Brett Herriot Review

An Inspector Calls, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

**** 4 Stars

“Timely and Timeless, Truly Remarkable Theatre! 

The National Theatre’s on London’s South Bank transcended theatre in 1992 with Acclaimed director Stephen Daldry’s Landmark production of JB Priestley’s classic Thriller, An Inspector Calls, enjoying major success at the National before enjoying runs at the Aldwych and Garrick theatres in the west end. Daldry would revisit the production in 2009 which saw further runs in the west end at the Novello and Wyndham’s Theatres. It’s that production, which is now touring the UK and calls at the Festival Theatre for a week’s run.

Telling the story of a long draw out night in the family of the Birling’s an upper class family at the tail end of world war two in blitz barraged London of 1945, a gentleman claiming to Inspector Goole arrives at their door disturbing a dinner party to question them over the suicide of a young girl, the family are faced with confessions of the soul, the secrets long since buried and the reality that not everything is as it seems. 

There have been several productions of the play over the years as was much derided as a pot boiler until Daldry transformed the play thanks in equal parts to its casting and Ian MacNeil astonishing design that truly opens the play up and takes us into the heart of the story making it both timely and timeless.

This current tour features a simply stellar ensemble cast with Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole turning in a fine Scottish ethereal performance with a delivery that drips the words every line off the lips and into the audience’s mind. As Sybil, Arthur, Sheila and Eric Birling are Christine Kavanagh, Jeffery Harmer, Chloe Orrock and George Rowlands respectively. They deliver a master class in dysfunctional family plumbing the depths, driven by love and the need to protect but ultimately leaving them all caught in the crossfire and hurting, its riveting to watch. The cast is rounded out by Simon Cotton as Gerald Croft and Frances Campbell as Edna. 

Director Daldry really gets to grip with both performances and productions elements with MacNeil’s Design being simply breath taking, with the set lurching off the stage as the rain pounds down its wonderfully evocative. The production is boosted by Rick Fisher delicate and intricate Lighting design coupled with Stephen Warbeck’s musical score giving depth. Sebastian Frost’s sound design is effective but there were some glitches on press night with sound balance and delays on the mic’s which are minor quibbles but were none the less noticeable.

Overall, this inventive production is as fresh now as it was in 1992 and mesmerises the audience especially in the tail end of act three (all three acts run together, there are no intervals) and reminds us all of the power that beautifully stage, classic British drama can have and that it still holds its place with modern day audiences. Truly remarkable theatre!

PW Productions Presents “An Inspector Calls”, The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh,  runs until Saturday 4thFebruary 2023, For further info go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/all-shows/an-inspector-calls/58

The Production will visit the Theatre Royal, Glasgow from the 23rd to the 27th May 2023.

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Brett Herriot Review

The Steamie, The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh Review:

Has True Heart and Stellar Performances

**** 4 Stars

For Thirty Five years, Tony Roper’s master piece “The Steamie” has stood the test of time and found its place in generations of Scottish audience’s affections, for its fine blend of humour, laughter and touching heart rendering pathos. 

This play with songs by David Anderson has transcended popular culture thanks in part to the 1987 Scottish Television production and the numerous professional productions that have toured over the years. It’s also a cherished favourite for Am Dram Companies.

Now following the critical success of 2022 “Sunshine on Leith” producers, David Ross and Tommie Travers in collaboration with The Brunton Company return to the Brunton Theatre with a brand new production and its show with genuine heart and love at its core.

Set on Hogmanay of 1950 in the Carnegie Street Steamie in central Glasgow, Four women come together to carry out the final washing of the year and while the wash the clothes they also put life through the ringer as hopes and dreams are explored and the reality of their lives is accepted and all of it done with smile and laugh never far away.

The Steamie is tight five hander and this production boasts a superb cast with Caroline Hood delivering a pithy but true “Magrit”, the sublime Norma Kinnear as the warm hearted and hilarious “Dolly”, Melissa McNaught brings innocence and truth to “Doreen”, Sarah Lindsay’s “Mrs Culfeathers” is everything and more. They are joined by Gary McGregor who turns in a fine comic performance as “Andy”.

