Monday, September 20, 2010

Coming Soon / Now Booking Autumn 2010

In what seems like a flash we’ve moved from Edinburgh Fringe time to the Autumn theatre season. We’ve had shows in mind since the brochures started dropping through our letterbox but we’ve only now got round to firming up our plans...

Over at the Citizens we’ll be seeing “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” following its well received run at the Traverse as part of the Fringe, and “A Clockwork Orange” is one of my favourite novels, so I'm always interested in seeing a new stage version. We're also planning to catch Cumbernauld Theatre’s touring musical “The Bookie” at the Citz. Having learned lessons from almost missing out on tickets to the Citizens Community Company’s “Wicked Christmas” last year (thanks Helen!) we booked as soon as they went on sale this year – and also for an evening with “The Wee Man & Muckers” whose appearances in the last couple of Community Company shows have been hysterical.

At the Tron I’m intrigued to see the production of the winning entry of their Open.Stage playwriting competition, “Sea and Land and Sky” based on the experiences of nurses in the Great War. Having missed out on getting tickets for its run at the Fringe and the preview at the Tron, it’s third time lucky for us with “Roadkill” when it goes back to the Tron in November. And although I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, I’m actually really looking forward to their panto - “Flo White”.

The new season of 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' at Oran Mor is well underway but we haven't made it along yet due to holiday and work plans. But from October I'm hoping to be a frequent visitor and I'm really interested to see how their 200th play, made up of microplays from 40 writers, turns out from 4th to 9th October.

I've only just spotted the Traverse programme and although it doesn't immediately look like providing much for us this autumn, a collaboration between the Traverse and Grid Iron for a version of "Spring Awakening" adapted by Douglas Maxwell certainly got our attention.

And while we don’t plan on making return visits ourselves, it would be remiss of us not to highlight the return of a number of fantastic shows this Autumn. “Black Watch” returns once more, with a new cast, and tours Glasgow, Aberdeen, Belfast, London and a number of US cities. “Sunshine on Leith” is a delight for Proclaimers lovers and haters alike and returns on an extensive UK tour. “Midsummer (A Play With Songs)” is a magical piece of theatre – especially for anyone with any knowledge of Edinburgh and after charming audiences around the globe it arrives at the Tron at the end of October after another short run at the Traverse. Also at the Tron in October, rather appropriately, is "Poem in October" which I was really taken with when I saw it at Oran Mor last year. Vanishing Point revive their enchanting "Interiors" for a UK and international tour including Tramway in Glasgow and Eden Court, Inverness.

And finally, for those that enjoyed Vanishing Point's brilliantly divisive "The Beggar's Opera" last year, A Band Called Quinn have now released a soundtrack CD of tracks from the show (also available on iTunes). As spotted on Mark Fisher's theatreScotland site - thanks Mark, I've been waiting for this for months!


Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Guys & Dolls" - September 2010

While we don’t often get along to Glasgow’s thriving amateur scene (largely due to my preference for contemporary writing and limited tolerance for musicals) we booked up for Theatre Guild Glasgow’s “Guys & Dolls” as a friend from my ‘day job’ is involved. And while we are happy to maintain our policy of treating amateur productions in the same manner as we do professional ones, Richard’s participation in one of the lead roles has given me a bit of a problem. I’d given plenty of thought about how I would deal with the situation if he wasn’t particularly good - and I don't think it would have caused any difficulties. And having seen him in a previous show I was at least confident he wouldn’t be awful. But I never considered how problematic it might be to review him if he was very good. And he is. Very, very, good. I wouldn’t want him (or anyone else) to think that his favourable review was undeserved. Waldorf & I discussed the possibility of her writing the show up to keep things at ‘arm’s length’, but we wanted to have it posted sometime this month, so you’ll just have to accept my assurance that he’s been given no favours. And as it happens, I think one of my comments is sure to upset him.

