Arts News!

MGA Foundation Gala Ball

A Glittering Evening to Support Theatre’s Next Generation.

The MGA School of the performing arts, Scotland’s leading training institute launched  The MGA Foundation to improve access to Performing Arts opportunities for those who cannot afford them without our help.

The MGA Foundation was officially established as a registered charity in 2017 but MGA has, over the last ten years, already awarded tuition fee support worth over £600,000 to young people pursuing training opportunities in performing arts.

The Foundation aims to provide financial support to people residing in Scotland towards the costs of part-time and full-time training in singing, acting and musical theatre at reputable schools and accredited colleges throughout the UK. Although growing from a commitment to young people endeavouring to train professionally in Edinburgh, the MGA Foundation is broadening access to encompass workshops, youth theatre and part-time and full-time training opportunities across the UK to all those who call Scotland their home.

To mark the formal launch of the foundation Join them for a spectacular evening of fundraising in the glamorous surroundings of The Stables at the Prestonfield House Hotel where you will be treated to bubbles on arrival, a sumptuous three-course dinner, spectacular entertainment and many a wallet-lightening activity!

MGA ball 4

This, inaugural event is your chance to join the Foundation at the very beginning of their exciting future.  Tickets are  strictly limited in numbers and both Murray Grant and Andrew Gowland look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be a night to remember.  #FundingTheFuture

Tickets include: Drinks reception on arrival between 18:30 and 19:15, three course dinner, entertainment, late night dancing with carriages at 01:00.

VIP Tables include: Dedicated pre-event drinks reception with The MGA Foundation Board of Trustees and special guests, stage view table seating, a single entry into the raffle draw per person and a bottle of white wine and bottle of red wine per table.

Its also been confirmed that west end and Broadway Star Kerry Ellis will top the bill on the evening, it promises to be something very special indeed. So what you waiting for, break out the glad rags and buy those tickets!

The MGA Foundation Gala Ball, Saturday 11th May, Prestonfield House, Edinburgh for tickets go to: https://the-core-shop-edinburgh.myshopify.com/collections/core-and-foundation-events/products/gala-dinner-11th-may-2019

 

 

Mary Woodward Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert

**** (4 stars)

Conductor Stuart Stratford bounced on to the stage and gave us a lengthy but fascinating answer to the question he’d been asked a few days previously – “Why do you put on all these obscure operas?” We had a quick canter through the best of this season’s programme and the goodies to look out for next season as part of the answer – as well as doing classics from the repertoire [Magic Flute, Tosca] Scottish Opera put on modern and specially commissioned works [Greek, Flight, Anthropocene, Nixon in China, Breaking the Waves, and a new tinies’ opera Fox-Tot!]  It’s good to work on finding new insights into stalwarts of the operatic canon, and exciting to work on something new whether on something newly-composed or, as with Silvano, something that’s been around for years but dropped out of sight until unearthed and found to be a brilliant piece that deserves to be heard.

On a first hearing, there was a lot to like about Silvano, especially the chorus numbers which eloquently depicted the beauty of the sea on to which the local fishermen set sail every evening, returning with the light of dawn.  The orchestral writing was good, though of the ‘let’s just double the vocal line to emphasise it’ rather than the Puccini-style ‘let’s have interesting tunes wandering through the orchestra and have some sort of a vocal line on top’.

The four soloists did a good job of selling this ‘new’ music to us. Alexey Dolgov’s tenor gleamed after an initial dampness [possibly due to a cold or some such affliction?] but at times the orchestra overwhelmed him – they usually sit in the pit: were they so excited at being on display that they were unable to rein in their enthusiasm in the ‘good bits’?  David Stout’s incisive baritone matched his aggressive, domineering character and music, though he swithered rather between noble renunciation and villainous spite.  Leah-Marian Jones didn’t have much to do as Silvano’s mother, but did it well, especially her loving response to her son’s emotional outpourings.  Emma Bell, in her Scottish Opera début, had a lot of agonising to do, and did it very well, her somewhat metallic soprano riding the orchestra with ease: but her character didn’t really convince – not her fault, with composer and librettist both giving a male view of a woman’s behaviour and motivation!

