Monthly Archives: November 2019

Oor Wullie

Oor Wullie Cast. Photo credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan..jpg

Dundee Rep Theatre
Sat 23 November – Sun 5 January

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars

Get your dungarees on and spike up your hair for bucketfuls of songs, laughs and good traditional fun as Scotland’s own comic superhero makes his musical theatre debut at Dundee Rep this Christmas. Wullie’s appeal spans the generations. He’s been around – and been ten years old – for eighty years now, doing his scallywag thing in the town of Auchenshoogle. Accompanied by his best mates Soapy Soutar, Fat Boab and Wee Eck, a real slapstick trio if ever there was one, Wullie makes good-hearted mischief in the way young boys used to before the internet and Xboxes, dodging the long arms of PC Murdoch, Teacher and the slippers of Ma and Pa. Christmas without an Oor Wullie annual is like turkey without stuffing, or indeed the eponymous hero without his bucket.

That’s just the problem – someone has stolen Wullie’s bucket. As a result of this calamity, the comic-book coloured Auchenshoogle and the real world are getting mixed up. Expect high-jinx abundant. Can Wullie and his gang and new found friend Wahib retrieve his bucket from our world before his mortal enemy Basher McKenzie turns Auchenshoogle into a richt stramash?

L to R Martin Quinn and Eklovey Kashyap. Credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.jpg

Always bringing something special at Christmas, Dundee Rep have excelled with this year’s production. Bright, colourful and exciting from start to finish, it’s sure to appeal to young children and nostalgic adults alike. The songs are fun and the tunes catchy enough for folk to be humming them on the way out. Take children or don’t – you’ll love Oor Wullie. It’s good wholesome fun for the children in all of us.

Mark Mackenzie


The Wizard of Oz


Leeds Playhouse,
28th Nov – 25th Jan

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.: five-stars

Tonight saw the opening performance of Leeds Playhouse’s 2019 Christmas show, The Wizard of Oz, in the playhouse’s recently opened Quarry theatre. This was a hugely important night for the theatre and it was abundantly clear from the outset that every effort had been made to ensure that this show was nothing less than outstanding. It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that everyone who stepped out into the drizzly November night after the show were still wrapped up in the show’s spell, their faces plastered with beaming smiles and their ears still ringing with the joyful sounds of Oz.

This is a big budget family blockbuster that absolutely delivers on all counts, giddy with the spectacle of hot air balloons, colourful rotating sets, bungee jumping monkeys, enchanting puppet work, and panto-style boo hiss villains. The colourful and exuberant cast make use of every inch of the new performance space, popping out of trapdoors, rising up into the lighting rig and spilling out into the auditorium, much to the delight of the younger theatre goers in the audience.

Everyone involved overflowed with an infectious eagerness to please, from the cast to the attendants in the auditorium, actively engaging with members of the audience before, during and after the production. This wasn’t a show, it was an event: everyone involved with the production and the theatre had eagerly seized this opportunity to shout loudly about their wonderful new space: Look how amazing it is, look what it can do! It’s an assertion that is pretty hard to deny.

But this isn’t mere spectacle. There’s real substance here and much to commend. This could have easily been an overenthusiastic splurge of colour and choreography, but James Brining’s hugely assured direction easily swerves this potential pitfall. Given how much is going on onstage, it never feels overwhelming – every element sits perfectly in its rightful place.


The younger cast all hold their own and the early Munchkin sequence is an early high point in a show of many such high points. They enthusiastically pull the audience headlong into their colourful world. Their choreography is near flawless and their characters so joyful and memorable that they are single-handedly responsible for the grins that spread across the audience.

Standout performances include Polly Lister as the Wicked Witch, who thoroughly relishes the OTT villainy of the character, a character that inspires raucous boos and even more raucous laughter. Eleanor Sutton is a delight as Scarecrow, imbuing the character with boundless enthusiasm and Marcus Ayton as Lion delivers some crowd pleasing vocal performances.

