Saturday, December 29, 2007

Review of the Year - 2007

It's that time of year again when we look back over all the shows we've seen in 2007 (seventy of them in total) and pick out a few of the highlights. We wouldn't dream of claiming to name the best of the year - just our own personal favourites. As with last year, categories will be made up as we go along... Waldorf has added her comments in italics...

For my favourite professional male performance it's hard to look beyond Alan Cumming in "The Bacchae" who managed to truly capture the audience. As a result it left the show unbalanced and lacking when he was off stage, but I doubt I'll see a more commanding performance in terms of sheer stage presence. But I don't think it was the most impressive male performance I saw this year - that belongs to Tom Smith for his roles as the Writer & Sergeant in "Black Watch". His portrayal of each of the two characters was so entirely convincing I had no idea it was the same actor playing both roles - I even refused to believe it when told after the show until I was shown it printed in the programme. He really didn't - it was highly amusing. Male nudity seems to have played a large part in our theatre going this year, from Alan Cumming's buttocks to Rebus McTaggart's Sharon Stone impression.

There have been a number of very strong female professional performances that come to mind from this year with Cara Kelly as the captivating "Molly Sweeney" and Eleanor Buchan as the spritely waitress in "Your Ex Lover is Dead" right up there. However it's Denise Hoey's remarkable lead performance in "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" that still resonates several months later - and of course we also loved her as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz".

We caught several youth and student shows again this year and saw a number of excellent performances with particular highlights being David McNay as The Magistrate in GCNS's "Lysistrata" who made us long to see what he could do in "Rocky Horror" and Kirstie Steele's performance as Lyra in SYTs "His Dark Materials - Part I" which almost rescued a problematic show.

We also ventured into the world of amateur theatre and were hugely impressed by the high standard of performances. In particular Kim Shepherd was a revelation as Scaramouche in STF's production of "We Will Rock You" with fantastic vocals and brilliant comic acting. It was a performance that would have been worthy of a mention with the professionals noted above. Similarly, Tom Beattie's role as the father in "Ice Cream Dreams" was a perfectly pitched performance giving three dimensions to the sadness, humour and failings of his character.

My thoughts for my favourite newly created/devised production come down to two shows that really stand out. The much missed NTS Young Company's "The Recovery Position" was a stunning site specific piece while Deborah Pearson's "Your Ex Lover is Dead" was immensely entertaining while also giving the audience something to think about.

My favourite performance of an existing or adapted work has three really strong candidates. Glasgow College of Nautical Studies "Lysistrata" was an absolute joy from start to finish; The Citizens/NTS "Molly Sweeney" featured incredibly involving performances from it's strong cast; and Lauder Studio Theatre's production of the play version of "Blood Brothers" showed what a committed cast and clever direction can bring to a show.

You may have noticed the glaring absence of "Black Watch" from the last two categories - I just couldn't make up my mind which it belonged in, so I figured I'd just mention it separately - as just about the whole planet is aware by now, Black Watch is in a class of it's own, whichever category you choose to place it in. It's going to be in London in 2008, and revisits Scotland - well worth going to see and we're hoping to go again see it again.

Our visit to London this year earns Trafalgar Studios the award for most uncomfortable theatre. I'm not sure whether the air conditioning was broken or the heating jammed on full but it was like sitting in a sauna. Statler blames the rather spicy Thai curry I'd had beforehand, but I wasn't the only one waving the programme as a fan. However "Elling" made up for the discomfort. A close runner up is The Citizens' Circle Studio, which despite putting on some great shows can never be accused of being comfy - my legs are just too short. I thought the Trafalgar Studios was just fine, and as for 'problem' theatres - nothing beats the irritation factor of the creaky seats in Glasgow's Kings Theatre.

Making up 21 of our shows this year, the Edinburgh Festival deserves a comment on it's own. As already mentioned, "Blood Brothers" was a highlight, along with "Mehndi Night", "James II" and the painfully funny "Rebus McTaggart". The black comedy musical "Failed States" was a last minute addition for us but well worth it and "Venus As A Boy" showed how powerful a one man (and his musician) show can be.

For sheer spectacle of set design "The Bacchae" with its poppies descending from heavens and it's attempt to incinerate the front of the stalls has no competition. However clever set design isn't all about blowing the budget, and both "The Ballad of James II" and "The Soldier's Tale" showed what can be done simply and cleverly. Fair point about simplicity, but for me Killer Joe's incredible full size realisation of a trailer can't be beaten.

What strikes me as I look back over the year is the power individual scenes and moments in a production can have, staying with you long after the show. Denise Hoey's "Goldfinger" in "Little Voice" and Kirstin McLean flying off through an opening roof in "The Recovery Position". This was a huge highlight for me, and was a magical idea. The unexpected rendition of "Give Peace a Chance" in "Lysistrata", the entrance of the dog in "The Butler Did It?!" and the unrestrained violence of "Blood Brothers". Not forgetting the genuinely perilous swordfight in "James II" ranging around the Chapel. And then there was "The Soldier's Tale" wedding scene which left me grinning from ear to ear. Truly unforgettable moments - exactly what makes theatre so great.

Well that was 2007, and we'll shortly be posting our plans for early 2008 - and it's already looking good!


Friday, December 28, 2007

"The Wizard of Oz" - December 2007

Although we've seen a number of shows in Edinburgh this year, it's still a bit of an effort and "The Wizard of Oz" at the Lyceum was very much borderline when we drew up our winter schedule back in August. But that changed when we heard one vital piece of information - that Denise Hoey, whose performance as Little Voice had been one of the highlights of our year, had been cast as Dorothy. Suddenly the show was transformed to one of our most anticipated shows - and that was before all the glowing reviews appeared in the press. But then again, we'd had recent experience of being burned by strong reviews.

But within two minutes of the start it's clear we've got nothing to worry about and are in for an absolute treat. The tone of the show is immediately established once Hoey's Dorothy appears with Toto (in the form of a well worked hand puppet) and it's very much an affectionate presentation of the original rather than a post-modern knowing take on it. There's plenty of humour and physicality, and the songs are lovingly performed by the strong cast. Although there were a few children whose attention wandered, mainly those who were too young to have been there, for the most part the show held the audience, young and old, in rapt attention.

Hoey of course brings her stunning vocals to the role, but as with Little Voice her acting is equally impressive, delivering a wonderful combination of charm, innocence and indignation.

It's a very strong cast all round with Matthew Pidgeon's Scarecrow/Hunk a particular favourite. But it's Julie Austin as the Wicked Witch/Miss Gultch who has the hardest task. After our trip to "Wicked" I wasn't sure I could ever look at the Wicked Witch in the same way again, but Austin almost had me booing and hissing with the rest of the audience.

The sets are stunning and the video projection used for a number of elements is the best use of video images I've come across. But while certainly magical, the show isn't quite perfect. The munchkins/Emerald City residents are from the Lyceum Youth Theatre and although their choreography was excellent the apparent use of backing tracks for some of the singing was a little jarring and certainly brought me 'out of the moment'. The only other scene that didn't quite work for me was the melting of the Witch - although the melting was very well portrayed the use of glitter to represent the bucket of water was disappointingly low tech - there must be a more creative way of doing this.

But none of that comes close to taking away from what is a wonderful piece of theatre, put together with fantastic production values and brought to life by a delightful cast. A shining example of what a Christmas show should be.

Image used with permission


Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Wicked Christmas 2" - December 2007

Due to a dash for winter sun last year we didn't manage to catch the Citizens Community Company's original "Wicked Christmas" but we had enjoyed February's "My Bloody Valentine" and their involvement in "Ice Cream Dreams". So while Waldorf headed off into the sun once again, I stayed behind to see "Wicked Christmas 2". And I'm really pleased I did.

The show has been put together by Dramaturg Peter Arnott weaving together nine short pieces written by members of the Community Company and he's allowed the individual tales to retain their own identities while setting an even tone for the piece as a whole. Director Neil Packham has also ensured that the cast all cope well with the Circle Studio's intimate in-the-round staging.

