Mary Woodward Review

Rambert, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Rambert: PreSentient; Rouge; In your rooms

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

**** (4 stars)

I was hoping for great things from this triple-bill from Rambert, but was disappointed: the dancers were extremely talented, but whatever message they were presenting didn’t get through to me. Most of the audience, however, seemed very appreciative and responded to each piece with enthusiastic applause and loud cheers.

Wayne McGregor’s 2002 PreSentient was danced to a lot of percussive, frenzied noise with a brief interlude of surprisingly lyrical string playing, while the dancers twisted themselves into extraordinarily sinuous contortions singly, in small groups or all together, with some quite amazing lifts. Occasional moments of stillness stood out in the near-constant movement. One dancer was left alone twirling on stage as the blackout fell. I really wasn’t sure what it was all about.

Marion Motin’s Rouge, first performed in 2019, began with the stage covered in ‘mist’ through which it gradually became possible to see the curled figures of dancers. A musician on stage played electric guitar, and another had his drum kit down in the pit. Seven dancers in an extraordinary jumble of clothes emerged from the mist and began synchronised falling-down-and-surging-straight-up-again, which was extremely impressive but quite rapidly became tedious. At some stage they flung off most of their clothes: they bounced up and down together; they lay down on the floor and moved their legs; much of their ensemble movement reminded me of the snatches of pop video I try to ignore at the gym.

The mist started pouring across the whole stage in waves, looking like the incoming tide. A long neon tube on the floor glowed blood red: another one further back and high up followed suit, and at different times made patterns of light across the stage. The dancers’ interactions became increasingly cruel and violent towards each other – at one point one dancer strangled another – and the guitar and drums mirrored their increasing fury, with a noise level way beyond my pain threshold. Things calmed down a bit, the dancers twitched and wiggled and tapped their bodies with their hands before a final frenzy was drowned in a merciful blackout.

At this point I was wondering whether I could face a third piece – but I’m glad I did. For me In your rooms was the most interesting piece of the evening, created by Choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter and first seen in 2007. It mixed spoken word with a musical score played by onstage musicians and had a lighting score that made me think of Rembrandt as it mixed varying levels of light and shadow and surrounded everything with a mistiness that was more attractive than the harsh lighting of the previous works. In the overall darkness tiny snatches of movement or total stillness, unrelated to each other emerged and were instantly gone. The invisible commentator mused on the essential chaos of the universe, the tension between it and the order we try to impose, and wondered whether our use of an ever-increasing ocean of words is in order to replace our feelings. There was much chaotic, neurotic movement, both individually and collectively: it was only at the end that one couple reached out to each other and found something that enabled them to relate positively to each other and find some respite from the individuals’ internal chaos.

The dancing was, as I’ve said, extremely impressive, and the rest of the audience obviously thought all three pieces were superb. I simply couldn’t connect with anything in the first two pieces, and appreciated, but was not deeply moved by, the third piece. Much of the dancing seemed to me more like gymnastics than dance – but perhaps it was simply expressing emotions foreign to me in a language I simply don’t speak, and using a music that is equally alien. Next time I’ll check what music they’re using before booking to see the show…

Rambert: PreSentient; Rouge; In your rooms, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 22nd February for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/rambert

 

Brett Herriot Review

Sunset Boulevard, Limelight Productions, Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline, Review:

Sunset Boulevard, Limelight Productions, 

***** 5 Stars

“ Teaching the World New Ways To Dream“

Widley considered to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest and most complete work based on the Billy Wilder 1950 movie of the same name telling the story of the Faded Silent Movie star Norma Desmond (Played with extraordinary depth and emotion by Donna Hazelton) forgotten by the world and longing to return to her people in the dark. It’s when struggling studio writer Joe Gillis (Nick Tomlinson who gives an astonishingly understated performance that totally reinterprets the character) stumbles upon the grumbling mansion at 10086 Sunset Boulevard that the tale of Love both wanted and unwanted, broken dreams and manipulative power play starts to unfolds. All this set against the glamour of 1940’s Hollywood and the world of Paramount Studios this Limelight production is truly a world with in a world take on the story.

Director Kenny Christie has truly delivered a unique take on the show that actually has the sweeping breath of a movie live on stage that blends Norma’s world which she believes is a film in itself with that of many people who work in the Paramount Studio system living in the real world. Its that clash which leads to the dramatic collision the forces Norma to spiral into insanity and Joe left paying the ultimate price. It’s a joy to watch.