The basic plot is, as ever, a love triangle: this time set in an Italian fishing village. Silvano and Matilde were to be married, but Silvano was accused of smuggling and had to go into hiding – during which time Matilde became involved with his best friend Renzo.  Silvano suddenly appears, having been pardoned: he can’t understand why Matilde is less than overjoyed and protests that she is unworthy.  Renzo comes in, hoping for a good day’s fishing: a quarrel develops when he calls Silvano a bandit.  Peace is eventually restored between the two men, who set off together – but Renzo reappears and reminds Matilde of their liaison, saying he will not let her go.  Matilde is unwillingly forced to agree to meet him that night.

Silvano praises the calmness of the evening sea, and regrets that he is too late to join any of the fishing boats. He tells his mother of Matilde’s devotion to him while he was in hiding, and reluctantly she agrees to her son’s marriage.  He goes to join his beloved – but she appears with Renzo, warning him that Silvano will kill her if he finds them together.  Silvano returns, Renzo hides: Matilde denies that she was talking to anyone, but Renzo reappears.  Silvano kills him and flees, leaving Matilde alone.

Silvano and Renzo are very different characters – the one quiet and introspective, the other outgoing and confident – and this is reflected in their music. Rosa, Silvano’s mother, is motivated by love for her son.  Matilde, though, seems harder to understand: she spends so much of her time wailing remorsefully that it’s hard to see what either man saw in her, and she seems trapped in her remorse [like Santuzza in Mascagni’s still-current Cavalleria Rusticana, a guilt-ridden Catholic – but unlike Santuzza, given solely to weeping and wringing her hands, without the fire that makes Santuzza so much more appealing a heroine].  Her part seemed virtually one-dimensional, as she changed her mind almost constantly depending on which of the two men she was with – her liaison with Renzo seemed to be almost accidental but she was unable to resist his threats despite what she professed to be her undying love for Silvano…  The translation we were given in supertitles was mercifully free from bad jokes and punning humour, but I have no way of knowing how accurately it reflected the Italian libretto, which on a first hearing had some lovely lyrical lines when describing the scenery, but was less intelligible when it came to the Matilde’s motivation – but as I’ve said, maybe composer and librettist were less interested in that than in painting the luckless temptress in a ‘doomed love triangle’.

Whatever the motivation, Mascagni knew how to write emotive music, and as the final thrilling chords of the opera died away, the disappointingly small audience erupted in cheers, stamping and sustained applause – they obviously found the work a great hit which deserves to be seen more frequently.

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Run Ended

Mary Woodward Review

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint

**** (4 stars)

This was “Life with the Lions”, the ugly version…  Joy and George Adamson were pioneers in wild cat conservation, especially lions.  Joy is probably best-remembered for her books about the lion cub, Elsa, and Elsa’s cubs – Born Free, Living Free, and Forever Free – and the film Born Free, all of which tend to make the whole thing sound terribly romantic and alluring.  But was this the case?

Sue Glover’s play lifts the lid on life behind the picture-perfect façade, giving us a portrait of an arrogant woman more concerned for her animals than for her husband or the native servants who make her life in Kenya possible.  It’s colonialism at its worst coupled with the supreme self-confidence that knows I am right and everyone else is wrong: but without that arrogance and self-belief, would Joy have achieved what she did?  And was what she achieved worth the price paid?

It was extremely uncomfortable to be sitting so close to the action, an unwilling witness to the raging emotions unleashed before us.  Joy’s confident persona in front of the press cameras as she promoted Born Free dissolved into melodramatic hysteria as she furiously berated George for failing to deal swiftly enough with Elsa’s illness and thus prevent her death, talking of the lion in overblown terms – “we had a mystical relationship” / “she was my soul-mate”: the sort of language one might associate with the death of a partner, but not of an animal, however beloved.

