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Mary Woodward Review

Lost at Sea: King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Lost at Sea: 

***** (5 stars)

Lost at sea is a dark, brooding, deeply moving threnody composed to the memory of all fishermen lost at sea, particularly the men of the north-east of Scotland.  It’s an exploration of the challenges faced every day by fishermen as they go out to confront the dangerously powerful and fickle seas that surround our shores and by their families who have to deal with their loss, often not knowing why or how their loved ones died and in many cases unable to hold a funeral because the body is never recovered.  Constantly changing, charming and threatening by turn, unpredictable and never to be taken for granted, the sea is both irresistible enchantress and malevolent tyrant: but the sea salt runs in the fishermen’s’ veins and they return to her again and again, fully knowing that each time they sail out they may not return.

Written by Morna Young whose own father was lost at sea in 1989, it uses verbatim the words of fishermen, their families, and local communities in the north-east of Scotland to create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of scenes from a [fictional] fishing family.  Richly-descriptive words – the rich Doric of the north-east – evocative, haunting music by Pippa Murphy and almost dance-like movement directed by Jim Manganello together weave an elaborate tapestry against a backdrop of the ever-surging sea.  Slowly the individual characters reveal their stories, their feelings and their often conflicting relationships as the play builds to a dramatic climax when Shona, whose father Jock was lost at sea, attempts to find the truth about what happened that day.

Meg and Billy have two sons, Kevin and Jock.  Kevin’s wife Kath is from the close-knit fishing community, but Jock’s wife Eve is an incomer who does her best to fit in while knowing she will never be seen as part of the clan.  Jock and Eve’s daughter Shona left the area to train as a journalist: she now returns to try to find ‘the truth’, or at least a truth that will enable her to let go of all her questioning and move on in her life.  In this quest she is assisted by The Skipper, a powerfully-voiced and magnetic, somewhat mysterious character who makes free with both whisky and poetry as he tries to guide her to some understanding of the lives, thoughts, hopes, dreams and fears of her family.

The cast are outstanding. Jennifer Black’s Meg suffers during the frequent and prolonged absences of husband Billy [Gerry Mulgrew] but loves and upholds him even though she wishes her life were other than it is.  Both are broken by the loss of their beloved son Jock [Ali Craig], who is open, kind, and loving, especially towards his ‘outsider’ wife Eve – Kim Gerard, who movingly struggles to carry out her promise to him to ‘move on’ on after his death but eventually is broken and has to leave the village.  Jock is loyal and loving even in his troubled relationship with his brother Kevin, an unsympathetic character admirably played by Andy Clark, whose main motivation is greed, and who is unmoved by the plight of the other village fishermen, who are trapped in a downward spiral of debt while he rakes in the cash – everything he does is legal, who cares about ‘fair’?  Kevin’s wife Kath [Helen McAlpine] is torn between her loyalty to her husband and her feelings for her sister-in-law’s sufferings: she does what she can, but it’s very little – and when push comes to shove she sides with her husband, however much she disagrees with what he does.  Tam Dean Burn’s Skipper dominates proceedings, powerfully describing the raging sea and the turbulent emotions of the fisher-folk, playing his part among them while guiding Shona in her quest and helping her to see their individual truths while she seeks her own.  Thoren Ferguson’s haunting fiddle-playing winds through the whole piece, alternately lively and elegiac, holding it all together.

Lost at Sea ends with the silent cast on stage listening with us to names of the men and boats lost from Moray between1970 and 2012, recorded in 2019 by families of those men and children and young people from Lossiemouth High School and Hopeman Primary School.  It’s a deeply-moving piece that stays long in the mind and pays homage to all those who daily risk their lives to bring fish to our tables.

Lost at Sea, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 22 May, Scottish Tour Continues.

Review by Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

An Evening with Telly Leung, Dirty Martini at Le Monde, Edinburgh, Review:

An Evening With Telly Leung,

***** 5 Stars

“A journey that touched the heart and moved the soul.”

