Friday, December 31, 2010

Review of the Year - 2010

We managed to see over 50 shows in 2010 – a bit of a drop from the last couple of years. While that may reflect that there were fewer shows that grabbed our attention, it’s also due to the fact that we had fewer available evenings this year. Time constraints also curtailed my trips to “A Play, A Pie & A Pint” at Oran Mor and we really struggled to find much to interest us at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Even so, we were unable to fit in a number of shows we had been really keen to see this year such as Grid Iron’s “Spring Awakening”, DC Jackson’s “My Romantic History” and the NTS’ “Beautiful Burnout”. Of course, that still leaves us with a lot of great theatre that we did get to see…

Back in March the Citizens production of “Backbeat” left me with the feeling that it didn’t quite manage to gel its separate elements, but ten months later it remains one of the most striking shows I saw – full of visual style and featuring some excellent performances – particularly from Isabella Calthorpe. The Citz also gave us their brilliantly entertaining “One Million Tiny Plays About Britain” with its energetic cast, and their Community Company’s harrowing “The Grapes of Wrath”. It was also at the Citz that we caught the ingenious and delightful "The Event".

The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Douglas Maxwell’s “The Miracle Man” formed part of their ‘tfd’ season aimed at teenage audiences and was a wonderful piece of theatre for those of any age - a perfect balance between hilarity and heart-wrenching moments.

I was particularly disappointed not to see more of the Tron’s Mayfesto season of ‘political’ theatre as the one show I managed to see – “Address Unknown“ provoked a surprisingly powerful personal response and featured fantastic performances from James MacPherson and Benny Young. In a much less serious moment, but still packing an emotional punch, the Tron’s outrageous production of “Valhalla!” left us laughing all the way home.

The Tron were also involved in what was unquestionably the best piece of theatre we saw in 2010. It’s had plenty of plaudits in places much more significant than our little blog, but we need to add our own recognition of what “Roadkill” achieved. Written with restraint by Stef Smith, creatively directed by Cora Bissett and performed by a wonderful cast it was a flawless piece of theatre that took audience ‘engagement’ to a level I didn’t think existed.

John Kazek’s performance in Roadkill was the finest we encountered this year – transforming chameleon-like from vicious pimp through concerned policeman to a loving African father. Marianne Oldham’s quirky portrayal of “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” at the Citz also made a big impression, while Richard Magowan showed the impact a genuine stage presence can have as Sky Masterson in Theatre Guild Glasgow’s “Guys and Dolls”. Another performance that really impressed us was Joanna Tope in "Promises Promises" and we were completely won over by Janette 'Krankie' in "Aladdin".

Thanks to all those involved in the shows we've seen this year, and also to all of you who have shared your thoughts here. We'll be back in a week or two with our plans for the first half of 2011.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Flo White" - December 2010

We were sceptical, but last year’s “Ya Beauty & The Beast” at the Tron made us believe we could fall in love with their post-modern panto. Sadly it appears even fairy dust has a limited lifespan, and there is not to be a “happily ever after” ending, for despite a sci-fi setting this is very much a traditional panto.

If a panto should be judged on how the children in the audience respond, then "Flo White" is a resounding success. From its first moments the kids are fully committed and involved in the show – particularly impressive in what can be a lull between Christmas and New Year. It makes a particularly good choice for a Christmas outing for parents who get a little nervous around the innuendo that can overwhelm a panto – it's all pretty clean fun here. And although the Tron can’t compete with the 3D effects in Aladdin at the SECC, their own animations work very well indeed and make a nice addition to the show.

But a great panto knows how to balance its appeal for children and adults alike – and it's here that "Flo White" falters. Even adults who enjoy traditional panto might find themselves struggling at times – almost every scene feels just a little too long and cumulatively it becomes a problem. Do we really need two song-sheet moments? Two characters that require to be greeted every time they appear? A time killing audience interaction scene? An overlong and pointless game of bingo? Even a custard pie throwing scene gets tiresome. Only the 'Barry White' and 'Take That' gags have sufficient legs to justify them running through the show.

Alasdair McCrone and Anita Vettesse put in great performances as panto dame Flo and evil villain Hingeroan but at times both characters feel too large for the show more suited for a Kings-style 'spectacular'. Darren Brownlie's robot Mr Brockie goes down a treat with the kids and Derek McGhie makes the most of a limited role. Star of the show may be Sally Reid's excellent Snow White but it was good to see Fiona Wood given the chance to showcase her impressive vocals as So Shy.

It's a pity that the show didn't quite hit the mark for us, but we can certainly understand why many in the audience, including adults, loved it.

We received our tickets for the show through our membership of the Tron's Patrons scheme which we thoroughly recommend for anyone who is a regular attendee at the Tron. And particular thanks to the Tron for rearranging our tickets when the snow prevented us attending the opening night.

Flo White runs at the Tron until Saturday 8th January.
Image by John Johnston used with permission.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Aladdin" - December 2010

When I learned that Panto producing behemoth Qdos was attempting to muscle in on the Glasgow market, I found it difficult to see what they hoped to bring to the city that it didn’t already have. And although we’re no fans of most of the existing pantos, each has its own niche. So, my initial response was an urge to resist this commercial interloper – particularly after I read about their national sponsorship deal which involved incorporating Churchill the dog into every one of their pantomimes. But when they announced all round entertainer John Barrowman as their leading man we succumbed to the draw of a star name. And even the later casting of the Krankies wasn’t enough to dampen our enthusiasm. The question remains though – does Glasgow need another Christmas show? And if so, is "Aladdin" it?

