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Mary Woodward Review

Beauty and the Beast, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Beauty and the Beast.

**** (4 stars)

I have to confess up front that I’m addicted to the Emma Watson film: so I approached this ballet with some doubts in my mind: how could the story be told compellingly and convincingly without any words?  Well, it was, and I’d gladly see it again.

Danced to an inventive, original score by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr, this version of the story begins by showing how the Prince became a Beast.  The cruel, heartless Prince only lived for hunting: he was pursuing a vixen when a Woodsman appeared to protect her and turn her into a red-headed girl before turning the Prince into the Beast and his huntsmen into the animals he felt they were.

In the Merchant’s house, Belle’s father is facing ruin as his trading ship has not returned: the bailiffs are already in the house, removing most of its contents.   Monsieur Cochon [complete with cute pig nose] offers to bankroll him, but news appears of the ship’s safe arrival and Cochon’s money is returned to him.  As their father prepares to collect his merchandise, Belle’s two self-absorbed and selfish sisters demand extravagant presents, while Belle asks only for a rose.   The Merchant gets lost in a storm, finds a mysterious castle and shelter for the night, and as he is leaving picks a rose – the Beast appears and demands that the Merchant give him Belle in exchange for his life.  The story unfolds until Belle is allowed to go home to her father, with another rose – she must return before it withers, or the Beast will die.  Her sisters delay her leaving, and when she arrives back the Beast is on the point of death – but Belle’s revelation that she loves him saves his life: the Woodsman reappears to turn everyone, including the Vixen, back into their original form, and everyone Lives Happily Ever After.

The set designs, especially of the Beast’s castle, were superb – a towering, mysterious structure in black and gold which unfolded and then unfolded again to reveal a golden door through which the Merchant and then Belle entered, before emerging into the castle interior which again seemed to stretch for miles.  Candles lit themselves, a massive carved chair moved up behind the weary traveller – its arms even came out to enfold the sleeper.  Belle and the Beast were alone in the darkness until a crowd of courtiers, beautifully dressed in shades of cream, gold, and black formed the backdrop for a magnificent ball during which the Beast proposed but was once again refused.

This was in delightful contrast to the slightly shabby but well-lit home of the Merchant, complete with a collection of large stuffed birds of prey.  There was much humour in the antics of Belle’s sisters, Fière and Vanité [Ruth Brill and Samara Downs] and the chubby, self-important M. Cochon [James Barton].  The Merchant was expressively danced by senior ballet master Michael O’Hare, showing that there can be a long dancing life even after principal roles are given up.  Lachlan Monaghan brought great agility to the cameo role of Bailiff, and Laura Day’s brief appearance as Grandmère, complete with wildly-waving walking stick, was equally noteworthy.  Beatrice Parma made a charming vixen, and Yaoqian Shang’s Wild Girl, despite being his quarry in animal form, was the one who supported him as he began to die, and grieved deeply at his death.

The Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet did sterling work as hunters, birds of the air and of the forest, beasts at the court and guests at the wedding.  I particularly enjoyed the massed birds’ weaving their way round each other and then suddenly dancing in unison, and the many different individual characters of birds and beasts – and the fantastic costumes and the masks which must have offered their own challenge to the dancers.

Delia Matthews’ Belle was tender, loving, terrified, lonely, desolate and finally glowing with happiness when she realised the Prince with whom she was dancing was in fact her beloved Beast.  Tyrone Singleton’s power and arrogance took a long time to give way to love and humility – even at the ball he was furious rather than saddened by Belle’s refusal: but hopefully her generosity taught him the humility and reverence for life that he so conspicuously lacked before he met her.

This was an evening of enchantment, and the packed house was loud in its enthusiastic appreciation.

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents Beauty and the Beast, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh runs until  Saturday 16th March, then on UK tour for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/brb-beauty-and-the-beast

Review by Mary Woodward

 

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera, Katya Kabanova, Theatre Royal Glasgow, Review:

Scottish Opera Katya Kabanova

***** 5 Stars

Katya Kabanova is a powerful study in hypocrisy, matriarchal dominance and bullying.  Based on a Russian play – The Storm by Alexander Ostrovsky – it illuminates the contrast between the old-fashioned, matriarchal society and the more forward-looking and egalitarian society which is trying to overthrow it.

Kabanicha, mother of Tikhon, foster-mother to Varvara and mother-in-law to Katya, rules her family and household with a rod of iron.  She despises Katya, losing no opportunity to belittle her, and encourages her son to be equally cruel to his wife.  Tikhon professes to love her but is unable to stand up to his mother. Katya is a young woman with a gentle affectionate nature, who is slowly withering under this treatment.  She is further tormented by her own longings, which she sees as sinful, for a young man Boris: he is equally in love with her, but from afar, not daring to speak of his love.  Varvara, however, is more than happy to creep out in the evenings to meet up with Vanya by the river.  Kabanicha herself is not immune to the blandishments of Boris’s uncle Dikoy, who exerts a similarly despotic rule over his nephew, knowing that the young man has to be subservient to him if he is ever to receive the inheritance his parents left him.