But back to the bigger picture. The show impressed from the moment we walked into the auditorium and caught sight of the stunning backdrop of period advertising signs (although we did notice that one element appeared to have been assembled upside down). Sliding shop frontages create street scenes while The Mission set is creatively realised; the underground gamblers den in the sewer looks fantastic and the Hot Box club is simple but effective. Add in some fantastic costumes, atmospheric lighting, live musical accompaniment and a large scale cast and this looks very much a million dollar Broadway show. But while we would never use ‘amateur’ in a derogatory manner there are moments in some of the dance and ensemble numbers when it feels just a little bit short on polish. However the two ‘showstoppers’ “Luck Be A Lady” and “Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat” were beautifully executed.

There was a bit of a range in quality of the performances in the ensemble roles and some were hindered at times by issues with the sound balance – particularly the trio of David Sturgeon, Cameron Lowe & Robert Kirkham as Nicely-Nicely, Benny & Rusty. So much so that David Sturgeon’s splendid rendition of “Sit Down” came as an unexpected revelation. The whole cast deserve credit for sustaining their accents throughout, but it's the four lead performers who really raise the show up a level.

In her early scenes I found Lisa-Jayne Rattray's cutesy 'New Yoik' accent as Miss Adelaide pushing the wrong buttons for me, but as the show progressed I was able to look beyond that personal irritation and recognise an impressive comedic and vocal performance. Neil Campbell also contributes much to the comic relief as crap game organiser and reluctant fiancé, Nathan Detroit – including some nicely worked elements of physical comedy. As Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah, Caroline Telfer displays fabulous vocals and endows her character with an air of earnestness without making the contrast with the character’s emotional side too jarring. As high stakes gambler, Sky Masterson, Richard Magowan personifies cool and has a genuine stage presence. He delivers his musical numbers with a powerful voice and subtly invests every line of song or dialogue with the character’s emotions.

But I’m afraid I’m risking Richard’s wrath when he returns to the office next week, as I have to provide an honest response and identify the elements that didn’t work quite as well. Should Caroline Telfer get the chance to read this, I’m afraid we found the slap Sarah delivered to Sky a bit “wishy washy” (to quote Waldorf). I’ve yet to see a ‘pulled’ slap deliver the intense reaction in an audience that a real one does, so, we suggest just giving him a proper slap that will echo round the theatre – he’s a big lad, he can take it. Sorry, Richard.

There were a couple of minor quibbles I had with the text of the show itself. I was left feeling a bit cheated that we didn’t get to witness the reunion between Sky & Sarah and there were a few American cultural gags/references that meant little to a Glasgow audience. My watch tells me this is a long show with a run time of just over 2 hours 30 minutes, but my mind knows that it absolutely flew in and the 90 minute first act went by in a flash. It also generated the strongest ‘buzz’ I’ve felt from an audience leaving a theatre for quite some time.

This was a thoroughly entertaining evening, even for someone who isn’t the greatest fan of musicals, and the RSAMD New Athenaeum theatre makes for a great home for it.

Guys & Dolls runs at the RSAMD until Saturday 18th September (including a Saturday matinee).
Image used with permission


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Silenced by the Guardian website (or 'How not to engage with social media')

The Guardian theatre blog currently has an article by Matt Trueman about the recent dispute between the Royal Opera House and blogger Intermezzo. Essentially the ROH got heavy handed over issues relating to the copyright of images and how they were credited, but took entirely the wrong approach by setting their Legal department loose. Trueman's article uses the dispute as an indication of how poor arts organisations can be at engaging with social media and advocates that they need to accept (and embrace) the reality that audiences have voices and are using them. Now here's where it gets interesting...

I posted a response to the article where I suggested it was unfair to criticise the wider arts community on the basis of this incident, which in all likelihood was down to an individual staff member being overzealous. If I may say so myself, it was a pretty reasoned response (you can judge for yourself below) and I gave numerous examples of Scottish theatres who have put mechanisms in place to harness audience views and also detailing instances of the theatrical community being willing to engage directly with our own site here at View From The Stalls. But shortly afterwards it was deleted from the article and replaced with: "This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted."

I'm afraid I did let the irony of the situation get to me a little and quickly posted another comment: "That's brilliant! Absolutely no idea why my post on this topic has been deleted but I love the irony of what appears to be over excessive moderation on a blog topic about organisations not being willing to give voices/engage with the online world/social media."