Telly Leung the Broadway star of Disney’s Aladdin, Rent and Godspell to name but a few has made his Edinburgh debut in an enchanting evening of music and conversation in the cosy Dirty Martini room of the Le Monde Hotel overlooking George Street in the heart of Edinburgh and what a fitting location that reminds you of the legendary supper clubs of New York such as The café Carlyle.

Telly who lives in New York flew in for a series of teaching workshops agreed to perform for one night only and it was a true treat. Accompanied by the faultless and gifted piano accompaniment of Ian Murray Redpath Sutherland, Leung took us on a journey that touched the heart and moved the soul.

Act 1 looked to his origins telling the story of his parents who to escape communist China swam for 7 hours to reach the freedom of then British held Hong Kong.  They then travelled to America and New York to give their child the freedom and chance to reach for the American Dream. Sharing his passion for all things Whitney Houston he opens with a blistering and vocally faultless “How will I know”. His vocal ability never wavers for the entire evening and his emotion flows especially in a touching performance of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” which is fitting tribute to the city he calls home. Leung brings act 1 to close by chatting openly about finding love, he is married to the dashing James Babcock and understanding the power that Hit U.S TV show “Glee” had on a generation. He performs a wonderful mash up of “I (am what I am) Have Nothing”

Act 2 focuses on Leung’s incredible career both on screen and on Broadway and performs songs from Disney’s Lion King and Aladdin alongside a touch of Sondheim and also covers his time in Godspell.  Bringing the evening to a close Leung discusses his time in Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” and finding his place in the musical theatre pantheon  and encourages the audience to find just one small thing in there every day lives that can make them a hero and change the world just a little bit for the better. Telly then delivers a truly heart-breaking performance of “Cover You” in that one number Telly confirms his leading man status and even better member of humanity.

Beyond Broadway productions should be commended for putting these intimate evenings of theatre on for Scottish Audiences. Telly Leung’s true gift is to share his passion for performing while continuing to appreciate where he came from and striving to change the world around him for the better. We can learn much from his abilities and lets hope this first visit to  Scotland isn’t is last as an Evening with Telly Leung will live long in the memory and sear its way into your heart. Simply incredible indeed.

Beyond Broadway Productions present: An Evening with Telly Leung, Dirty Martini at Le Monde Hotel, Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Mary Woodward Review

Toy Plastic Chicken, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Uma Nada-Rajah: Toy Plastic Chicken, A Play, A Pie & A Pint

**** (4stars)

A large plastic toy chicken, with slightly French overtones sat centre stage as we waited for the show to begin. With great solemnity it waddled all by itself across the table and, after making a huge fuss, laid an egg.  Rachel appeared, delighted with the absurdity of the chicken, which she put into her bag to take on her holiday.

Ross and Emma are facing a day at work as airport security officers, Ross trying to be bright and cheery, Emma simply hoping the day will pass without incident. Their boss, Mackay, has texted in “sick”, probably from the previous night’s over-indulgence in alcohol – yet another grievance for Ross, over whose head he was promoted.  Ross feels Mackay doesn’t deserve the promotion, and can’t really do the job: Emma is being remarkably silent about Mackay, but very bitter about the monotony of her job – “being the guardians: here to protect passengers from their own toothpaste”.  Ross and Emma seem to have history, but Ross is so bound up with his own need for promotion and more money that he completely fails to observe that Emma’s not a happy bunny – though he does notice she’s wearing a different perfume from usual.

Ross is obsessed with protocols and procedures, and completely freaks out when, as Rachel is going through the screening process, the plastic chicken starts making noises and is discovered under Rachel’s scarf. Suddenly things get serious: he panics and escalates the situation into A Situation, which becomes even graver when Ross suggests a course of action which could end up with them being commended rather than sacked.  Emma is pissed off: she just wanted a quiet shift and thinks Ross has gone completely OTT, but grudgingly agrees to his suggestion, even though this involves strip-searching Rachel.