It’s surely not possible to review The Wizard of Oz without mentioning the central performance as Dorothy. Dorothy can either make or break a production, and here it’s a resounding MAKE. Agatha Meehan and Lucy Sherman will be sharing duties throughout the run of this production and tonight was the turn of Lucy Sherman who provided a fantastic focal point for the show. Her performance was confident and effortless and her rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow provoked an early outburst of delighted applause.

Director James Brining has stated the parallels that he sees between environmental activist Greta Thunberg and the character of Dorothy, both taking on responsibility for a world that has been ruined and neglected by adults, and it’s clear that she is a huge source of inspiration for this take on the character, deliberately choosing a younger actress for the part.

There’s also an appropriately cheeky nod to the gay following of the 1939 Hollywood film. Sam Harrison’s Tin Man here is an overtly gay character, who has been punished for being in love with a man by having his heart forcibly removed. It helps to add depth to the story – this production’s Dorothy/ Greta is on a mission to help oppressed minority communities and individuals, not just to find her way back to Kansas.

Simon Higlett’s set design is nothing less than jaw dropping, creating a sense of constant movement – the sets rotate and evolve, vehicles move across the stage, forests bloom, tornadoes rip the scenery apart (what a fantastic sequence!) and the yellow brick road moves characters about the stage, bringing more and more outlandish characters into the path of the central protagonists. All of this is overlaid with video footage that lends further colour, movement and life to the stage. This reaches its crescendo when the cast arrive at the flashing green lights of Emerald City and the final showdown with the Wicked Witch – the sets are as brightly coloured and alive as any film set.


In fact, it’s hard to not list all the names of those involved with the show as this is a hugely accomplished show, packed full of highlights. There’s aerial director, Tim Claydon, whose work provides so much of the show’s spectacle and energy. There’s Ailsa Dalling as Toto puppeteer, brings the delightful character to scene stealing life. Put simply, there’s far too much to mention.

The Wizard of Oz is a resounding success for both company and theatre, a perfect show to launch their Christmas season and to show off their new theatre to a wider audience.

Steve Bromley


Dixie Whittington: The Hamecoming

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 25 –  Dec 28, 2019

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: four-stars.png
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.: four-stars.png

From the moment when Dixie Whittington (Amy Scott), Captain Cut-Thrapple (Claire Waugh) and Dame Dora Dumplin (Dave Anderson in a wig) came tripping down the aisle through the audience, the stage was set for an hour of merriment and chaos. So began Oran Mor’s 2019 Christmas Pantomime, “Dixie Whittington, the Hamecoming” written and directed by the excellent Morag Fullerton.

The fast moving plot found the naïve young Whittington under the sway of his evil landlord, Skinflint (John Kielty), head full of London tales that never came true, despite the voice in his head telling him to turn again for he would be Mayor of London. And when he was chucked out of his digs, and found himself in a tavern full of drunken sailors, his thoughts turned to heading back up north where his poor old grandmother sat all alone in her lonely flat. When pirate captain Cut-Thrapple offered him and his cat, Fleabag, a passage all the way up to Glasgow –– it seemed like the answer to his prayers.

Of course all Cut-Thrapple and his dastardly sidekick Dame Dumplin the ship’s cook could think of was treasure and cared not for the destinies of man or woman – he had every intention of corrupting the hapless Dixie and leaving him penniless. Was the ship even going to Glasgow? Who knows? The dark tale unfolded with plenty of rip roaring, thigh slapping action, hearty songs and fulsome audience participation. And just when we were wondering how the poor lad would ever climb out of his desperate predicament, enter Inverary Jones (John Kielty again) the shining hero, pushed onstage on a trolley.

With twists and turns too numerous to mention, and with the help of Inverary and a mysterious mermaid called Suzi-the-single-fish, Dixie eventually found his way back to the arms of his grateful granny, who would be lonely no more, much to everyone’s joy – except Cut-throat’s (Boo! Hiss!). And we end with the voices proclaiming that Dixie Whittington, you SHALL be Mayor of Glasgow! Hoorah!

Daniel Donnelly


Malmaison: Scenes 1-2


Scene 1: The Fields of Waterloo

The battle is going badly for the French, many of whom are fleeing the field. Napoleon is in discussion with Gourgaud, Prince Emile and Hulin. Cannonballs and bullets falling around them.

