Category Archives: Scotland

Conspiracy


Assembly Roxy
Edinburgh
11th July 2018

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The dashing, young, talented director that is Robin Osman seems to like World War 2. Last year he brought a Vichy France inspired piece to the Edinburgh Fringe, & the other day, for two nights, he served up Loring Mandel’s very excellent Conspiracy at the Assembly Roxy. His cast mirrored that of the film The Expendables, but here the Hollywood A-Listers are Edinburgh theatrical Don Juans such as Ben Blow, Matthew Jebb, Chris Pearson & Jonathan Whiteside.

Conspiracy is a play about the now infamous meeting at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a grandiose villa at the edge of Berlin, lapping against gorgeous lake waters &, in January 1942, the setting for the most terribly implicative ninety minutes of conversation the world has ever known. The Endlosung had come, the Jewish Question had an answer. From ‘Vladivostok to Belfast’ there would be ‘no Jews, not one!’ all murdered by poison gas in efficient factory fashion & cremated into dust. The drama of the piece is contained in small measure within the personalities of the fifteen high-ranking German officials at the meeting, but it really pursues our psyches like a slavering beastie thro’ the monstrous promises of ghastly futurity polluting the play’s dialogue. The author, Loring Mandel, imagined the scene at Wansee & replicated its oral ambience to the best of his abilities; which means, pretty much, its brilliant.

Conspiracy was at first a joint HBO-BBC TV special, which won an Emmy, a Golden Globe & a Bafta, & was created on the back of a single document found in Berlin – the only one that was never destroyed. Of his use of this materielle, Mandel told the Mumble;

The document that survived was very highly redacted, by three different people: first by Eichmann, then by Müller, then by Heydrich himself. So all that it really contains is the cast of characters and the sequence of events, the agenda. But there’s other information—not much, but there are comments that Eichmann made when he was captured and more comments during his trial. That’s really the only hard material we have. So I spent a couple days in the archives of the Holocaust Museum finding out as much as I could about as many of the participants as I could locate in those files. I also looked at the transcripts of the Eichmann testimony. Then I did research at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the museum in the building where the conference took place, and Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. When I had enough of a feel of the background of the participants, plus what I had gotten from the conference itself, I wrote the first draft, and that was finished in January of ’98. That was submitted to HBO, they said they wanted to proceed with it, and they hired a full-time researcher to provide supplementary material, and she was able to find out a great deal more of the background of the characters than I had been able to get. We ended up with tremendous amounts of research

A few years later, Mandel decided to reconvene his TV classic with the stage. ‘The film is a one-eye process,’ he told us, ‘it’s monocular. Stage is binocular, and it makes a real difference. In film, it’s easy to begin a scene in the middle of a sentence, because you can cut into it. You can’t do that on the stage because the character is there and talking before, unless you do it all with lights, and then it really isn’t an adaptation. The only reason that I did a stage version of it is because I felt it was something that people should be made aware of—young people particularly. I thought it was something that schools could do, and churches and synagogues and so on. That’s why, because I never thought it was a big commercial property. So the fact that it’s been exposed here, I think that’s absolutely wonderful.’

L-R = Jonathan Whiteside (Heydrich), Alastair William Duncan (Heinrich Muller), Ben Blow (Otto Hoffman)

So to Edinburgh & the Assembly Roxy. I took my seat in the far top left corner, directly before the end point of a ‘Last Supper’ style arc of tables, behind which was another table corncucoping with fine wines & meticulously laid out chips n dips. Here was David Taylor’s Eichmann – the guy caught by Mossad agents in Argentina in 1960 –  the shadowy holder of the scythe, who would greet the 14 guests with a foot-stamping ‘Heil Hitler.’ One of these was Matthew Jebb, whose SS Oberfuhrer Erich Neumann sat down right in front of me, rattling on about the Four Year Plan, & somebody who would one day save lives by requesting that Jewish workers in firms essential to the war effort were not to be deported for the time being.