Meanwhile Rachel, who is anxious not to miss her plane, is completely bewildered by the fuss being made about the chicken. She tries trying to make the situation more bearable and human by attempting to engage with the officers, but is gradually deflated and dehumanised by their robotic behaviour towards her and what she sees as their attempts to trap her into making damaging admissions about herself.  It’s she who notices Emma’s bruised face: only then does Ross realise and discover the truth about why their ‘little Thing’ at the Christmas party never went anywhere – and it’s Emma who realises that Rachel is losing the plot – or is her toy chicken actually speaking to her???

Based on a real incident experienced by the author, this play looks at the current climate of fear, how panic makes people do unwise things, and how the impersonality of The System can ultimately dehumanise the people employed to put it into practice. It’s a perceptive portrait of people dealing with boring, repetitive jobs which are nonetheless vital and the contrast between their ‘backstage’ matey, jocular, ‘let’s get through this boredom somehow’ personae and the ‘I have to speak like an automaton and refuse to see you as a human being because that’s what the protocol dictates’.  At what point does doing such a dehumanising job turn one into less than human, unable to see and respond to someone else’s distress because Self comes first, and self-preservation is the prime directive?

There was excellent acting from all three – David James Kirkwood’s ‘I know all the protocols’ Ross, Anna Russell-Martin’s “I hate this job but I have to do it” Emma, and Neshla Caplan’s Rachel, trying to cope with a terrifying situation and retain her essential humanity. The ‘procedures’ underlined the horrifying prospect of one’s whole life being traceable on one’s smartphone and the convoluted, Machiavellian thought-processes of the people who devise the protocols for “recognising radicalisation” in suspects.

The audience was engaged throughout and there was a lot of laughter. The play hadn’t got the sparkle of the Casablanca or Chic Murray plays, but a cracking performance from all three actors gave us a lot to think about, especially how very little privacy there is in one’s life in this electronic, ‘smart’ age…

Uma Nada-Rajah: Toy Plastic Chicken, A Play, A Pie & A Pint,Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat May 18th For Tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-toy-plastic-chicken

 

 

Mary Woodward Review

Poulenc Dialogue des Carmélites – Metropolitan Opera, Review

Poulenc Dialogue des Carmélites – Metropolitan Opera, New York

***** (5 stars)

Take a simple story – a convent of Carmelite nuns caught up in the French Revolution is first disbanded and then, as the women continue to meet and pray together, they are imprisoned and all sentenced to the guillotine.  Add intense music by Poulenc, who himself returned to the Catholic Church in the 1930s, give it to a magnificent cast of singers, all individual voices and personalities, and stage it so that the action takes place on a spotlit cruciform area of the huge Met stage, and the effect is breathtakingly moving.

The action centres around the innately fearful, hypersensitive Blanche, daughter of the Chevalier de la Force, and sister to the Marquis.  She seems constantly to live in terror, frightened of shadows and inherently unhappy in her father’s house.  She tells her father she wishes to enter the Carmelite convent and reluctantly he agrees.  Once there, Blanche is shocked by the simple, happy faith of fellow-novice Constance [aptly named, it transpires], who tells her that they are destined to die together, and soon.  Constance is not afraid of death, but prioress Madame de Croissy is finding her own imminent death prolonged and so painful she cannot think of God.  Mother Marie is shocked to hear this, but gladly accepts her superior’s instruction that she take special care of Blanche, who kneels in tears at the prioress’ bedside.  Constance wonders whether God got it wrong – that the prioress wasn’t meant to find death so hard: maybe someone else will find their own death surprisingly easy.

Madame Lidoine is appointed the new prioress, rather than Mother Marie.  Blanche’s brother comes to urge her to go back to her father’s house: it is a painful meeting, as she is convinced her duty lies in the convent, with her sisters.  The Revolutionary forces, having relieved the priest of his duties and banished him, expel the nuns from the convent and warn them that they must not gather nor pray together.  The nuns decide to take a mutual vow of martyrdom, but Blanche runs away without taking it.  Mother Marie finds her at her father’s chateau, and offers her the address of a safe house to go to.  The other nuns are taken to prison and then sentenced to death.  Surrounded by the Parisian mob, one by one the women go, singing a hymn, to face the guillotine.  Its swish and thud is heard again and again as the number of singers diminishes: at last only Constance remains.  Suddenly Blanche steps out from the crowd and embraces her: they will indeed die together.

