Mary Woodward Review

Nady McGregor: A New Life, A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

**** (4 stars)

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that a musical about post-natal depression could be funny – but this is what Andy McGregor has achieved with his new show. 

Jess and Robbie are all set to move forward in their amazingly busy but exceptionally fulfilling work life – Jess aiming to be head of the primary school in which she teaches, Robbie confident that the latest game app he is developing will be the hit of the century.  All is set fair – the present head is finally talking of ‘her successor’, and Nintendo are showing interest in Robbie’s game: so why is Jess suddenly loathing gin and craving fish fingers?

Yes, she’s pregnant: and while both Jess and Robbie are initially terrified, they come to believe that “it won’t affect our lives / it might actually be good”… but things have a nasty habit of not working out the way we plan, and this certainly proves true for our happy couple.  Instead of a comfortable hospital birth, the baby decides to come so quickly he is born at home, and despite trying strictly to adhere to the routine laid out in the cult book Good Mother Bad Mother, Jess and Robbie’s comfortable life slowly disintegrates.

I don’t want to reveal the tap-dancing surprise that emerges from under the sofa, but suffice it to say the new baby is not just an immobile wee bundle of joy but a living personality with his own take on what’s going on.  Robbie’s increasing involvement with Nintendo means that Jess is caring for their baby all on her own, and increasingly unable to cope.  Robbie makes the “right” soothing noises, but these simply aren’t enough and the situation builds to a desperate climax.

Katie Barnett’s Jess is a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a young woman tipping over the edge of sanity as she struggles to cope with caring for her baby through a rising tide of sleeplessness, anxiety, and a growing certainty that she’s simply not a good enough mum.  Gavin Jon Wright’s Robbie is a warm caring man whose mind is elsewhere as he pursues what he sees as his duty, trying to get his game accepted by Nintendo so that he can provide for his family, and blind to all the warning signs his partner is displaying.  Alan Orr is simply brilliant as the eagerly anticipated, initially welcomed but increasingly monstrous-seeming baby whose comments on his parents’ words and actions add much-needed humour to their situation.

The musical numbers are brilliant: honestly revealing feelings that women/ new mums are not supposed to feel or express – it’s meant to be all loving maternal euphoria, not a downward spiral into despair.  Jess gets some wonderful rants – who said being pregnant was sexy and fun?; I should be feeling love but I don’t and Why is my career down the drain but yours isn’t? – and gives us graphic descriptions of labour, sleeplessness, and the black thoughts that come unbidden and unwanted in the sleepless night.

There is a happy ending – but I couldn’t help thinking of all the women who don’t have loving, caring partners and for whom the downward spiral only ends in tragedy.  Andy McGregor has written and directed a stunning show which uses music and humour to publish a stark picture of the reality many women face: being expected smilingly to cope and portray a beautiful sexy ‘yummy mummy’ when they are clinging to sanity by a thread.

Nady McGregor: A New Life, A Play, A Pie & A PintTraverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review: run ends Sat for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-a-new-life

Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Lorna Martin: Rose, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

**** (4 stars)

One of the things I most love about the Play, Pie, Pint series is that it’s beginning to fill the woeful gaps in my knowledge of the history of the country to which I moved in 2005.  Rose not only does this but speaks out loud and strong against the still-prevailing culture of male dominance which persists in regarding women as second-class citizens who should know their place and not attempt to do things “that only men are allowed to do”.

Rose is a celebration of the indomitable spirit of Rose Reilly who, with her mate Edna Nellis defied the archaic, misogynistic culture prevalent in the Scottish Football Association in the 1970s and refused to accept the ban on women playing football – a ban which was imposed worldwide in the early 20th century and which every country but Scotland had by then lifted. 

Prevented from playing in Scotland, she and Edna went to Europe when still in their teens, and played professionally first for Reims and then Milan: success after success followed, and in 1984 Rose played for Italy and won the World Cup, beating West Germany in the final.  Soon after, she was proclaimed the best footballer in the world – but it wasn’t till 2007 that Scotland began formally to recognise her amazing talent which, had she been a man, would have made her a household name decades previously.

Christina Strachan gave an outstanding performance in this one-woman show, perfectly capturing the many characters playing their parts – good and bad – in Rose’s story, and leaving us with a picture of a lively, energetic woman who refused to be prevented from following her passion and playing football professionally.  The audience became deeply involved in her story, laughing with her, crying with her, becoming furious with her and celebrating not only her success but also the courage with which she rose above the pettiness of the opposition and simply proved all her critics wrong.

The run is almost a sell-out – there are still some tickets left for Friday lunchtime: but move fast, blink or you’ll miss this uplifting story of the gallus wee lassie from Ayr who simply refused to take no for an answer or confine herself to the straitjacket in which men felt she should be confined.