I'll pick out some of the highlights, but it's fair to say the performances were universally good, despite a wobble or two. The segments are all well written and for the most part the humour hits the mark, although as with any show with fast paced humour there are some that misfire.

The overarching plot sees Tom Beattie's Santa sending a badly behaved elf (Darren McGarvey) to Glasgow on Christmas Eve to learn about the spirit of Christmas. It's a device that works well, thanks to Beattie's entertaining portrayal of a cursing Santa and McGarvey's charismatic and confident performance.

One of the main threads of the show involves Janice (Kirsty McCarter) and Linda (Eleanor Capaldi) as they run a candle stall as part of their 'community service' under the (sometime) supervision of Mr Morgan (Alan Ward). It's a particularly well written series of scenes and all three performances are very strong.

Alan Ward returns later along with Martin O'Neill as a pair of young brothers being given the dreaded knitted jumpers for Christmas. It's wonderfully performed and the characterisation of the brothers is spot-on. O'Neill also puts in an excellent turn as a Taggart-esque detective later in the show.

Katya Silich and Sean Williamson make an amusing sight as they ice dance around the studio (yes really) but while their dialogue has some very funny moments others seem forced. Similarly Lesley Noonan and Jim McCleavy do well with some stilted dialogue, although the concept of a daughter facing a first Christmas without her mother is a good one.

But star turn of the evening belongs to Frances Rose Kelly and Anne Marie McLeod as a pair of Glasgow prostitutes walking the streets. So often these days strong language is overdone, but while extensive here, it's pitched perfectly and the scenes with these two move comfortably between hilarious banter and strong emotional moments.

The elements I've highlighted are simply the ones that held the most appeal for me - I'm sure other audience members will have had their own favourites. Overall, the Community Co has produced a very entertaining show with Glasgow very much at its heart, and tailored very much for its audience. We're already looking forward to seeing what they do in April along with the Citz Young Company in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Wicked Christmas 2 runs at the Citizens until Saturday 12th.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

"It's a Wonderful Life" - December 2007

Despite this only being our second year attending Nonsenseroom's Christmas show at Rosslyn Chapel, it has very much become part of our Christmas festivities. Nothing quite beats sitting huddled up on a bench wearing hats, scarves and a blanket across your lap to get you in the Christmas spirit. Or maybe it was the hugely enjoyable show (and the mulled wine).

Adapted from the much loved film by Frank Capra, Simon Beattie's "It's a Wonderful Life" stays as close to the film as is practical for an intimate in-the-round setting, and works equally well for those familiar and unfamiliar with the original. Told largely through flashback we find George Bailey on the verge of a suicide attempt being 'saved' by his guardian angel (second class) Clarence. Events from George's past are brought to life, followed by the revelations of how different the world would have been had he never been born.

While a 'Christmas show', this isn't really an alternative to pantomime in the way that "Peter Pan" is - it's more 'proper' theatre with a seasonal theme, and it would possibly struggle to keep the attention of young children. But much like the source material, for older children and adults it's an absolute joy. Okay, so it might be more gentle humour than laugh-out-loud, but looking around the audience the smiles were pretty constant throughout the whole show. It's quite simply a beautiful tale, beautifully told.

Director Bruce Strachan really has his cast of nine earning their money, rushing around the darkened chapel, playing multiple roles and performing lightning fast costume changes. While Fraser C Sivewright plays George Bailey straight down the middle in the first Act, he really comes into his own as we see George's life collapse in Act 2. Sivewright makes the descent from regret to despair all too believable and at times uncomfortably intense, while also managing to make his scenes with Clarence seem effortlessly comic. Susan Coyle is delightful as his wife Mary, transforming in front of the audience from young love to supportive mother of four (invisible) children.

Colin Scott-Moncrieff copes wonderfully with the herculean task of playing Clarence the Angel, Potter the villainous mogul of Bedford Falls, and George's brother Harry. It's an incredible performance - and he gives independent life to each role (so much so that Waldorf hadn't spotted he was playing Potter!)

Natalie Bennett's performance in Nonsenseroom's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was my favourite female performance of 2006, and although she doesn't get the same chance to shine here due to playing so many roles, it's still an impressive performance - particularly as George's mother. Neil Kent also does well in numerous roles while Amie Walker, Kerry Cleland, Ben Winger and Tom Holmes provide strong support. Productions that make use of strong accents risk shattering belief in the piece with every line, and it's something I'm often irritated by, but here the whole cast hold their accents well throughout. The show isn't quite flawless - the off stage voice of "Joseph" could be clearer and the first act lacks a little in humour - but it's pretty close.

There is one minor problem with the evening from the audience side of things that I'd like to address. With a limited audience due to the venue size, many wearing gloves, it's difficult for the audience to really show our appreciation by generating a volume of applause, but trust me, if you look at the smiles during the curtain calls and listen to the chatter afterwards you'll know how much the audience enjoyed it.

As always with Nonsenseroom's shows at Rosslyn Chapel we recommend catching one of their 'special performances' if possible. These include a light buffet, mulled wine and a tour of the chapel and really make the evening an experience to remember.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is on at Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin (near Edinburgh) on 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 18th & 19th December, with 'Special Performances' on 14th and 21st.

Nonsenseroom are also taking the show to Greenock Arts Guild on the 17th, Eastgate Theatre in Peebles on the 20th, and East Kilbride Arts Centre on the 22nd.

Photo used with permission.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Molly Sweeney" - December 2007

I was aware that the previous run of the show in 2005 by the Citizens Theatre Company had been very well received, but it still required a little persuasion to get me along, even with its new National Theatre of Scotland 'badge'. A show about the consequences when a woman who lost her sight shortly after birth attempts to have it restored just seemed so serious. Maybe I misread the marketing, or didn't pay enough attention to the reviews, but I was completely unprepared for the humour in this piece. Of course, Brian Friel's play is immensely emotional but it also has a light-hearted core that prevents the emotion overwhelming.

While there is no doubting the quality of the writing, the real joy from the piece comes from the performances. Cara Kelly as Molly, Michael Glenn Murphy as her husband Frank and Oengus MacNamara as her eye specialist, Mr Rice, absolutely commanded the Citizens Circle Studio. With seats on all four sides we've seen many performers find it difficult to play to all sections of the audience, but there were no such problems tonight. Not only do Kelly, Murphy and MacNamara constantly play to all sides, they play to every single audience member individually, making regular direct eye contact throughout. It's stunningly effective at drawing the audience in and I don't think I've ever seen the space handled so naturally and with such confidence - their moments of interaction with the audience are beautifully dealt with.

Combined they are quite possibly the most impressive cast we've come across this year. Kelly makes Molly utterly charming and we are quickly emotionally invested in the character, while Murphy succeeds in making Frank sufficiently good hearted and sympathetic that we can't really hold him accountable for what follows. MacNamara manages to portray Rice's flaws and complexity to great effect, absolving him from much of the blame. And therein lies the tragedy of the piece.

Add some wonderful lighting, smart direction and stimulating set design and you really have a production that is a bit special, and despite the subject matter it's one of the most enjoyable nights I've spent in the theatre this year.

Molly Sweeney continues at the Citizens until 8th December and then finishes its tour at the Traverse in Edinburgh 12th to 15th December.

Image by Richard Campbell, used with permission.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

"Peter Pan" - December 2007

No wasting time here at View From The Stalls - 1st day of December and we're opening the advent calendar, sorting Christmas shopping, and off to see the first of our four Christmas shows this month. "Peter Pan" at the Citizens seemed a good place to start and had the promise of Andrew Clark as Hook (who impressed us as Hamlet.)

Clark duly delivered, and was a suitably villainous nemesis for Peter and managed to elicit spontaneous boos and hisses from the audience (possibly unexpectedly). Robbie Towns gave a very physical performance as Peter, while Helen Mallon's very Glaswegian Wendy provided much of the show's humour. But there were issues with the sound levels and the clarity of some of the dialogue - even in the middle of the stalls. Although this was the first night, it wasn't labeled as a preview, and I'd hope this is addressed as the run progresses.