Dead men don’t hump
Dead women don’t get pregnant

So in they came, lieutenants of the Nazi experiment, key representatives of agencies created by the Fuhrer in order to transmit his imbecilic White Supremacist philosophies, & to turn them to reality; the ultimate of which was the rendering ‘Judenrein’ of Europa to unfold. At their heart was Jonathan Whiteside’s Heydrich, play’d with a commanding & sneering hostility – like the Devil at icy Cocytus with his anti-pantheon at his feet, his telligible snarl barking his masters’ orders without complaint. ‘After the war this is my home, a marvelous home,‘ he chirps on first arrival. He’d be assassinated in Prague within six months.

As a drama, we had Heydrich’s & Eichmann’s slow roll-out of the Endlosung – half history lesson, half surreal vision – interspersed with excellently presented buffet intermissions where the hubble-bubble mumblings of twos&threes conversations were broken by flash-fires of actual dialogue. It was all such a bouncy script to behold, a masterwork of multiple voices as the single item on the conference’s agenda slowly ripened into truthdom like rapeseed in the Spring. To counteract the growing ‘storage problem‘ of Nazidom’s Jews – millions had been acquired through Hitler’s conquests – euthanasia would be expanded on a massive scale when, to save the soldier’s sense of honour – they didn’t enjoy shooting women & children – the systematic extirpation of a race would be achieved thro’ poison gas. Eichmann’s mini emotional break-down as he described the sounds of the dying being almost drown’d out by a gas-truck’s motors was a high point in the play.

Such a powerful ideological performance was this, that at the end I was waiting for some cretinous Neo-Nazi to stand up applauding wildly & cheering. Of course it never happened, this is gentile Edinburgh, but we were all transfixed by both the morbid curiosity & the elk-paced intensity of the piece. The finely uniformed gentleman actors were as one soul, a very precise & genuine performance. Conspiracy is a warning of how sick & how sterile human compassion can become, & plays handling such hot potatoes of the conscience should be treasured – not for their hateful ideas – but to remedy Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s observation that, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

Damo

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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The National Production Company
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
13-16th June, 2018

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has been a consistent crowd-pleaser since its debut in 1987. A Fringe Festival stalwart, the play has the survival abilities of a cockroach, and the script itself is so tried and tested that it would seem that it would take some effort on the part of a performance troupe to make it anything less than utterly charming and delightful for an audience.  The brain child of American writers Adam Long, Jess Winfield and Daniel Singer, The Complete Works… is a light-hearted and irreverent romp through all 37 of the Bard’s plays, consisting of slap stick, farce and pantomime-esque audience participation.

In many ways, this winning formula serves The National Production Company well in their incarnation of the play, currently appearing at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy. The fledgling company have an admirable stab at it, employing the requisite high-energy and fast pace, and adhering stolidly to the well-loved, conventional features of the play – the sonnets are handed out on paper, Shakespeare’s biography is confused with that of Adolf Hitler, Titus Andronicus is presented in the style of a cookery show, MacBeth is performed in see-you-jimmy hats and in terrible Scottish accents, Othello is a rap, the ‘Kings’ plays are transformed into a slow-motion American football game.

One of the elements of the play that makes it satisfying for performers is the capacity for improvisation and the requirement for cultural references to be updated and tailored to specific audiences and locations. The play presents many opportunities for The National Production Company to put their stamp on it and really make it their own, but they choose to play it a little too safe. The result is that some of their references seem unimaginative, at points bordering on cliché. Even the decision to use Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ to bookend the show feels like it would’ve had more cache during the Rickrolling phenomenon/Astley renaissance ten years ago.

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As the play is now 31 years old, some elements of it are badly in need of updating. The implication that a man in a dress doing a high-pitched voice is automatically hilarious doesn’t sit comfortably in 2018. One line about ‘not making things gendered’ in this version seems to acknowledge this, but so weakly, it somehow manages to make it worse. Similarly, the idea that a Southerner affecting a Yorkshire accent is inherently funny has gone out of fashion since Michael McIntyre was called out for classism by justifiably irked northern viewers several years ago. Presenting two men kissing as something to laugh at – really? Still?

It’s a shame that these wide-open opportunities to innovate were missed by The National Production company, as they are clearly a very talented bunch with heaps of passion.  Bits of the performance were absolutely pitch-perfect and well-executed – the demanding final scene, with three versions of Hamlet performed at breakneck speed and backwards, and the tightly choreographed prologue to Romeo and Juliet were particular highlights. While a little disappointing, their decision to stick to established formulas is understandable. This was a solidly enjoyable performance, but I think much bigger and better things await The National Production Company.