La Garde recule!

The Garde, ridiculous!

Stand, Boys!

Prince Emile
Save the Eagles!

Vive la France!

Enter Hulin

The Old Gaurd broken, our hopes are all gone,
The moon uprisen, & the day is lost!
At Papelotte, Hougoumont, La Haye Saint,
The army gives up ground on every side,
Like a thaw it cracks & floats & rolls off,
Flailing in confusions & collisions,
An awful mass of panicking soldiers,
Casting muskets & knapsacks into wheat,
Officers, even generals, ignor’d,
& worst of all the portal of retreat
Is closing every second, Plancenoit
Is lost, our fifteen thousand overwhelm’d
By twice that number, swelling each second,
Only the Chasseurs of the Guard delay
The seizure of the vital Brussels road,
Sire, sire! You have no choice, please extricate
Your person from this scene of acrid carnage.


What is this mad, malevolent panic,
That like a poison penetrates the lines?
Where are Marshall Grouchy’s thirty thousand?
Where is that vain, reckless romancer Ney?

He is there, waving tattered epaulettes,
Ordering volleys of comfortless shot,
He is bleeding, muddy, magnificent,
Waving his broken sword as he recalls
& insults soldiers, even as they flee
They are shouting, ‘long live brave Marshall Ney!’

The Bravest of the Brave? The Fool of Fools!
Tho’ frightening the English from their wits,
A cavalry charge without infantry
Is folly of the lunatic kind,
On this terrible day of destiny
My talon’d wildcats transmorph to children,
But if I am to die it will be here
With my men, by their side, sharing the toil.

Prince Emile
No, sire, you must escape the battlefield,
France cannot lose you, sire, for you are France.

You must leave at once.

Your horse is ready.

Very well, better to be in Paris,
To organise the national defence.

Napoleon is led from the field by the marshalls.
He passes an old soldier who looks at him
open-mouthed, with no love

Flee, wet chicken cur, coward recreant!
Leaving infants naked for the leopards –
Across the Earth I followed you in love,
Much more than brothers were we all in arms
Affections spent unearthly, devoted
To your very name; only this morning
I thought it was divine, but now it falls
Like sleet upon my ears, numbing & cold,
Heart freezing tears before the drops can fall
Into this murd’rous sea of blood & mud.

The soldier is bayoneted by an English redcoat


Scene 2: Malmaison, Josephine’s Bedroom

Josephine enters with Napoleon, covering his eyes with her hands.

And this… keep them closed… this… is my bedroom

Incredible, those swans almost divine!

I like to think we two are one bevvy,
Celebrated by synchronicities,
& mates for life.

Let us make a signet
Or six, & christen these slick, silken sheets,
I imagin’d them just so this morning,
I have a thousand kisses readying,
Kisses for your eyes, your lips, your shoulders,
I am utterly, unboundenly yours.

Bonaparte, Bonaparte, be patient please,
Your tour of Malmaison yet incomplete,
Step with me to the window bay to gaze
On grounds Arcadian, much neglected
Since the Revolution, but potential!
Such potential! I have dreamt of roses,
Three hundred acres of woods, lawns, vineyards
& Rueill – see its smoke – a fine village;
Examine all apsects of this prospect,
Just think of it, Malmaison soon could be
Your royal court amid the countryside.

It could, yes, that may be, but let me show
You something, something much more beautiful,
Step gently to this mirror’s length to gaze
On the beauty of Madame Bonaparte,
Do you see?

I do… I wore white for you
You love me in white, I know

If it was
To please me you succeed – what beauty dwells
{rearranging Josephine’s flowers in her hair}
In special auras glowing aslant moon
& stars & skies; your almond-lidded eyes,
Like melted amber, by long lashes guarded,
Unleash resistless forces on my soul.

Resistless force? That force, I fear, is you,
The brilliant general of our day
Returning from Syria & Egypt,
Who somehow still has energy to spare
For my coiffure.

I am full devoted
To your hair, your body, your everything.

