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.