In a show like this it's often not the performances that make or break it, and while I'd be reluctant to go so far as to call it disappointing, there were certainly a good number of missed opportunities. Much of it was slow paced, particularly in the first act and only really the scenes with Nana the dog (Finn Den Hertog) had the energy to really grab the audience. The energy levels pick up in the second act when Tinkerbell is revived with some audience participation, and it's a bit odd that this non-panto is at it's best when it strays towards pantomime territory. But the writing isn't sufficiently sharp, and the Glasgow references, which always go down well, were too few and far between.

There is much to like here with certain elements very well realised - Tinkerbell is marvellously portrayed as a sparkle of light and in a particularly nice segment is 'moved' from hand to hand between the Lost Boys. The moments when Wendy, Michael and the boys are captured by Hook work well in silhouette (although a little muffled), the 'fly by wire' is very well performed a number of times, and a rendition of "Flower of Scotland" brings much amusement. The set is also very effective.

But other aspects fall short. The Crocodile really didn't work for me, the fencing seemed a little on the tame side, and the 'explosion' was pretty pathetic, while the cannons that dropped from the side of the ship sat unused when they were crying out to fire confetti into the audience.

Waldorf is of the opinion that it suffered from not knowing what it wanted to be - show or pantomime and I'd probably agree. It doesn't have the belly laughs a panto can provide or the ability to capture the children in the audience with a stunningly enthralling story, and I guess I expected a little more from the Citz.

"Peter Pan" runs at the Citizens until 5th January.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"100" - November 2007

Much to our shame we'd never made it out to Oran Mor in Glasgow's west end for their hugely popular "A Play, A Pie and A Pint" series of lunchtime shows. The lunchtime slot doesn't really work for us and I always seemed to hear about the good shows after the event. But the addition of Wednesday night performances as "A Dinner, A Drama and a Dram" were more convenient, and the series reaching its landmark 100th play gave us good reason to go along.

"100" is a musical written by David MacLennan who is also the driving force behind the Play/Pie/Pint concept at Oran Mor, and sees him collaborating once again with his old mate Dave Anderson from their Wildcat and 7:84 days. Indeed we're firmly back in the territory of that kind of political theatre with "100" as we look at how society has changed since 1907.

The main conceit sees a marketing student on graduation day (Claire Waugh) with her father (George Drennan) transported 'Life on Mars' style to what appears to be a 1907 era theme bar. The first musical number is a powerful one - not necessarily musically but its message as we see the student rejoicing at finally being freed from the confines of education, while her father recalls his appreciation for his own opportunities and their 1907 waitress (Pauline Knowles) tells of her own aspirations. It's very effective in making an audience think of how we view education these days. And it's not alone among a series of strong numbers - a lovely explanation of the purchasing choices we face before breakfast and a brief history of protest being the highlights.

These are interspersed with Anderson providing an insight into events of 1907 and Allan Tall performing Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" (written that year). While enjoyable in themselves, they are really a bit of a distraction from the focus of the show and I'd rather have seen the main story expanded.

The performances were all strong, although I was a little disappointed by the acoustics which did make some of the lyrics difficult to catch, but the real strength of the piece is in MacLennan's writing and its interesting perspective on the advances made and the failings of the present day.

All in, a great evening out and at £25 for a show, a lovely two course dinner and a whisky it's good value, and I'm sure we'll be back. And I really will need to make more of an effort to see some of the lunchtime shows as well.

'100' runs until Saturday at Oran Mor at 1.05pm


Sunday, November 18, 2007

"The Soldier's Tale" - November 2007

The Soldier's Tale at The Tron didn't initially feature in our plans for this autumn. To be honest I don't think either of us actually read anything about it, just saw it was classical music and moved on. A strong recommendation from Bluedog made us take a second look, and we decided to step outside our comfort zone. A production by the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields, this also featured Anthony Marwood as the eponymous lead. He's apparently a big deal with a violin (is our ignorance showing yet?)

The tale itself is simple. Boy goes to war, ends up making an unwitting deal with the devil and wealth doesn't bring happiness but love does. If it stopped there it would a be pretty familar tale, but it doesn't. Humans are never happy with what they have, and they always push things that little too far in search for just a little more 'perfection'.

What makes this extra special is the way in which it's told - through perfectly balanced acting/narration, dance and music. No element overwhelms, and they're woven together to form something that is greater than the sum of its parts. You wouldn't think a stage could be filled with just 4 actors, but it certainly is here. The ensemble of 7 musicians at the side interacting beautifully with the action in the centre. The usual way of presenting this is to have an actor miming the violin playing, whilst the violinist in the ensemble provides the actual music. Not in this production as having Anthony Marwood in the role puts the violinst centre stage - though not at the expense of the quality of the music produced.

There's not a wasted moment in this hour long piece, as the tale unfolds. Agnes Vandrepote as the Princess and Iain Woodhouse as the Devil deliver strong dance and physical performances that balance the music out, whilst the narration by Walter Van Dyk holds the tale together. You get the impression that every element of this has been given loving care and attention with beautiful small touches like the light from the book (see photo), the highly effective use of confetti and playing cards and the devil's whipping of the horses. Often productions can be let down by neglecting an aspect of the staging, but a strong but simple set, lighting and costume design meant this wasn't the case. This was close to perfect and the cast and musicians richly deserved the 3 curtain calls.

As someone who went knowing nothing of the tale, and whose knowledge of classical music is poor I thoroughly enjoyed this and came out grinning.

Photo by Nobby Clark - used with permission.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"St. Nicholas" - November 2007

The prospect of this tale of a drunken theatre critic who finds himself falling under the spell of Vampires in contemporary London had possibilities, and the Citizens offer of £6 tickets on a Tuesday night proved sufficiently tempting.

In the small Circle Studio with no set, props or soundtrack with only lighting to set the mood, Peter Dineen holds court, providing an insight into his untitled character's life as a miserable theatre critic who neither receives nor gives much joy from his theatregoing or reviewing, and little more from his family life. Drinking appears to provide his only pleasure.

The story moves forward as after a reviewing 'incident' he leaves Dublin behind for London. Due to a series of events he finds himself in the company of a group of Vampires and the second act looks at his time with them. The play's actually a bit of a mess really with rather enigmatic metaphors, fairytales and parables which if I'm honest left me puzzled and frustrated more often than not (including the apparently absent relevance of the play's title).

Fortunately Dineen has the ability to keep the audience sufficiently engaged. Just. The audience want to pay attention to him and in the second act in particular he comes very much to life but Conor Macpherson's dialogue doesn't do him a great deal of favours - relying on rather tiresome swearing for a cheap laugh or two. There were moments when he appeared to struggle a little with the in-the-round staging, playing too much to one side and then remembering to do a quick twirl now and again, but he seemed to be more aware of this as the show progressed.

I'm unconvinced that the staging/direction really worked with the piece, and it could have been better delivered from a comfortable leather armchair with a glass of brandy in hand rather than the constant pacing of the performance space. Indeed some of the most effective moments of the evening were those when Dineen took a seat amongst the audience. It's also difficult not to make comparisons with Mike Maran's Don Camillo or Tam Dean Burns in Venus as a Boy both of which created much more energy. Of course those productions benefited greatly from both live music and use of props, and I feel St Nicholas would have too.

It's a little strange re-reading this post as I appear to have been influenced by the lead character's negative disposition, as despite all the issues I've highlighted this was an enjoyable enough evening - certainly worth my £6 although I think I might have reservations had I paid the £12 ticket price for another night.

St Nicholas runs at the Citizens until 17th November.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Hidden" - October 2007

We'd seen this group of RSAMD students in The Winters Tale and Women Beware Women earlier in the year and a few of them had already cropped up in other professional productions, but I was keen to see them tackle a contemporary piece. The involvement of Vanishing Point as co-producers raised expectations and the unusual concept for staging it as two simultaneous linked productions which are then repeated with audiences switching shows (it being largely irrelevant which order in which they are seen) intrigued. If one of the aims of a production is to provoke a reaction, any reaction, it certainly achieved it, and tonight the View From The Stalls household stands greatly divided on the merits of this one.