Kirsty Mcgrory

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The 39 Steps

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Sat 9th June
Murthly Village Hall

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This is the ninth season that Dundee Rep have taken theatre into the community to various local venues. This year, director Irene Macdougall and the ensemble are revisiting familiar community venues and have added some new ones to the itinerary. There is something quite magical in the idea of a touring theatre and this Saturday night performance was packed. There was certainly a bit of a buzz amongst the audience as the hall filled up before the lights went down.

The 39 Steps being one of my all-time favourite movies (Hitchcock’s 1935 version, not any of the lacklustre remakes), I was keen to see what Dundee Rep’s ensemble would make of this classic Buchan ripping yarn. Would this Richard Hannay be a suave prototype James Bond, who takes his ladies’ kisses without asking? Or perhaps the comic Hannay of Simon Corble’s 1996 stage reboot? And how do you squeeze a tale that starts in a London music hall, steams up the Northern Line to Scotland and back to London again onto a stage (little Murthly village hall stage at that)?

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Dundee Rep’s Joe Landry’s 39 Steps takes the conceit of a radio ‘play within a play’. As the lights go down the familiar pips of Greenwich time signal give way to the clipped tones of a Radio Scotland announcer introducing ‘tonight’s live performance’ of Buchan’s play in front of ‘a live audience’ – Hey that’s us! As the action progresses there were moments when, if one closed one’s eyes, one could easily have been listening to a radio drama from the nineteen thirties. Sound effects, mostly all produced ‘live’ by the five actors on stage, were a great part of the pleasure of listening as the familiar plot unfolded.

Ewan Donald’s Hannay is a delightfully upper crust rogue. Dressed for the part in tweeds and brogues, and with an accent that could cut a bar-full of glasses, he playfully keeps up the conceit of the nineteen thirties radio actor playing Richard Hannay. Emily Winter’s Annabella Smith/Pamela are just as playfully done. The awkwardly stifled romantic spark between Hannay and Pamela is the source of much magically amusing moments. Barrie Hunter takes, among a plethora of roles, the character of Professor Jordan to ‘evil genius’ proportions. Billy Mack and Ann Louise Ross take up the remaining cast with some excellent quick-change vocal acrobatics. At points in the action it’s hard to believe that there were only five actors on stage.

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For me, and the appreciative audience in Murthly village hall, much of the comedy of the play was in watching the cast provide the sound effects. Look (or listen) out for the barking dog with excellent comic timing, and the flock of sheep. The excellent sound production never overtakes the plot, and, being created live, is a reminder, like the two old style BBC microphones at front of stage, that this is a radio performance being recreated on stage.

Dundee rep are currently touring venues around Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire until Saturday 23rd Jun. If you want to be seriously entertained for an evening then look out for your nearest venue and get along. The ticket price is worth it twice over!

Mark Mckenzie

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TOUR DATES TO COME

 June  Venue  Book Tickets
Thu 14 Dibble Tree Theatre, Carnoustie  01241 853946
Fri 15 Menzieshill Community Centre  01382 432967
Sat 16 Rio Community Centre, Newport  01382 543366
Tue 19 Kirriemuir Town Hall  Click here to book
Wed 20 Forfar Reid Hall  Click here to book
Thu 21 Maxwell Centre, Hilltown  01382 802628
Fri 22 Douglas Community Centre  01382 436944
Sat 23 Eassie and Nevay Hall  01307 840839

www.dundeerep.co.uk/event/the-39-steps

The Vampire Clinic

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
28th May – 2nd June

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You may have speculated why appointments with doctors in surgeries or hospital clinics, never seem to keep to schedule. Why is it you always have to sit around for ages? Is it a case of overworked staff and too little time? Or is it a deliberate ploy by the NHS, to give waiting patients the opportunity to get to know each other, to share detailed descriptions of ailments, to exchange life stories including the current state of conjugal interactions… and pick up new friends? Genius or what!