Director David Ross truly understands his source material and has brought together a tight knit company who radiate warmth across the footlights as the audience revel in the comedy. The only minor things to be said is the cast accents place this Steamie firmly in Edinburgh and while the Glasgow references come thick and fast hearing the Edinburgh accents gives a slight sense of jarring. Also with such a comedy heavy play the cast need to embrace the audience laughter,  enjoy it for a moment then move on. On a couple of occasions lines were lost as the cast moved to quickly on while the audience roared.

Musical Director Tommie Travers, delivers the goods with all David Anderson’s witty songs in place, and in a rare treat “Magrit’s” wonderful “to be a woman” is delivered in its musical form and not the monologue as used in the TV version. This production includes excellent underscore and musical choices and adds real value to overall result.

A faithful Steamie set is lit beautifully with an understated touch by Craig Dixon and a crisp sound design by Cameron Watson adds quality. Lesley O’Briens costume design evokes the 50s with ease and the technical elements combine to add a professional finish to the overall production.

Everyone connected with this production should be justly proud, a complete sell out run before the curtain rose on the opening night and this Steamie that has true heart, stellar performances and most importantly a script where the mere mention of “Galloway’s Mince” brings a joyful recognition.

If you can get a return ticket snap it up and take a dander doon the Steamie in this fine fine production from Ross, Travers and the Brunton.

The Steamie, The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Runs until Saturday 28th January 2023 SOLD OUT for return tickets go to: Information about Show: The Steamie: Website (thebrunton.co.uk)

Brett Herriot Review

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

A sparkling diamond of a panto

***** 5 Stars

What do you do when the home of Edinburgh’s Pantomime, namely the King’s Theatre closes for a two and half year major renovation and the good people of Edinburgh still need there panto fix? You move the regular panto gang to the simply beautiful Festival theatre; give them a spectacular London Palladium set, stunning costumes and a divine comedy script. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a sparkling diamond of a panto that ensures Edinburgh holds the crown for the best panto in Scotland!

Written by Harry Michael and Allan Stewart with additional material from Grant Stott and Jordan Young, the legendary regular team of Allan Stewart “Nurse May”, Grant Stott  “Lord Lucifer of Leith” and Jordan Young “Muddles” have truly delivered on the challenge of super charging the Kings panto while it’s on temporary loan to the Festival theatre. While the plot takes a back seat the story is still there and woven cleverly and clearly through the show and sits perfectly with the plethora of sketches that makes this a true variety spectacular.

Allan Stewart proves again why he is true panto royalty with his legendary Dame Nurse May bouncing on stage full of energy and with an outrageous collection of frocks. He is on a mission to get Edinburgh laughing and boy does he deliver. His onstage chemistry with Grant Stott is unmatched in British theatre, a relationship born of trust, respect and love; its warmth flows over the footlights. Stott once again is the baddest baddie in town although he has a fellow villain this year in the form of “Queen Dragonella” played to evil perfection by Liz Ewing. Stott’s Lord Lucifer is essentially the “man in the mirror” but evil to core, and I’ve never heard such resounding booing that filled the auditorium its only Stott’s vast experience that keeps it under control. Every panto needs a silly laddie, Snow White has “Muddles” played with sheer comedy joy by Jordan Young, he charms the kids with his “Hiya Pals” shtick but also has the adults roaring especially in a joyous adlib moment that even got Allan Stewart roaring with laughter.

Clare Gray returns as “Princess Lavinia” daughter of the evil queen, although she secretly harbours a good heart hers is the transformational journey of the show and she delivers it in style and her legendary father will be looking on proud that his legacy continues. Brian James Leys makes his Edinburgh début as “Prince Hamish” his rich tenor voice adding charm to his dashing Prince. Edinburgh born Francesca Ross makes her Professional Debut as “Snow White” and while underused she makes every moment on stage count.

A super charged show needs an equally impressive supporting cast so joining the stellar line of principals is the “magnificent seven”, Josh Bennett, Scott English, Andy Herd, Kyle Herd, Fergus Rattigan, Craig Salisbury lead in style by the wonderful Jamie John as “pop” his affectionate tribute to our first minister brings the house down and his blending of comic timing with the flawless Allan Stewart is a master class to watch.  They cast grows even further with a ten strong ensemble also added to the production who bring polish and style to Karen Martin’s beautiful choreography.