The Met stage is huge, and this opera is mostly very small-scale: the intimacy of the encounters was beautifully confined within the cruciform acting area, into which dropped simple structures – the wall of the Chevalier’s house, the grille that separates the enclosed nuns from the visitor and the prison bars enclosing the nuns during their final night on earth.

It’s a meditation on death and fear and courage – the courage that can transcend the fear of death; and on faith – Constance’s deep and simple trust in her loving God, the prioress’s agonised absence of faith, Madame Marie’s almost fanatical faith, Madame Lidoine’s simpler, serene trust, and Blanche’s desperate search for a secure faith that only comes to her in her final moments as she faces up to and rises above her fear.  Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, it’s impossible not to be moved by the final movements of this opera, and impressed by the staggering range of talent on display at the Met.

David Portillo’s aristocratic and unbending Chevalier was in strong contrast to his beautifully-voiced, sensitive son [Jean-Francois Lapointe – no wonder his French was so good!].  Though Karita Mattila’s prioress died quite early on, the intensity of her deathbed agonies, both physical and spiritual, was deeply harrowing. Glaswegian Karen Cargill’s Mother Marie was firm in her faith, her aristocratic background keeping her spine erect no matter what challenges she faced.  Adrianne Pieczonka’s Madame Lidoine, solidly grounded by her ‘country’, non-aristocratic background was brilliant, proudly standing above and protecting the nuns in her charge, and the first to walk to embrace death.  Erin Morley’s Constance was young, innocent and radiantly joyful as she spoke trustingly of the messages she received from God.  Isobel Leonard’s inner struggles were utterly convincing and deeply moving – she richly deserved the applause which brought the Met audience to their feet at the final curtain.

Poulenc Dialogue des Carmélites – Metropolitan Opera, New York, Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh  via Live Relay.

Brett Herriot Review

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, 

**** 4 Stars

Funny and Visually Stunning!

Summer 1958. Minneapolis City Bank has been entrusted with a priceless diamond. An escaped convict is dead set on pocketing the gem with the help of his screwball sidekick, trickster girlfriend… and the maintenance man. With mistaken identities, love triangles and hidden agendas, even the most reputable can’t be trusted. In a town where everyone’s a crook, who will end up bagging the jewel? Thus, the stage and story is set for a comedy romp for the creators of “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong”

Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have delivered a tour de force romp the relies on both clever word play and visual gags a plenty and fast driven pace, the only time the humour feels uncomfortable is the inclusion of the vastly outdated “Camp” gay characters and the implied sexual innuendo, theatre has moved on from such characters and this winning play deserves better.

Director Kirsty Patrick Ward (working from Mark Bell and Mischief Theatres original direction) brings comedy capers at breakneck speed aided by David Farley supreme set design that turns the stage literally on head in a scene that blows the audiences away. All this is bolstered by David Howe’s atmospheric lighting design and Joey Hickman musical arrangements.

Cast wise this is true ensemble piece with the entire 9 strong company giving it there all and special mention must go to Sean Carey as Sam Monaghan whose physicality is a sight to behold couple with wit and charm  makes him endlessly watchable. Ashley Tucker as Ruth Monaghan has a big belter of a voice well suited to the 50’s big band style tunes she is given, and she can really shake it in the comedy leagues too. As the villain of the piece Liam Jeavons as Mitch Ruscitti brings a real dash of James Dean swaggering in a leather jacket and waving a gun about you can’t help but wish he would get his comeuppance and is another comedy treat.

Mischief Theatre Productions have really tapped into unique form of theatre that brings belly laughs and stunning visuals in equal measure and hopes are high for the visit of Peter Pan goes wrong, which will complete the trilogy of shows going on tour. Let’s hope the awkward stereotypes remain with the bank robbery as they don’t appear in the play that goes wrong! That said this is a winning comedy play so rush to get those tickets as the UK tour is nearly over!