Vitriol was aimed at the man of whom she had previously spoken so glowingly, the desired prey of her long-term hunt – was it the glamour of his reputation that attracted her?  Certainly the gloss wore off, she had affairs and spent much of their married life living elsewhere: but did she ever love a human being the way she loved the big cats, and especially Elsa?  For both herself and George losing Elsa seemed to be the great tragedy that ruined their relationship rather than bringing them closer together…but would Joy have tired of Elsa had she lived, just as she tired of George?  Elsa was replaced by other lion cubs, then by a young female cheetah and finally an African leopardess cub, just as George was replaced by various nameless men and the oh-so-wonderfully urbane and sophisticated publisher, ‘Billy’ Collins.

As the play progressed, however, it became clear that Elsa was indeed the Beloved, who could do no wrong, and to whom Joy talked constantly, updating her on what was going on, and confiding details of her past life that Joy had revealed to no-one else. These went some way to explaining her attitude towards everyone else – you can’t trust anyone, they will betray you and let you down, disappear and hurt you, so trust no-one and never display fear.  She was harsh and unforgiving towards anyone who didn’t act as she felt they should, [“Nobody ever thinks about me”…], careless of her husband and his feelings and oblivious to the fact that the servants who made her life and work possible were human beings to be treated with kindness and respect.

Her egocentric view of things contrasted with that of her long-suffering husband, who tried to point out to her the wisdom of realising that the two of them were at best tolerated in Kenya for the tourist income they brought to the country, and at worst hated by the local villagers whose land had been taken away to make a reserve for the lions, their traditional enemy.  Her heartless treatment of their ‘boy’ Makedde is the final straw: his daily walk with a gun between her and the danger from her latest love, the leopard Penny, his devoted service to her and George were all as nothing because of his selfishness in accidentally scalding his leg and needing treatment at the Mission “leaving me alone, like everyone else does”…

The only times Joy seemed warm and loving were when she was talking to Elsa or about her latest loves, human or animal: she completely ignored any pain George might have been feeling, both for the loss of Elsa and later when he had to shoot his beloved Boy, another lion who’d been rescued, and whose death involved both George and Makedde in an interrogation which revealed that Boy had attacked several other people before killing the servant Stanley.  Makedde helplessly watched George mourning Boy while seemingly oblivious to the death of Stanley, a twenty-eight-year-old orphan, whose body would be taken from police custody and dumped in a common grave, while Boy’s grave would be visited as regularly as Elsa’s was…

It’s a chilling portrait of inhumanity and intolerance, mercilessly observed and brilliantly acted by Selina Boyack, Keith Fleming and Nick Ikunda, whose servitude and humility enraged me and made intelligible the hatred of those Kenyans who were attacking white tourists and trying to take back land they felt was rightfully theirs.

It was not a comfortable play to watch: how true it is I don’t know: but the performances were very good and the audience greatly appreciative.

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh  run ends Sat 20th April for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-lion-lion

Mary Woodward Review

Edinburgh Science Festival: Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Review:

Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, Edinburgh

**** 4 Stars

The last time I was in what is now ‘the Quaker Studio’ at Pleasance I saw a Fringe show about a historical lighthouse tragedy.  This, the first purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh was built in 1791 alongside the already existing Quaker burial ground: it seemed then to be virtually untouched.  It has now had a considerable makeover – the Quakers who worshipped there in the 18th century would hardly recognise the interior now…

Today the building hosted an excellent performance by the very able and energetic Alice Mary Cooper and Ben Winger, whose Melody and Sam seemed super-charged with energy as they told us of their various efforts to appear in the BIG Book of Records.  Having failed in their attempts to create new records for holding their breath or enduring clothes pegs on their faces, their current target was to beat the current world record for the most baked beans eaten in a minute, using only a cocktail stick to spear them.  Despite months of practice they were nowhere near the record of 54 beans: Sam only managed 36 beans [and great credit to Ben for gamely snarfing a sizeable number of cold baked beans at least twice in every show as he tried to hone his technique].