Later, love, let us dine tonight, & then…

Tonight! But what passion boils inside me,
The lava of my love for you explodes,
Erupting at the touchstone of your looks,
Your kisses set my blood on fire, your sweetness
Melts my heart, the poet stirs within
Primordial, like a wild animal.

Tonight! There is dignity in waiting,
Let us both encounter the gallery,
Where paintings you issued from Italy
Bedeck the walls with bounty beauteous.


Will there be any portraits of yourself?
Between such images & memories
Of intoxicating nights together
I have no respite, incomparable
Josephine, your existence consumes me,
Your spirit overwhelms my heart profoundly.

I always want to see the tenderness
In your eyes, as you desire for me now,
My life was ordain’d for your happiness,
Whenever you are sorrow’d lay your hands
Upon these breasts, here salver’d solace yours,
Tho’ we are like the poles – apart in ways,
Entwining we make a perfect planet!

I will conquer countries while you’ll woo hearts,
My own beats testament to your powers,
It is Josephine who inspires my days,
The poets call them muses, you possess
Excuisiteness, decorative darling,
My entire being quickens before thee,
My inner mystic, lain in embryo,
Shaken alive by love so real, so true.

Yet so tainted

We shall speak no more of Hippolyte Charles

You are the first beholder of my shame,
He is dead to me now, my bewilder’d
State, strange delirium, fuddl’d by fate,
I hated being goddessean object
Of fascination, such adoration,
My spirit unsuited to submissives.

I am more harden’d now, Egyptian heat
Has baked my heart into a brick of clay,
My vanities by Syria were purg’d,
I never should have attempted the East,
Being fortunate to extract myself,
The folly’s karma equalised by you,
Driven into the arms of another,
So very far away, I understand.

My indiscretion was an insane play,
Vainglorious succubus swerv’d my brain
Whose dreams are full of you, a scar has form’d,
Smiting conscience with a deep penitence!

All soldiers have their scars, I have mine too;
This thigh reflects an English bayonet,
Delivered as I triumph’d at Toulon,
The other from our wedding day, a bite
From your dog, but the pain is forgotten,
All that remains are feelings of glory
In victories of lovemaking & war,
The memories of our nuptial night
Drop like clear heaven gleaming thro’ a pearl.

We share a love, full-form’d, unlike those loves
Of ordinary glaze, speak of what girl
In all the world who’d fail to take great pride
Being the motivating influence
Of martial arms marching unto glory.

Believe me when I say you march with us,
The designator of our providence,
Watching proceedings, blessing bravest feats,
When only as I win my battlefields,
Am I releas’d to hurry to your arms.



You’re my lucky star
You’re my lucky star
I see that you shine for me when I travel too far
You look so amazing, yeah, with your lazar chrome
Whenever you shine for me you’re gonna guide me home

This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes

I have a vision, ascertain
When you’ve gone & lost your way again
Gonna light the night my lovely one
So you can make your own way to the sun

You’re my lucky star
You’re my lucky star
I see that you shine for me when I travel too far
I know you’ll always be with me, where-ever I roam
Whenever you shine for me ya gonna guide me own

This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes

I have a vision, ascertain
When you’ve gone & lost your way again
Gonna light the night my lovely one
So you can make your own way to the sun

Living your life aint easy
If you’ve traveled off to far
But when I look up to the skies
I see exactly where you are
Beacause you are, oh yes you are
You’re my lucky star

This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes


“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock
Shakespeare off his feffin’ perch!”


Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

Cranhill Carmen

IMG_1547i Charlene Boyd, Jason Harvey.jpg

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 18 – 23, 2019

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars

Oran Mor’s 500 Play season came to a glorious finale this week with a welcome return of “Cranhill Carmen”, Benny Young’s outrageous Glaswegian version of Bizet’s Carmen, complete with versions of all the best known songs, gustily performed by the gutsy cast who first appeared at the venue in 2018 as part of its Mini Musicals series. Reprising their original roles are Charlene Boyd (Carmen McGurn, the eponymous factory girl), Ewan Petrie (Donald John Macneil, the god fearing policeman from the islands) and Jason Harvey as Glesga Millio, the Glasgow hard man come matador.

We first encountered Carmen rather the worse for wear as she stumbled up the aisle in her high heels and frilly red skirt, and finds a suitable spot on the pavement to use as a toilet. Just the moment when PC Donald came upon her and, deeply offended by the depravity of the act, held forth on his fears for mankind and his unwavering faith in God, both for good inside and out. When he took out his notebook in order to charge her with indecency, Carmen employs all her wiles to persuade him not to book her for her minor misdemeanour. He found himself drawn towards her, enchanted by her glamour and her clever wit. The two engaged in a highly charged philosophical game and he was completely captivated – he’d give up his life for her.

IMG_1519i Jason Harvey, Charlene Boyd.jpg

Enter Glesga Millio, resplendent in full matador kit, going all out to impress the lovely Carmen. In complete contrast to the gentle Donald, this was the bad boy, taking command of the stage with his deep bellowing tones and overpowering flavoursome self. His wooing was rough and full of innuendos about what he’d do to women like her, but Carmen loved it and succumbed to his charms.

Dripping in sin, the lovely Carmen revels in the attentions of the two men in turn, laughing at their male competitiveness and transcending what seemed like horrific circumstances into something that it was a joy to behold. Of course the music helped, with all three belting out Bizet’s marvellous tunes with true operatic gusto and heart wrenching feeling. When the finale arrived it was Carmen who emerged victorious, declaring that both men just want to control her and she’s not having any of it. She deftly informs them that she’ll soon be leaving the country anyway.

This play is full of sheer flamboyance, reaching great heights and depths. When in the end Carmen left as she had come, disappearing back up the aisle with neither man in tow, we can’t help but smile.

Daniel Donnelly


Do Not Press This Button

IMG_1476i Cameron Fulton, David Rankine, Gemma McElhinney..jpg

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 11 – 16, 2019

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars.png 
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D: three-stars.png

As we approach the end of this season’s 500 play celebrations, today’s production took the form of Do Not Press This Button, a new play by Alan Bisset, directed by Kirsten Mclean. The scene was two table’s on a train where Ben (David Rankine) and Maria (Gemma McElhinney) were seated on either side of the four big windows, both looking intent and composed. All at once Ben tried to start up a conversation with a reluctant Maria and they growl at each other for a bit, recognising that they often share the same train journey but had never talked before.

The somewhat abrupt interaction warmed up when Maria hit upon the idea of a game of questions and answers where they each agreed to answer questions from the other. But Maria had an agenda, and her questions become increasingly personal and uncomfortable for Ben. With a smile on her face, she asked which race was his favourite, as in race of people, and the conversation took on an increasingly explosive tone as he tried to evade her probing. It was almost like watching a Shakespearean encounter with Maggie’s intelligence and sharp wit leaving Ben standing. We laughed at the sight of him being put in his place, it seemed that Maggie couldn’t be won over as easily as all that – if that’s what Ben was trying to do…

IMG_1451i David Rankine, GemmaMcElhinney..jpg

Enter Terry in his bomber jacket (Cameron Fulton), who became a kind of an innocent third party as the other two discussed him when he went off to find beer. They agreed that they found his demeanour threatening and confessed to feeling relief that he had temporarily absented himself. The contrast between the stereotypes was not lost on us – the two middle class professionals and the working class Terry with his rough accent and casual clothes. But their attitudes and opinions could confound us too, and lead to assumptions being taken to account. Things took on a much darker turn when Terry was reluctantly cajoled into talking with the two about race and Dire Straits, of all things, and he responded by threatening Maria with his fists. It all ended very badly…

This was a wonderful piece of writing and fitted the Oran venue perfectly, with marvellous edgy performance from all three actors. I suppose that if we don’t “press these buttons” we wouldn’t learn anything at all, but the stern lesson is to do so at your peril and know when to stop!

Daniel Donnelly


Good With People


Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 4 – 9, 2019

Script: three-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars.png 
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D: three-stars.png

500 plays is no mean feat, and every week the Oran Mor seems to improve on everything that has come before. David Harrower’s effort today was a play called Good with People, a calm yet dangerous take on things that seem to sneak up on us. The set looked inviting, offering a green floral wall paper with a reception desk, a door and a bookcase with a painting in the middle, signifying a hotel reception.