A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Lorna Martin: Rose, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Run ended.

Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

Grease The Musical, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

**** 4 Stars

“Grease is, was and always will be the word!”

It’s hard to believe that its 50 years since Grease took to the stage of a basement in Chicago, the audience that night in 1971 sat on crates having paid three dollars for the privilege. That production was gritty capturing the essence of the coming-of-age tale.

The 1978 Robert Stigwood movie that shot Olivia Newton John and John Travolta to fame turned the gritty tale into California dreams and subsequent stage productions capitalized on that success by embracing the pink neon bubble gum romance the film portrayed thus masking what was great about the stage original, it felt like maybe Grease as its meant to be seen was consigned to history. 

That’s until the simply sublime Curve Leicester and Director Nikolai Foster have brought this simply astounding new production to the stage and what a treat of a musical it is. Let’s be clear from the off, this is a return to the original roots of the show, the T birds are gone and returned to the Burger Palace Boys. The pink ladies only appear fleetingly towards the end of the performance and the bubble gum pink neon schmaltz of teen romance is once again the journey of adolescence and coming of age in 1959 Chicago.

From the off this is a stellar cast of fresh talent with the entire ensemble working a seem less company to the point that the “leads” blend in fully. Those leads do deserve special praise, taking the role of Sandy Dumbrowki is Ellie Kingdon who delivers an emotionally strong take in both characterisation and vocals and truly shatters the “dumb blonde” feel of old Sandy’s and makes the character truly human. Playing Danny Zuko and head of the Burger Palace boys is Dan Partridge. Partridge brings a raw vulnerability to the part that totally changes the perception of a once see-through character and it’s wonderful to view.

Special mention must also go to Tendai Rinomhota as Betty Rizzo who delivers a big voice and depth to Rizzo who is often played as a bitch but in reality, hides a heart that just wants to be loved. The production does feature pop star Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel, as Vince its easy money of Andre who spends the bulk of the time perched by his DJ booth high above the stage coming off somewhat underused. However as Teen angel he delivers a scene stealing moment with he and the company dripping in silver sparkles a plenty.

Colin Richmond’s Scenic and Costume design taps into 50’s americana and memorabilia is peppered throughout the sets, thankfully the pink neon lighting is removed and instead Ben Cracknell lighting design delivers a palate of colours for every emotion especially in the gritter moments. Tom Marshall’s Sound design works well, although there were a few sound blips on press night which hopefully should smooth out as the run progresses. The production is boosted by Douglas O’Connell projection design which even recreates the original beach opening of the show.

Fosters direction is spot on, blending the grit in the drama along with the light and comedy that is loved about the show. Arlene Fosters fun and on point Choreography is executed with passion by the entire cast and holding the whole thing together is Musical Director Dan Glover and an awesome 8 piece band in the pit.

Grease is loved by millions, and the 1978 film is cherished and the films shadow loomed large over the 40 years of stage productions that have followed so it’s wonderful to see the show returned to its original glory and this production proves without a shadow of a doubt that Grease is, was and always will be the word!

The Curve Presents, Grease the Musical, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, runs until Saturday 2nd October, UK tour continues for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/grease

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Ballet, Starstruck, Theatre Royal Glasgow, Review:

***** (five stars)

An exhilarating, effervescent, exultant, eye-catching extravaganza, Starstruck is the perfect choice for Scottish Ballet’s first ‘live in front of an audience’ production.  Artistic Director Christopher Hampson, working with designer Lez Brotherton and Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow, revived the piece – Pas de Dieux – which Kelly created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1960.  Pas de Dieux uses George Gershwin’s Concerto in F: Hampson has added a prologue danced to some gorgeous music by Frédéric Chopin.  Alas, we didn’t have a live orchestra present [we will for this winter’s Nutcracker], but Scottish Ballet’s own orchestra had recorded the soundtrack.

The ballet opens with the Choreographer coming into a contemporary rehearsal room to set the scene.  Company members enter and give us a delightful insight into the different relationships, attitudes and rivalries which enliven company life as class begins.  The Star Ballerina enters and makes her presence felt in no uncertain terms as the rehearsal begins. 

On Mount Olympus Aphrodite, married to Zeus, is bored, and willingly joins Eros in a flight to the south of France, where they start interfering in the lives of the mortals they’ve been watching from on high.   Eros makes a handsome Lifeguard forget his Fiancée and respond to Aphrodite’s lures: all too soon Zeus realises what’s going on and comes down to sort things out.  Life mirrors art, and the Star Ballerina/ Aphrodite decides to make the Choreographer/Zeus jealous by flirting with the Stagehand: but all ends happily with a triumphant performance of the new ballet at the Paris Opéra.  The company slowly leave the stage and Gene Kelly smiles down at us from the steps outside the Palais Garnier.