With the help of a delightful pop-up book, Sam and Melody told us about Topi, the remote island on which Sam was born and went to school – but now the school is gone, washed away by the sea, which came in the middle of the night and tossed Sam about ‘like a sock in a washing machine’.  Sam was now afraid of water and determined never to go back to the island – there’s no point, everything will just be drowned again…

The post brought Sam a letter confirming his and Melody’s entry into the World Record-Breakers Programme and setting the date for the team’s trial at the bean-eating record.  He rushed off to get his costume ready, while Melody prepared a training programme for him, which is strangely devoid of beans…  Sam was taken a journey layer by layer into the sea – sorry, BEANS – in which he met a school of clothes-peg fish swinging from coat hangers in the sunlight zone; a delightful mop-head jellyfish in the twilight zone, a strangely twisting bin-liner eel in the midnight zone, and an adorable lantern fish in the abyssal zone.  Part 2 of the training regime involved Sam, with his goggles on, being sprayed with water, encouraged to plunge his head into a bucket of water and finally, when he was about to be completely drenched with the water from the bucket, the penny dropped – he realised Melody’s ulterior motive, and a fierce argument ensued.

Things got a lot worse when Melody revealed her invitation to take part in the World Adventure Programme meant that her team were going to the world’s remotest island – Topi.  Each began to prepare for their solo challenges, while at the same time hoping for some possibility of reconciliation, which never came.  The enormous Big Book of Records at the back of the stage now opened up, showing Melody about to begin her adventure on The World’s Most Beat-up Old Ship.  Sam arrived, still cross with Melody but wanting to give her their small book of inspiring record breakers: before he could disembark and attempt the bean-eating record, the ship slipped its moorings – Sam was too afraid of the water to jump ashore…

Further adventures ensued before finally Melody and Sam arrived safely on land, their friendship restored by their realisation that each depended on and needed the other.  Together they worked to restore the once-devastated island and equip it to deal with future visits from the sea, which brought them the long-desired recognition as record-breakers.  The concepts of global warming, rising sea levels and alternative technologies are slipped in and slightly break up the narrative energy: would the young audience have taken these ideas in, embedded as they are in a fast-moving and funny adventure?  Certainly there was a lot of laughter during the performance, loud applause at the end of the show, and a positive buzz of conversation as the young audience rejoined its adults and left the Quaker Studio.

Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, EdinburghRuns Until Saturday 12th April for tickets go to: https://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/event-details/melody-and-sam-record-breakers

 

Review by Mary Woodward.

 

Mary Woodward Preview

Victoria, Northern Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Victoria

**** (4 stars)

This co-production with National Ballet of Canada marks the bicentenary of Queen Victoria ‘s birth.  Cathy Marston’s ballet is danced to an original score by Philip Feeney, played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia who tonight fielded a fair-sized band, complete with harp and baby grand.

The tabs went up and the stage was mostly in darkness – a solo trumpet sounded a melancholy lament as an old lady sat in a circle of light, writing in her diary.  A younger woman was watching her – as they began to dance, they seemed like conjoined twins, or a two-headed woman…  A huge bed became visible and the old queen, Victoria, laid herself upon it: her many children and their spouses encircled the bed, and her youngest daughter climbed up to sit beside her as she died.  A funeral bell tolled, and Victoria’s body was carried out.

The younger woman began reading from one of the innumerable red diaries that fill the towering bookcases at the back of the set: she is Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice, trying to reconcile her mother’s account of her life with her own recollections.

Victoria’s life is then shown in a series of unchronological vignettes interspersed with Beatrice’s reactions to what she is reading in her mother’s diaries.  With the aid of the programme, after the performance, I was able to confirm that most of my guesses were correct – but I totally missed the opium–using and opium trade references, and it took me a long time to realise that the man she appeared to be in love with shortly after her coronation was not, in fact, Prince Albert [whom she at first rejected] but the prime minister Lord Melbourne, who was a major influence on her life and her development as a queen.

