Brett Herriot Review

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse Review:

“Imaginatively mixed!

*** 3 Stars

Roald Dahl published one of his most cherished works in 1964 adding magic to generations of childhoods.  Nearly 50 years later in 2013 the musical adaptation with music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by David Greig debuted at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s west end to mixed critical response. It would go on to run for three years before closing and a heavily reworked production would open on Broadway in 2017 it’s that production which spawned the first U.S Tour.

It’s that touring production which forms the basis for this brand new debut UK tour which is calling a the Edinburgh Playhouse until April 15th. While the production sparkles with imagination in its visuals it lacks somewhat in story and creative choices.

Director James Brining has formed a tight ensemble company of performers to bring Charlie’s story of going from the poorest shack in town to dreaming of the impossible if he can find the legendary golden ticket aided by the magical quality that is Willy Wonka ( a charming and engaging turn from Gareth Snook). The choice that the entire company with exception of Charlie is played by adults does detract from Dahl’s original intention and leaves little child like wonder in the show. The performances are excellent throughout, especially Robin Simoes Da Silva as Augustus Gloop he does embody childish impish glee with abandonment. Michael D’Cruze gives a warm hearted turn as Grandpa Joe that leaves you smiling from start to finish his dreams are as big as Charlie’s and to see them come true is a joy to watch. Charlie is played by four child actors in rotation, on press night Noah Walton gives a simply beguiling performance and big things lie ahead for this talented performer.

Leonie Spilsbury as Mrs Bucket/ Mrs Teavee has been given the most interesting of creative directions in the show especially when she plays Mrs Bucket as she uses Sign Language to communicate at certain moments throughout the show and only Charlie and Grandpa Joe return the sign language on a couple of occasions, it’s very jarring as for those with hearing impairments they will only get a small snatch of the dialog, if sign is to be used it has to be committed too for the entire performance. That said its brave choice and solid starting point in the journey to making musical theatre fully accessible and has to be commended.

While the story does comes through in this production it does feel slightly stunted and never really gets going till act 2 when Wonka and the children enter the factory, this show follows the book and the 1970’s Warner brothers movie starring the great Gene Wilder closely and even features “Candy Man” and “ Pure Imagination”. So the creative choice to have the Oompa Loompa’s played by up to 6ft tall cast members is a misfire and instead of the child friendly creatures they are more Dr Who level scary this is cemented by Emily Jane Boyle’s Choreography which delivers on this scarier vision for the creatures.

Looking at the production side this show truly shines, Simon Higlett’s stunning Set and Costume design brings Wonka’s world brilliantly to life aided by Tim Mitchell innovative Lighting Design and Simon Wainwright’s, gorgeous video design (a tip is try to sit in the circle or balcony as even the stage floor forms part of the video projection and its wonderful). Ellen Campbell’s ten strong orchestra deliver in spades supported by Mike Walkers on the money sound design that really makes the best of the playhouse to ensure ever word and note is heard around the extensive auditorium.

While it would be impossible to Tour the West End production this show is a visual treat and really pushes the envelope of touring theatre, and there is rock solid and highly entertaining evening of musical theatre fun, but it could have delivered more that said this really is the ultimate Easter treat for the family to enjoy! So why not search for a golden ticket of your own and head for the Edinburgh Playhouse!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Musical,  Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 15th April, for tickets go to: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical | March 2023 | Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh | ATG Tickets

Mary Woodward Review

Puccini  Il Trittico, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

***** (5 stars)


My goodness!  I had come to the Festival Theatre tonight expecting to feel slightly detached and superior while Puccini’s three one-act operas wallowed their way through excesses of overblown emotions.  I hadn’t expected to be gripped by three dramas which increased their impact and intensity one after the other, and finished in a storm of applause which virtually raised the roof.  Scottish Opera have yet again proved how magnificently they perform anything they set their minds to.

Of course, having David McVicar as producer/ director and Stuart Stratford as musical director/ conductor means that you’ve got two amazingly talented people working together to bring life,  energy and realism into what could be seen as simple over-emotional potboilers.

Il tabarro [the cloak]’s plot is a classic love triangle which ends in heartbreak.  Giorgetta is married to Michele, who pilots his barge along the Seine.  Once they were happy, but things have changed: Giulietta still feels fondness for her husband, but is in love with the younger Luigi.  Michele is aware that something is very wrong without knowing what it is.  Of course, he finds out, and in his anger murders Luigi, covering his corpse with his cloak, once used to shelter his wife and their young child, before revealing it to his horror-struck wife.  What lifts this production out of the ordinary ‘blood and thunder’ revenge tragedy is the collection of characters among whom the drama takes place – each one is lovingly portrayed as a flawed human being doing the best they can to survive the soul-destroying rigours of their life of back-breaking toil, each one dreaming of a better life if only they could reach it.