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Findlay (William McBain) has plenty to contemplate as he sits in a bleak waiting room surrounded by Health Service flyers warning about the symptoms of heart disease. Sadie (Barbara Rafferty) has been here before and she’s come to terms with the changes a stroke can bring to your life. She tells us, one night she “went to bed a warrior and woke up a worrier”. She recognises the fear in Findlay and is determined to cheer him up with some breezy, Glasgow, heart-attack, banter. As his story moves from grim descriptions of the night of his seizure and the effects of his condition, to Pythonesque flights of fancy, he and hot blooded Sadie find they have more in common than a medical condition requiring Warfarin.

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Rafferty’s Sadie is literally, a survivor, soliloquising about the nature of her stroke in some detail, explaining the changes it rent in her brain, the split she lives with, which on occasion, lets another woman occupy her head. That said she is determined to put a positive spin, or at least wobble, on whatever challenges life throws at her. McBain’s Findlay is less proactive, still finding it hard to believe what has happened to him and concerned about what kind of future awaits. Both actors seemed to struggled with their dialogue on occasions which the charitable might put down to characterisation.

Peter McDougal has written a dark comedy that doesn’t shy away from the stark consequences of what can happen to relationships after illness. But the humour is broad and unrefined, sounding at times as if it belongs to an earlier decade.

Fails to get the blood pumping.

David G Moffat

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An Interview with Isobel McArthur

Blood Of The Young will soon be bringing their summer blockbuster to the Tron in Glasgow. The Mumble managed to nab one of the team for a wee blether…


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Hello Isobel, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Isobel: Hiya Mumble. My very first involvement in the theatre was about age 8. I joined the local youth drama group. It was badly organised and, of course, all the output was terrible – but there is something useful about getting up on a stage as soon as you can to help you figure out who you are and how performance works. It’s probably good to be getting it wrong when it really doesn’t matter.

When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Isobel: I was very lucky in that my parents took me to see a few plays when I was a kid. The theatre was instantly the most magical place I’d ever been. I wanted to watch, read and do as many plays as possible.

Can you tell us about your studies?
Isobel: I did a degree in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and then trained as an actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Isobel: Of course there needs to be room and provision for many different kids of theatre but personally I believe it is in theatre’s own interest to be generous, uplifting, accessible, thought-provoking and above all else, entertaining. If a piece of theatre doesn’t entertain as its first function, I don’t think it has the right to demand any attention from an audience.

You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Isobel: Just three copies of the film Castaway. For tips. No – I’m joking. I know precious little about film, if I’m honest. I suppose it would be important to be able to watch them a few times. I’d probably want to do the occasional bit of head-scratching, but mostly to be moved to laughter or tears if I don’t have any other company. Probably Un Prophete for a think, Duck Soup for a laugh and – this is a bit of a cheat -but I’d like to have the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy as my final choice. For the feels.

What does Isobel McArthur like to do when she’s not being creative?
Isobel: That’s a funny way of looking at it. I suppose I feel like hobbies need to be creative to be interesting at all. I’m daft about cooking. I occasionally do a bit of crafty stuff, sewing etc. Obviously life since drama school has, in large part, been made up of pulling pints, bringing people their breakfasts or doing mind-numbing promo jobs. But a good imagination helps get you through.

Can you tell us about Blood of the Young?
Isobel: Blood of the Young are a Glasgow-based ensemble theatre company. The company hold regular ensemble training days to build complicity and they make bold work with an emphasis on striking visuals, live music, ensemble movement and fun. We’re currently the National Theatre of Scotland company in residence.

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Anneke Kampman performing in ‘Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound’, Tron Theatre, 2017

How did you get involved & what is your role in the company?
Isobel: We formed when we left drama school. My role is usually one of writer-performer. I contributed a short play to BOTY’s first show Golden Arm Theatre Project, and I wrote both Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound and Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). I also perform in these shows. But in BOTY, there is an emphasis on collaboration, whoever you are. That can mean different things in practice but we will always establish a relationship with everyone on the project that means anyone can question, contribute and offer up new ideas. I believe we have a stronger critical eye when we work together in this way – we are more discerning and the work can then encompass a wider breath of tastes, senses of humour, artistic inclinations etc. It means it’s all the more important that the team are supportive, respectful of each other and open-minded, of course – but if everyone’s compassionate and just wants to make the best show possible, this works really well.