"Hidden" is described as conceived by Matthew Lenton, devised by the company and text by Lenton, Sandy Grierson and the company and isn't easy to summarize, but here is a quick run through the plot/setting for events... "Hidden I: Escape" is set partly in a hotel room where two men are recovering after escaping from a branch of Boots where customers had been taken hostage. The set is also shared by the characters and events that continue to take place within the store. "Hidden II: Home" operates on the same timeframe looking at how the events impact on the families of those involved and the police officers responding to the crisis. The driving force of the narrative is the demand by the terrorists that the two escapees return - or one of the remaining hostages will be shot. Several characters overlap and wander between both productions while others appear in only one. It's an interesting concept and the shared characters were technically very well executed with no delays or timing issues.

Sadly the 'big picture' was a bit of a letdown, with the terrorist's motives not really working for me - they provided little humour and detracted from the dilemma facing the escapees. The themes of guilt and emotional blackmail were threaded through many of the interlinked segments but they never really managed to say anything or provoke much thought.

Fortunately the individual elements were sufficiently interesting or funny enough (for me) to overcome my doubts about the whole, and what resulted was a fairly enjoyable evening. There's really too much in here to go into a great amount of detail but aspects I particularly enjoyed included Roisin Gallagher's schoolgirl, the set pieces between Jamie Brotherston and Lewis Milsted's policemen, and just about every scene involving Michael Goldsmith's reporter. Quick mention also for good set design and soundtrack for both parts.

A couple of aspects that didn't work for me were the brainwashing/conversion scene, and the scenes between Sally and Luscious which added little to the piece. It was also disappointing that two of the surprises/reveals were fairly heavily signposted to the extent that they were very obvious to those paying attention.

Yes, much of the acting/writing/characterisation was typical sitcom stuff, but for the most part it worked well and generated laughs (although some laughter was definitely of the look at my friend doing something silly variety). It's open to charges of style over substance, and maybe it makes me a fairly shallow theatregoer, but although I can see it's flaws I enjoyed "Hidden" both as a concept and piece of entertaining theatre. Waldorf disagreed really quite strongly and will no doubt add a dissenting view when she has a chance on Wednesday night.

Hidden runs at the RSAMD until Saturday 3rd November and for the record we saw Hidden I followed by Hidden II.

Image: Jenny Hulse and Jamie Brotherston. Photography by Ken Dundas, RSAMD. Used with permission.


Monday, October 29, 2007

"Fiddler on The Roof" - October 2007

After our success with musicals earlier this year I managed to twist Statler's arm and persuade him to tackle a more 'Traditional' one. So that made Glasgow Light Opera Club's 'Fiddler on the Roof' the obvious choice. Seeking strength in numbers this was a group outing, so I could always choose to not sit beside him as this was also our return to the King's after a long absence...

I'm a great fan of the film version of Fiddler, but I've never seen it performed live before. As you would expect from a light opera company the singing was the key here, and the songs all delivered. With some of my favourite musical numbers, there were a couple of moments where I had that spine tingling moment that shows you're really enjoying yourself - 'Sabbath Prayer' and 'Sunrise, Sunset' in particular hit that spot. J Campbell Kerr as Tevye gave the strong performance the part required, with Sandra Craig working well as his long-suffering wife Golde. Fiona Prior and Fiona Spear were good as Hodel and Chava but while Catherine Brannan-Usher as Tzeitel was strong vocally, her performance suffered for me as her accent on her speaking voice just pushed my buttons. The main characters were supported by a good ensemble.

A complex set brought in on wheels and bolted together during the scene changes, seemed largely unnecessary. The pace was slowed almost to a stop as the stagehands fought with the locking wheels, and bolting the parts together during every scene change. With something like Fiddler it's impossible to cut songs or play too much, however the changes in for the first 3 scenes were painful - was it really necessary to change the set from the Kitchen in Tevye's house, to the yard outside, then back in again? A sense of place could have been achieved more simply, and kept the flow going.

The dream sequence was obviously great fun for all the cast, and the audience too. However the wire work with Fruma-Sarah was just distracting for me, and took away from an otherwise effective scene.

Overall it was a good night for me with strong singing and music, and a musical that I love. Isn't that what theatre is meant to be about?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Now Booking/Coming Soon Update

In addition to our plans between now and the end of the year that we had previously noted as Now Booking/Coming Soon, we've recently booked for another couple of shows and feel we should mention them as they may just have slipped under people's radar.

The first of these is "Hidden" - a collaboration between third year RSAMD students and Vanishing Point. Intriguingly it appears to be two interconnecting shows taking place simultaneously in the RSAMD's two theatres with performances at 7.30pm and 9.00pm. It's all a little vague (even if you phone the box office) but from what I can gather a single ticket covers both shows and you watch one after the other, experiencing different aspects of essentially the same story. If anyone involved would like to make things a little clearer we'd appreciate it! More info on the central plot available from Vanishing Point and the RSAMD websites. "Hidden" runs from October 30th until November 3rd. (Review now posted)

It's been a little remiss of us not to have caught any of the hugely successful "A Play, A Pie and a Pint" lunchtime shows at Oran Mor in the west end of Glasgow, but the whole 'lunchtime' bit doesn't really work for us. Fortunately the addition of a Wednesday evening "Dinner, Drama and a Dram" performance means the timing is no longer a problem. Despite there being a long list of weekly changing plays to choose from, we decided to take a bit of a risk and book for their as yet undisclosed 100th play which they currently label as "A Surprise". If you like surprises, it runs from 19th to 24th November. (review now posted)


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Theatrical Management Association Awards

Congratulations to all those involved with"Yellow Moon" and "The Wonderful World of Dissocia" for their wins at the Theatrical Management Association Awards down in London. "Yellow Moon" won for Best Show For Children & Young People while "Dissocia" won for Best Touring Production. Congratulations also to Kate Dickie for her nomination in the Best Performance in a Play category for her role in "Aalst". There were a number of other Scottish successes that we didn't catch but Bluedog has a nice summary of the results of note up here and also managed to see some of the shows we missed.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"The Doctor and the Devils" - October 2007

The Citizens Young Co have brought Dylan Thomas' tale of bodysnatchers Burke & Hare to life, but with a pulse that is so slow and steady it's borderline comatose. There are a couple of strong performances in here and most are decent enough but it's the tone of the piece that does the damage. As always, Youth Theatre productions are held to the same standards as any professional production.

Much like the Scottish Youth Theatre's Part I of His Dark Materials, the show fails to establish its intentions early on and we get indications that it's all gravely serious resulting in the few moments of humour early on falling flat, and when the atmosphere of doom starts to lift at the end of the first act (with the 'February' gag) it feels out of place and the audience are unsure if they have permission to laugh or not.

The pacing doesn't help and what is actually a fairly short piece drags much more than it should - especially in the first half. After the interval things lighten up noticeably, and I think if they had they established earlier on in the piece that it wasn't all so earnest, it would have been considerably more enjoyable.

The score didn't help matters as although effective in evoking the darkness of the production it was slow and sucked energy from it - the music played at the end of the show as the audience leave would have added so much more to the overall tone.

Martin Haddow gave a good performance as Dr Knox, particularly when delivering his 'lectures' and had some very nice moments of humour near the end although crossing into 'shouty' at times in his final scenes. Performance of the night was undoubtedly Michael Burns as Hare who for me really hit the right tone and was the only performance to really have 'energy' to it. Particularly enjoyable was his scene with Daft Jamie which showed hints of what this production could have been.

I did enjoy the show, but it's a shame it couldn't quite make up its mind just how seriously it wanted to take itself.