This mostly male production was followed by the virtually all-female Suor Angelica.  Set in a convent which houses and is served by young unmarried mothers, the odour of sanctity is at times overwhelming, enforced as it is by rigid disciplinarians.  All minor transgressions result in penances of one kind or another, and any individual lively human emotions have to be suppressed and/ or punished.  The contrast between the reverence shown for the Virgin Mary and the cruel treatment of the servant girls was painful to watch: so too was the self-righteous, pharisaical attitude of Suor Angelica’s aunt, sitting in judgement on her niece for the transgression that led to her arrival at the convent seven years previously.  In this rigidly icy environment, suppressed emotions burst out when Angelica was brusquely informed that the son she bore and was forced to give up seven years ago had died two years previously.  Small wonder that she, in an ecstasy of grief, chose to take her own life: thinking she would be reunited with her son in heaven and realising too late that suicide would result in her going to hell… thankfully, in this production at least, the possibility of redemption was offered as the curtain fell.

After this immersion in two very different but equally intense tragedies, it was with the hope of some light relief that we saw the curtain rise on Gianni Schicchi – and we were rewarded with a sharply-observedand very funny social comedy in which the eponymous hero runs rings around the wealthy and snobbish Donati family gathered round the bed on which the dying Buoso breathes his last.  The audience was laughing from start to finish, and the cast – especially Roland Wood [Gianni Schicchi] – were obviously having a ball.

These three operas were designed to be performed in one evening, but these days rarely are – tonight’s performance showed what a mistake this has been.  Individually they are striking, but the cumulative effect of progressing from dark passion to ridiculous farce via a visit to the not-quite Elysian fields of a convent is greater than the sum of the three parts – Puccini knew what he was doing when he put them together.

The production is brilliant – so many minute but telling details bring each character to life as real, feeling people, not standard operatic cut-outs.  Charles Edwards’ sets are equally brilliant – the dark and brooding wharf where Michele’s barge is moored; the pale convent whose staircase soars as if to heaven, em[hasising thegulf between the rarified atmosphere in which the nuns move and the darker ‘underworld’ in which the unhappy young women grieve the loss of their children; and the extraordinary bedchamber, stuffed with books, papers, and possessions which surround Buoso Donati’s vast bed.  Costumes [Hannah Clark] and lighting [Ben Pickersgill] further contributed to each opera’s unique look and feel – I particularly loved the early 70s look of Gianni Schicchi with its ghastly crimplene dresses and trousers, hats worn indoors, and the awful diamond-patterned tank top poor downtrodden Rinuccio was wearing.

And then the music!  Three very different and very expressive scores in which the orchestra were utterly glorious, expressing  every nuance of feeling and understanding – thank you so much, Stuart Stratford, for choosing to bring us all three in one superb package.

I wish I had the space to mention everyone – every single part, however small, was excellently cast, and brought to life with that attention to detail that lifts it from the ordinary to the exceptional.  I was expecting Roland Wood [Michele, Gianni Schicchi] to be brilliant – and he was, presenting two very strongly contrasting characters in the loving and tortured husband and the roguish trickster, unwiliing to help the family who despise him but incapable of resisting the blandishments of his beloved daughter Lauretta. 

One of the joys of the triple bill was seeing people playing more than one part.  Former Emerging Artists Elgan Lŷr Thomas [Young Lover, Il Tabarro and Rinuccio, Gianni Schicchi], Sioned Gwen Davies [Abbess, Suor Angelica and La Ciesca, Gianni Schicchi] and Lea Shaw [The Sister Monitor, Suor Angelica] and current Emerging Artists Zoe Drummond [Novice, Suor Angelica] and Osian Wyn Bowen [Song Seller, Il Talbarro] all made the most of their brief appearances on stage, showing why Scottish Opera picked them.

Firm favourites with Scottish Opera audiences included Jamie MacDougall [Tinca, Il Tabarro  and Gherardo, Gianni Schicchi], Karen Cargill as the chillingly heartless Princess in Suor Angelica, and Louise Winter as the cat-loving La Frugola in Il Tabarro and Zita in Gianni Schicchi. 

Making their debuts with Scottish Opera were yet more excellent singers: I hope we see them again very soon.  Julian Close was good as Talpa [Il Tabarro] and really impressed me with his voice and personality as Simone[Gianni Schicchi].  Viktor Antipenko is yet another tenor to look out for – he made a most impressive Luigi [Il Tabarro].

