Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas round-up...

Now that we’re almost into December, I guess it’s time for us to do a round up of the Christmas shows that will be appearing at theatres near you shortly...

Firstly, congratulations to the Citizens Community Company on selling out all performances of this year’s “Wicked Christmas” subtitled “Cinder’s Revenge”. It’s a real testimony to the standard these guys have achieved over the last few years that tickets are in such demand - but next year we’d really rather they waited until we have booked up before selling out! In the main theatre at the Citz is “Cinderella” but as it sounds a little too close to a full-on panto I think we’ll be giving it a miss. Same goes for the Kings and the Pavilion which stage “Aladdin” and “Pinocchio” respectively. The Arches have a show aimed at younger audiences with “Little Red Riding Hood” and we’re hoping to acquire a three-year-old (and his parents) to take along to that. We’ll also be seeing “Ya Beauty & The Beast” at the Tron as part of their Patrons Scheme while out in Glasgow’s west end Oran Mor have staged a real coup and have managed to get panto legend Andy Gray on board for “Another Christmas Carol.”

Another version of “A Christmas Carol” is being staged by Nonsense Room out at Rosslyn Chapel just south of Edinburgh. It’s been a real part of our Christmas build up in recent years, and as always we recommend paying the extra and attending their ‘Special Performance’ on Friday 11th December which includes a light buffet and post-show tour of the Chapel. But do wrap up warm – hats scarves, gloves and blankets are a must for this – and we’re really not kidding!

In the centre of Edinburgh we’ve made a habit the last couple of years to attend the Lyceum’s Christmas show and it hasn’t disappointed. However, this year it’s "Peter Pan" of which I’m not a huge fan, and with the National Theatre of Scotland planning a production of the show in spring/summer 2010 I’m not sure I can bring myself to see two in such close proximity. Alternative options include the promise of swashbuckling adventure with “Zorro” at the Traverse and an impressively cast “Corstorphine Road Nativity” at the Festival Theatre. And the Kings in Edinburgh provides “Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates”.

Of course we won't be seeing all of those! We will be seeing "Another Christmas Carol", "A Christmas Carol" at Rosslyn Chapel, "Little Red Riding Hood", "The Corstorphine Road Nativity" and "Ya Beauty & The Beast". But do post your comments here and let us know how you get on with any of the other shows...


Saturday, November 28, 2009

"An Incident at the Border" - November 2009

Rounding off the autumn season of "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" at Oran Mor before their Christmas show gets a three week run, Kieran Lynn's "An Incident at the Border" is a perfect example of the highs that can be achieved in the format. It's short, snappy, brilliantly performed and packs a considerable punch.

Ashley Smith's Olivia and Laurie Brown's Arthur are at first surprised and bemused as their peaceful moment on a park bench is interrupted by Keith Fleming's novice border guard, Reiver. However their bemusement turns quickly to frustration and anger as it becomes clear that having divided the couple at either end of their bench, Reiver is going to strictly control the border that divides the two newly independent countries.

What follows is a perfect blend of sharp dialogue, pointed observations, well formed characters and moments of farce that works on a number of levels. The cast handle the switches between the comedic and serious moments seemlessly and there's never a sense of it being unbalanced or fragmented. The structure of the piece is inherently limited by the set-up, and I was starting to wonder how exactly Lynn was going to extricate his characters from the corner he had painted them into without straying into 'deus ex machina' territory. Fortunately the resolution, while certainly abrupt, is suitably satisfying.

Oran Mor audiences tend to be generous with their enthusiasm (I think the pie and pint help) and the play received a strong response at the 'curtain call' but during the play I'm not sure it got all the laughs it deserved to get. Quite often in theatres I find myself sitting in silence while everyone else seems to be laughing, but at times here I definitely felt I was one of the few who was getting some of the gags.

An Incident at the Border has completed its run at Oran Mor
Image by Leslie Black Photography used with permission


Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Othello" - November 2009

Of all of Shakespeare's plays 'Othello' is the one I'm most familiar with. So, to maintain my interest a production needs to avoid playing things safe. Fortunately director Guy Hollands and the Citizens Theatre Company have taken some bold decisions on the characters - but without taking liberties with the text.

Andy Clark's Iago, while retaining his calculating nature plays down any suggestion of it all being a bit of a game to him - we're in no doubt that he's a nasty, vicious piece of work. He also seems less 'in control'. Rather than following a long planned course of action, at times with his addresses to the audience it feels like he's just making it up as he goes along. Shakespeare's great villain reduced to an almost opportunistic thug? It seems such a waste but actually works incredibly well.