Mischief Theatre Productions Presents “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery”, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 18th May, Then UK tour continues, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/bankrobbery

Mary Woodward Review

The Worst Witch, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

The Worst Witch:

**** 4 Stars

I have to confess my interest in this show arises from the fact that I was at school with Jill Murphy – she was in the year above me and her art work was instantly recognisable when I first saw her novels about The Worst Witch in which the clumsy Mildred Hubble is constantly being told that she is useless, ‘the worst’, and yet manages both to remain kind and somehow always save the day.  Jill makes it very plain that the characters and incidents in her books are based on the staff and students of our school – and when I watched this play, I was reminded most forcibly of some of the dear nuns’ [and the pupils’] less than Christian behaviour – though I have to add that no-one flew on broomsticks and the only potions mixed were ones in chemistry class…

Welcome to the world of Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches – as the banner above the stage told us, it encapsulates “fifteen centuries of witching tradition”, while the display boards each side of the stage featured praise from alumni through the ages. Some of the students are putting on a play for us, and we see backstage – it’s the usual shambles with people rushing everywhere: there’s always the irritatingly patronising one, and the one in total panic, and even the staff aren’t immune.

In the play-within-a -play we watch as clumsy Mildred Hubble finds herself among the new girls waiting to be transported to the Academy: how has she managed to bypass the protective spells that usual mean only witches can see each other?  No-one knows, but Mildred can’t be left to make her way to the ‘normal’ school she was trying to reach: she must go to the Academy and there have her memory wiped despite her protests that she wouldn’t tell anyone.

When she talks to the headmistress, however, she is surprised to be admitted to the school – Miss Cackle telling her that only a witch would be able to see through the protective spells – and even more surprised to discover, when the girls are sorted into houses, that there is no evil house – “that would be very silly”.  The headmistress seems rather mild and a little woolly, but her assistant Miss Hardbroom is not: overtones of Severus Snape creep into her introduction to the potions class, and I was instantly reminded of the tartars we had in our school – the only things missing from her severe black floor-length costume were the nun’s wimple and veil: the belittling sarcasm was there in spades…

The first act progressed with some catchy songs – unfortunately the words were both complex and largely inaudible – and a lot of complex choreography as the new girls wove their way through the Academy’s timetable.  Mildred was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and only the interventions of her best friend Maud kept her from even greater disasters.  Snotty, superior, obnoxiously precocious Ethel lost no opportunity to insult Mildred and put her down – “you’re about as magical as a cheese sandwich” – and constantly tried to get Mildred into trouble, especially when Enid Nightshade, descendent of an even more prestigious magical family than Ethel’s came to join their class. Enid instantly saw through Ethel’s motives and chose to be friends with Mildred – but wittingly or not involved Mildred in even more trouble than before.

But of course there was more to the show than the goings-on of first-year students at a magical school. In the first act Miss Cackle freely confessed to having in Evil Twin – Agatha, complete with spine-chilling scream every time she is mentioned – and in act two Mildred, so unhappy that she was running away from school, overheard Evil Agatha’s plot to take over the school [and then the world].  Fired with the noble urge to Save The Day she went back to the school – but would good prevail, or would sparkly red and gold Evil triumph???

It’s a simple tale, well told, and the audience loved it, joining in enthusiastically when asked to help, and booing and hissing the baddies’ machinations.  The magical effects weren’t as elaborate or jaw-dropping as in The Cursed Child, but were nonetheless effective and at one point most impressive [how do you fit a child into a suitcase??].  The three-piece band played lustily, except when silenced by Evil Agatha, and the singing, especially in the a capella numbers, most impressive.  The best thing of all for me was the way they made sure no cats were harmed in the making of the show by using simple, and simply adorable, sock puppets.  Danielle Bird was a very impressively clumsy Mildred, and Rosie Abraham an exceedingly irritatingly snotty and sanctimonious Ethel.  Consuela Rolle’s rebellious Enid was a fireball of energy with an incredible singing voice while Rebecca Killick’s loyal Maud showed unexpected talent on a trapeze, given her dim-but-willing-and-friendly exteriorRachel Heaton’s tall and supercilious Miss Hardbroom made me long to find a way to bring her down a peg or several, while Polly Lister simply had a ball morphing from woolly Miss Cackle into Evil Agatha and going headlong for world domination, a lot less subtly than Grindelwald but with an equal disdain for the fate of anyone who got in her way.