The casting is excellent with Hazelton (who has west end credits to her name and it shows) leading the company faultlessly, her Norma is unique she has forgone trying to replicate “Close”, “LuPone”, “Paige” and the many others who have brought Norma to life and instead delivers her take and its one that truly gets under the skin of “Desmond” and to watch her descent into insanity is gripping and powerful musical theatre at its best. The same applies to Tomlinson’s take on Joe and he has a warm honey voice to go with it. The same is true of Chris Tomlinson’s excellent take on Max the forgotten love of Norma’s and now her Butler who gives everything to ensure Norma is the greatest star of all. Special mention also goes to Andrew Todman as Artie Green who gives the role a Clark Gable twist and to Vicky Sharp as Betty Schaefer with her powerhouse vocals giving the character real punch

It’s not just the leads who stand out it’s the entire company, they have truly taken on the challenge of delivering a complete universe of characters and fully succeed in bringing both worlds fully to life.

Director Christie should be justly proud, his vision for the show truly flows and thanks to Elinor Burns pitch perfect Choreography which blends together period dance moves that fully opens up the story and coupled with sharp drilling the large ensemble dance pieces are delivered in style.

The true highlight of Sunset is the epic score and Musical Director Paul Gudgin has delivered in style with peerless vocals on stage accompanied by a 14 strong orchestra in the pit the ensures every note of the sweeping and orchestrally brilliant score rings out around the Alhambra magnificently.

Production wise the technically complicated set works beautifully coupled with Jonnie Clough’s excellent lighting design and Mike Somerville’s Sound design. If there is anything negative to say its in the delivery of the microphone sound to often Mic’s were late coming on and thus cut off to many lines, it’s a quibble that while not enough to loose a star does need sorted to fully give the cast on stage and audience that true west end worthy standard this show bleeds.

Limelight’s production of Sunset Boulevard is everything and more and worth every penny of the ticket price so get along to the Alhambra and watch as this stellar company truly do teach the world new ways to dream.

Sunset Boulevard, Limelight Productions, Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline, Runs until Saturday 22nd February for tickets go to: https://alhambradunfermline.com/event/limelight-productions-present-sunset-boulevard/

Brett Herriot Review

I Think We Are Alone, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

I Think We Are Alone, 

**** 4 Stars

“ love is the key to understanding those hurting “

6 people living in London, some related and some not, each one connected either by chance or choice or divine decision as they chart their course through the journey of life. Sisters estranged and fighting to overcome the pain and trauma of a childhood beset with abuse. A mother who masks her grief by pushing her son to his limits and very nearly out of her life and a Taxi driver facing up to the loss of his wife until a stranger enters his life and gives him hope.

I Think We Are Alone Now is a bittersweet and funny take on our ache to connect with those voices we need to hear again, those arms we need to feel around us once more and those faces we need to see one last time can we really let go and yet still hold onto what we love the most.

Frantic Assembly’s production of Sally Abbott’s play is one of finely judged performances the melds together the dramatic theatre with modern contemporary dance, all placed inside a set designed by Morgan Large that comprises four moving walls as it focus that allows a deep emotion to purvey not only the actors but the audience who are drawn into the sweep of the story.

Co- Directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham this is the companies 25th anniversary production and it delivers everything it sets out, with a 6 strong ensemble cast, Chizzy Akudolu, Charlotte Bate, Polly Frame, Simone Saunders and Andrew Turner every single one of them give performances that run the gamut of human emotion.

This is a modern piece delivered as intercutting monologues that would just as easily sit on an internet blog as it does on stage and although the first Act feels disjointed and leaves you entering the interval posing the question “where is all this going” it’s the magnificent second act that brings healing to the wounds and proves above all else, human connection and love is the key to understanding those hurting the most and embracing hope for the future that lies ahead for us all.

A sharp and fluid lighting design by Paul Keogan and Sound Design by Ella Wahlstrom both enhances and develops the physical performance space and the production is better for it.

I Think We Are Alone Now, is a brave meeting of artistic choices, sharp and emotional writing coupled with performances the defy the norms and makes for an enchanting and engrossing evening of theatre, one which is unmissable.

I Think We Are Alone, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Sunday 22nd February for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/i-think-we-are-alone

Mary Woodward Review

Nixon in China Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Review:

John Adams Nixon in China

**** (4 stars)

In 1972 President Richard Nixon made history by shaking hands with Premier Chou En-Lai and Mao Tse-Tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, an event which Nixon regarded as important historically as the moon landings.

Fifteen years later composer John Adams wrote his opera to a libretto by Alice Goodman: the production marked the beginning of Adams’ long collaboration with director Peter Sellars.

The first act of the opera deals with the historical event – the Chinese people awaiting the arrival of the presidential plane, the handshakes, and the diplomatic meetings [in which both sides seem to fail to understand each other]. The second act focuses on Pat Nixon’s reactions to the succession of places and people who are displayed to her, culminating in her visceral response to the punishment of a young girl in a ballet the presidential party are watching. In act three the central figures on both sides reflect on their past happiness and present state of unknowing. It’s left to Chou En-Lai to close the opera, getting up after yet another sleepless night to go to work as the dawn chorus begins, wondering how much of what we did was good?

In this production we are onlookers of the past. The stage is full of stacks of document boxes, among which archivists move, occasionally opening boxes to view their contents. Extremely clever use of contemporary photographs and newsreel footage shows the arrival of the presidential plane and the initial historic handshake: we then move to the room in which Nixon met Mao – the set [bearing a striking resemblance to a photograph of Mao’s private rooms] unfolds on stage from an enormous wooden archive box.   The second act starts in the main archive, with boxes used to form the places between which Pat Nixon is shepherded before the space opens up for the ballet. The boundary between art and real life dissolves as Pat is drawn into and takes part in the drama. The third act takes place around the enormous wooden archive box, into which the main characters are gradually replaced. The chief archivists close their boxes, switch off their desk lamp, and Premier Chou En-Lai joins the others ‘back in history’.

What of the opera? I didn’t expect to be grabbed by the music, and I wasn’t. Most of the speech was declaimed, there were no [to me] recognizable melodies, and there was frequent repetition of patterns of arpeggios to start each new scene, as though Adams couldn’t think of any other way of linking scenes. Having supertitles helped understanding of what was being said/sung but distanced one from the action, while not making clear who was singing what in the ensembles. The music didn’t make things any clearer either – I couldn’t follow each character’s musical line in the general all-over wash of sound. I loved the moment when Pat Nixon was taken to a pig farm and the chorus all broke into pig pig pig pig pig, getting one of the few huge laughs of the evening [another being when a photograph of Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon stonily ignoring each other appeared a succession of ‘historic encounters’ shots].

The first act, though extremely long, mostly held my attention. The various characters became individuals, and the cultural and ideological differences, and the American seeming ignorance thereof became clear. The second act brought life, colour and incredible movement as seven dancers performed part of The Red Detachment of Women, a revolutionary ballet devised by Mao’s wife, Chiang Ch’ing. The third act seemed extremely long and tedious, and lacked any dramatic contrast or fire. Maybe this was the intention: to show the ephemeral nature of the media hype while the real long-term effects of the event were insignificant and the main protagonists disillusioned.

The performances were superb, and I have profound admiration for the singers’ mastery of the complex music as well as their impressively clear diction and excellent characterisation. Chou En-lai [Nicholas Lester]’s voice was gorgeous, while Madame Mao [Hye-Youn Lee]’s ability to sing ridiculously high notes while clearly articulating every syllable was masterly – as was her utterly self-confident ability to dominate every person on stage. David Stout as Henry Kissinger presented a personality somewhat at odds with his ‘elder statesman’ reputation in later years. Eric Greene was an excellent Nixon, underlining the inherent impenetrability of his personality and his possibly conflicted motives – ‘tricky Dicky’ in every respect: while Julia Sporsén shone as his wife Pat, loyally supporting her husband and doing her best to comply with all the press requests for photos, even obligingly patting the ear of one of the pigs at the pig farm. Tenor Mark le Broq gave us a well-observed portrayal of Mao both as an ageing statesman on the verge of death and in his ‘miraculous’ restoration to youth and health as he remembered the pleasure of the early years with the dancer who became his wife.

Nixon in China, after receiving mixed reviews in its early years, is now regarded as one of the great works of the American repertory. Not being an American, I’m left wondering quite what was the point of the piece. It’s great theatre, some of the time, extremely tedious at others: maybe I’m simply not sufficiently politically savvy to have an informed opinion? Maybe this tedium/ quiet subsidence into nothingness was the point? It was Adams’ first opera: I’ve not seen any others, but I’m not inspired to rush out and find them. I’m glad to have seen the piece and warmly appreciative of Scottish Opera’s courage and expertise in bringing it to Scotland for the first time this century. The first-night audience was very warm in their applause at the final curtain, acknowledging the quality of the piece in both its design and execution.

Nixon in China, Scottish Opera Theatre Royal, Glasgow Untill 22nd February, Then Transfers to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. 

Mary Woodward Review

Vamos Theatre Dead Good, The Studio, Edinburgh, Review

Vamos Theatre Dead Good

**** (4 stars)

Bob and Bernard have both been told they have terminal illnesses. Bernard’s wealth can’t buy him a cure, and Bob’s wife can’t bring him back to health. When the two men meet at their local hospice, their initial antipathy develops into a warm and caring friendship in which each helps the other to face up to, and make full use of, the time they have left to them.

Using full-face masks, Aron de Casmaker, James Greaves, Angela Laverick and Joshua Patel not only play Bob, Bernard, Marie and Shefali but also the whole host of people with whom Bob and Bernard come into contact at the hospice and during their outrageous forays into the world outside. Racing around in a vintage sportscar, paddling at the seaside, dining at the Ritz, or simply misbehaving and teasing each other in the hospice garden, the two men develop a close and loving relationship, and their care for each other lasts to the very end of one man’s life – and beyond.

The wordless action is underpinned by an excellent soundtrack created by Janie Armour, and there is clever use of projection to allow Bob and Bernard to race around the country, taking selfies as they go. Tiny gestures and alterations in body language reveal so much about what is going on inside each character as we see the progress of their illnesses and the past times they remember. Not everyone they meet treats them kindly, but the extraordinary love and care they receive [and give to others] at the hospice is a celebration of all that is best in humankind.

At one point, Bob’s wife texts him because he’s still not come home: Bob replies Bernard needs me. His wife asks what are you doing?: to which he simply replies Living. It’s a lesson to us all…

In a play which delicately mixes great pathos and ridiculous schoolboy humour, writer/ director Rachel Savage invites us to face up to and talk about one of the greatest taboos of our time. Death comes to us all, but many of us choose to pretend that we will live for ever. I hope I would face up to a terminal diagnosis with the courage and humour Bernard and Bob display as, supported by each other and the loving care of hospice staff, they are determined to go laughing into that Great Unknown that awaits us all.

Vamos Theatre Dead Good, The Studio, Run Ended, UK Tour Continues.

Brett Herriot Review

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, 

**** 4 Stars

A riot of a slapstick comedy that is brilliantly judged “

Mischief Theatre returns to its birthplace of Edinburgh bringing the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society with there new production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. The charming story of the boy who never grew up. With a pumped-up budget and brand-new set design, this promises to be an epic night of theatre, just as long as it doesn’t go wrong in the most calamitous of ways!

This riot of a slapstick comedy is brilliantly judged from writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, it blends the classic peter pan story with that of the local amdram company who try as they might just can seem to get things to go right.

It works of course because of the ten strong ensemble who are so tight they all shine equally, in what is an extremely physical show, where slapstick its taken to the extreme it’s a wonder no one is really injured as performers plunge from the flying wires, sets collapse, explosions erupt, and the turntable spins faster that the electric meter that’s powering the entire theatre.

Director Adam Meggido really explores the world of amdram with great details and ramps it up with beautifully judged comedy that bizarrely is mostly family friendly and he and his team come up with ever inventive ways of making carnage strike in the most spectacular and unexpected of ways.

This production is clearly a team effort and what a journey it’s had from the Pleasance during the Fringe festival, to London, the world beyond and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” even enjoyed a BBC adaptation broadcast in 2016. It’s a remarkable achievement from a small company that blossomed in the heart of the biggest arts festival in the world.

Peter Pan is one of many “Mischief Theatre” productions and is arguably its strongest because its based on such a classic tale and this particular show blends the slapstick with pantomime and ensures the audience who have made there way to the festival theatre on an ice cold winters night leave with a belly full of laughs and there ticket money well spent.

Let’s hope this company never grows up and continues delivering the laughs in style.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Sunday 16th February for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/peter-pan-goes-wrong

Mary Woodward Review

Pride and Prejudice (sort of), Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Pride and Prejudice (sort of)

***** (5 stars)

Playwright Isobel McArthur had never read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice before director Paul Brotherston asked her to turn it into a play for his Glasgow theatre company Blood of the Young. First seen at the Tron in Glasgow last year, the show has transitioned to the big stage and has rightly been receiving standing ovations every night.

The basic plot line is simple: Mr and Mrs Bennett have five daughters and little money, while the house in which they live will pass to a distant male relative when Mr Bennett dies. In an age when women had no rights to property or money – these would belong to her father and then, if she married, to her husband – and when the concept of earning a living was unthinkable, the girls would have to find husbands or eke out a miserable existence as impoverished spinsters. No wonder Mrs B can think of nothing but finding suitably wealthy husbands as quickly as possible while Mr B retreats to his library and immerses himself in his books.

Any young man who comes into the neighbourhood is instantly a target. In fairly quick succession Mr Bingley, Mr Darcy, Mr Collins and Mr Wickham appear on the scene, and Mrs B sees them all as prospective husbands for her daughters. The plot takes many twists and turns, and the two central characters – Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy – have to learn to overcome both pride and prejudice before they can reach their happy ending.

There have been many film and tv adaptations of this novel – I think fondly of the BBC serialisation with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, but those younger than I more probably swooned over Colin Firth’s dip in the lake. The Bollywood Bride and Prejudice is a firm favourite of mine, as is Yorkshire TV’s four-part series Lost in Austen in which 21st-century Amanda Price of Hammersmith swaps places with Elisabeth Bennett and finds herself desperately trying to keep the plot moving along the right lines, with increasingly hilarious results.

Tonight’s show took the basic plot line but chose to look at it from the perspective of the servants who play small but vital parts in all the households in which the action of Pride and Prejudice takes place. Anne, Maisie, Clara, Tillie, Flo and Effie give their below-stairs take on the situation while at the same time playing the major ‘upstairs’ characters, with all the complex choreography and lightning-swift changes of manner, voice, accent and gender that this involves. There are some fabulous moments when two characters played by the same actor are in conversation with each other, and an utterly brilliant solution to the problem that Mr Bennett’s presence on stage with his wife and five daughters would require a seventh actor…

Words fail me when I try to describe how talented these six actors are. They sing a superbly-chosen succession of musical numbers, they dance, they play a seemingly limitless number of musical instruments including trumpet and harp. They constantly change not only costume and character but also gender as they weave in and out of the different households, completely ignoring the fourth wall as they invite us into the riot and mayhem of the Bennett household.

Some at least of the audience certainly knew their Austen, and greeted characters and situations with howls of delighted laughter or gasps of anticipation. The family dynamic, with everyone picking on Mary, rang very true, and I loved Charlotte Lucas’ never-to-be-acknowledged quiet passion for her best friend, Lizzie. Meghan Tyler was magnificently mercurial as the strong-willed and unconventional Elizabeth, while Christina Gordon was distractedly in love and quietly heartbroken as her older sister Jane and a loathsomely self-congratulatory Lady Catherine de Burgh.   Felixe Forde did a brilliant job of playing Kitty and two of the girls’ suitors – the loathsome Mr Collins and the charmingly amoral Wickham. Tori Burgess went one better by playing both the irrepressibly boy-mad Lydia and everyone’s target Mary [who must at all costs not be allowed to sing – I was so glad that she got to shine in the spotlight and close the show.] Hannah Jarrett-Scott was a quiet, lovelorn Charlotte Lucas and an impossibly okay-yah Caroline Bingley while also doing some nifty costume changes as Caroline’s brother Charles. Not content with writing a cracking play, Isobel McArthur got to play desperately-scheming, rhinoceros-hided Mrs Bennett and, as Fitzwilliam Darcy, start by despising and then slowly fall under the spell of her least favourite daughter, Elizabeth. And all the time, the servants wove in and out of the action, nudging here, prompting there, delivering the essential letters, announcing meals – and observing and commenting on everything that happened in front of them.

There was a horse, a glitterball, torrential rain, lots of alcohol and the odd cigarette. There was a delightfully inventive country walk, a Rubik’s cube and a glorious moment in the portrait gallery at Pemberley.   There were moments of pure joy, of perfect theatre, of pants-wetting laughter: the six cast members had a ball throughout, and we had the pleasure and privilege of being invited into their world. If you don’t know the Austen original, you’re in for a treat which I hope will entice you to read the novel: if you do, you are in for an evening of sheer delight which you will remember fondly for a very long time.

Pride and Prejudice (sort of), Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 15 Feb, For tickets go to: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of