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One of your creations will be moving into the Tron for a few weeks at the end of June, can you tell us about the play you have fashioned?
Isobel: Aye, the play is called Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) and it is an adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel to be performed by an all-female ensemble of 5. The show features all the big-hitters from the original story, but it also shines a light on some of the characters below-stairs who usually get overlooked. It will be a colourful, dynamic, multi-rolling show with karaoke and disco balls. If we get it right, it shouldn’t matter whether the audience have ever heard of Austen. It will simply be a funny love story, entertainingly told that anyone can enjoy as a great night out.

Does Jane Austen still hold a relevance to the modern mind?
Isobel: For many, Austen novels represent a stuffy and inaccessible corner of the bookshelf that they were banished to once in school. I sympathise with that view. They can be challenging reads because, frankly, there are lengthy periods in Austen novels where it seems like nothing is happening. But she is a genius and always laying a path for something explosive. That required patience, however. And how many of us have that these days? This has to be a show that can be enjoyed in its fullest without anyone needing prior knowledge of the novel. Hopefully everyone can feel they have a stake in this world because, of course, it’s hugely relevant. In Pride & Prejudice, all the women are victims of the historical period they find themselves in. Women are unable to inherit anything from their parents – they need to marry a man to do it for them. These miserable circumstances land the women in various impossible situations, often making them either turn on each other or surrendering their core values for lack of any other option. In this way, nothing could be more relevant than the horrors faced by women when they are regarded as second-class citizens. Beyond that, however, this particular novel is also about the importance understanding yourself and others better in order to question preconceptions and ultimately reach the kind of understanding with another human being which could be called ‘true love’. It is about building bridges of understanding, admitting when we’re wrong, questioning our own prejudices and trying to see the world from someone else’s perspective. I wish that weren’t all still so painfully relevant.

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Paul Brotherston (right)

How is director Paul Brotherston finding working with the play?
Isobel: I think this would be a challenging play for anyone to direct. There are about 120 named characters and multiple locations in the original novel – and we need to tell a tight version of the story using only 5 actors. However, we have assembled a great team and are just as excited by the many challenges as we are petrified by them. This show will be a lot of fun. It’s a romantic comedy! So I trust the playfulness in the room will make for a really enjoyable process for all. Paul is perfectly placed to direct it – it’s very much a Blood of the Young-style piece.

What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Isobel McArthur, Blood of the Young & Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of)?
Isobel: Hopefully our show will enjoy a good run in Glasgow. Who knows if it will have a future after that – we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll continue to write after this but principally I’ll be going off to act in a large-scale project. As for BOTY, we will continue to train and begin development of our next project. More on all that anon!


Pride & Prejudice*
*sort of

The Tron , Glasgow
28th June – 14th July 2018

BUY TICKETS HERE

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www.bloodoftheyoung.org

The First Dance

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
14th-19th May

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Real men don’t watch, top chick-flick, Dirty Dancing. They may have sat in a room when the DVD was playing but they were not looking. Most probably their thoughts were about something entirely masculine, like the sweaty, raw, grappling, physicality of a scrum at rugby. This could be a problem for Rhoda as she plans the ‘first dance’ at her upcoming wedding, because fiancé Terry is an oval ball enthusiast and a bit of a man’s man, not too keen on Terpsichore. To realise her big day’s dream of recreating the leaping finale in the 1980s film, she seeks the assistance of dance tutor Gavin. His theatrical posturing is not to Terry’s taste and the latter displays his homophobia by directing a shocking epithet at the instructor (cue sharp intake of breath from the audience). Regardless of this, a determined Rhoda will have her way. But there’s another problem, due to their strict religious beliefs, the couple cannot engage in anything involving close proximity, until after they’ve exchanged wedding vows. Adaptable Gavin will have to partner each separately. In this case it takes three to tango; he will be Patrick Swayze’s ‘Johnny’ for Rhoda… and Jennifer Grey’s ‘Baby’ for Terry.

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Darren Brownlie’s Gavin is a versatile delight, whether gathering himself in grief, sorrowfully owning the silences, or twisting, flexing, bending (has the man no ligaments) while delivering waspish retorts to any slights. Jo Freer’s Rhoda is the kind of woman who wears the trousers. Not only that, she keeps the Wedding Fund bank card and its PIN number, in the pocket of those trousers. She envisions a precise, fundamental future for herself and the man she hopes to create. Think Lady Macbeth but without the milky kindness. Daniel Cahill’s Terry is caught up in events, struggling with doubts about his upcoming marriage, trying to realise exactly who he is. A solid fortress of a man anxious not to have his drawbridge lowered.

Martin McCormick’s play, a satisfying mixture of the serious and comic, entertains right through to its uplifting conclusion. You’ll have the time of your life.

David G Moffat

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Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
14th-19th May

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Imagine you’re in Scotland. The bells to welcome Ne’erday are still echoing across the frosty rooftops when there’s a knock at your door. You answer to see a large man with an avuncular smile wearing a small bunnet. He hands you a twelve inch ruler and says, “Happy New Year, here’s your first foot.” Congratulations, you’re in a Chic Murray joke and there’s a wheen of his gags to be enjoyed in this entertaining comedy, written and directed by Stuart Hepburn.

Maidie, Chic’s wife, is looking through a box of old theatre bills, recalling when she first met the tall droll man while seeking theatrical digs at his mother’s house. Two years later they’re married and encouraged by his wife, Chic starts telling his jokes on stage. Initially a reluctant performer, Maidie gives him advice on technique, pointers on timing and soon his own style of surreal humour is getting attention from rapt audiences… and admiring chorus girls. As TV and film rolls beckon, he and Maidie start to drift apart.

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IMG_7662.JPGDave Anderson is Chic, punctuating the accentuated chimes of his dialogue with fractional pauses, delaying the entirely logical denouement that illustrates the absurd. (Obviously he can’t get you mince when he’s passing the butcher’s… he’d have to go inside.) From the arms that dangle as if Chic didn’t know what to do with them, to the narrowing eyes and rakish grin of collusion with his audience, all the Murray mannerisms are on display.

Kate Donnelly is Maidie, a woman keen to encourage and support her husband, willing to swap her successful singing, tap and accordion act to play second fiddle to Chic.
The ensemble is played by Brian James O’Sullivan, a Jack and master of all trades. He acts, sings, plays accordion and piano. His rectus grinning Liberace is a particular delight. The author, cast and Chic’s jokes, create an hour of comedy that gives everyone in the packed audience a lift… which (as the man himself would have said) is of precious little use to those who live in bungalows.

David G Moffat

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Exploring the Glasgow Pantosphere

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Oran Mor / The Tron
Glasgow
06/12/17


CINDERELLA 2
The Oran Mor, Glasgow
27th Nov – 30th Dec

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IMG_7064i, Joanne McGuinness.jpgFor the past few months, The Mumble’s chief ambassador to the Oran Mor’s benevolent-in-so-many-ways Play, Pie & a Pint paradigm, David G Moffat has reviewed every single theatrical offering. Not wanting to go an entire season without tasting a piece & a pie, I cashed in my CEO chips & went Westside for Cinderella 2: I Married a Numpty. I was partaking for the first time in one of Glasgow’s startlingly native creative outputs, the brandy-imbued blancmange that is the city’s adult pantomime. All the boys & girls in the audience are grown up, but in the psyche of us all there is a mimesial box of affection just waiting to be opened by colours, sounds & dodgy puns. Thus, once the opening number had told us, with rather well-toned vocals, that pantomime’s ‘not just for wains anymore,’ I was ready to rock.

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Written & directed by the erstwhile & perennially pretty Morag Fullerton, I went on to witness a slightly slapsticky, mostly amsuing boozecruise through the modern morphing of Commedia d’ell Arte. The comedic archetypes on this occasion are the cerebrally Blackpoolesque Auntie Etta (surname Dick), played by local lad & long time donjon of screen & stage, Dave Anderson; Joanne McGuinness as a fun & feisty Cinderella, Clare Waugh as her ugly sister, Wan-Tooth Winnie, & the high-status thespianity of John Kielty, who played both ‘shag-shag-shoot-shoot’ Prince Charming & the bumblingly beautiful, childrens’ presenteresque Buttheid, the rivals for Cinderella’s affections in love.

In fairy tales, perhaps the most unbelievable aspect is the notion that people live happily ever after, & so it has proved to be in Cindereallaworld, where the class divide between her & her posh prince is soon tearing at the tether with gold-plated or rotting teeth. As for the tradition, all the trimmings are there. Bouncy, chorus-catchy sing-a-long songs; the love potion motif, one I remembered from my last panto, sometime in the 1980s in Manchester, with my gran’s works from Burnley; there was speaking bluebird puppetry; the ‘O yes I did, O no you didn’t,’ sonic pendulum; the finale sing-song tonguetwister rolled out on a big canvas at the back of the stage, & so on. The script was snappy, native & of course, satirical, in the popular contemporaneity way. Auntie Etta had the best lines, especially her, ‘I feel like a chameleon traversing a kilt,‘ & her comments on acquiring the proper vestiges of minor celebrity ever since her niece married into royalty – these days she gets to call out bingo numbers in Partick Burgh Hall. The other three actors all gave top-grade performances, especially John Kielty who not only played two parts here, but is also starring in the Citizens panto, Hansel and Gretel, in the evenings. Overall, I Married a Numpty looks, sounds & feels great, & with the use of radio mics is one of the best immersive experiences I’ve ever had at the Oran Mor’s PPP. Unfortunately for most, the thing is completely sold-out, but if you are one of the lucky ones who has a ticket, you’re in for a treat. FOUR STARS.

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ALICE IN WEEGIELAND
The Tron, Glasgow
Dec 1st – Jan 7th

Script: five-stars Stagecraft: five-stars  Performance: four-stars.png

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After the Oran Mor, I intended to do a spot of Christmas shopping for the family, but in fact only visited Fopp & a couple of charity shops near the theatre where I rather selfishly bought stuff only for myself. I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an abject terror in buying ‘just the right thing’ for one’s loved ones at Christmas, & find comfort & solace in buying personalised tat instead. I then drove up to my pal’s house in Riddrie for a meal & a nap – Glasgow is soooooo exhausting – before returning to the city centre & the Tron for the second panto of the day. As soon as I arrived I realised this production would also be catering for children. Two groups of brownies – a 22 & a 48 according to the usher – had filled the auditorium to capacity. ‘Wooaah, wooaah, wooaahh,’ I thought to myself, this panto was written by Johnny McKnight, whose Wendy Hoose I reviewed at last year’s Fringe, & which was, one would say, unsuitable for children.

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I need not have worried. McKnight has created something straight out of the Alexander Makeev school of Panto. In St Petersburg in the 1980s, Makeev began experimenting with dance, clowning & drama to create a style which appeals to adults & to children alike. Alice In Weegieland is a perfect example of the model, whose colloquial, lyrical comedy is downright genius. The story is based, of course, on Alice in Wonderland. ‘Do you wanna come down & have a swatch?‘ asks Scott Fletcher’s slick, red-haired, camptastic Knave of Hearts. Alice agrees, played calmly & cutely by Daisy Ann Fletcher, whose recent failure at ballet class has sent her spinning headfirst into the metaphorical depths of redemption. Down the hole, Alice soon finds that the playing cards of Lewis Carrol’s made-up land have been replaced by chip-tossing, sweet-chucking burberry chavs. ‘Welcome to Weegieland,‘ they sing to the fun musicality of just-by-the-stage, orange-suited musical maestro, Ross Brown, ‘where we work hard for cash in hand.’ ‘Welcome to Weegieland,‘ they sing again, ‘where drinking outside has been banned!’ Then enters the brilliant, street-shuffling, glitterblinging, jittery Doormouse, played with sublime authenticity by Jo Freer. Next up was Julie Wilson Nimmo’s Catterpillar, Catty P, whose remarkable costume was just one of the many aesthetic gems that made up the joyously twinkling dramaturgical tiara that crowned McKnight’s superlative-pregnant panto.

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The star of the show, & of probably the theatrical year as far as I am concerned, was Darren Brownlie. Both his characters were in drag – Frauline Rot the ballet teacher, & the Queen of Hearts, & both were beyond brilliant. Through his decisive, supernova performances, & all the rest of the oomph & bumph of pantomime in its prime, Alice in Weegieland is a glossy explosion & riotous romp through Glasgow’s ‘otherverse.’ Occasionally, I found that the subplots were clung onto a tad too much, the re-explanations spoiling the flow somewhat, but the show is a full 2 hours long & the time needed to be filled. A couple of cuts here & there & we would have a masterpiece on our hands. A few seats are still available for Alice in Weegieland this year, not many mind, & it is worth travelling to from all parts of Scotland to watch with, I’d say, kids above the age of 10. FIVE STARS

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A Christmas Carol

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Dundee Rep
30 Nov – 31 Dec

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: five-stars   Performance: four-stars.png


“Imagine a time…” begins the narrator, setting the scene of a bustling city on Christmas Eve. On stage, Christmas Eve shoppers rush around, buying that last-minute trimming for the next day’s festivities, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and young children skip excitedly, bursting with anticipation of presents under trees. It could be the present day. But we know its not — we’ve come to see the well-beloved Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and hear again the story of one Ebenezer Scrooge and how his miserly ways are turned around by the three spectral visitations from the past, present and future. It’s as familiar a recipe as Christmas pudding, right?

DSC_8758.jpgDundee Rep’s production, skilfully adapted for stage by Neil Duffield, takes a fresh pull at this Christmas cracker. And what a treat there is inside! It’s Ebenezer, the zero-hours boss, the protean anti-society capitalist, the nemesis of workers everywhere, as a woman! Not a gender-bending pantomime dame, but a real hard-nosed, iron-hearted woman. And Scrooge as a woman, so utterly black heartedly played by Anne Louise Ross, has slipped a nip of something enlivening into the familiar, and the result is a truly magical mix of fun and song – even some literal shocks – for young and old alike.

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The opening night of Dundee Rep’s Christmas offering was a joyous event. The ensemble cast recreated the familiar tale with a loving respect for the original story, interweaving the action with superb medleys of Christmas carols throughout, and the audience, young and old alike, joyfully joined in with the singing.

The cast play well together, turning up both the humour and sentimentality of Dickens’ original story to just the right temperature. All the old favourite characters are lovingly recreated; Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, Mr and Mrs Fezziwig and Tiny Tim, played by Oliver Mulholland and Harrison Hughes, pulled on the heart strings perfectly. Look out for the mischief made by the ghosts with Scrooge’s bedtime routine!

Settings and costumes were evocative and expressive and detailed, making the whole event a delight for the eyes as much as the heart. Scene changes happened with brandy-butter smoothness. The audience were magically transported with Scrooge and her ghostly guides to scenes from the past, to discover just how she came to be so mean, then whisked away to see happy Christmas revellers mix in the present and on to a dark foreboding future that, like a Christmas pudding, had a real flaming topping!

Take a young person to see this wonderful, faithful production, or just go see it yourself and believe in the power of Christmas – for a while at least!

Reviewer : Mark MacKenzie

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The Weir Sisters

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
20-25 November, 2017

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It’s Christmas day in Paradise and young Grace who passed away in the 1940s, is all a flutter, laying out the sausage rolls and Bristol Cream in anticipation of a very special visitor. She is assisted by her older, down-to-earth sister Margaret, who refuses to use the ‘Chalice of Vision’ to keep up with terrestrial events. She’ll only stick her face in water if it’s to dook for apples. A celestial bell announces the arrival of a third sister, the recently expired, doddery Dorothy. Difficult truths can at last be divulged and sibling forgiveness sought.

IMG_6928i Deborah Arnott, Sandra  McNeeley, Meghan Tyler.jpgMeghan Tyler is wonderfully endearing as the aptly named Grace, bringing a wide-eyed earnest innocence to the role. Sandra McNeely’s feisty Margaret delivers the best of the jokes while Deborah Arnott as Dorothy, has the saddest tale to tell. As her ancient form uncoils from her zimmer to rediscover her youthful stature (you get to choose your preferred age in heaven) her accent, for no apparent reason, mysteriously transforms from that of the Western Isles to Glaswegian???

Lynn Ferguson’s admirable play has humour, pathos and a large dollop of yuletide sentimentality that would please Frank Capra and bring a tear to old man Potter’s eye. The production is a worthy finale to Oran Mor’s Autumn Season.

Reviewer : David G Moffat

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