The house was disappointingly small, but extremely enthusiastic: I hope numbers will improve as the week goes on. This is a delightful show which champions the underdog and gives a very clear message that you don’t have to be from a privileged background to make a difference in the world, and that kindness and looking for the good in people, even those you don’t like, is far better than sneering at and putting down those we see as different from ourselves.

The Worst Witch, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 12 May, then UK Tour continues for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/theworstwitch

 

Mary Woodward Review

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch

A Play, A Pie & A Pint

**** (4stars)

Being completely unaware of the band Mull Historical Society, the writer/ musician Colin MacIntyre, and his Ballad of Ivor Punch, I approached this week’s offering in PPP with a completely open mind.  It might have helped if I’d known the words of the ballad, which was used during the play [in striking contrast to Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, aka Fingal’s Cave, which also featured largely] – but I don’t think it mattered all that much!

It was intriguing to see from the programme that the cast featured Charles Darwin and sisters Isabella and Henrietta Bird.  Isabella, the elder sister, was an intrepid explorer and naturalist who was the first woman to be elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society: I hadn’t realised when I visited Tobermory for the first time last year that her younger sister Henrietta had lived on Mull and that I had seen, but didn’t register, the clock Isabella erected to her memory…

In the best storytelling tradition our story began on a dark and stormy night just before Christmas, when freely-swearing Sergeant Ivor Punch was indulging in a little ‘tree scavenging’ with his mate Randy.  And suddenly an angel appeared unto them: a woman in a long white frock, who wasn’t wet despite the stormy night, who spoke cryptically of things Ivor didn’t understand – the sound of the sea, a child’s breath, picking a flower, falling – while repeating questions Ivor had been asking himself during the drive in the dark, before vanishing after insisting that the two men drive her to a particular spot on the island…

Move back in time to the nineteenth century, and Henrietta Bird is musing on her solitary life on Mull.  She thought when she and Isabella moved there from Edinburgh that the two would live together: but her sister went off exploring unknown regions, leaving Henrietta to read the letters she sent back.  These were published in several volumes: the postman brings her the latest one.  He is silent – Henrietta muses that he carries so many words round the island with him, but uses none himself.   Slowly and almost painfully that silence is broken as Henrietta manages to extract the odd word from the postman, who is more inclined to talk about his horse, Seamus, than about himself.  It is obvious that she has an interest in this dark and silent man: it is less obvious initially that he too is drawn to her – but gradually the two draw closer…

There was a lot that was excellent in this play, and the audience loved it: the portrayal of two drunken 21st century islanders contrasted well with the stilted and very formal language of Darwin and the Bird sisters – who themselves contrasted strongly with the softly-spoken and church-and-mother-ridden postie.  Differences of language and understanding made for many amusing moments between these two, but there was also much tenderness in the awkward way two shy and lonely people reached out to each other.  Andrew John Tait did a brilliant job as Sergeant Punch and his own great-great-etc-grandfather; Tom McGovern’s drunken Randy was in strong contrast to the impeccably-dressed and -spoken Darwin; and Eva Traynor was a touching Henrietta and sympathetic though bereaved Isabella.

Why not five stars?  It was all very good, a little bit obvious, and slightly hampered by being live on stage rather than on film, especially during Darwin’s nightmare – but altogether a highly enjoyable hour’s entertainment, which left the audience feeling extremely satisfied and looking forward to the final PPP and an encounter with a toy plastic chicken…

Colin MacIntyre: The Origins of Ivor Punch, A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Runs until Saturday 11th May for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-the-origins-of-ivor-punch