The Doctor & The Devils runs until Saturday 20th October in the Circle Studio - all performances are currently sold out.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ticket News

Tickets for the Donmar Warehouse production of Othello with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor & Kelly Reilly went on sale on Monday, and sold out by lunchtime. Fortunately thanks to Statler's perseverance we've managed to get our hands on a pair, so another trip to London is in our plans for the new year. Even more remarkably he's not stuck them on eBay.

In more depressing news the flights (Easyjet) and 2 nights hotel (Travellodge) are costing less than 2 matinee tickets to 'We Will Rock You'.

All suggestions for what to see on an evening in February will be gratefully received.

If you missed out on tickets for Othello, 'Black Watch' tickets for the Barbican next June/July go on sale next Friday (26th October) according to the National Theatre of Scotland website.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Peer Gynt" - October 2007

"Peer Gynt - the fucking emperor! Peer Gynt - the fucking emperor!" go the chants in this National Theatre of Scotland co-production with Dundee Rep Theatre of Colin Teevan's new version of Ibsen's play, directed by Dominic Hill. Between them they have certainly managed to weave Emperor Gynt some New Clothes, resulting in almost universal critical acclaim and every 5 star rating going.

We'd been tipped off that despite my current disillusionment with pre-show action, it was worth being in the theatre bar 15 minutes before the start, and so it proved. The wedding guests of the play barged their way through, greeting audience members as they went, and did a couple of numbers with the show band, before ordering the audience to take their seats. It was a wonderful few minutes of high energy theatricality with many in the audience taken by surprise, and it hinted that something really quite special was to follow. But the actual show failed to live up to this promising beginning.

It isn't that it's a truly bad production, although I'd struggle to describe it as enjoyable and it certainly dragged at times. The performances were perfectly acceptable, but it was just all very average although Gerry Mulgrew's older Peer did add a little sparkle along with Emily Winter's Ingrid and Judith Williams in various roles. For the record in the performance we saw Solveig was played by Helen Mackay and Helga by Sharon Young.

The whole production just didn't leave me with much to think about, achieved no investment in the characters whatsoever and was only marginally entertaining. Failing to engage me in any of those three aspects is pretty rare.

Strong language on stage doesn't bother me, but much of it here was pointless and I find it patronising that someone seems to think it's required to reach a younger audience.

There were some nice moments such as the Apes and the Plane scene, but little we hadn't seen done considerably better elsewhere. The realisation of Gynt's tales couldn't hold a candle to Theatre Modo's wonderful "Don Quixote" which managed with a cast of three and minimal staging, and while the party atmosphere was good fun, the Citizens Young Company captured it so much better with their "Geeks, Greeks & Party Myths"

I'm struggling to dissect why I didn't enjoy this, but Waldorf thinks we weren't alone in the audience, and I certainly did feel the audience participation in the (wholly unnecessary) song and dance number was a little coerced. I'm off to read all those 5 star reviews and see if I can work out what they saw that I didn't...

Photo by Douglas McBride used with permission.


Friday, October 12, 2007

"Antigone" - October 2007

David Levin's version of Sophocles' tragedy is the first show to entice us along to Glasgow's Tron theatre. I find it hard to explain why it's taken us so long as it's a great venue, but its programming just doesn't seem to have caught our eye up until now. Indeed, tonight was the first time I've been there for over 15 years - the last time being for a stunning version of "A Clockwork Orange". It certainly won't be that long before we are back again, although I'm not sure how much credit for that "Antigone" is entitled to claim.

The tale focuses on events in the aftermath of a war between two brothers who have died at each others hands in a dispute over the rule of Thebes. King Creon has come to power after the battle and declared that one brother be given what amounts to a full state funeral while the other whose side was vanquished, be left unburied outside the city. As the sister of the two dead brothers, Antigone refuses to obey the King's decree and proceeds to perform the funeral rights for her outcast brother. All this is explained clearly at the beginning of the production, and the focus of the play is on how Creon should respond to Antigone's disobedience, a matter further complicated by his own son Haemon being due to marry Antigone.

For the tragedy of the piece to resonate with the audience we need to empathise with both sides and feel the conflict - both external and internal of the characters. There needs to be an ambiguity where the audience in effect must pick a side. But the production fails to make Antigone's case with sufficient power to balance King Creon's stance.

Antigone needs to be charismatic, strong and dignified, firm in her beliefs and accepting of her fate. But Hannah Donaldson's portrayal tends too much towards the petulant child, unwilling to consider the wider picture, with a screeching moment of rage coming over as a tantrum. The depth of her performance isn't helped by direction that leaves her delivering much of her dialogue side-on to the audience.

By contrast, Jimmy Yuill produces a towering performance as Creon, effectively carrying the production on his shoulders, and at one point impressively and literally in his arms. We see and feel his conflict. He knows he is doing an evil thing, yet believes it is also what is required for the good of the state. Given the analogies hinted at with modern day situations, I was left rather uncomfortable with how much of his justification I was willing to agree with. I'm sure I was meant to sympathise with Antigone and view Creon's downfall as deserved - but I just couldn't do it.

Sally Reid's Ismene lacked what could and should have been an interesting dynamic with Antigone - it just didn't come across as the kind of fight sisters have. David Ashwood's Haemon suffered from a hugely uneven tone in Levin's writing - from simpering son to rebel-with-a-cause and on to cringe-worthy breakdown.

The chorus of Billy Riddoch, Hamish Wilson and Andrew Dallmeyer worked well, both in concept and in execution. Martin Docherty's Guard was the star turn of the evening with a humour filled set piece.

This was an enjoyable evening, but without Yuill's performance the production could have seriously struggled and it's disappointing that the show as a whole couldn't match it, because that would really be worth seeing.

"Antigone" runs at the Tron until the 27th October

Photo by Richard Campbell, used with permission


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bring back "Curtain up"!

This post has been brewing for a while, and with a bit of a gap until our next show (Antigone at the Tron on Friday) now seems as good a time as any. What happened to the good old days when we all knew when the show started? So often nowadays there is pre-start on-stage action, and while this was a nice novelty and worked well in some spaces, it's now so overused it's become more irritating than anything else. And it doesn't help to indicate to audiences when to shut up and watch the play already!

Of course in many studio spaces or theatre-in-the-round we could never have a literal "Curtain Up" but even here it would be nice to have a clear indication of a beginning. As Rupture at the Traverse showed recently - lighting can make a great virtual curtain. Although I will make an exception for site-specific pieces where half of the fun can be working out what (and indeed who) is part of the performance.

Okay, in some community/amateur/youth productions it can be a nice way to increase stage time for those with minor roles but surely it should add something to the piece? So often it's really just characters killing time leaving the audience unsure if they should be paying attention or not.

I can honestly only think of one occasion when it genuinely added to the production and that was at the end of the interval of the RSAMD production of "The Winters Tale" at The Arches. The actor playing "Time" (about to inform the audience that some time has passed since we last saw the characters) wandered the stage looking at his pocketwatch and glaring at tardy returners while tapping the watch disapprovingly.

Worst recent example was Hamlet at the Citizens where peripheral characters wandered aimlessly around the stage prior to the house lights going suddenly and unexpectedly dark without any kind of notice while the characters launched into speeches. Far from ideal with plenty of school parties in the audience who require a little notice as to when to end their conversations.

It's also sad to lose that magical moment when the curtain rises to reveal the set. It just isn't the same to enter the theatre to find it all set up and waiting, either with or without characters. If you've got a great set, raising the curtain can provide a breathtaking moment.

So directors please ask yourselves, do you really need to have your cast and set on display before the action starts? Is it adding anything to the production or are you depriving them of part of the fun and traditions of theatregoing?

And don't forget... curtains aren't just for raising at the start of a show - they can also be pretty damn useful at the end of a performance, but don't get me started on that...


Monday, October 01, 2007

"Wicked" - September 2007 (London)

As we were heading to London to see "Elling" it made sense to fit something else in the Saturday matinee slot and "Wicked" was top of our list - its premise of the backstory of the Witches of Oz even overcoming my general dislike of musicals. But since booking we'd picked up the soundtrack CD and I'd been left unimpressed. Would the spectacle of the stage show have more of an impact?