Need I say that the Glasgow audience responded equally enthusiastically to this production with prolonged applause both for the dancers that evening and for their courage and determination in keeping going throughout all the traumas of lockdown?

All the company were superb – I love that they are all individuals, not a homogenous uni-size corps – and richly deserved their applause.  Sophie Martin and Evan Loudon were commandingly impressive as the Star Ballerina/ Aphrodite and the Composer/ Zeus, while Bruno Micchiardi was an exuberantly cheeky and athletic Pianist/ Eros.  Claire Souet and Javier Andreu were a wonderfully loving and besotted Fiancée and Lifeguard, and Nicholas Shoesmith made the most of his brief cameo as the Stagehand.  Gene Kelly’s choreography was a wonderful mixture of classical ballet and what in my ignorance I can only call ‘show dance’ [think Singin’ in the Rain and the long Gotta dance sequence] – a challenge to which the entire cast rose with enthusiasm and panache.

An added bonus was the presence of Patricia Ward Kelly, who watched the show and then came on stage at the final curtain to receive the grateful thanks and applause of audience and cast.  The whole evening was an uplifting celebration of the joy of dance and a homage to the genius of Gene Kelly, who changed the look of dance.  Don’t miss it! 

If you can’t get to see Starstruck in Inverness, Aberdeen, or Glasgow, there’s a full-length feature film which will receive its world premiere on Friday 26 November and be available on demand until December 5.  Tickets are on sale now via the Scottish Ballet website and via Marquee TV from October. 

Scottish Ballet presents Starstruck, Theatre Royal, Glasgow.Tour will visit Inverness, Eden Court Theatre, Aberdeen, His Majesty’s and Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

Chicago The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review:

“Still Razzle Dazzle’s”:

**** 4 Stars

John Kander, Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb’s greatest collaboration is there 1975 classic “Chicago” telling the story of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart two show girls whose love lives leads to murder and their attempts to get off with it thanks to a crooked Lawyer Billy Flynn.  The show is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “Celebrity Criminal”.

This new tour is a revival of the 1996 Broadway Revival production which scored critical success and has tour several times across the UK, following an enforced Covid break the Jazz musical has made its return and proves it Still Razzle Dazzle’s with the best of them.

Djalenga Scott shines as Velma Kelly, with sublime long legs matched by a gutsy vocal, she is joined by coronation street star Faye Brookes as Roxie Hart. Brookes brings a charm and sharp glint to her portrayal and both ladies ooze a sexiness that’s raunchy and intimate when needed. Darren Day shows his maturity as a leading man in the Role of Billy Flynn judging her delivery spot on.

Joel Montague as “Amos Hart” is a triumph of understated playing and gives his Amos real heart and emotion and truly excels in Mister Cellophane. 80’s pop star Sinitta Malone takes on the role of “Mama Morton” she does bring a charm to the role and surprisingly strong musical theatre voice, but does need a tad more punch in the strength aspect to truly deliver the character.

The stand out performance is the sublime Divina De Campo as “Mary Sunshine” with a silky soprano operatic voice and flawless performance she truly steals the show.

The production also has a glorious 14 strong ensemble backed by a 10 piece jazz orchestra (scaled down from previous tours and its noticeable as the music sounds is less full than it once was.) The musicians are a joy and Musical Director Andrew Hilton really knows how to let rip.

Director Walter Bobbie has remained true to the original director Bob Fosse vision but keeps the action fresh and the pace cracking along. The same is true of the Late Ann Reinking’s choreography, what she and Fosse created was sheer dance magic and perfection can never be improved. It’s wonderful to see Chicago’s choreography still in all its Glory.

John Lee Beatty’s set design remains a classic and ultimately puts the show on the shoulders of the cast and not flashy effects and set changes. This is added to brilliantly by Ken Billington’s lighting design which is a triumph making even the darkest shadows work on stage. Rick Clarke original sound design may have gone slightly off track on opening night in Edinburgh with one or two missed cues making performers inaudible. Hopefully that’s just first night jitters. The overall sound was good but could be just a tad louder at the right moments.

Chicago remains a timeless classic that truly is a joyful piece of musical theatre which reinvented the genre and shows what putting performers at the forefront of a show can achieve and that’s why it continues to tour so well to appreciative audiences up and down the country.

So throw on your glad rags and head to the Playhouse for an night out that still very much Razzle Dazzle’s!

 David Ian for Crossroads Entertainment Presents, Chicago the Musical, Running at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 2nd October. UK tour Continues including a stop at the Eden Court Theatre Inverness.  For tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/chicago/edinburgh-playhouse/