Brett Herriot Review

Club Tropicana The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review:

Club Tropicana, Edinburgh Playhouse, 

*** 3 Stars

Hardworking cast let the feel-good comedy shine

Club Tropicana The Musical tells the story of a Spanish hotel under threat from an hotel inspector who is really a fellow hotel owner out to sabotage the good times, throw into the mix a couple due to get married but get jilted at the alter and decide to take the honeymoon anyway, a plethora of 80’s hits and fashions from the decade that taste forgot, love lost and love found, finding out what true friendship is, and you get what’s on offer here.

Michael Gyngell’s script is paper thin, but he makes up for it with brilliant comedy asides delivered in style by a hard-working cast who let the feel-good comedy shine through in a production that relies heavily on the music and classic slapstick comedy to get the audience on its side.

X factor star Joe McElderry shines in the role of “Garry” the overtly camp hotel entertainment host resplendent in baby pink uniform he brings lashings of warmth and charm to the role and you can’t help but be won over by his boyish charms and honey soaked vocals. The other shining star of the show is the legendary comedy impersonator and musical performer in her own right Kate Robbins as “Consuela” a true comedy gift that delivers big laughs it’s a truly accomplished performance.

Musically hits such as “Girls Just wanna have fun”, “Relax” and “making your mind up” run the gamut of 80’s highlights and Greg Arrowsmith’s Musical arrangements are delivered in style by the tight 5 piece onstage band under the direction of Charlie Ingles and add real oomph to the show. Although the shows namesake song “Club Tropicana” doesn’t feature in the show at any point its an interesting choice no doubt driven by the rights of the wham classic.

Where the production falters is in the stage sets, clearly on a heavily brought in staging (the playhouse is a big stage). Diego Pitarch set design is cheap looking and doesn’t do the show justice watching the set rock back and forward whilst surrounded by swathes of black cloth makes you realize the production deserves better. That said Pitarch does deliver well on the costume design side, with a veritable parade of 80’s iconic fashion statements on show. Tim Deiling’s Lighting design also does much to open the small performance space on stage and lets it flow across the audience. There was some sound issues especially with balancing the band against performers, but it felt it clear it was just opening night gremlins that will easily smooth out as the show beds into its run.

Directors Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston have delivered on the promise of the show, working the cast into a tight unit with snappy choreography to boot and bringing a fun juke box musical to the stage. Its clear the 80’s was a decade in which they discovered themselves and their places in the world and the icon music is potent reminder of youth and its that heart warming sentiment that makes Club Tropicana the Musical worth checking out especially over a glass of wine. So why not pop to the Playhouse and let the music and the memories wash over you too!

Mark Goucher and Gavin Kalin presents Club Tropicana the Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 15th June, Then UK tour continues, for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/club-tropicana/edinburgh-playhouse/

Mary Woodward Review

Ballet Black Pendulum, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Ballet Black Pendulum, Click!, Ingoma

***** (5 stars)

Ballet Black, founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho to provide role models for young aspiring black and Asian dancers, brought an exciting and inspiring triple bill to the Festival Theatre. All three ballets were special commissions for Ballet Black, who aim to widen the visible landscape of classical ballet: they have certainly achieved that aim – it’s rare to see [in the UK at least] dancers of colour.

Pendulum was danced by Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November to the ‘music’ of Steve Reich – ‘music’ which had no melody or pitch, simply a heartbeat which accelerated in tempo and was later augmented by increasingly intense humming sounds. The two dancers watched each other as they danced alone, occasionally mirroring or joining with the other.  They tried to outstare each other, they clung to each other: was it a mating display?  A competition?  A battle?  And suddenly it ended: I was impressed, but unmoved, while the obviously very knowledgeable [and mostly young] audience applauded enthusiastically.

Click! was the reason I wanted to see this company – they had commissioned the work from choreographer Sophie Laplane, whose work Dextera was such a remarkable companion to Elite Syncopations in Scottish Ballet’s recent Spring! I was expecting marvellous things, and I was not disappointed.  Five dancers in snappy suits in primary colours danced to an assortment of clicks and clicking music, including the delightful Just the Snap of Your Fingers originally recorded by the Mudlarks.  José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Marie Astrid Mence, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas’ costumes reminded me of the Mark Morris dance company – but outshone them by far in a way more interesting and varied ballet which was visually entrancing, virtually indescribable, wildly inventive and utterly delightful: definitely my favourite of the three.

Ingoma was intense and deeply moving. Created by Junior Artist Mthuthuzeli November it paid homage to the struggles in the 1940s of South African miners and their families, when 60,000 of them took strike action.  Peter Johnson’s score mixed music, prayer and singing with hand-claps and slaps from the dancers: plangent cello laments and intense rhythmic pulsing accompanied the dancers’ joy, love, exuberant delight in physical movement and rage, deep grief and heartbreak.  The whole company created the mine in which they worked and from which they emerged to dance.  José Alves, Cira Robinson and Marie Astrid Mence’s pas de deux and solos were both technically amazing and painfully expressive, while the ensemble dancers surrounded, comforted, rejoiced and grieved with the soloists.  The applause at the end expressed not only our appreciation of the dancers’ technical mastery but also how deeply we were affected by what we had seen.

Ballet Black were new to me: I will make sure I see them when next they come my way, and I urge you to do the same.

Ballet Black Pendulum, Click!, Ingoma , Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended. Continues to London.

Review by Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera, Mozart The Magic Flute, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Mozart The Magic Flute, Scottish Opera

***** 5 Stars

Magic Flute was composed during the last year of Mozart’s life, at the request of his friend Schikaneder, the actor-director of the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna.  It was a howling success at its first performance in 1791, and has remained so ever since: tonight’s performance continued the tradition, with the audience in almost non-stop tears of laughter and sorrow.

Think pantomime with stirring, heart-wrenching, gleeful and solemn, moving music in a world where nothing is what it seems as first to be: add a mixture of Victorian engineering endeavour and music-hall rumbustiousness and a cast who throw their heart and soul into the performance, and you have the recipe for an evening of unparalleled entertainment which keeps getting better and better till the final curtain.

The story contrasts the aspirations and fate of two men – prince Tamino, his elegant cream jacket and noble bearing signifying his higher calling, and the very much lowlier Papageno, dressed in working-men’s clothing and focussed almost entirely on his stomach and his search for a sweetheart.  Their paths cross and, together and separately, they pursue their quest to rescue the fair Pamina, daughter of the terrifying Queen of the Night, who is held prisoner by the evil magician Sarastro.  On the way they encounter the Queen, her three Ladies, her servant Monostatos, three Boys, and the inhabitants of Sarastro’s temple: Tamino is given the magic flute while Papageno gets a set of magic bells, and the men learn that all is not what it seems – don’t believe everything you are told, especially [in this case] if you’re told it by scary-looking women in sparkly dresses!

The overture, bubbling with excitement, set the tone for everything that followed.  The Showman emerged, spotted an elegant gentleman in the stage box and invited him, and us, through the door into the Temple of Mysteries which declaimed “The Secret of Life is Here”.  Together we entered a magical world which at first seemed to be a crowded fairground or scientific exhibition and later became a temple, a prison, a rocky waste, and the arena from whose stands Sarastro’s followers could watch Tamino’s progress towards enlightenment and Papageno’s progress towards a more earthy satisfaction.

The music is incomparable – Tamino’s rapture at the sight of Pamina’s picture, the Queen of the Night’s chillingly stratospheric showstoppers, Pamina’s heart-wrenching grief at what she thinks is Tamino’s abandonment of her, Sarastro’s solemn wisdom and Papageno’s every note held the audience entranced.  Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s translation kept us in stitches, while subtle and brilliant details added sparkle to an already gleaming production – my particular favourites were the ingenious presentation of the wild beasts that threaten the two men and are pacified by the flute’s music and the transformation of Monostatos’ henchmen into handkerchief-waving Morris dancers…  The costumes ranged from the glittering, starry frocks of the Queen and her Ladies through Victorian top-hatted policeman to downright working-class miners: I’m not sure who the nurses were meant to be nursing – and why, oh why, did Pamina have to be in a nightie-like, but corseted, shabby white frock?

And oh, the singing!  Not only was it superb throughout, but launched into without preparation – Flute’s dialogue is mostly spoken, and the arias in general have extremely short, almost non-existent introductions.  The most outstanding instance is Pamina’s lament ach, ich fuhl’s which was tonight heard in that intense silence that means the entire audience is transported out of themselves and into the singer’s world.  This was Gemma Summerfield’s Scottish Opera début – I devoutly hope she will return to them very soon.  Peter Gijsbertsen’s Tamino doesn’t have the same depth and impact as Pamina, but I loved his voice and the ease with which he sang.

Julia Sitkovetsky is another one to watch out for – she navigated the Queen of the Night’s high-lying arias with consummate ease and the audience was duly appreciative.  Dingle Yandell made a noble Sarastro, with impressive bass notes – my quarrel with him is his insistence that man is the higher being, and woman merely subservient: I’m not sure that he was totally convinced by his final assertion that “hypocrisy’s shattered and truth wins the fight”…

The three Ladies [Jeni Bern, Bethan Langford and Sioned Gwen Davies] did a wonderful job, protecting Tamino from the monster and admonishing Papageno’s greed while endeavouring to advance their Queen’s Evil Plan: the three Boys had a hard task – mainly suspended in mid-air at the back of the stage, their voices mostly failed to reach us with any clarity: they did better when allowed to stand on the stage and move forwards.  Sofia Troncoso’s Papagena spent much of her time on stage looking like a cross between Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and “like an egg with legs”: when she finally emerged from her cocoon she was both a glorious sight and a joy to hear as she shared Papageno’s joy in the prospect of their ever-increasing brood of chicks.

The star of the show was undoubtedly Papageno.  Richard Burkhard made the most of the role Mozart had written for his friend Schikaneder, engaging with us from the start, keeping us in fits of laughter, and almost incidentally tossing off his fabulous arias and duets as if they were the simplest thing in the world.  Special credit has to go to the wonderful automaton which played his magic bells: a triumph of engineering which in itself is worth the price of a ticket.

It was a glorious evening’s entertainment, with something for everyone – just as Mozart had intended in 1791.  Don’t miss it!

 Scottish Opera Presents, Mozart The Magic Flute,Edinburgh Festival Theatre  Runs until 15th June, production visits London and Belfast, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/magicflute

 

 

Mary Woodward Review

The Invisible Man,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Invisible Man, International Children’s Festival

**** (4 stars)

A man with black sparkly leggings, a head lamp and a headset is wandering around the stage and up and down the stairs each side of the audience, checking his watch – but hang on, he’s not wearing a watch..??! He spots that the drape on one of the flats is partly fallen, and goes off to fetch a ladder – but we can’t see the ladder when he brings it on stage, though we hear the clang when it hits one of the metal rods holding up the flats.  He climbs up behind the flat and fixes the drape.  He spots some rubbish on the floor and comes to sweep it up – the broom is invisible, but the rubbish is swept away…

A door at the back of the stage opens and closes and a spotlit circle travels across the floor towards the piano. The piano stool moves out, the cushion flattens, the stool moves back, the lid opens and the piano starts to play: we can see the keys move, but who is playing?  The techie introduces himself as Johan – standing in for René who is sick – and starts talking to “Rob” – who responds when he’s asked to do a sound test, but is obviously more interested in making loud noises than in being co-operative!  A pierrot, Nimüe, comes in – Johan can see her, and they try to talk, but Rob is playing loudly and they can’t hear each other.

They shout at Rob to stop – Johan and Nimüe are worried because although it’s time for the show to start they can’t see an audience: when they search the rest of the theatre, even upstairs the whole place is deserted. Rob, however, seems to know that we are there, and when he is alone asks us to make ourselves visible, which we do – but we have to disappear ourselves again as soon as anyone else comes on stage.   Marijn crawls on stage, but Johan and Nimüe can’t see him even when he’s crawling right by him – when Johan can see Marijn, Nimüe disappears…

It’s a wonderfully funny and silly show. René van‘t Hof, Marijn Brussaard and Nimüe Walraven challenge our perceptions of reality: we can clearly ‘see’ things that aren’t there – Johan’s watch, Nimüe’s phone – while they can’t see us, or the things and people that we can clearly see.  They have the audience laughing throughout as they chase each other round the stage [at one point a wee one was almost hysterical with laughter].  White-sheeted ‘ghosts’ appear and create further mayhem when the disappointed, audience-less actors try to strike the set.  Children in the audience, visible only to Rob, are drawn in to the show – one brave girl is sent to find Rob’s crisps, while a group of five are directed to set up a huge tv screen on which we see the reverse of what we see live in front of us – the visible become invisible, and vice versa – on the screen which also shows us a screen on which there is a screen, and the piano plays on …

The Invisible Man is a delight! If you revel in the absurd, want to try to puzzle out how it’s all done, want to see incredible mime, or just want a good laugh, head down to the Traverse this weekend and enjoy Theater Artemis’s contribution to the International Children’s Festival.  It’s aimed at four-year-olds and over but will appeal to older children and adults too.  The audience loved it, and I had a ball!

The Invisible Man, International Children’s Festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 2 June,  for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/the-invisible-man

Mary Woodward Review

Emil and the Detectives, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Emil and the Detectives part of the International Children’s Festival

**** (4 stars)

The original story by Erich Kästner was published in 1929 but still has a charm and immediacy today. Emil lives with his mother; his father is dead, and his mother works all hours to make sure Emil has all he needs.  The boy is a loner, living in a small town [which has “everything I need”] and keeping himself to himself – he and his mother have each other, who else could they need?

Emil’s mother has worked hard enough that she can send some money to her mother, who is going to look after Emil in the school holidays while his mother works.  For the first time Emil is to travel by himself, with the money safely in the inside pocket of his jacket.  When he gets into the train, he sees a stranger sitting in the compartment, hiding behind a newspaper. The man keeps peering at Emil, and acting rather strangely, making bizarre remarks and offering him tea. For extra safety the boy pins the money into his pocket with the badge which belonged to his father and which his mother gives him to keep him safe on his journey.

Emil falls asleep on the train: when he wakes, he finds that both the stranger and the money are gone…  He sees the Man in the Bowler Hat in the station, and follows him – but how is Emil to recover his money?  While he is pondering this he is surprised by Gustav, another young boy, who offers to help.  Initially Emil is most reluctant – he is completely unused to co-operating with anyone [the kids at school have obviously not been kind].  Eventually, however, he realises he needs help, and with Gustav and his gang of friends an intelligence network is set up which spans the city. Emil follows Bowler Hat Man and confronts him when, alarmed by all the children who are suddenly everywhere and seem to be looking at him in a funny way, the man attempts to deposit the stolen money in a bank.  Will Emil get his money back, or will the grown-up’s story be believed rather than Emil’s?

Australian company Slingsby’s who is an excellently-played two-hander with Elizabeth Hay being plucky but naive Emil and Tim Overton playing everyone else, at one point doubling as Bowler Hat Man in one taxi and the driver of the one in which Emil was pursuing him, swapping hats and facial expressions with wonderful dexterity.

The set design was extremely clever. The train compartment came on as a huge box on wheels, and rotated to display the compartment with a wonderful assortment of doors behind which were concealed not only the various elements of a tea set but also the toilet to which Emil escaped to flush away his unwanted tea, while the passing scenery, Emil’s surreal dreams, and the crowds at the city station all passed before our eyes as the journey progressed.

Clever use of tiny puppets, shadow-play and models, including a small working model railway, produced the cityscape through which Emil pursued the thief – I found it fascinating, but the young girl beside me found it boring.  The audience was brought into the action at various points as Gustav’s gang worked out the details of their operation: at one point they were asked to use a phone with a dial – which, co-operatively, they managed [though it’s doubtful whether they’d ever seen one before].  The bank had handy drop-down shelves to provide the thief with paying-in slips – I wonder if the audience had any idea what these were or what their function was?  Gustav’s gang, and the crowd that assembled for the final scene, were very imaginatively created, and the soundtrack that accompanied the silent movie-like parts of the show was subtle and effective.

Elizabeth Hay and Tim Overton were excellent both in the drama and in engaging with, and engaging, the audience.  There were some scary bits, some funny bits, and a lot of exciting bits, and I think the audience of mainly 8 and 9-year old primary school kids had a good time: I know I did!

Emil and the Detectives part of the International Children’s Festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ended, UK Tour continues.

Mary Woodward Review

Burn the Floor Festival Theatre, Edinburgh , Review

Kevin Clifton in Burn the Floor

**** (4 stars)

Burn the Floor had [probably] the unlikeliest beginning a dance show has ever had – at one of Elton John’s birthday parties. He wanted some ballroom dancers to entertain him: so a show was devised which was the seed from which Burn the Floor grew into a dance phenomenon which has toured the world, had an eight-month residence on Broadway, and now finally is undertaking its first-ever UK tour – first ever, because the powers that be decided the UK audience would be too staid and reserved to appreciate this “high energy, high octane” show.

Well, the powers that be were proved wrong, in spades: the audience screamed, shouted, whistled, stamped and generally went berserk throughout the evening – with the sole exception of yours truly who sat with my fingers in my ears because the live music was at pain level… Two guitarists, two percussionists, and two singers – all superb musicians – provided the accompaniment and also took part in the show, while a team of impressively talented dancers added their skills to the front line partnership of Strictly’s Kevin From Grimsby and new boys Graziano di Prima and Johannes Radebe.

Nearly-shattered eardrums apart, it was a good show – but I found myself longing for the elegance and subtlety of Scottish Ballet’s recent Dextera, Sophie Laplane’s extraordinary investigation of the human body and its expressiveness and flexibility. Burn the Floor was full of emotion and energy, but it seemed largely one-dimensional, with all the men displaying their machismo, and all the women selling their bodies for all they were worth.  Energy, yes; power, yes; talent, yes; commitment, yes – but to what?  There was a continual undercurrent of violence underlined by the generally skimpy red and black costumes the girls wore – any flowing skirts were generally ripped off pretty quickly – while the men stamped, postured and strutted, undulated their hips and generally threw the girls about.  True, there were occasions on which the girls gave as good as they got: but the few moments of gentleness, like the opening of Quando, quando, quando, were rapidly lost as the tempo and volume were once more ramped up to fever pitch.  The notable exception to all this was the second half number for Graziano and his new fiancée Giada, in which they expressed the pain of living a life that so frequently keeps them apart.

The show is billed as ‘non-stop’ energy – but there were a fair number of lengthy breaks in which one or other and occasionally all three of the ‘front men’ came onstage and talked to us. Kevin, the reigning Strictly champion, proudly brought out the glitterball trophy, and the audience went wild as he talked about his six years with the show and, finally, his win.  Graziano told us of his relationship with Giada, and Johannes of how with his mama’s help he followed his dream of becoming a dancer.  All three waxed eloquent on the subjects of Strictly and the Burn the Floor family, of which they are proud and happy to be a part.

I went to this show in a spirit of enquiry, wondering what it’s like to see Strictly dancers off-screen.  They are extremely talented, very personable, and engage excellently with their audience – who adore them.  This show isn’t my cup of tea – too loud, not enough contrast, and pretty monothematic: but the rest of the audience went wild throughout, and leapt to their feet during the final number – I could feel the balcony floor shaking! – before leaving the theatre in a buzz of excited conversation.

Kevin Clifton in Burn the Floor, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended UK Tour continues.

Brett Herriot Review

Avenue Q, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Avenue Q,

**** 4 Stars

” A Charming, Life Affirming Puppet Journey”

It’s hard to believe that “Avenue Q” the Broadway and west end smash hit musical turns 16 years of age this year and infact only closed on Broadway at the New Stages on the 26th May this year.

Selladoor have revived there previous touring production and brought the puppets back to life for a brand new UK tour and what a Charming, life affirming puppet journey it is. Telling the story of Princeton, a bright-eyed graduate who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account. Brian the out-of-work comedian and his therapist fiancée Christmas Eve; Nicky the good-hearted slacker and his closet gay Republican roommate Rod, an Internet ‘sexpert’ called Trekkie Monster, Lucy the Slut and a very cute kindergarten teacher named Kate Monster. This is in essence an adult version of life on Sesame Street, and although the puppets clearly owe much to Jim Henson’s Muppets the programme makes clear there is no formal connection  between them.

What Makes Avenue Q unique is the puppeteers are unconcealed there in full view of the audience for the entire production many of them perform two puppets and its an amazing ability to disappear behind the puppet and have us focus on the puppet character itself. All the puppeteers in this production succeed with this in a very talented way. Special mention must go to Lawrence Smith as Princeton/Rod his vocal talent imbues both puppets with completely unique and individual characters and brings them to life with ease. The same applies to Cecily Redman as Kate/Lucy her voice is impressive as she moves seamlessly between accents and her performance of  “It’s a fine line” which closes the first act is an emotional and tender moment. The cast deliver some of the catchiest tunes in musical theatre including, Avenue Q, The Internet is for Porn and Schadenfreude with great style.

The company truly mine the comedy of Jeff Whitty’s book and Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s music and lyrics to great effect and Cressida Carre takes on Directing and Chorographic duties and delivers well really getting under the skin of how humans interact with Puppets and make it all seem utterly real. The production elements also shine Richard Evans set design owes much to the original concept of the show but gives a more cartoon type feel, with animations being screened on two big plasma screens high above the stage to great effect. Charles Morgan Jones has given the show a sumptuous lighting design that makes it glow in all the right place while retaining great atmosphere and Chris Bogs sounds design comes to the fore especially as the live band are tucked away off stage rather than in the pit. Paul Jomain has designed the puppets for this production and while they clearly are inspired by the Henson Muppet factory as its very easy to draw comparisons to Bert and Ernie and indeed Cookie Monster he has blended a more cartoonish style to them that adds additional charm.

Avenue Q was cutting edge when it arrived on stage all those years ago, with the adult language, sexual references and tackling social issues around sexuality, finding love and belonging in the world. Its fair to say its lost most of the edge morphing in more a joyful and caring celebration of humanity in all it forms. It remains a very warm hearted piece of musical theatre that takes very gifted performers to pull off. So why not head to the King’s and take a trip down Avenue Q its a journey that will have you leaving theatre with a huge smile, truly excellent stuff!

Selladoor presents Avenue Q, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 1st June, for tickets go to: http://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/avenueq The UK tour continues and will call at the King’s Theatre Glasgow from 25th June.