Production wise this is a pure west end affair, Ian Westbrook’s simply beguiling set was created for the London Palladium and it sparkles even more on the Festival stage especially under Howard Hudson’s triumphant lighting design that ensures not only the stage is lit up but the stunning festival auditorium glows too. Mike Coltman’s costume design is exquisite and oozes luxury class in equal measure. Special mention must go to Duncan McLean’s Video and Projection design with additional design by Ryan Dewar which really does add magic to Snow white. Speaking of magic those boys at Twins FX have wheeled the big guns out with no less than four massive special effects being deployed this year that leaves the audience gasping.

Director Ed Curtis helms what has to be the biggest pantomime ever attempted in Edinburgh and thanks to the regular team once again raising the bar this show truly delivers a slice of the west end in the heart of Scotland’s capital. Snow White has already secured its place in the Edinburgh panto legacy and you won’t see a better panto in Scotland this year.

It’s already confirmed that the Festival Theatre will host panto in 2023/24 but the title remains under wraps for now, but the challenge is already on to top this year, which is the most joyous of pantomime adventures that delivers real bang for your buck! So what you waiting for! do what you must to Heigh Ho your way to the Festival Theatre for those gold dust tickets!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Runs until Sunday 22nd January 2023 for tickets go to: The Panto: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (capitaltheatres.com)

Mary Woodward Review

My Fair Lady, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

**** (4 stars)

“a resounding triumph”

I remember being bowled over by the 1964 film with Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, and Wilfrid Hyde-White.  The costumes and production design by Cecil Beaton showcased the whole glossy, glorious, glitzy display of English aristocracy at its imperious best.  How fascinating to see my reaction to the show live on stage now and realise just how much tastes and attitudes have changed in the intervening years.

The story centres around Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle who encounters phonetics professor Henry Higgins in Covent Garden.  He’s notating the different vowel sounds he hears in the people around him: she believes his assertion that he could teach her to speak so ‘correctly’ she could get a job in a flower shop.  She goes to his house, offering to pay for lessons: he decides to use her to prove his theory to his friend and fellow linguistics scholar Colonel Pickering – he will transform her and present her as a member of the aristocracy at the Embassy ball in a few months’ time. 

There’s a lot of hard work on Eliza’s part, a lot of bullying on Higgins’s, and a disastrous outing to the races at Ascot. Finally the deception succeeds: one person present at the ball is even convinced that Eliza is a member of the Hungarian aristocracy.  The two men are delighted with their success and completely ignore the exhausted Eliza. 

Finally, the worm turns, and Eliza leaves Higgins’ house, but not before giving him a piece of her mind.  He dismisses this in typical fashion – go to bed and have a little cry and you’ll feel better in the morning – before instructing her to make sure he gets coffee in the morning instead of tea.  He wakes to find her gone.  In his own constipated upper-class male way he realises he misses her, but though he is relieved to find that she is staying with his mother, he can’t bring himself to say so clearly, or to apologise for his behaviour.  Back at home, he is listening to one of his recordings of Eliza’s voice when she enters – has she come back to him? 

It’s a fabulous show, full of oh-so-familiar songs, and some very lively scenes: but oh my! it’s also unbelievably sexist, classist, intellectualist and just about everything else-ist you can think of.  

I found myself simultaneously appreciating Michael D Xavier’s impressive performance as Henry Higgins and enraged by what an infuriatingly arrogant, patronising male chauvinist pig he was.  So obviously convinced that men are inherently superior to women in every way; so convinced that women only exist to minister to him and meet his every need; so blind to the idea that every human being, no matter what their position in society may be, deserves to be treated equally and with respect; so much the antithesis of all I hold to be true – no wonder I found him hard to like.  At the same time, I have enormous admiration for the way he played this inherently unlikeable character – greatly helped, of course, by the dialogue and song lyrics which oh-so-subtly reinforce the message that ‘it isn’t my fault – I’m such a reasonable man at heart’.

I also struggled with the whole ‘gor blimey mate’ Cockney ‘loveable rogue’ scenes.  In a more ‘innocent’ [ignorant?] world, Stanley Holloway managed to carry the role off with a twinkle in his eye.  Viewed through 21st century eyes, Alfred Doolittle is an unlovable idler who’ll take advantage of anyone in any way that he can to ensure that he lives the life of Riley at someone else’s expense.  He’s even prepared to sell his daughter into elegant prostitution – which he thinks is the reason for Eliza’s presence in the Higgins’ household – if he can make a quid or few from it.  Small wonder Eliza doesn’t want to come to his wedding or, indeed, having anything to do with him if she can help it.   Adam Woodyatt did his best, but failed to convince me that there was anything to like about him.

Charlotte Kennedy, playing Eliza, seems to be fairly fresh out of theatre school – but obviously has a great career in front of her.  She did an excellent job of transitioning from graceless Cockney ‘sparrer; wistfully singing All I want is a room somewhere to the thrilled young woman pouring her heart out in I could have danced all night.   She more than stood up to Higgins, refusing to be cowed, determinedly sticking to the rigorous regime he forced upon her.  She blossomed into an elegant, poised young woman, articulate and self-possessed, and able to give as good as she got in argument with Higgins.  I was definitely rooting for her throughout, and silently cheered her final choice of action [which I’m not going to reveal].

John Middleton’s Colonel Pickering, though partly on Eliza’s side and mildly protesting about some of Higgins’ more outrageous demands, nonetheless accepts without question that Higgins’s inhumanity towards her is a necessary part of the whole process: nor does he in any way question the rightness of making such an ‘experiment’ in the first place.   There’s a lot of Male Bonding Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, too…!

Lesley Garrett, leaving the opera stage to tread the boards as Mrs Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper, also had more sympathy for Eliza – but at the same time, she and the household staff were full of Poor Professor Higgins as he tormented Eliza night and day: not a hint of ‘poor Eliza’ seems to have entered anyone’s head.

For me, the two outstanding characters were Henry’s mother, played by Heather Jackson, and Freddie Eynsford-Hill, played by Tom Liggins.  Mrs Higgins plays a small but extremely significant part.  She initially views Eliza with some distaste, but becomes the only person among the moneyed and leisured class to see and value her.  She overcomes her initial resistance and takes her to her heart: she is concerned for Eliza’s welfare, staunchly upholding her in the face of her son’s protestations.  She points out that Henry only has himself to blame for Eliza leaving – in strong contrast to her son, who persists in seeing Eliza as something necessary to his comfort which he is entitled to possess.

Tom/ Freddie not only has a gorgeous voice which admirably suited On the street where you live but also was the perfect representation of an upper-class twit completely bowled over by Eliza.  She’s completely unlike any girl he’s ever met before, and he’s unable to do anything but hang around outside her house and bombard her with love letters.  It’s small wonder that Eliza seriously considers marrying him, and making something of both their lives, despite Higgins’ derision.

The sizeable ensemble were superb, switching effortlessly from cheery Cockneys to efficient servants to haughty aristocrats, with much splendid singing and dancing along the way.  The Get me to the church on time scene had some wonderful characters, including a cross-dressing quartet; the servants swept and polished their way around the household with a right good will, and the absolute precision, both in movement and song, of the assembled aristocracy at the Ascot Opening Day scene was a joy to behold.  Their cut-glass accents only faltered once – alas, it was in naming the event they were attending that they slipped up: ‘Ascot’ should rhyme with ‘chatbot’ but the second syllable was a clearly-enunciated ‘uh’ which jarred.

The Higgins house set was a marvel to behold.  The main part was the sort of library I dream of having, with books not only around the walls but on an upper gallery with a wonderful [?double] spiral staircase, and it rotated to show other areas of the house as needed.  Apart from that, there was little solid scenery.  The street scenes were indicated by drop-down/ wheel on ‘buildings’, Ascot was simply a space open to the clear blue sky, and the Embassy ball appeared to take place within a wonderful wrought-iron birdcage – possibly hinting at the prison-like existence of its noble inhabitants?

I’ve come across the work of director Bartlett Sher on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but not previously seen his work on the musical stage.  It was superb – he rightly won a Tony for the Broadway run of the show.  Lights, music, staging, costumes were all splendid.  The costumes – especially in the Ascot and ballroom scenes – were utterly glorious: such an array of hats at Ascot, with Eliza’s impossibly huge one surpassing all the others, and a constant procession of fabulous frocks throughout the show.

My Fair Lady is a resounding triumph – the audience was generous with its applause throughout, and many of them rose to their feet at the final curtain call.  Having opened in Cardiff, the show’s only appearance in Scotland is at the Playhouse in Edinburgh, after which it moves to various English cities.  I can’t think of a more extravagantly delicious way to indulge yourself over the festive period – if you haven’t already done so, make sure to grab a ticket!

My Fair Lady Lerner & Loewe, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 7th January 2023 for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-fair-lady/edinburgh-playhouse/

Brett Herriot Review

Jack and The Beanstalk, The London Palladium, Review:

Truly a Giant Spectacle!

***** 5 Stars

Following a tough two years post pandemic where the legendary London Palladium paid tribute to pantos past with Pantoland at the Palladium, the creative team that have given London’s west end a new golden age of pantomime return with brand new pantomime extravaganza, and its truly a Giant Spectacle!

2022 sees a return to full out bells and whistle panto at the Palladium with a gorgeous brand new set from Mark Walters that transports us from Argyll Street to the stars and rainbows of cloudland high above. The set sparkles under Ben Cracknell’s epic lighting design that not only brings out the best of the gorgeous set but also the stunning auditorium of the palladium.

For such a dream setting you need a dream cast and the regular palladium panto team are back in spectacular lead by Julian Clary as “Spirit of the Beans” with outrageously decedent costume design by Hugh Durrant, Clary is in terrific form! Ensuring he gets ever double entendre from the script as he keeps reappearing as every kind of bean it’s possible to have. Clary comedy judgement is faultless ensuring laugh out loud moments or both kids and adults alike.  

Making her second Palladium panto appearance is Dawn French as “Dame Trot” who brings a Cornish twist to her dame who rules Thames by the twist with a warm heart and earn every penny for her massive tax bill which drives her back into Pantoland.  Making her palladium panto debut is Alexandra Burke as “Mrs Blunderbore” wife of the giant, Burke gets the boos with ease but also the cheers with that magnificent voice.

Paul Zerdin and Puppet Sam are back with such a unique speciality act and the most surprising song sheet ever seen in panto. Gary Wilmot is returns in a frock as “Queen Nigella” and his “list” song ability is put to the ultimate test and its sublime. Beloved Nigel Havers also returns, and this time he actually has a role “King Nigel” but the usual stick is in full flow and its wonderful to see that Havers never takes things too seriously and is fully willing to send himself up.

Joining the regulars are Louis Gaunt as “Jack Trot”, Natalie McQueen as “Princess Jill” and darling of the west end Rob Madge as “Pat the Cow” the campest and funniest panto cow who successfully steals the show!. As if the principal cast wasn’t good enough they are joined by a 16 strong ensemble who deliver Karen Bruce full powered and stunning Choreography with ease.

Producer and Director Michael Harrison has created the most family friendly of the palladium pantos to date since they were revived in 2016 but ensures the magic and spectacle put the palladium as the best panto in the country. Supported by the boys at Twins FX you’re going to see the biggest beanstalk in all the land as it erupts from the stalls through the roof of the palladium itself.  Harrison ensures spectacle is balanced with classic panto sketches’ and “if I were not in pantomime” and the “bogen by the sea” sing a long are tested and true.

The cherry on the cake is Musical Director and the Palladium orchestra delivering a full and rich musical accompaniment that guarantees a winning panto for all the family and to this Mike Coltman and Teresa Nalton’s dreamy costume design and you have a sure fire winner of a show!

While the story is there in the palladiums Jack and The Beanstalk it’s obvious its a variety spectacle on which the Palladium was built and it keeps the audiences coming back year on year and truly delivers value for money especially as the top seats come in at a hefty £150.

Michael Harrison has already confirmed panto will return to the palladium for Christmas 2023, you won’t find a better Jack and the Beanstalk anywhere else in the country this year which makes the journey to London let alone securing a ticket worth it! So what you waiting for? Head for the Palladium and the most magical of adventures! 

Jack and The Beanstalk, The London Palladium, Runs until Sunday 15th January 2023 for tickets go to: Palladium Pantomime | Jack and the Beanstalk | The London Palladium