There’s no denying that bringing Glasgow-born Barrowman home is a major coup. Glasgow has always had a tradition of creating its own pantomime stars – most recently the late, great Gerard Kelly. But even back in the days of Rikki Fulton and Stanley Baxter they didn’t have the same profile John Barrowman has achieved both nationally and internationally. And from the response in the audience it was clear who most of them (us included) had come to see – and we didn’t leave disappointed. In an age when many celebrities and 'stars' have obvious limits to their talents, it’s great to see one live up to the hype.

But what of The Krankies? Well, they very quickly overcame any reservations we had with some clever in-jokes, impressive physicality and some perfectly played contrived corpsing. We're never going to be huge fans of their humour, but we can recognise that they are absolutely brilliant at what they do. And any similar scepticism about the use of a “3D Genie” vanished just as quickly once we reached the first of several 3D scenes. The effects are stunning – much, much more effective than I had expected them to be. Waldorf may have sat calmly in her seat but I’ll admit to flinching as something flew past my face - and others in our party visibly jumped. The effects provide a huge WOW factor to the show, as does a beautifully executed scene that sees Barrowman flying above the first few rows of the stalls.

The script on the other hand could do with a little more polish. It could be sharper at times, and there isn’t really any concerted effort to make us care about the characters or hide the fact that this is a Barrowman/Krankies vehicle. And while you can argue it’s just giving the audience what they came to see, it’s a waste of a strong supporting cast who appear capable of delivering much more. I’d also have to say that some of the gags based on John Barrowman’s sexuality would have given me concerns - were it not for the fact that he is so clearly the star of the show and has presumably given his approval to the script.

The show appropriates a number of pop songs jukebox-musical-style rather than using an original score. To me it felt like a shortcut too far, but it certainly gets the audience going and no one else I’ve discussed it with had any objection to it. Nor did I hear anyone object to the short scene featuring Churchill. Yes it felt ‘dropped in’ but by that time I could see where my ticket price had gone – if it requires a financial top-up from an insurance company then I can live with that (but do allow us to register mild disapproval by being a little mischievous with our weblinks).

Whilst star names, high production values and technology all contribute to the show’s success, its biggest asset may actually be the venue. We may have seen it at its best in Row D of the stalls, and the lack of significant raking does give me some concerns, but we felt the Armadillo really worked for this kind of show. It has comfortable seats with plenty of legroom – and even the sweet stall prices weren’t ridiculous. If you were to put the same show on here and at the Kings, I would pay an extra £5 for the ticket without hesitation – and in truth probably another £5 without grumbling too much about it (but I would still moan about the £6 SECC car park charge).

But I do worry about what that means for Glasgow's theatres, and with the terrible weather it might be difficult for anyone to quantify the impact Aladdin has had on the other theatres. On a more positive note, I generally believe that theatre-going is a habit and that the more you see, the more you want to see - so if people have been lured in by Barrowman and the 3D genie, perhaps they’ll consider seeing other shows (now or throughout the year).

Aladdin runs at the Clyde Auditorium (the 'Armadillo' at the SECC) until 9th January
Image by Keith Pattison used with permission


"12 Days of Wicked Christmas" - December 2010

The Citizens Community Company can always be relied on to produce a dark and cynical alternative to the saccharine sweet shows that abound each Christmas. We might not quite be talking Frankie Boyle territory, but this is not a family-friendly show.

Comprising sixteen short segments written and performed by the company, some are more successful than others and I think perhaps there was more of a variation in the quality of writing than in previous installments. But while that may be true of the script, I felt the performances clearly showed further development from the already high levels we have come to expect. Particularly noticeable was the inclusion in several scenes of significant audience participation - all handled very skilfully.

And don't ever let anyone tell you that the Community Company are anything less than professional. During the performance we attended they had to contend with a number of audience members who had to leave the Circle Studio mid-scene - walking through the performance space. There also appeared to be a medical incident taking place just outside the studio that resulted in several more comings-and-goings as audience members offered assistance. Yet the cast were completely unphased by it all and remained entirely focussed.

We enjoyed the whole evening, but of course, we had our favourites. Judith Hastie's "The Turkey's Lament" provided a highly entertaining look at Christmas from the Turkey's viewpoint and Neil Bratchpiece gave us a very un-Disneylike "Beauty and the Wee Man". But the comic highlight was Kat Lamont's "Barbie Dolls" which gave us mental images of a new line of dolls that will stay with us way beyond Christmas.

One of the strengths of these annual "Wicked Christmas" shows is that not everything is about getting laughs. Although the audience seemed unsure quite how to respond to it, Robert Tamson's "Ghost" was actually an emotionally powerful monologue, and Marjorie AM Ferry's "Father and Son" was an insightful look at the generation gap.

But "12 Days of Wicked Christmas" just isn't enough - we're hoping next year they give us a "Wicked Christmas Advent Calendar" with the full 24!

12 Days of Wicked Christmas has now completed its run at the Citizens.
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission