Brett Herriot Review

Aladdin, FTH Theatre, Falkirk Review:

Aladdin, FTH Theatre, 

**** 4 Stars

“a thrilling carpet ride of classic pantomime fun”

Imagine Productions return to the FTH Theatre in Falkirk with the most popular of panto titles and delivers a thrilling carpet ride of classic pantomime fun. Aladdin the story of the boy who falls for the princess, despite being poor and working in his mothers laundry he sets off on a big adventure as he battles the evil Abanazar and finds jewels, riches and fame but ultimately the power of love and being who you are!

Eric Potts pithy script works wonders as does Stuart Baird strong direction. It’s the casting choices that give the show its heart, Barbara Bryceland is back as “Spirit of the ring” and this year they have worked to her strengths, she delivers her excellent big voiced vocals with a dash of comedy asides and it works wonderfully well. Libby McArthur as the Empress is slightly underused and there are moments when the performance is feeling forced, but she is a joy in the “If I were not upon the stage” routine. Comedy is handled well by Scott Watson as “ Wishee Washee”. Emily Cochrane as “Princess Jasmine” also has rich voice and brings out the best in the role. Ross Jamieson’s “Aladdin” has couthy charm in spades and delivers well enough vocally. Henry Sanders gives a lot of charm as “Genie of the Lamp” and is striking take on the character.

The True star of the show is Craig Glover who literally turns in a tour de force performance as Dame Window Twankey! With a succession of stunning costumes and his on the button comedy is simply a joy to watch. His ability to adlib and deliver asides is the glue of this panto.

Production wise all the essential ingredients of pantomime are here, a colourful and well lit set, oriental inspired costumes in abundance. Music covers all the bases from rock and roll to pop with a dash of musical theatre thrown in. Although with just a keyboard and drum kit in the pit its heavily click tracked. This is made up for though by a stunning special effect the likes of which FTH will have never seen.

There were some issues with the sound, but these are minor quibbles and will soon sort themselves as the show beds in. This Aladdin delivers everything it should and thanks to Clover, has that extra special wow factor. So why not grab your magic carpet and head along to the FTH for the journey of a lifetime.

The Falkirk Community Trust and Imagine Theatre Presents, Aladdin, FTH Theatre, Falkirk, Runs until Tuesday 24th December. For tickets go to: https://www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org/whats-on/aladdin

Brett Herriot Review

Disney’s The Lion King, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review:

Disney’s The Lion King,

***** 5 Stars

“ Sublime, enchanting musical theatre at its very best!”

Last seen on the Playhouse stage over Christmas 2013, Disney’s award winning and acclaimed production of “The Lion King” is back, its lost none of its charm and ability to inspire wonder and continues to push the boundaries of musical theatre.

The stage adaptation first debuted across the pond in 1997 and the London west end production has just marked its 20th Anniversary and this new touring production is pulling massive audiences to the playhouse; this is due to unique place it holds in musical theatre.

Director Julie Taymor has blended, puppetry on a massive scale, human performances that runs the gamut of emotions and dressed it all in the most stunning costumes and set that’s yet to be topped. The lion king tells the story of Simba the lion cub learning to become king in the animal kingdom where many seek to become top of the tree is counter balanced with the tale of love, hope and trying to make your father proud.

The first ten minutes of the show are worth the ticket price alone. We are instantly transported the African Plaines with a stunning rendition of “Circle of Life” with a cavalcade of animals appearing from every corner of the theatre. With Thandazlie Soni setting her stall of talent out early as Rafiki she embodies the essence of the show delivering a powerhouse vocal and charming sense of character throughout the show.

The cast are universally excellent with all the principals bringing finely honed talent to there roles especially Dashaun Young as “Simba” who charms as does Josslynn Hlenti as “Nala”. Comedy is delivered in spades by Steve Beirnaert as “Timon”, Carl Sanderson as “Pumbaa”. Matthew Forbes is given the ability to adlib and break the fourth wall as “Zazu” who populates the show with references from the current world it’s wonderful.

Production wise Taymor has much to be lauded for, as well as directing she has designed the costumes, and many of the epic puppets from life sized Elephants and Giraffes to the delicate birds, its truly beautiful. Mixed with Richard Hudson’s epic set design which is dripping in the gorgeous lighting of Donald Holder.

The music of Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice is brought epically to life by a 12 strong orchestra, including 2 live percussionists perched in the boxes above the stage and the music remains as timely and timeless as ever.

Disney’s Lion King is truly a slice of the west end on stage at the playhouse, and its telling that two decades since its first appearance on stage it still continues to shine for its beauty, skill in story telling and the sense of child like wonderment it spreads across its audience.

This is the sublime, enchanting musical theatre at its very best and truly is a thrilling Christmas treat for old and young alike, so hurry along to the Playhouse and grab what few tickets remain! And celebrate the Circle of life! Hakuna Matata!

Disney’s The Lion King, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Sunday 29th March 2020. For Tickets go to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/disneys-the-lion-king/edinburgh-playhouse/

UPDATE: Since the publication of this review and due to over whelming demand The Lion King will now run until Saturday 18th April 2020!!

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen

**** (4 stars)

Scottish Ballet’s Christopher Hanson has taken the Hans Christian Andersen story about a little boy Kay who is rescued from the clutches of the heartless Snow Queen by his friend Gerda and created a full-length ballet which mixes elements of the Andersen story with inventions of his own to create something one might be forgiven for thinking of as Frozen Gone Wrong.

The white-haired Snow Queen has a dark-haired sister, the Summer Princess.  Together they see in the Queen’s magic mirror the image of a young man, whom the Princess instantly decides must be her true love: despite the Queen’s disapproval she rushes off to find him, disguising herself on the way as Lexi, a young pickpocket.  Lexi arrives in the town where the young man – Kai – lives, only to see him propose to his sweetheart, Gerda, and give her a diamond ring.  Suddenly time stops as the Snow Queen appears and casts a spell on Kai: he ignores Gerda and shows more interest in the circus which has just arrived in town.

Kai volunteers to take part in the circus’s magic disappearing trick but when it’s time for him to reappear he’s really vanished – the Snow Queen has frozen time again and stolen him away.  Gerda is distraught, and begs Lexi to help her find Kai – reluctantly ‘he’ agrees, but only when Gerda has been forced to pay ‘him’ with her engagement ring.  On their journey they encounter a bandit camp where a fortune teller tells them Kai is in the Snow Queen’s palace. Gerda goes on alone, encountering wolves, dancing snowflakes and frost-men who try unsuccessfully to stop her.  She tries to rescue Kai, but he is obsessed with the Queen and ignores her.  Gerda is powerless against the Queen: suddenly Lexi appears in her true guise and fights and defeats her sister.  Kai seems dead, but Gerda’s tears melt the ice in his heart and the two lovers are reunited.

It’s a fascinating story, generally well-told, though I do wish I were more familiar with ballet gestures: there were one or two which were obviously extremely important, but which to me could have meant just about anything… Most of the narrative was clear and well-told, but the final ‘battle’ between the sisters was underwhelming in the extreme and the dénouement brought a ripple of giggles to the house which seems to indicate a little reworking is needed.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s music has been arranged by Richard Honner to provide a good ballet score, though on occasion I was slightly distracted by hearing something I recognised but generally couldn’t place: the exception being the Flight of the Bumblebee… The Scottish Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard created some magical sound-pictures, with lively contrasts between the icy stillness of the Queen’s palace and the frosty aggression of her servants, the earthy realism of the town in which Kai and Gerda live, the rambunctious showmanship of the circus folk and the dramatic swagger of the bandits. Special mention must be made of on-stage gypsy violinist Gillian Risi who was unfazed by the extremely lively dancing going on all around her.

The dancing was full of contrasts with some outstanding passages. Kai and Gerda’s initial perfectly-synchronised duet reappeared, but with the two lovers now out of harmony with each other: Kai perfunctorily dancing with Gerda but being continually distracted first by the circus folk and then by the Snow Queen. The circus performers were impressive: I loved the Ring Master’s exuberant showmanship, the effortless way the Strong Man could pick up the Ballerina and the casual naughtiness of the Clowns. The bandits and their leader Zac leaped and danced joyfully and most impressively and even managed to entice timid Gerda to join them at times. I was less impressed by the ‘snow ballet’ which was a bit too ‘old school’ for my taste, and didn’t really do much to advance the story.

Sadly, I wasn’t taken with the Snow Queen herself – she danced most impressively but didn’t make me warm to her at all: there were hints that her heartlessness arose from her sister’s abandonment of her, but it didn’t convince me. Her sister was perhaps warmer and more impulsive but ultimately equally self-absorbed in going off after her man: no trace of the sisterly affection between Elsa and Anna here! Gerda was forced out of her small-town complacency [grow up, get married, have kids, die] and set off to rescue someone she loved, finding a previously unknown strength and resilience on the way; while Kai loved Gerda, was bewitched and forgot her, got rescued, and hopefully was a better and wiser man thereafter.

The audience obviously knew and loved their ballet, and were generous in their applause throughout. The Snow Queen is a delightful winter-time entertainment, with something to please, amuse, and entertain people of all ages: it’s a welcome change from the usual fare on offer at this season.

Scottish Ballet,The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 29th Dec, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen

Mary Woodward Review

Flutter, The Studio, Edinbugh, Review:

Flutter

**** (4 stars).

I arrive at the Studio and watch the ever-increasing crowd of tinies, many in minute Christmas sweaters, eagerly await the invitation to enter the house for the first performance this year of Tortoise In A Nutshell’s Flutter.  We are asked to take our shoes off, and most people comply, though for those whose feet, like mine, get cold very easily it’s possible to sit at the back of the audience.  Most people, young and older alike, sit on the cushions and low benches nearest the stage but blessedly there are chairs for the less-bendy among us.

As we enter the performing space, we can hear snoring… can it be from the inhabitants of the tiny boxes we pass on our way in?  To the sound of Brahms’ lullaby we enter a snow-covered landscape, and a hush falls on everyone till a trumpet-playing pigeon wakes us up and the show begins.  Christie and Hannah enter and start sliding and swooping on the ice, spinning and turning, leaping and jumping, enjoying the freedom this cold white world offers them.  Hannah, in an orange jacket, is bold and lively, blue-clad Christie is more fearful and hugs her toy penguin for comfort: she gradually becomes more confident, and has a great time.  Filip the penguin develops a life of his own, trying to steal sandwiches, hiding in a number of extraordinary places, and ultimately saving the day.
There is a lot going on between the two girls as they play  – teasing, hurting each other, falling out and making up – and I wonder how much of this the tinies are picking up: but apart from one wee girl who howls and has to be taken out, they all sit silently entranced with the odd comment to a parent or gran and some delighted giggles at the antics of the penguin and the two girls’ puzzlement as they search for him.  We didn’t quite get to “he’s behind you!!” but the potential was definitely there!  There was drama and potential disaster as the wind blew harder and the snow started to whirl, but in the end all was well and all the sleeping creatures we’d seen on our way in joined in a general disco of rejoicing.
It was a delightful show, with a lot packed into a very short time on a very cleverly-designed set, much inventive use of physical theatre and puppetry and an attractive aural and musical soundscape.  My only criticism is that Flutter is billed as ‘immersive’ and ‘interactive’ but the only immersion/ interaction that takes place is at the end of the show, when the tinies are invited to dance [in their seats] and then to come on to the acting area or to talk to Christie and Filip.  That aside, it’s an excellent show for little ones [and their adults] – but you may have to wait for next year to see it, as the run is already sold out!

Flutter, The Studio, Edinburgh, Runs until 24th December, SOLD OUT

Brett Herriot Review

Jack and the Beanstalk, Kings Theatre, Glasgow, Review:

Jack and the Beanstalk, 

**** 4 Stars

“ everything classic panto firing on all cylinders should be !”

Qdos mark there 3rd year in charge at the King’s theatre Glasgow by bringing a pantomime to the bath street that hasn’t graced the stage in 25 years. Jack and the Beanstalk is back and following in last year’s stellar Aladdin they continue the old school charm of the big hearted, family inspired pantomimes that have called the King’s home for decades.

The classic tale of the famers boy Jack (Johnny Mac in fine form further cementing his growing legacy with the kings panto) who lives with his mother Dame Trot (Legendary Elaine C Smith proving a woman can be as good a dame as any man) in the village of Glasvegas. Times are hard and while Jack may secretly love Princess Jill (Naomi Cowe) things take a dark turn when the evil Mrs Blunderbore (Anne Smith in a fine villainous turn) doing the bidding of her Giant husband kidnaps The princess, and takes the Trots trusty cow daisy in return for beans! These beans are magical and with Mammy Nature (Angela Darcy) spreading her magic the biggest of beanstalks towers over the kings as the gang led by the King Hector (Jonathan Watson) are off on a big adventure in Cloud land.

This show is everything classic panto firing on all cylinders should be, stunning costumes, a colourful Hugh Durrant inspired set that sparkles under Alex Marshall’s excellent lighting design. Added to the mix is some very big special effects from those boys at Twins FX, it’s a winning formula.

Director and choreographer Johnny Bowles clearly knows how to bring big and classic pantomime to life and with the stellar due of Smith and Mac at the helm you cant help but be won over by its charms. Musically it’s a jukebox of hits from 70’s pop tunes to musical moments like “talk to the animals” and Elaine C Smith delivers a stunning take on “Cher” if she can just turn back time! And it is helped no end by musical Director James Dunsmore and the 5-piece King’s orchestra.

However, unlike 2017 Sleeping Beauty and 2018 Aladdin it feels like the extra magic sparkle is missing from this year’s show, its partially the decision to use Mrs Blunderbore as the villain (side stepping flesh creep) and the story line in act 2 is rushed to quick conclusion. Also, in previous years both Smith and Mac had JP Corrigan to bounce off and create real comedy magic that element isn’t there this year so all the comedy falls to Smith and Mac it feel like a slightly missed opportunity. The many and varied sketches are plentiful, and the comedy within them works well especially the adlibs both rehearsed and unrehearsed.

These minor quibbles aside this is fun family show with tradition as much as it can be at its heart with Elaine C Smith and the wonderful Johnny Mac leading its truly impossible not to enjoy yourself and roll along on the adventure.

Both Smith and Mac have been announced for next years “Cinderella” which again will allow for traditional pantomime to reign supreme at the kings. For now ever pop along and enjoy Glasgow’s biggest pantomime in every way!

Qdos Presents “Jack and the Beanstalk”, Kings Theatre, Glasgow, Runs until Sunday 5th January 2019 Tickets from £17 go to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/jack-and-the-beanstalk/kings-theatre-glasgow

Brett Herriot Review

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Kings Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, 

***** 5 Stars

“the ultimate Christmas treat”

Goldilocks is the universally accepted “Circus” pantomime, its story line of the girl who finds the cottage in the woods with three chairs, three bowls of porridge and three beds isn’t a strong enough narrative to pull off a full pantomime so the action is moved to the world of the circus.

In this production Goldilocks ( the wonderfully honey voiced Gillian Parkhouse) works and lives in her mother and father’s circus. Dame May McReekie (Allan Stewart at the very top of his game, with a plethora of over the tops frocks and what remains simple the best legs in the business) and Andy McReekie The Ringmaster (Andy Gray returning in a blaze of glory to the king’s following a period of ill health, his entrance alone, think billy Flynn in Chicago, is a unique moment in itself) are in dire straits, the bills are piled high and they need a star act to bring in the crowds to save them.

Fighting against them is the evil Baron Von Vinklebottom (Grant Stott in top hat and tails with a whip being as bad as only he can be and doing it bloody well to boot) the evil baron sees no problem in using animals in his circus as well as stealing what ever acts he chooses. So, when Goldilocks comes across three bears (Clare Gray, Ross Finnie and Darren Brownlie) in the wood who can, walk, talk and entertain with comedy musical numbers McReekies circus can be saved if only they can overcome the evil Baron and his wicked plans.

No Panto is complete without a love story enter Joey the Clown (The outstanding Jordan Young making his King’s panto debut, following a decade in Aberdeen. Young is known for playing a hard-bitten gangster in BBC River City, don’t expect any sign of that here, his comedic ability and overt physical performance is awesome) he wants both Goldilocks and to be the star of the show himself. Can he get his dreams at the girl? Its fun journey finding out.

The performances are uniformly excellent but its important to understand, Goldilocks is intentionally a very different pantomime, it stretches the format into a huge hybrid. Part Panto, Part Circus, Part pure vaudeville. Its impossible to compare it with “Cinderella” or “Aladdin” as it stands alone, and this show really sets an incredibly high benchmark for its production values.

Featuring two circus speciality acts The Great Juggling Alfio and the Berserk Riders (which is a stunning and scary high-octane moment for the petrol heads) an eight strong ensemble, a troop of babes and the McReekie Circus is brought gloriously to life. Comedy is tight and clever, the sketches well judged and music at his usual excellent calibre thanks to Musical Director Andy Pickering and the King’s Theatre Orchestra.

Ian Westbrook of 3d Creations has delivered a spectacular set that’s a riot of colour and charm especially under Matt Clutterham’s stunning Lighting design which sees the ornate King’s auditorium decked out in hundreds of festoon lights. Director Ed Curtis has delivered in spectacular style alongside the trio of Stewart, Gray and Stott they have taken the panto in bold new direction and It works, truly delivering the ultimate Christmas treat.

For those who prefer a more classic pantomime fear not for next year the boys return with The Sleeping Beauty for the first time 26 years! And better still Jordan Young will be with them! But for now, grab a ticket and head to McReekies Circus for the Greatest Show on Earth.

The King’s Edinburgh and Qdos Pantomimes present “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Sunday 19th January 2019. For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/goldilocks

Mary Woodward Review

Strange Tales Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Strange Tales ,Traverse Theatre, 

**** (4 stars)

This intriguing collection of stories was adapted for the stage by Pauline Lockhart and Ben Harrison from Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, translated by Ewan Macdonald. Pu Songling wrote these tales around the time of the restoration of the Stuart monarchy after the English civil war, but their messages are as relevant today as they were when they were written, and easily cross the cultural divide between east and west.

When wind and snow fill the sky and the fire has grown cold, relight the coals, warm the wine and turn up the wick of the lamp. We enter these tales in the shadows of night, but hopefully emerge into daylight…

Master-storytellers Luna Dai, Robin Khor Yong Kuan and Pauline Lockhart present a fascinating Chinese, Malaysian Chinese and Scottish blend of wit, wisdom and experience as they tell us eight tales from Pu Songling’s collection. A dead young maiden seeks to escape from the demon that is forcing her to wreak a terrible vengeance on young men; a very refined young lady receives visits from two charming and amorous strangers who are not what they seem; a young man from Paisley who wants to learn a short cut to eternal wisdom gets what he deserves, and we learn to beware of sneezing and corrupt fortune tellers.

We are warned at the start – unless we approach these tales with an open mind and a brave heart, we may be taken over by them and never break free: and should we be feeling somewhat sceptical, we are given a graphic illustration of this very fate at the end of the show…

This co-production between Grid Iron and the Traverse is a visually splendid and delightfully engaging blend of storytelling, puppetry, martial arts and physical theatre, with fascinatingly diverse costumes, haunting music, cutting-edge digital technology and subtly terrifying sound effects. I loved the kimonos, was particularly impressed by the giant red demon, and will never feel quite the same again about eyes…

Fox spirits may not be familiar us in Scotland – but there are kelpies and selkies and other creatures which interact with humans in both loving and terrible ways, while demons and ghosts are part of both eastern and western tales, though they may assume different forms. What is interesting is the very different attitude towards death and ghosts, and the belief that it is possible for the dead to interact with the living and even be brought back to life.

Strange Tales is not for the faint-hearted, or those of a nervous disposition – there’s an age guide of 14+: but if you want to shiver with fear, laugh out loud, and cheer when evil is defeated, look no further than the Traverse this December!

Strange Tales, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 21st December, for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/strange-tales