The two outstanding new voices of the evening have to be those of Korean soprano Sunjoung Seo and Nigerian-American soprano Francesca Chiejina.  Very different voices and personalities, both women shone in their Scottish Opera debuts.  Sunjoung Seo’s voice soared effortlessly over the orchestra, pouring out Giorgetta’s passionate love and yearning for a settled life with her lover and the anguish of the young nun still longing for the baby son she’d been forced to give up seven years previously.  Francesca Chiejina first impressed me with her simple joy as the Young Lover in Il Tabarro, reinforced that impression with her bubbling exuberance as Sister Genoffieva in Suor Angelica and then hushed us all into silent wonder with O mio babbino caro – begging Gianni Schicchi to let her marry her beloved Rinuccio.

This was an exceptional evening – such a joy!  There’s only one more performance before the run ends: catch it if you can…  Surely this superb trio will have to see the light of day again soon – they’re much too good to be kept off the stage for long.

Scottish Opera Presents Giacomo Puccini  Il Trittico, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 25th March for tickets go to: Scottish Opera: Puccini’s Il trittico (

Brett Herriot Review

Annie, Edinburgh Playhouse Review, Review:

“A Rock Solid Production!

**** 4 Stars

Starting life nearly a century ago as a 1924 comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, before debuting on Broadway in 1977, across those 46 years would follow two motion picture adaptations and numerous stage productions around the world. Annie with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin has charmed the musical universe and now it’s back for a brand new 2023 UK tour calling at the Playhouse for a week’s run, and the cherry on the cake is the return of Paul O’Grady as Miss Hanigan.

This is a rock solid production packed full of comedy, music and that heart warming feel good factor we have come to expect from Annie. What sets this particular production apart is the return of Paul O’Grady after a 25 year break from Miss Hanigan and he is a joy, fair enough his accent is a cross between Liverpool and the Bronx but it works. His comedy timing is spot on and he hams it up wonderfully in a Lilly Savage inspired wig. The Playhouse is the only Scottish dates for Paul that fact alone makes getting a ticket for this week truly worth it. Paul is joined by an excellent ensemble cast and on press night due to the indisposition of Alex Bourne, David Burrows stepped into the role of Daddy Warbucks and delivered a performance full of genuine warmth and brought real charm to the overall production. The tightness of the ensemble and children’s cast (three sets of children share all the kids roles) is testament to Nikolai Fosters accomplished direction that keeps the production moving at a swift pace, a pace that never drops during Nick Winston’s period perfection choreography which the entire cast deliver with pizzazz and style.

Production wise it’s more of a mixed bag, Colin Richmond’s set design owes a lot to “Matilda” switching books out for jigsaw pieces but it does bring a charm to the show that’s bolstered by a stunning lighting design by Ben Cracknell. Richard Brooker’s sound design was very much put to the test on press night and didn’t deliver as it should. Mic’s failed to come on, the balance between Musical director Joshua Griffith’s stellar eight piece band and the vocals on stage was just not there, with the band being deafening loud at times and vocals too low.  Hopefully it’s just a case of the show bedding in at the Playhouse and with a hefty 8 show run there is every chance it will hit its stride.

Overall the 2023 UK tour of Annie delivers everything it should, a quality and value for money evening of musical theatre and if they can get the sound on the beam will truly shine. It easy to see why Annie remains a family favourite and this inspired resetting of the show does much to further its legacy. The magical ingredient in this run is the utterly sublime Paul O’Grady who earned his standing ovation as the curtain fell, in fact the entire cast delivered a little bit of musical magic and you would be mad to wait until Tomorrow to enjoy yourself! Get to the Playhouse for the last remaining tickets.

Annie, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 25th March, for tickets go to: Annie Tickets | Edinburgh Playhouse in Edinburgh | ATG Tickets

Mary Woodward Review

A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Babs,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

***** (5 stars)

“Simply Brilliant”

Morna Young was named as 2019’s Scots Writer of the Year, and Babs shows exactly how well she deserves this accolade.  From the get-go Bethany Tennick’s Lisa has us in the palm of her hand as she pours out her rage and frustration at her treatment at the hands of her bestie, Shelley.

Lisa’s entire life revolves around her annual holiday with Shelley: there’s the planning, the anticipation, the holiday, the recovery period – and then the cycle repeats, filling her life with meaning.  But this year something’s gone wrong: Shelley Has Found Gareth and wants to go on holiday with him instead.  Lisa can’t stand Gareth, and feels betrayed – is she going to have to spend her longed-for holiday alone in Aberdeen instead of rampaging around the hotspots of Ibiza??

Suddenly she is offered the chance to win a forest sanctuary retreat with “renowned oracle Babs”.  To her astonishment she wins, and sets off with her exactly 22-kilo suitcase and her beloved guitar – but rather than finding herself being pampered at a luxury spa, she finds herself, with two rather weird female companions, at a ramshackle hut in the woods…  Did it really just turn itself around to let them in?  Has it really got chickens’ feet?  What is going on????

Bethany Tennick is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and goodness me is she talented!  Actress, musician, singer and composer, she pours out her heart in song and vibrant, crackling Doric, while Shelley, Gareth, Karen, Willow, Vassilissa and Babs herself come to life before our eyes.   

The songs are simply brilliant.  At first they are a defiant wall she puts up around herself – she only sings for herself, and thinks they express the real Lisa, a feisty Aberdonian quine who knows who she is and what she wants.  It takes her experiences with Babs in the forest to make her realise what she is refusing to let herself see, what she’s spent her life denying and covering up, what the truth hiding behind those walls really is, and what she really wants her life to be.

The script is equally outstanding – yet another illustration of the incredible vitality of the Doric – and had the audience laughing from the very beginning.  Earthy, vivid, passionate words and turns of phrase strip away ‘Edinburgh politeness’ and get down to the very bones of feelings, opinions, thoughts, desires and carry us along with Lisa on her journey of self-discovery.

Babs was an hour of pure magic, and the audience loved it.  I’m so glad my sluggish bus got me to the Traverse just in time to slip into my seat before the house lights went down – it would have been a tragedy to miss this modern take on an old fairy tale, a perfect illustration of the timeless truths these tales encapsulate.

A Play, a Pie and a Pint: Babs,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended. 

Brett Herriot Review

Buddy The Buddy Holly Story, Festival Theatre Edinburgh Review:

“A  rich heart that puts the music of a generation at the fore front

*** 3 Stars

Buddy Holly, the man who  transcended pop music in the late 50’s had a remarkable career not just for the pop classics he produced but the staggering fact his career only lasted  a shade over two years before the air crash that took his life along side Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. His legacy has remained with a generation of his fans. Its source material which found its way to the west end in 1989 when Buddy the Buddy Holly Story opened at the Victoria Palace before transferring to  the Novello and onto the Duchess across its twelve year run in the west end.

After several UK Tours and lengthy rest the Buddy Holly story hits the road once again in a brand new UK tour and calls at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre for a week’s run. It’s a show very much of the Old School musical but with a rich heart that puts the music of a generation at the fore front.

This production relies on its stellar cast and succeeds in every aspect lead by AJ Jenks as Buddy Holly, it’s a nuanced performance delivered with a polished vocal, and his is an engaging and engrossing performance throughout.  Christopher Chandler’s “Big Bopper” and Miguel Angel’s “Ritchie Valens” deserve credit too for their uncanny takes on some of rock and rolls greatest icon. The leads are joined by an excellent nine strong ensemble of musician performers and the concert scenes really let rip thanks to their incredible talents.

Technically its sadly all a bit below par, Adrian Ross’s design is so evocative of the time period but it’s all on the small side and clearly designed to make touring to the smallest venues possible by simply folding it up and a production with such a lineage deserves more. Pete Cox’s sound design works wonderfully for the concerts scenes however there were major sound issues on press night, with mic’s not working and masses of popping and interference on both head and hand held mics combined, hopefully it’s just bedding in issues that can be sorted. Darren Cooplands Lighting design is wonderful in the moments it comes alive but even that feel like it could be bigger and better.

Director Matt Salisbury brings an old school charm to the production in its style and pacing as he places the music at the forefront, however the reliance on lingering moments in the dark does start to grate.  The production is written and produced by Alan James, and his script is filled with information but the bulk of this comes during these elongated black outs.

One moment that was clear that there were technical issues was Thomas Mitchell’s front of house tabs scene in the role of Clear Lake MC, he played wonderfully for time while a set change was taking place, we know this because a cue light was left in full view of the audience, his ability to engage with the audience and adlib off the cuff was wonderful, and hopefully he won’t be waiting too long for that green light in future.

Essentially Buddy the Buddy Holly Story delivers everything it says it should and had the audience on their feet for a rousing finale that not even the revelation of the three main stars demise could diminish. For a generation of audience goers this defines their youth and thanks to this show they get to revel in it once more and that’s the winning charm of the production over all.

Buddy the Buddy Holly Story, Festival Theatre  Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 18th March, for tickets go to: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (