma Ritter-Bondy, Professor of Piano. In 1953, our principal Sir Ernest Bullock composed the fanfares and arranged the national anthem for performance at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  Notable ‘firsts’ include being the first conservatoire in the UK to have its own degree-awarding powers, the only conservatoire in Europe to offer education in all of the performing arts and the first conservatoire to offer a BA Performance degree in British Sign Language and English.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said:

“What better way to begin our 170th-anniversary celebrations than with the launch of a stylish new tartan which is showcased to terrific effect by our alumnus Kevin Guthrie. The tartan, which incorporates the corporate blue of the Conservatoire, is a distinctive and modern design that reflects our creative and confident outlook. The tartan is a fantastic way to mark our special anniversary year and we look forward to seeing it being woven into the very fabric of life at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.”

Actor Kevin Guthrie, who graduated from the BA Acting programme in 2011, said:

“I’m delighted to launch the new Royal Conservatoire of Scotland tartan and be a part of it – it’s a really lovely, vibrant tartan.”

Kevin is part of the star-studded cast of Dunkirk which is released in July and directed by Christopher Nolan of Interstellar, Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy fame. He will share the screen with Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles and fellow Conservatoire alumni Jack Lowden and Brian Vernel.

The actor has fond memories of his studies at the Conservatoire: “As a proud Scotsman and Glaswegian, this was where I wanted to study and use that as the platform moving forward. There’s a very famous energy that comes with the building at RCS. I remember the buzz that was kind of in the brickwork – it’s in the design of the school, it’s in the energy of the staff and students. There’s a real vibrancy about it.”

Kevin, who has a string of film credits to his name including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Sunset Song, The Legend of Barney Thomson and Sunshine on Leith, added: “I think there’s something very specific about the training at RCS in that it’s a wide vocabulary of training and experience. RCS actors and alumni are known and recognised in the industry for being very open minded and very confident in their approach. There’s a real honour and a humility in an RCS actor, I believe, and I think that sets us apart.”

100 WORD REVIEWS: Urinetown – Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

There’s a world water shortage and you can only pee if you pay, that is the premise of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s Urinetown.

Presented by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, this is a high quality production with a talented cast of a, quite frankly, meh! musical. In trying to be clever (it parodies the musical theatre form and many hit shows) it just isn’t as clever as it likes to think it is.

Too many pee-related puns which get thin quickly and an instantly forgettable soundtrack save the glorious “Run, Freedom Run” render it a pleasant way to kill a few hours but little more.

3 ***

REVIEW: Under The Ground – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s new musical Under The Ground wears its influences well and truly on its sleeve. This tale of loneliness, life, love and loss on the Glasgow Subway, whilst entertaining, offers little in the way of originality.

Presented as a series of vignettes, all forms of life are here: a young widow mourning the loss of her husband, a love rat, a man forced by a slip of the hand to propose to a girl he can barely stand, to name a few.

It is, as it always was with RCS productions, meticulously put together: slick staging, an on-form band and professional delivery and there are sufficient changes of pace, tone, texture and emotion to keep interest levels high, but the derivative songs are quite frankly, instantly forgettable the moment you cross the exit. The are issues with the setting too, which could have been more clearly stated and the idiosyncrasies of Glasgow’s infamous Clockwork Orange, that anyone who has ever travelled on could instantly recognise, are not utilised to add much-needed atmosphere.

There are though some nicely nuanced performances and some fine voices however, there are a few whose energy levels tipped their characterisations into over the top territory and quite a few had projection issues rendering their voices inaudible beyond the first rows.

An admirable attempt at a new musical but more work needs to be done on the music and setting before it’s the finished article.

Runs until 31 August 2015 (alternative days)

This review was originally published at:


100 WORD REVIEWS: Willy’s Bitches – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The second of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s musical offerings, allows Shakespeare’s women to vent some steam at their treatment at the hands of The Bard.

As their other work this year, Under The Ground, this musical is presented as a series of vignettes, but the lack of a ‘book’ means one can’t help feeling that this could have been so much more.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some emotional impact. There are a few notable performances and a few not so. There’s also an over-reliance on over-acting to convey emotion and much potential impact is lost in the histrionics.

A little more work and this could be a cracker.

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