Well, as soon as we entered the auditorium at the Apollo Victoria I could certainly see where the price of my ticket had gone, and as the show progressed the sets, backdrops, costumes and props just got more and more impressive and by the end I simply couldn't grudge a penny of the ticket price.

But then again, the music is the important thing in a musical, isn't it? Kerry Ellis gives a stunning vocal performance as "Elphaba" (the Wicked Witch of the West) and while Dianne Pilkington's "Galinda/Glinda" doesn't quite match it, she makes up for it by bringing out the humour in the dialogue.

Oliver Tompsett is fine as their love interest "Fiyero" but has relatively little to do, while in the performance we saw Kerry Washington filled in as "Madame Morrible" without any problems. Nigel Planer was a disappointment as "The Wizard" - nothing special vocally and brought little to the character by way of acting, and to be honest I'm surprised the role justifies what appears to be a little bit of celebrity casting.

And the music... well if you'd asked me at the end of the first Act I'd have said I loved it - "What is this Feeling?" (Loathing), "Popular" and the genuinely spine tingling "Defying Gravity". Sadly Act II isn't up to the same standard, and while the performances from the leads remained strong, "As Long as You're Mine", "No Good Deed" and "For Good" did very little for me.

What also doesn't help is that the lyrics for many of the songs are pretty poor, often including almost cringe-worthy rhymes. And it's a shame, as the plot is actually fairly decent, and has some nice links with the original "Wizard of Oz" story.

I'm going to stop analysing the show now, as I think I'd probably talk myself out of liking it and that would be dreadfully unfair on a show I genuinely really enjoyed. Yes it's all about two performances, combined with a huge amount of spectacle, and the lyrics are somewhat suspect, but if you go into this with an open mind and wanting to be entertained I defy anyone to leave disappointed. And if you wanted serious content, what on earth were you doing there in the first place???

Wicked continues its run at the Apollo Victoria in London.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Elling" - September 2007 (London)

Based on a Norwegian film of the same name, "Elling" is the title character's struggle to reassimilate into society after a spell in a mental institution. Elling (John Simm) is set up in a flat with Kjell Bjarne (Adrian Bower) who has also been released and the two form a classic odd couple style relationship. Assisted by social worker Frank (Keir Charles) they navigate the difficult route back into 'normal' life. Doesn't sound like bundle of laughs, but they manage to find plenty of them.

Simm is almost unrecognisable from his TV roles, not so much in appearance but in his physical and vocal portrayal of 'Mummy's boy' Elling. He appears weedy and timid - a far cry from his usually strong characters. He brings the character to life with such definition that during the first half of the show I found myself suffering a severe personality clash with Elling. Fortunately as the character developed I found him more sympathetic.

Adrian Bower's Kjell Bjarne provides much of the play's humour as he seeks to experience the outside world (and female company in particular) for the first time. Kjell Bjarne is written fairly two dimensionally but Bower does well with the material.

While Simm & Bower are the star attractions of the production, Keir Charles gives social worker Frank a real sense of depth and we feel his genuine concern for the well being of his charges, and also his frustration at Elling's reluctance to take forward steps. In fact, given my early problems with Elling, it was Charles' performance I found the most enjoyable.

The humour in the piece comes from the characters and the language, with wordplay featuring strongly at times. There's a little slapstick in the mix as well and the best way I can describe the tone is as similar to an episode of "Frasier". With great performances, a genuinely funny script, sympathetic characters and a little to think about it's a wonderfully enjoyable evening. And I couldn't help but feel that "Elling" was everything I had hoped "The Walworth Farce" would be, but wasn't.

Elling runs at Trafalgar Studios in London until 6th October 2007.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Your Ex Lover Is Dead" - September 2007

In the middle of a very hectic week of theatregoing fitting in a stop at the Arches Live festival was always going to be a stretch but I desperately wanted to manage it. For one I wanted to catch Kirstin McLean's 'Open Grave' (which we ended up being too late to get tickets for), but I was also keen to see this one as it has Andrew Field of the excellent Arcades Project blog as it's director. Although, the set up of a couple reunited for dinner two years after splitting up didn't strike me as particularly promising.

Those of you who read View From The Stalls regularly will know by now that I love sharp, quick, witty dialogue, and that I'm particularly fond of stylish direction that really puts a stamp on a piece. "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" had both. In bucketloads. And excellent performances too. And I adored it.

The stated reason for the dinner is that Victor wants to show Trudy the draft of his new play based on their relationship, but is that really why they are there? Victor and Trudy are accompanied by a waiter and waitress who act as the audience's guide to the dinner and the couple's previous history together. They do this in a number of ways throughout the piece - sometimes re-enacting scenes from the relationship, at others simultaneously speaking the couple's dialogue, and on occasions through interactions between the narrators and the couple. It's a brilliantly executed conceit and it benefits from the constant changes rather than allowing the audience to become 'comfortable' with it over the course of the piece.

To carry it off successfully requires an incredibly polished set of performances from the cast and split second synchronisation. We've seen productions at the Arches really struggle with its particular acoustics due to the cavernous spaces and stone walls, but these guys really nailed it and even managed to use it to enhance the effects of their synchronisation.

Kevin Millington as Victor and Lucy Voller as Trudy were both totally believable in their roles, keeping Victor sympathetic rather than pathetic, while avoiding casting Trudy as the villain of the piece. Nils Hognestad does well as the waiter, particularly when portraying Victor as the relationship broke down.

But it's Eleanor Buchan who makes the greatest impact here, making the waitress an impish sprite clearly enjoying putting the relationship under the microscope, while also bringing out the joy and hope that once existed at the start of the relationship. She has a great stage presence that demands the audiences attention.

Deborah Pearson's writing is pacy, clever and most of all funny, all in a style reminiscent of Steven Moffat. Her use of repetition is poetic and adds levels of emotion but isn't overused as can often happen.

But this isn't all about style, there's a good deal of substance here too. How much do people change over time? Or are our memories too subjective and rose-tinted? Or perhaps even then, the person wasn't what we thought they were? All interesting stuff that most of us can relate to either with former partners or just old schoolfriends.

Polly Webb-Wilson's design is also worth mentioning making surprisingly effective use of what appears to be a simple set using it to convey the restaurant and several locations from the past.

I'm conscious of not overdoing how good this piece was, as many of the reasons that contributed to how much I enjoyed it are that it pushed the right buttons for me personally, both stylistically and with its dialogue. Your mileage may vary.

And even for me it did have one miss-step. While I liked the idea of the 'musical' set piece, it was the only one that I felt wasn't strong enough - a nice concept but lacking in content.

Although it didn't quite have that magical spine tingling or jaw dropping moment of "Black Watch", "Lysistrata" or "The Recovery Position", "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" is right up there as one of the most enjoyable productions I've seen this year.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Rupture" - September 2007

"Rupture" had caught Statler's eye during the Fringe, and as it was developed through the National Theatre of Scotland Workshop that had brought us the very good adaptation of "Venus As A Boy" it didn't take too much convincing for us to make the midweek trip through to to The Traverse in Edinburgh.

It was also of interest due to the involvement of a number of people we've seen in other things - we're considering doing a Scottish theatre equivalent of the Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Davey Anderson (in collaberation with the company) has managed to pull together the interconnected lives of 6 people in a tightly written and directed show, and it's strength lies in its pacing. The characters are quickly drawn with minimal fuss, and the cutting between different scenes and the rearranging of the deceptively simple set to allow this verges on choreography.

Brian Ferguson gave a comedic tragic performance as the overly keen to be liked doorman security guard Stewart. There was a guilty pleasure in the chuckles in the audience as we laughed at, not with him, as he interacts with the others, and in particular with the entrepreneurial Polish immigrant Monika (Agnieszka Bresler) and desperate businessman Colin (Neil McKinven). There were good performances from all the cast with Gabriel Quigley as Colin's wife Tracy, Owen Whitelaw as her neddish younger brother Derek and Molly Innes as the just plain weird Caroline completing the strong ensemble.