A few minutes later, and with absolutely no idea why my contribution could possibly have been deleted, I reposted my original comment:
Lets try that again...
While the ROH affair is certainly an example of things going badly wrong, I think it's unfair to turn it into a wider criticism of arts company's treatment of social media. In truth it sounds like an individual staff member who has acted without looking at the bigger picture - I suspect if anyone outside their legal department had been consulted things would have been handled differently. I can only speak for Scotland but up here many of our theatres and companies make a genuine effort. For a few years now the Citizens has invited instant responses by text and audience members can leave comments on the website for each show. The Lyceum in Edinburgh has a well developed system of publishing audience reviews on their website - including many from both ends of the spectrum for the brilliantly divisive "The Beggar's Opera". The Tron have quoted our reviews at View From The Stalls in their season's brochure and a few years ago it was their then press officer who approached us to come along and see some of their productions after noticing we hadn't seen any of their recent shows. The Tron also involved the online world in voting for the winner of their Open.Stage writing competition. 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' at Oran Mor even launched a weekly competition with a bottle of whisky for the ''best" review posted to their website.

And yes, much of this 'interest' in social media is about marketing rather than creating a dialogue, but there are times when it is about getting involved in the conversation. Over the four years we've been running the site we've had some fascinating contributions posted as 'heckles' to our reviews. Matthew Lenton, director of Vanishing Point's "The Beggar's Opera" responded to our review prompting an extensive discussion involving many others; we've had a writer object to what he perceived as our "lack of effort" in understanding his play; the National Theatre of Scotland responded when we questioned their priorities; and we've even had a director and actor falling out over how we had interpreted their show. And from smaller companies, youth and amateur theatre we get a lot of e-mails thanking us for looking beyond the interests of the 'traditional media' and letting us know the value (or otherwise) of our feedback to them.

We've been amazed by how quickly we were accepted as a website worthy of interest, and although we have a policy of declining press tickets they were quickly offered by many theatres/companies. Some departments of the big arts institutions may have some staff members who don't "get it", but my experience is that the vast majority of those working in theatre are more than willing to engage with their audiences through social media.
...which was very quickly deleted, along with my post noting the irony of the situation, and I've now had my posting on the site set to pre-moderated! Seriously?


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"The Chooky Brae" - September 2010

Two years have passed in Stewarton since we last met Norma Gordon. She and her 18 month old son are living with her divorced parents (her father having returned home after suffering a stroke) and her university drop out brother Barry. Her boyfriend Trevor has got himself stuck overnight in London after a job interview and his brother Rab, is on his way over for a family dinner. Christmas Dinner.

DC Jackson's latest comedy is very much in the same vein as its predecessors - "The Wall" & "The Ducky". There's observational humour that any stand-up would be proud of, sparky banter between characters and a real sense of heart. Some of the youthful energy of the previous shows has been replaced with a more world-weary tone as the characters have grown up and the introduction of Norma and Barry's parents provides a new perspective and counterpoint.

I have to confess that I found some of the early scenes uncomfortable, feeling some of the humour misjudged, and my initial reaction to a plot revelation was that it was uninspired and tired. And yet on reflection, it's a revelation that cleverly throws a new light on those earlier scenes and alleviated any misgivings. The Christmas setting works well in creating the required element of confinement and family tension, but it does feel a little odd to be watching it in September.

Borderline have put together another fantastic cast, with Sally Reid once again making a strong case for Norma Gordon as an icon of contemporary Scottish theatrical comedy. Reid and Scott Hoatson make Norma and Barry's sibling relationship entirely believable while Jordan Young provides most of the laughs as former(?) wannabee 'bam' Rab. Stewart Porter and Anita Vettesse impress as the parents, particularly so considering that they are tasked with what are mainly straight roles in a comedy.

"The Chooky Brae" is a worthy successor to the previous installments of his 'Stewarton Trilogy', but doesn't quite deliver the conclusion its characters deserve - particularly Michelle who is sidelined out of town for this one. But then, hopefully this will turn out to be a 'trilogy' in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" sense of the word.

The Chooky Brae runs at the Tron until Satuday 11th September then tours.
Image by John Johnston Photography used with permission.