I had read enough before Act 1 to follow the story of Beatrice and her engagement and eventually marriage to Liko, [who I now know to have been Prince Henry of Batternberg] and had already worked out that the first scenes involved the Scot, John Brown, [remember Billy Connolly luring Judi Dench out of her implacably silent mourning?] whose influence on her was strenuously resisted by her many children.  And having solved the puzzle of Lord Melbourne, it was easy to grasp Albert’s insistence on trying to take over government while tying his wife more and more strongly to the bed on which she had child after child, only to be released when Albert collapsed and died, probably from overwork.

To my surprise, having the device of Older Beatrice watching her mother and herself worked very well.  At times, Beatrice was shocked by her mother’s diary entries – both about John Brown and the details she records of her passionate relationship with Albert – and ripped out many pages.  When reading about her own story she was transported by the memory of her and Liko’s love – she joined in with Young Beatrice and Liko as they celebrated their love in a fascinating pas de trois – and then riven by grief at the knowledge of his fate.  He was killed on military service in Africa, and Older Beatrice tried desperately to prevent him going, and raged as her mother wrapped the heartbroken Young Beatrice in widow’s weeds.  Finally, as Victoria crumpled with grief over the tiny body of baby Beatrice, Older Beatrice finally made peace with her mother, realising that it was she who had made it possible for her mother to stand upright again and rule the country.

The scenes were well-linked with a flowing procession of chorus dancers, carrying piles of diaries [red for Victoria, blue for Beatrice], their unisex red skirts proving a welcome contrast to the starkly black and white costumes Victoria and Beatrice wore.  The orchestra played superbly as the music told the story well, voicing Victoria’s and Beatrice’s emotions, lyrical and triumphant by turns when relationships were going well, and stark and jagged when there was conflict or disturbance.

The dancing was superb.  Abigail Prudames made light work of her transitions from decrepitude to youthful joy and vigour, while Pippa Moore’s Older Beatrice was an excellent observer and participant.  Mlindi Kulashe leapt nimbly as kilted John Brown, while Sean Bates was a dashing but slightly disturbingly Prince-Harry-like Liko.  Both men reappeared in the chorus during Act 2, joining an impressive cast who multi-tasked with great aplomb.  Riku Ito did a wonderful job as Lord Melbourne, wooing the young queen, teaching her her duty, trying to divert her attention from Albert but finally gracefully standing aside as he saw himself supplanted.  Albert himself [Joseph Taylor] was good in what could be seen as a most unsympathetic part – a passionate lover who then almost dismissed his wife in his desire to rule the country and raise an ever-growing tribe of children to be educated in a proper [?Germanic] way…

Victoria lived up to my expectations: I’d seen their productions when I lived in Nottingham, and am happy to report that their high standards have continued since I moved north.  The audience was disappointingly small but their applause was warm and prolonged.  I urge you to see this ballet – it was an engrossing evening of inventive choreography and clever storytelling – before it moves on to Milton Keynes, Cardiff and Belfast, or catch it on the big screen on Tuesday 25 June: you won’t regret it!

Northern Ballet Presents: Victoria, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 13th April, then tour continues, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/victoria

Review by Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Preview

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window,Traverse theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window

***** (5 stars)

PPP [a play, a pie, and a pint] returns to the Traverse with a burst of laughter which sends the audience out into the world with a smile after spending an hour in the company of famous Scots comedian Chic Murray, his wife Maidie.

Maureen Carr sparkles in the spotlight as Maidie, the all-round entertainer whose stage career had begun at the age of three, and who was a well-established star when Chic first crossed her path. Her own talent, and her love for Chic, are obvious; her respect for and encouragement of his talent a joy to watch, and her pain when she can finally no longer tolerate Chic’s neglect of her and their children deeply moving.

Dave Anderson effortlessly holds the audience in the palm of his hand as he develops from the geeky and gawky partner in the Whinhillbillies, a would-be Dixie band, in which Chic spends more time telling jokes than making music, into an initially tentative and then confident stage animal and, ultimately, a world-famous comedian.  Along the way we catch glimpses of the tragedies behind the smiles, and the challenges of life as a comedian – everyone loves you when you’re funny, but doesn’t want to know you when you’re not – and of life with a comedian, or anyone who is obsessed with their art and less than attentive to the people around them…

Completing the cast was the multi-talented “Ensemble” – a jack of all trades, and master of them too. Brian James O’Sullivan plays a mean piano and piano accordion and a multiplicity of the characters, including a wonderful cameo as Liberace, who appeared in the stranger than fiction [you couldn’t make it up if you tried] story of Chic’s life.

Through it all, Chic/ Dave keeps the audience laughing with his one-liners, ridiculous stories and immense talent, while himself playing impressive piano and singing/ harmonising with Maidie: is there no end to his talents?  My favourite moment has to be a deliciously incomprehensible Scots poem performed for the Bruntsfield Burns Night, but there were many brilliant moments, both funny and sad, in this hour-long tribute to a great comedian.

As a Sassenach I grew up not knowing Chic, but my neighbours in the audience told me that he was a big influence on Billy Connolly – and this became obvious to me as the show progressed: both men have a wonderful ability to take a very simple incident, like walking down a street, and embroider it into a hysterically funny scenario that can leave one helpless with laughter.

If you don’t know the man, come and marvel: if you do, like many in the audience today, come and relish the opportunity to wander down memory lane – but hurry: it was a sell-out today, and tickets for this week will undoubtedly be hard to come by!

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, Traverse theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat 13, For tickets go to https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-chic-murray-a-funny-place-for-a-window

Mary Woodward Review

Pepperland, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Pepperland 

*** 3 stars

Disappointingly underwhelming, given all the hype and rave reviews surrounding the only Scottish performances of the latest Mark Morris production.  Had I not just seen Scottish Ballet’s Spring! and Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering the Movies, I might have been more impressed, though I doubt it.

The concept was intriguing – a homage to and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, first seen in 2017.  A live band and singer performed Ethan Iverson’s interesting arrangements of tracks from the album interspersed with some of his original compositions for this ballet.  Clinton Curtis did a magnificent job of interpreting, not trying to recreate, the Beatles’ lyrics, while soprano sax, piano, keyboard and percussion were augmented by Rob Schwimmer on the theremin, its weirdly swooping and gliding voice adding a very 70s sound to the mix.

The costumes were brightly coloured – red, yellow, pink, purple, blue and orange trousers, shirts and jackets or waistcoats, and mini-dresses with [inauthentic] kick-pleats in contrasting colours to allow the dancers freedom of movement.  There were a lot of dark sunglasses.  The back of the stage was surrounded by a small ‘wall’ of crumpled silver stuff, which was lit with varying colours to extremely good advantage.

Would that the dancing had lived up to the music!   It began well – a tightly-knit cluster of dancers slowly unwound into a single line; various famous people from the album cover [Einstein, Marilyn, Shirley Temple] were introduced and took their places and attitudes on the album cover; and then we launched into With a Little Help From My Friends, and the dancing began.  There was a lot of springing and leaping and carrying around of dancers in a high leaping pose: but after a while I began to notice the same moves repeated again and again throughout the evening, which became rather tedious.

When I’m 64 came with an extraordinary rhythmic dissonance between dancers and band which I found extremely uncomfortable while also being impressed at the dancers’ ability to dance against the rhythm they were hearing.  There was an interesting baroque extravaganza, complete with harpsichord sound from the keyboard accompanying an interesting mix of Charleston and hip-hop.  I really appreciated Clinton Curtis’ lyrical rendition of George Harrison’s contribution to the album, Within You Without You, the dancers exploring the contrast between the inner stillness of the meditator with the frantic, frenetic movements of modern life – but then boredom set in again with yet more of the same jerking, skipping and leaping: if you’ve seen any of the publicity photos, you’ve seen much of the ballet…

I have to say my companion and I were quite glad when the performance ended with the line of dancers spiralling back into their opening cluster [and the ballet’s only an hour long].  The rest of the audience thought it was absolutely brilliant and applauded loud and long.

Mark Morris Dance Company presents “Pepperland”, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Review by Mary Woodward