We'd seen Agnieszka before as eponymous heroine of the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies performance of "Lysistrata", which was one of the shows we've enjoyed most this year. Another face from a student performance was Owen Whitelaw and it was good to see those we've seen appearing in shows with a wider audience.

This wasn't by any means an out and out comedy, the humour was just that found in everyday situations and was counterpointed by some deep, dark blackness. However it all gelled together well for me and I was desperately hoping for a happy-ish ending.

Traverse 1 is fast becoming one of my favourite places to watch theatre as the versatile performance space means you never know quite what to expect. What started off as a fairly straight forward set went through two main transitions, the first of which still makes my head hurt.

Photo by Eammon McGoldrick, used with permission.


View From The Stalls is 1 year old...

Happy Birthday to us... Happy Birthday to us... It's incredible that we've been doing this for a year now, and it's even more incredible that so many of you pop in now and again to catch up with our scribblings.

Although 'View From The Stalls' didn't start until this time last year we did retrospectively cover shows since we stepped up our theatregoing at the start of 2006. With our latest addition of "Rupture" we'll have written about seventy four shows ranging from the phenomenon that is Black Watch, nearly thirty Edinburgh Fringe productions, delightful student theatre and even the odd musical. We've seen shows in an enormous range of venues including the stunning Rosslyn Chapel, a student bar, and airside at Edinburgh International Airport. But nowhere was more surprising than finding ourselves tempted back to Glasgow's Theatre Royal.

Our aims today remain as they always were, simply to share our responses to the productions we see and add another voice in a Scottish theatre blogosphere that remains sadly quiet at at time when theatre in Scotland is flourishing.

Thank you to all those whose productions we have seen for providing us with so much entertainment and stimulation, and particularly those of you who took our comments in the honest and genuine way they were intended. (For the record we're only aware of one individual we managed to seriously upset) Thanks also to all those of you who have shared your own thoughts by adding comments, welcomed our contributions to your own blogs, and added us to your links/blogrolls.

We've still got plenty to see later this year, and we're already starting to look forward to 2008, so please do stick around.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Hamlet" - September 2007

What a mixed bag this turned out to be, and what mixed reactions it provoked. But before diving in, I do need to be upfront about my previous relationship with "Hamlet", in that I don't have one. I've never seen it performed until tonight. I've never read it. I've never even read notes on it for school. But I do like to see Shakespeare done well and was looking forward to eradicating this unintentional (and quite honestly embarrassing) gap in my theatregoing experience.

But even with my less than passing familiarity with the play, I was aware that it doesn't normally start with "To be, or not to be..." I understand that this, and the absence of Rosencrantz were the major changes to the piece, but I'm hardly an authority, so I'll leave that for others to comment on.

What I am happier discussing is the performances that we saw from the Citizens Theatre Company. I really enjoyed Andrew Clark's "Hamlet" which was always engaging and at times evoked the menace and gallusness of Hamlet as done by Robert Carlyle in the style of Begbie from Trainspotting.

Barrie Hunter was entertaining as "Polonius" and was a show stealer in his role as the Gravedigger which was played very cleverly solo, with only a skull for his on-stage partner. The 4th wall came tumbling as he addressed the audience in a music hall style to much delight - with the possible exception of a couple in the front row who found themselves suddenly damp.

As "Claudius", John Kazek gave a weighty performance but while his quiet delivery of some lines may have brought out a deeper aspect of the character, I suspect the dialogue will have been lost to much of the audience. Fletcher Mathers did well as "Gertrude" to convey her difficult relationship with "Hamlet" as it developed over the course of the play.

Sam Heughan as "Guildenstern" and Mark Wood as "Laertes" both disappointed, giving performances that seemed fixed and unresponsive and definitely acted. Samantha Young's "Ophelia" appeared soulless and almost disinterested for much of the time although when she was finally brought to life by madness, Young produced a beautiful, moving and memorable performance of her final scenes. It's such a pity the spark wasn't ignited earlier.

Guy Hollands' direction is a prime example of how the production is at turns wonderful and woeful. The first section of the 'play within the play' is presented effectively as silhouettes on sheeting to great comic effect. But we then have the clowns front and centre with 'enhanced' prosthetic genitalia. In a normal audience this would provide a moment or two of humour and the audience would move on with the scene but it's a terribly miss-judged set piece for a production that will no doubt regularly be half filled by school parties as it was tonight. The nudges and giggles continue for several minutes after the action has moved on, much to the distraction and irritation of the remainder of the audience. And it's a shame, as for the most part the school parties tonight were well behaved and their reaction to that section was wholly predictable.

While undeniably striking, the main response to the set was almost certainly - What is it? as the huge copper triangle with holes cut out was lowered and raised. Waldorf suspects it was representative of Swiss cheese in The Mousetrap, but I'm unconvinced. The "Ghost" was effectively realised and well lit, although the dry ice was seriously overdone.

Overall, Clark's "Hamlet" was effective and interesting enough to carry the production for me, with a bit of assistance from Kazek, Mathers and Hunter. I think Waldorf was less impressed.

Hamlet runs at the Citizens until 13th October.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

News from The Citz

In a comment on our Pay Less...See More post, Helen from The Citizens' Theatre has brought us the welcome news that the £3 previews can now be booked in advance rather than by just turning up on the day. Excellent way to have a cheap night out as the Citizens bar prices are nice and reasonable. They still have their cheap Tuesday nights too.

We also notice they've sneakily launched another blog. TAG already has a busy presence on the blogosphere, but The Citizens' Theatre has launched its own contribution. Best of luck with it.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Jekyll & Hyde - The Musical" - September 2007

As I've spoken about before, I have 'issues' with musicals. It takes something a bit special for me to get past the absurdity of what I'm watching and really buy into it. The big draw for us seeing Limelight's amateur production at Dunfermline's Carnegie Hall was the involvement of Kim Shepherd & Glen McGill whose performances had impressed in "We Will Rock You". But even with that, I suspected "Jekyll & Hyde" would be close to my tolerance threshold - I just wasn't sure which side it would fall. Fortunately the performances were strong enough to ensure that it fell the right side of the line, despite any remaining concerns about the material.

Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn's musical suffers from the fact that it's essentially a one man show with a large supporting cast rather than having a number of genuine lead parts. It makes it difficult to care a great deal about the other characters due to their limited stage time - despite the best efforts of the cast.

It also suffers from a lack of truly memorable songs - there's certainly nothing that you'll have stuck in your head for a week after leaving the theatre. It doesn't help that the ending seems rushed and unsatisfactory - the jump in time before the final scene seems to miss out much that would be of interest and the resolution lacks imagination.

Okay, enough about the problems with the show as the production more than makes up for them. As "Jekyll"/"Hyde" Bobby Mitchell puts in an excellent performance vocally and does a great job in representing the crucial transformation scenes. While "Confrontation" may not be memorable as a musical number, it most certainly is for Mitchell's alternating performance as both parts of his dual role.

Rachel Brown as Hyde's love interest "Lucy" and Kim Shepherd as Jekyll's bride-to-be "Emma Carew" both produce performances that delight, but their limited stage time leaves you wanting so much more. The supporting cast are universally strong with Glen McGill's "Sir Danvers Curew", Ian Hammond Brown's "Utterson", Ross Walker's "Spider" and Fiona Patterson's "Nellie" particularly noteworthy.

Limelight have done well to compensate for the limitations in some of the songs, ensuring that they are pretty spectacularly choreographed by Clare Stewart and just by sheer numbers of cast on stage. And what a stage! Ronan @ Fine Designs' set is nothing short of brilliant and the use of the laboratory set is particularly well done.

This was easily up to the standards of a professional production and if anything the venue seemed to restrict a production which could have been just as at home on a much larger stage. I still consider myself a reluctant attendee at musicals but this was certainly a very enjoyable evening and hopefully we'll be back through to Dunfermline for Limelight's 2008 production of "Chess".

Picture courtesy of Stagepics


Saturday, September 08, 2007

"An Audience with... Hilary Kay & Paul Atterbury" - September 2007

I suspect that the most common reaction to the title of the post will be "Who???". The subtitle of "Have you had it long madam?" may serve as a hint towards their involvement with the "Antiques Roadshow" but even then many of you will be thinking "Which ones are they then???" Which partly explains the somewhat disappointing audience at the Citizens for what was an enjoyable evening.

Still trying to work out who they are? I guess it doesn't really matter - much in the same way they tell us that locations and items tend to blur into one another, so do the experts on the Antiques Roadshow. Although having been with the show for 29 and 17 years respectively, these two are certainly familiar faces to the millions who watch each Sunday evening on BBC1.

Starting with an examination of the origins of the "Antiques Roadshow" and its presenters and experts we're then given what is essentially an insiders guide to the whole Roadshow experience along with amusing anecdotes, aided by video clips from time to time.

These sections are obviously pretty structured and as a result they come across as definite performances rather than off-the-cuff dialogues, but as performances they lack a little polish. The decision to have the house lights down also doesn't help as it leaves Kay and Atterbury often looking out blankly into space rather than being able to see and engage with the audience. While seeing the theatre 1/3 full may be disheartening, it would have built more of a rapport.

During an interval the audience are then able to provide written questions for them to answer in the second half of the show. This makes for a more relaxed and spontaneous section where although many of the questions will be covered in most shows, others seemed to provide a genuine element of thought.

For the casual "Antiques Roadshow" viewer this was a lovely evening of behind the scenes chat, and while true enthusiasts would probably learn little they didn't know already, Kay and Atterbury make for amiable company.

I'm afraid I probably have to put much of the blame for the low turn out down to the Citizens. On leaving the Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir John Mortimer shows earlier in the week we were handed flyers for the upcoming production of Hamlet and the Citz programme, but no attempt was made here or with posters/announcements to remind people of the other shows in the "Audience with..." series. A sadly missed opportunity.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"An Audience with... Sir John Mortimer" - September 2007

Subtitled "Mortimer's Miscellany" this was a bit of a departure from the usual "Audience with..." format at The Citizens. Joined on stage by a pianist and flautist, Sir John Mortimer shared memories of his life as barrister and writer and gave performed readings of some of his favourite poems, writings and sketches. In these he was joined by the excellent Nichola McAuliffe and Liza Goddard in bringing the pieces to life.

Best known as the creator of "Rumpole of the Bailey" much of the evening focused on legal anecdotes and his relationship with his father, while other segments touched on politics and marriage. Despite appearing physically frail at times Sir John is clearly mentally sharp and while the format may be suited to a gentle evening's entertainment, the content was frequently anything but gentle. The performance of Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians" spoke more tellingly about current politics than any newspaper editorials, while a number of his anecdotes were filthy enough that they would have been at home in the routine of an Edinburgh Fringe stand-up.

It is these moments of Mortimer's 'bite' along with the performances of McAuliffe and Goddard that leave a lasting impression, as many of the legal anecdotes are of the variety one finds in Christmas stocking-filler books (as the show's subtitle suggests). The musical interludes were a nice touch that added to what was an enjoyable evening, if not quite what we had expected.


"An Audience with... Sir Alex Ferguson" - September 2007

Following Alan Cumming's triumphant return to Glasgow, another Scottish legend also took to the stage this week, although fortunately for the audience at The Citizens his entrance was somewhat more conventional. Walking out to a packed theatre that had been sold out almost since tickets went on sale, Sir Alex was given the welcome Glasgow reserves for its local heroes.

Ferguson's relationship with Glasgow is complex, or at least it should be. As a former Rangers player who as manager of Aberdeen broke the Glasgow domination of Scottish football, he should by rights be unpopular with at least half, if not all of a Glasgow audience. But his achievements at Manchester United have allowed Glasgow to put aside past differences, and recognise his success both there and at Aberdeen with the respect it deserves.

Accompanied on stage by writer Martin McCardie taking on the role of interviewer, Sir Alex spoke about his Glasgow roots, working on Clydeside, his time as a player at several clubs and then his managerial career. Appearing slightly nervous at the beginning of the evening, Sir Alex soon relaxed and proved an able storyteller with an astonishing memory for players names and match details.

The memories shared were a vibrant mix of the humourous, the insightful and the reflective. Happy to reveal his mischievous side as a player and showing clear affection for many of those he's worked with over the years, Sir Alex kept the audience enthralled.

A billed runtime of 80 minutes turned into two hours with the last 50 minutes or so made up by taking questions from the audience. No topics were declared off-limits and no questions were avoided, with many answers leading on to additional anecdotes. While many of the questions were fairly predictable the answers were not always so - his mention of Paul Gascoigne as the player he most regrets not managing to sign took me by surprise. He provided a very interesting analysis about the way his famous crop of young players were brought through to the first team in response to a question on Alan Hansen's "never win anything with kids" comment. He was also willing to discuss his infamous "mind games" although he played this aspect down a little.

There were a few moments where the legendary Ferguson steel came through. His continuing anger at the BBC was unrestrained, while the sense of injustice at what he perceives as the favourable treatment of some Arsenal players clearly still burns.

One further thing that struck me during the questioning was the way he responded to a question from a young boy of ten or twelve. Rather than giving a response aimed at a child he gave the question full respect and answered it in exactly the same manner as the others - without any suggestion of talking down to, or patronising him. It's easy to see why many talented young players would want to play for him despite his fearsome reputation.

The evening flew in and the audience were clearly delighted by Sir Alex taking time out from his schedule to share an evening with them. He was duly rewarded with a standing ovation after the final question, partly for a wonderfully entertaining evening but more for the man and everything he has achieved.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Bacchae" - August 2007

A National Theatre of Scotland production, directed by John Tiffany of "Black Watch", adapted by the highly regarded David Greig, and starring Tony award winning Alan Cumming. Does the Guardian run a Fantasy Theatre Competition? Because this would certainly be my entry. Back in reality, "The Bacchae" was everything I'd hoped it would be, but also a little of what I'd feared it might be.

Alan Cumming as Dionysus owns the stage every moment of this production - from his incredible entry to his last curtain call. His performance is electric and pitched absolutely perfectly to the audience. Every look, glance, gesture, and inflection is carefully crafted and never fails to hit the mark. "Star" is an overused term, but few would question Cumming's entitlement to it.

But while it's Cumming that makes the show, he's also responsible for its failings. The scenes without him simply can't compete. It's not a problem with the performances or Greig's writing, it's just that Cumming's performance is so entrancing that you just want him back on stage. In fact the only way I can think to resolve this difficulty is to keep Dionysus on stage watching the scenes and reacting in silence.

Tony Curran as Pentheus gives a hugely enjoyable performance - particularly once he falls for Dionysus' scheme and does well to match Cumming's intensity in many of their shared scenes, however again this leaves some of his moments with other characters feeling flat in comparison.

The chorus of The Bacchae are excellent at times, and you can almost cope with Cumming's absence for periods as they take centre stage with series of musical numbers. There are some great voices in there, but many of the lyrics can be difficult to pick out.

There are additional prices to be paid for Cumming's genius. Much of what we get is phenomenally entertaining and sections are reminiscent of those comedic giants of the Scottish stage - Rikki Fulton & Stanley Baxter. This almost pantomime like tone is a joy to watch, but it's at the expense of some of the themes of the play. We aren't really left considering the conflict between repression and hedonism, or even the dangers of rejection and revenge. The pay offs are all in the performances.

This is a magnificent production but it is a little unbalanced by Cumming's sheer presence, and in trying to avoid him overpowering the show by ensuring he has plenty of offstage time, they have in fact only highlighted how empty it is without him. "The Bacchae" is a truly memorable show, but the memories are all Alan Cumming.

"The Bacchae" runs at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 1st September and then at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 5th to 22nd September.

Photo by Richard Campbell.