The weary and injured Evan, (Daniel Cahill) had come home to Helensburgh. He found himself at the Seaview Hotel arguing with the receptionist Helen (Louise Ludgate). He was not happy with the hotel service thus far as she had refused him entry until officially opening the hotel and bar at 12 o’clock midday. From Helen’s point of view, she’d come across a problematic customer though with every conversation they had she felt more and more curious and even compelling about him.

As each of these dialogues happened the stage would go from black to total light which brought the points being made across all the more assuredly. They almost fell into total chaos on more than one occasion which also held a light to the frustrations which were arising. After these story telling sessions Fastlane was mentioned; the nuclear defence programme, that was also a popular resort destination. But by this time Evan was irate about revisiting the past horrors he had encountered there and in reality really not wanting to return to it.


There was no going slowly for either of these characters, no time for contemplation or even serious concern aloud but instead a despair. Yet even as the whole world tussled they came to quite some endearing agreements as he flashed himself upon her drawing out of her the information he would need to know for the whole play.

This play was a topsy turvy encounter between two voices and humble physical appearance looking into facing things though they may remain too large to really contemplate. Fastlane is a controversial institute in Scotland and is the cause of many a protest. The protest reflected in the play asking us to question things to a far larger degree, because things can look bleak.

Daniel Donnelly



Matthew Barker as Man and Danny Hughes as Billy in Perth Theatre's Kes (2).jpg

Perth Theatre
2 November – 16 November 2019

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars

If you’re in the prime of life then you might have seen the magnificent Ken Loach film “Kes”. One of those gritty Seventies movies, it was a favourite of English lessons to accompany the book by Barry Hines “A Kestrel for a Knave”. I don’t remember the book much but the film has stayed with me over the years. So how effectively would a stage version of a film, that heavily features a boy flying a hawk, manage to capture the visual poetry of boy and hawk? Very effectively indeed, actually. A credit to the actors in this fine drama. This from now on will be the “Kes” that I remember.

Matthew Barker as Man and Danny Hughes as Billy in Perth Theatre's Kes.jpg

Billy Casper, a young delinquent and loner, escapes the crushing indifference of school and home by training and flying a kestrel. For him, the wild bird embodies freedom and escape from the ever-nearing adult world of work. His older brother, Jud, works in the coal mines that encircle the Northern town, and Billy, with no means of escape after school, will likely follow him down into the cruel blackness that is so different to the airy light of his hawk’s flight. Danny Hughes makes the character of Billy his own. His South Yourkshire dialect sounds convincing and he has a hang-dog stance down to a tee. The relationship between Billy and his brother Jud, played by Matthew Barker, is the source of the action of the drama, and Hughes and Barker portray this sibling antipathy perfectly. Barker’s Jud is a cocksure, working-class lad, content to live for the weekend, a few too many pints and if she’s lucky, a different type of ‘bird’ than the kind Billy is interested in.

Behind this triangle of brothers and hawk, there is a plethora of other characters, schoolfriends, teachers, shopowners and ‘Mam’. The film version of these characters provided some comic relief and the first screen appearances for actors such as Brian Glover (as a hilariously pompous PE teacher) and Lynne Perrie (Ivy Tilsley from Coronation Street) but here the two actors take up the parts as required. This works well, concentrating the focus of the drama onto the tensions between Billy and Jud, what they each represent, and at the same time allowing the two to inhabit the many really funny moments of this adaptation.

Danny Hughes as Billy in Perth Theatre's Kes.jpg

Staging and set detail are used cleverly and evoke that peculiarly British working-class atmosphere of the Sixties and Seventies. Everything, even the school blackboard, is a little bit faded and yellowed with cigarette smoke. It’s fifty years since Ken Loach’s film was made. This adaptation by Robert Alan Evans does real justice to that film and more. It’s one of those one-act plays that you wish had a second act, not because it’s not complete, but because it’s so utterly charming and captivating that you leave wanting more.

Mark Mackenzie