Friday, July 09, 2010

"Valhalla!" - July 2010

Tron Theatre Company's Valhalla! is undoubtedly the most ridiculous, nonsensical, foul mouthed, drug fuelled piece of theatre we have ever come across. Did we mention that we loved it?

Completely insane, breathtakingly funny, and lip-bitingly outrageous. I honestly think it has to be seen to be believed. The entire cast of Johnny McKnight, Mark Prendergast, Joyce Falconer, Sally Reid, James Anthony Pearson, Grant Smeaton and Mairi Phillips are phenomenal. Paul Rudnick's writing is razor sharp and Andy Arnold's direction manages to bring a cohesive shape to scenes and storylines that cross all sorts of boundaries. And despite assaulting the audience with a two hour onslaught of verbal, visual and theatrical gags they somehow succeed in delivering a genuinely emotional last ten minutes.

This show really shouldn't work. But it does. Brilliantly.

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.

Valhalla! runs at the Tron until Saturday 24th July
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

"Nine" - July 2010

Before we get to our thoughts on this one, there are a few bits of 'housekeeping' I need to cover. This is the first amateur production we've seen for a while so I think it's worth restating our policy that applies to all amateur, community and youth theatre. We make no concessions or allowances and all performances will be considered in the same manner as professional ones - anything else would be patronising to those involved. Secondly, musicals aren't really my thing - with a few exceptions I tolerate them at best, so please keep that in mind. And lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, while we generally keep ourselves fairly isolated from the theatrical community in order to preserve our objectivity, on this occasion one of the cast is a friend of mine (in what passes for our 'day jobs').

Despite winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1982, both Waldorf and I were firmly of the view that this is a bad, bad musical - verging at times on 'Springtime for Hitler' bad. Of all the songs featured, only two - "My Husband Makes Movies" and "Unusual Way" linger in my memory a couple of hours after the show.

So it's very much to the credit of the cast that this was an enjoyable evening. Richard Magowan plays film director Guido Contini as he faces mounting crises in both his personal and professional lives, and makes the most of what are rather weak songs for the central role. He also succeeds in bringing a depth to the character's emotional moments while handling the comedic elements to good effect.

Jennie Wilkie as his wife Luisa receives some of the show's stronger numbers and gives an impressive performance both vocally and in bringing the character to life. There are also particularly strong performances from Chriss Mills as Claudia, Emma Craig as Carla and Kerry Burley as Sarraghina, while the whole cast provide excellent vocals for the ensemble numbers and Adam Stewart does well as the nine year old Guido.

Director Walter Paul has created a well drilled production that features a large cast with extensive choreography on a relatively small stage, but we do have to note that the prompt was required for a couple of lines. Musically and technically this was a very adept production - I've lost track of the number of musicals I've seen with significant problems with the sound levels, but here they were perfectly balanced.

There was certainly enough quality displayed here that I'd be interested to see what the cast and creative team could achieve with some better material to work with; however I do have to comment on the ticket price. £17 for a Wednesday night is pretty horrific in comparison to main stage, large scale professional shows at the Citizens or the Tron and without the factor of having friends/family in the cast it's difficult to envisage us paying similar prices in the future.

Nine, produced by Walter Paul Productions, runs at Gilmorehill G12 until Saturday 10th July
Image by Colin Wilkinson used with permission


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"Decky Does A Bronco" - July 2010

Having enjoyed several shows from Grid Iron in recent years, I'd always been curious about their "Decky Does A Bronco" that featured in many actors' programme notes. So I was delighted to see that they had revived Douglas Maxwell's play ten years after their first production of it. Staged in purpose built swing parks and told in flashback it tells the story of a group of children and the summer their lives changed.

Any play that portrays young children with an adult cast is on potentially difficult ground and here the risks are amplified by having other (and only slightly older) actors portray the adult versions of the characters. Fortunately the 'young' cast perform brilliantly and bring out the childish elements without forcing them into caricature. The 'older' cast have considerably less stage time, but their quiet and subdued presence speaks volumes in itself and the considered direction from Ben Harrison ensures there is little chance of confusion. Bridging the two 'casts' is Martin McCormick, who as David acts as our narrator and slips between his older and younger selves with a very assured performance in what must be a very tricky role.

And if the roles weren't challenging enough, Maxwell and Harrison task their cast with some impressive acrobatic manoeuvres on the swings - including the 'Bronco' of the title which involves standing on the swing and working it up to a height before jumping off while 'kicking' the swing over the top bar. This is not without risk to the performers (and I speak as a former ten year old with a head gash to prove it) but their swing play was executed perfectly - to the point of being balletic.

Despite the excellent performances, the play itself has left me a little unsatisfied and wishing it had focused more on the aftermath and long term impact of the events rather than over-relying on a sucker punch. With the wind gusting and the physicality of the performances causing occasional sound drop-outs I was left at times grasping to hear lines and found myself joining dots of plot points that perhaps weren't intended to be joined - but the fact I was looking to join them suggests to me that there was something missing. Indeed, for me the most profound aspects of the evening came not from the play but from Ben Harrison's programme notes.

But perhaps I'm guilty of expecting too much and should just appreciate what is undeniably a perfectly captured picture of childhood that will have particular cultural resonances for those of a certain age.

Decky Does A Bronco has completed its run at Cumbernauld and continues on an extensive tour of Scotland before taking up residency as part of the Edinburgh Fringe and then completing its run with various dates in England.
Image by Douglas Jones used with permission.