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Theatre Review: Mother Goose, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh

19 Dec

Mother Goose at the Brunton Theatre

★★★★

Fully embracing the tried and trusted panto formula – the knowing recycling of a classic fairytale with a familiar riff on tried and tested jokes giving them momentum – Brunton Theatre may not be reinventing the wheel in 2010 with its staging of Mother Goose, but when something works this well, why change it?

A distinctly Scottish flavour is added to the Mother Goose story, as Prince Jack (Gerry Kielty) looks to revive his crumbling castle with the proceeds made from selling a golden egg. A spanner is thrown into the works when the evil Vainglorious (Edward Cory) decides he wants to marry the bonniest lass in Musselburgh, Jill (Julie Heatherill), resulting in various mishaps and kidnappings involving Jill and the egg.

Helping (or is that hindering?) Jack are Mother Goose aka Gertie Ga Ga (Craig Glover, back for a second year as Dame) and her jester, Muddles (Aaron Usher), as romance blossoms and evil threatens the land.

One-liners, convoluted plot summaries and ludicrous set pieces are the name of the day here, the whole endeavour hanging together thanks to the sheer enthusiasm of the performers and an audience willing them on.

The central pairing of Glover and Usher is the heart of the show, Usher revelling in the corny jokes and banter with the crowd. Now in his tenth Brunton panto, there can’t be a permutation on the role of “daft laddie” that Usher hasn’t covered, yet he’s still fresh as ever, no doubt egged on by Glover’s gloriously OTT performance and even more OTT costumes.

Throw in songs spanning the last five decades, a few nods to reality TV and Doctor Who (even the recent Doctor Who Proms are referenced, proving nothing is too obscure) and more than a few mentions of Musselburgh itself, and this is a show with something for grannies, grandchildren and most family members in between.

The rather abrupt wrapping up of plot threads and hasty ending aside, this is yet another triumph for the Brunton and a reminder that it’s worth braving the snow and ice when the entertainment is as much fun as Mother Goose.

Mother Goose runs until 31 December, details on the Brunton Theatre website.

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Theatre Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

13 Dec

Jack and the Beanstalk

★★★★

As the year draws to a close, and I look back on the last few months of blog posts and realise I’ve spent far too little time at the theatre recently, it’s good to know that a bit of fun has been injected back into Edinburgh with the arrival of panto season.

Last week I went along to Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre to see the new Allan Stewart/Grant Stott production of Jack and the Beanstalk, this time with an added dash of Andy Gray, who returns to the city after three years in Glasgow panto.

Making a stunning entrance as Dame May McTrot, Stewart drops effortlessly back into the role of panto matriarch. It’s one he’s honed to perfection over the years, the actor a safe pair of hands in a production which tries to get bigger and flashier every year but which really just needs a bloke in a dress to work.

Andy Gray is also on fine form as King Crumble, sizing up to Stewart on more than one occasion as the pair try to outdo each other in the fluffed and forgotten lines stakes. It’s hard to know where the ad-libs and improvisation start and end, both of them falling in and out of character as they wait for their next line, but it all adds to the entertainment.

Grant Stott is also on good form as the evil Fleshcreep, doing the work of the evil giant (a semi-successful animatronic prop which dominates the stage for an over loud and overlong period of time), but it’s easy to lost track of quite why the giant is being so evil. There’s some fluff about unpaid taxes requiring the kidnap of Crumble’s daughter, Princes Apricot (Jo Freer), but none of it makes too much sense in all the rush.

Freer makes for a perky princess, most of her scenes taking place opposite romantic lead Andrew Scott-Ramsay, who does well with the pretty thankless role of Jack McTrot. Scott-Ramsay replaces Johnny Mac this year in the role of Stewart’s son, with the 2010 version a more serious portrayal. The part of the bumbling oaf is instead given to Gray, leaving Scott-Ramsay with the occasional one-liner.

References to reality TV and shiny floor shows abound, and if you don’t know your Wagner from your Gillian McKeith you’ll be slightly left in the cold. The appearance of Gray as one half of Stavros Flatley (Britain’s Got Talent) does redeem this situation somewhat, a sketch which proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

Throw in a few song and dance routines and a bit of business with audience members, plus obligatory references to the Edinburgh trams, and this is a tremendous evening’s entertainment which won’t disappoint.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs until Sunday 23 January 2011. Visit the King’s Theatre website for more information.

Theatre Review: Sunshine on Leith, 12 October 2010, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

13 Oct

Sunshine on Leith

★★★★

In the midst of TV schedules filled with broadcasters’ attempts at spoon-feeding viewers with Z-list celebrity reality shows, while supermarket shelves buckle under the weight of countless Jennifer Aniston DVDs, it’s easy to dismiss populist entertainment as a Very Bad Thing, a wasteland where “entertainers” are only as good as their current marketing mix.

One place where populist isn’t a four letter word is in musical theatre, the demand for larger-than-life spectacle as strong as ever. This was evidenced last night by the large crowd who turned up at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre to see the latest Dundee Rep production of Sunshine on Leith, the musical based on the songs of The Proclaimers, as it rolled into town.

Within seconds of the curtain going up we’re introduced to Davy (Billy Boyd) and Ally (Michael Moreland), two soldiers fresh out of the army and back on the streets of Edinburgh (sorry, Leith) as they look to rebuild their lives.

Safe in the bosom of their families, the lads are soon fully paid up members of the rat race, women, jobs and football replacing the harsh realities of the desert. As the pair try to follow the path their parents took, looking to settle down and raise families, it becomes clear that even thirty years of marriage isn’t without its traumas.

Writer Stephen Greenhorn may pepper his heavily-colloquialised dialogue with such hits as I’m On My Way (as Davy and Ally make their way down an alternate universe Leith Walk, one inhabited by dancing grannies and drunks hanging out of wheelie bins (actually, that last bit might well be fact)) and Life With You (as various men explain how they want to spend their lives with their women), but this highly literal odyssey manages to avoid tying itself up in knots just to get to the next well-staged dance routine. Continue reading

Theatre Review: What We Know, 19 February, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

22 Feb

Grant Gillies reviews the Traverse theatre’s latest production.

4 out of 5 stars

The Traverse continue to push at the boundaries of cutting edge theatre with their latest fulfilling offering, What We Know, written and directed by Pamela Carter.

The play is split into three distinct parts: Life before death; the ensuing chaos that surrounds the removal of a loved one; and the return to integration as normality falls as fragile as snow.

On entering the theatre, the picture portrayed is one of blissful interaction, smells and dialogue blending together in a natural flow.  Normality and mundane tasks such as preparing a meal accentuate the love between the two characters of Lucy (Kate Dickie) and Jo (Paul Thomas Hickey).

The writing perfectly captured the strength of love between the two, right up until Jo was quickly removed from the scene, when everything changed. One minute he was there and the next he was gone. Normal to abnormal. Life to death.

In the midst of this grey storm of confusion, as Lucy struggles to come to terms with Jo simply disappearing from her life, the arrival of a young stranger, played by Lorn McDonald, was unexpected and slightly absurd. It worked, just.

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Theatre Review: Spymonkey’s Moby Dick, 10 February, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

11 Feb

Moby Dick

4 out of 5 stars

Shamelessly swiping elements of amateur Christmas pantomime, silent slapstick sketches and those Morcambe and Wise plays which always ended in disaster, Spymonkey add enough of their own exuberance to the Moby Dick legend to ensure it feels as fresh as a sea breeze.

Introduced as being a production of the Compagnie Toby Parks, a motley crew of actors seemingly culled from the offcuts of regional rep companies, this version of Herman Melville’s (no relation) novel is one for our recession hit times.

Parks, a luvvie of the highest order, is intent on giving his audience the best show possible, even if it means the ship much of the play is set on and around is a slightly rickety effort.

Narrated by Ishmael (Aitor Basauri) in a strong Spanish accent (he’s difficult to understand so that the audience will pay attention more), we’re then introduced to the cast of four: Toby Park, Petra Massey and Stephan Kreiss.

Continuing the low budget theme, pub signs double as table tops, a metal pole becomes a mast and the quartet of actors don various iffy costumes to portray a number of characters.

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Theatre Review: Promises, Promises, 3 February, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

4 Feb

4 out of 5 Stars

Impeccable choreography and a note-perfect performance from actress Joanna Tope help grip the audience throughout a 90-minute monologue in Douglas Maxwell’s new play.

Teacher Maggie Brodie (Tope) has seen and done it all, her 35 years in the classroom the only constant in a life full of learning about what it means to be a woman first and educator second.

Although effectively retired from the classroom, Maggie’s close proximity to a local school means that when a teacher goes off sick it’s her the headteacher decides to come running to for help, even if he is aware of a couple of “situations” from her past.

As Maggie settles into her new routine, she’s introduced to Rosie, a six-year-old Somalian girl who won’t speak but whom the older woman feels a connection to. As religion enters the classroom and Maggie reflects on how she arrived here, the past appears to catch up with her in more ways than one.

Set against the backdrop of her primary school classroom, slats in the back wall rotating at various points to depict a cloakroom or toilets, Promises, Promises is a play of many strands, all converging on the ageing, proud and stately figure of Miss Brodie, now slightly past her prime.

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Theatre Review: The Price, until 13 February, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

17 Jan
The Price

Image by Tim Morozzo

*****

Continuing their run of Arthur Miller plays (this is the fourth in five years), Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum brings director John Dove’s latest adaptation to the stage in the shape of The Price, 1968’s investigation of family and society in early 20th century America.

Returning to his late fathers soon-to-be-demolished apartment to sell what remains of his furniture collection, police sergeant Victor Franz (Greg Powrie) discusses his upcoming retirement with wife Esther (Sally Edwards) as antique dealer Solomon (James Hayes) arrives.

As Victor and Solomon work on a deal for the complete collection, Victor’s older brother Walter (Aden Gillett) turns up, prompting memories of the past to resurface in both brothers as the spectre of their father hangs over them.

As with many Miller scripts, family, loyalty and memory are crucial elements of The Price. From the opening moments, as Victor stalks the room where he and his father spent so much time eking out a living after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, we’re can see the past colliding with the present.

The furniture piled high around the set and the music on the gramophone reinforces Victor’s memories of his youth, the arrival of Walter and his remembrance of the past yet another blow to Victor’s somewhat fragile grasp on his own recollections.

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