The approach taken with Desdemona is similarly bold. Gone is the notion of a fluffy and flighty young girl - Sarah Haworth instead gives us a strong and independent young woman who loves her husband. But she is rightly angered by his accusations of infidelity and refuses to go quietly to her (distressingly realistic) death. For the first time, this is a Desdemona that actually worked for me as a consistent character - someone I would believe capable of defying her father and convention to marry 'The Moor'.

And initially I thought I was in for a bit of a revelation with Othello also. During his early scenes with Brabantio, Jude Akuwudike has a wonderful moment where a single expression conveys completely the disappointment and frustration of someone confronted by racism. But once we leave Brabantio behind, his Othello - while perfectly fine - is very much played straight down the middle.

Similarly disappointing is a by-the-numbers approach to many of the supporting characters and a performance by Philip Cairns as Cassio that for me never broke the barrier to allow me to see him as more than an actor delivering lines. I also had problems at times with several characters at the rear of the stage lacking sufficient projection to reach the back of the stalls.

But this is compelling theatre and despite a three hour run time (including interval) the production rarely felt it's length. And it was good to see pretty much a full house for the Saturday matinee - it's just a shame two of them were ignorant enough to allow their phones to ring and a group right at the front felt the need to walk out during the curtain call. A bit more respect please people!

Othello runs at the Citizens until Saturday 14th November.
Image by Eamonn McGoldrick used with permission.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

"Confessions of a Justified Sinner" - October 2009

As one of the few books on a school reading list that I ever actually enjoyed, I was looking forward to seeing this Lyceum production based on James Hogg's 'Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner'. So it's surprising that last night after seeing the show I could summon up so little enthusiasm to post a comment on it that we seriously considered simply posting "What she said" with a link to Shona Craven's review at Onstage Scotland. We really can't remember a production where just about every element fails as significantly as they do here. Performances, direction, set and sound all contribute to making the show almost painful to watch.

Being entirely fair, with its supernatural elements and the significance of perception this was never going to be a simple novel to stage. Mark Thomson, who adapts and directs, manages the trickier elements fairly successfully but it's with the fundamentals that the problems lie.

His focus is very much on Robert and his mental decline/manipulation by the devilish Gil-Martin rather than the real cause of the problem - his belief in predestination. Robert doesn't need to lose his mind or be deceived and manipulated to commit his crimes - they follow logically from his beliefs, but there isn't enough emphasis here on religion being the problem. It's easy to see the story/play as an attack on those who take extreme actions based on faith, but for me that misses the real target - those who hold irrational beliefs of all varieties (whether they have the courage/foolishness to act on them or not).

We've seen enough of Ryan Fletcher in recent years to know he is a very talented performer, and when I discovered he was in the show I was expecting to see him playing the mysterious Gil-Martin (largely due to the fact we'd just seen him do a great job with a similar role in 'The Last Witch'). But cast as Robert he rarely makes the impact we've come to expect from him, and both Waldorf and I entirely independently felt there was something far too close to "Frank Spencer" about Fletcher's portrayal of the character in tone and mannerisms.

Iain Robertson is equally disappointing as Gil-Martin, leaving the character short in terms of charm, cunning or any real sense of power. Many of the rest of the cast are seriously hampered by having to play multiple characters - some to such an extent that I've only encountered previously when played intentionally for laughs. Poor Wendy Seager and Kenny Blyth are lumbered with five roles each! Only John Kielty (primarily as Robert's brother George), Kern Falconer (as Rev Wringhim) and Rae Hendrie (in her scenes as Robert's mother and his accuser Bel) emerge with much credit.

The revolving set with its angular monoliths provides interest at first but quickly becomes tiresomely overused, often only to enable Robert to keep walking/talking. And in a production where atmosphere should play such a key role the soundscape didn't deliver and the occasional use of projection seemed like a misplaced afterthought. The pace is plodding throughout and after the interval becomes utterly interminable with a series of scenes as Robert is on the run that served almost no purpose.

In fact, the most entertaining moments of the afternoon came from listening to the audience members around us still ranting on about how much they hated "The Beggar's Opera". However, for the record, they actually seemed to really enjoy this show.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner runs at the Lyceum until 7th November
Image by Douglas McBride used with permission.