Kabanicha orders Tikhon to go away on business.  Katya pleads with her husband not to go, but he says he’s been ordered to by his mother, so must go: she asks to go with him but he refuses her.  She begs him to make her swear an oath not to speak to any strangers while he’s away – but he doesn’t.  He leaves, and the inevitable happens – Katya, knowing she shouldn’t, takes the opportunity Varvara offers her to escape from the oppressive household and meet Boris down by the river.  Tikhon returns unexpectedly, Katya, riven by guilt, confesses her infidelity and slowly starts to unravel mentally: bereft of love, bullied and humiliated at home, she is driven to suicide.  Her husband is distraught: her mother-in-law wraps her cloak of self-righteousness around her and thanks her neighbours for their help…

Designer Leslie Travers has produced a most impressive set – two metal footbridges crossing the river can be raised, lowered, and even slanted, while the space revealed beneath them is first the claustrophobic household in which Katya suffers and then, escapes through a sliding door to the sunlit, golden, reed-fringed riverbank in which the lovers find each other and in whose rain-swelled waters Katya eventually seeks respite from her tangled emotions.  The costumes spoke volumes, too – Katya in a simple white dress, which she smeared with mud after she had “fallen”: Kabanicha was tightly wrapped in a black coat when outdoors and equally constrained indoors by her tight, dark frock.  Boris, as befitted someone growing up in the ‘civilisation’ of Moscow, sported a very smooth suit and shoulder-length hair, while his uncle Dikoy’s coat was covered in medals from his past military ‘glory’.  Varvara was only too happy to strip off her ‘peasant’ dress and headscarf and put on [and remove!] much more modern skirt, top and ankle boots when she met up with Vanya.

Laura Wilde brought enormous sensitivity and a gloriously gleaming soprano to the role of Katya.  Patricia Bardon gave us a superbly bitter and repressed Kabanicha: when booed at her curtain call, smiled and mouthed “sorry!”.  Tikhon [Samuel Sakker] was a superbly spineless mummy’s boy: Boris [Ric Furman] was elegant and sang well but somehow never swept me off my feet – that was done effortlessly by Vanya’s Trystan Llŷr Griffiths whose lyrical tenor and cheerful personality was a perfect foil to the feisty Varvara of Hanna Hipp, refusing to accept the constraints and conventions of her mother’s household, and more than happy to plan to run away to Moscow with her lover.  Paul Whelan was a horribly uptight and dictatorial Dikoy, who nonetheless managed to attract Kabanicha’s attention – while profoundly disapproving of her daughter’s conduct it seems she wasn’t averse to a little extramarital canoodling herself!

The orchestra under Stuart Stratford was superb, as ever: their music revealed the turmoil of emotions under the characters’ restrained vocal lines as this thrilling opera wound its way to its desolate conclusion.  There was loud applause for cast and creatives at the final curtain.  It’s ironic, perhaps, that Janáček wrote this opera, and the other works of genius of his last year, as an expression of his own passion for a much younger, married woman – would that Katya could have had a happier fate…

Scottish Opera presents Katya Kabanova, Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat 16th March, The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh 21st – 23rd March for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/katyakabanova or https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/scottish-opera-katya-kabanova/theatre-royal-glasgow/

 

Mary Woodward Review

The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Funeral Director

**** (4 stars)

Another emotionally intense offering from the Trav, this time from Papatango Theatre Company who present a new play by Iran Qureshi which examines the effects of religious and cultural values on decisions made in moments of extreme pressure.

Ayesha inherited her mother’s funeral parlour when her mum died in a car crash.  She now runs it with her husband Zeyd, the man her mum intended she should marry.  At first all seems well between Ayesha and Zeyd – they seem to have a perfect, loving relationship –  but there are problems – business is slack despite the current flu epidemic, and while he wants kids, she doesn’t, and they don’t seem to have sex very often, if at all.

The shop buzzer sounds, and Tom, a very distressed young white man, comes in, wanting to arrange a Muslim funeral for his ‘friend’.  Zeyd is compassionate, especially when it seems as though Tom’s friend’s death might have been accidental suicide but Ayesha suddenly announces that they can’t help him because they are too busy, and advises him to go to the other, non-Muslim, funeral director in town.  There’s something very wrong in the atmosphere, and Ayesha’s attempted explanations to Zeyd don’t ring true.

Ayesha goes to the local hospital to collect someone’s body for their funeral and bumps into an old school friend, Janey, whom she’s not seen for years.  Janey’s mum is in hospital following an accident in the garden – Janey left home years ago, lives in London and is now a barrister.  The conversation seems awkward – is there some sort of history there?  Janey is obviously keen to see Ayesha again, and Ayesha is curiously unwilling.  An unexpected consequence of Ayesha’s refusal to arrange Tom’s boyfriend’s funeral brings the two girls together and their past begins to be revealed…

Deeply convincing portraits from Aryana Ramkhalawon and Assad Zaman as Ayesha and Zeyd gave me insights into a culture of which I know shamingly little while also reminding me that the desire to ‘do right’ and its subsequent heartbreak is not a monopoly of western culture. Francesca Zoutewelle‘s Janey slowly revealed the broken heart underneath her reserved, slightly brittle and sort-of-smiling façade and Tom [Edward Stone], stunned and broken in grief, angrily rejected Ayesha’s attempts to make amends and only relaxed as he talked about his partner Ahad’s love for Bollywood films and his firm belief in the loving Allah who would not reject him – finally forcing Ayesha to confront the truth she’s been hiding from herself all her life.

The Funeral Director invites us to consider our attitudes towards death, funerals, relationships, religion, and the whole LGBTQI can of worms.  Why couldn’t I give it five stars? It’s a very good play, with some deeply-moving moments: but sometimes it felt that it was written to preach a message – and everything turned out so conveniently for Ayesha.  I also felt uncomfortable, that all the time I was a spectator, helplessly observing the pain and suffering of four people.  Much of what was said tonight reminded me of almost identical views I’ve heard, and had directed at me personally, from so-called christians… but for many in the audience it might have been new.  Certainly the applause was loud and long.

The Travers Theatre in a co production with English Touring Theatre presents: The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – Run Ended

Review by Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

The Dark Carnival Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Dark Carnival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

***** (5 stars)

Following a superb exploration of the effects of dementia on a relationship, the Traverse plays host to an equally brilliant revelation of the hitherto unknown ‘world beneath the ground’ where we, the newly-dead, are introduced to our new lives and taught a number of important lessons.

Coffins are piled higgledy-piggledy among roots growing down into the earth: some of their sides are open and we can see the corpses they contain, all lying in the stillness of death…  From a brightly-lit doorway ghostly smoke issues and a form emerges – a woman who greets us and welcomes us to the necropolis.

She is our guide and instructor in this new and unexpected situation, engaging with us and making dreadful jokes in rhyming verse before summoning the band – the dead, musicians, whisky – what can possibly go wrong?  Biff, who bears an uncanny resemblance in face and manner to The Joker, leads his band in songs with macabre words – the joie de mort and despair – and catchy melodies.  As the liquor flows we begin to get to know the inhabitants of the cemetery and learn how they died and how they cope with their current situation.  Trapped within the earth, neither in heaven nor in hell, they – and we – can watch the living as they visit the graves of their loved ones or, like Ghost-Hunting Gary, try to record evidence of communication from Beyond to post on their YouTube channel, while a council worker who only communicates in sign language passes through, keeping an eye on things.

Young John died when he was still a teenager: why does an elderly gentleman visit his grave with a bunch of lilies every morning at eleven? Why is the Major taking time away from the band to practise being a ghost?  The Dark Carnival people come together to greet the new arrival – young Annie, who emerges from her coffin bewildered to find herself newly dead but still in some sort of life.  A fag-smoking, booze-swigging angel reveals that Heaven has closed its gates; the feisty and irrepressible Mrs Jack reveals that it’s possible to do a deal with the Demons Down Below to get serious whisky, but that we really don’t want to go down there – so what happens to us?  Why do some of us disappear into black cloud holes?  Are we just going to accept these mysteries, or are we going to do something about it????

There’s a fabulously inventive set, a wonderfully memorable assortment of vivid characters, and fantastic music brilliantly played by band A New International.  Trumpet, trombone, guitars, keyboard, accordion and violin weave their insidious way round haunting melodies with delectably mordant lyrics, with lead singer and song-writer Biff Smith obviously relishing every minute in the spotlight.  There’s a witty, delightfully gruesome, deeply moving and at times metaphysically challenging script conceived, written and directed by Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton.

There’s much to reflect on in an extraordinarily entertaining show, which evoked much laughter and prolonged applause.  it’s dazzling: move heaven and earth to see it!

The Dark Carnival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ended transfers to Dundee Rep 13th-16th  March, for tickets go to: https://www.dundeerep.co.uk/event/dark-carnival

 

Preview

SLO Presents My Fair Lady, Preview

SLO presents My Fair Lady, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 

Spring is in the air and the annual season of Local Amdram productions  gets under way with Southern Light opera being proud to present a beautiful new production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.

As with George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion from which it was adapted, My Fair Lady explores society’s prejudices toward class and gender while wrapped in a spectacular Lerner and Loewe score with memorable tunes such as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “Get Me To the Church On Time!”

The story is familiar – world famous phonetics expert and upper class bachelor, Henry Higgins wagers that he can pass off Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, in high society as a duchess just by teaching her to speak proper English.

Lerner and Loewe created an instant hit which has often been referred to as “the worlds most beloved musical.” The original Broadway production opened in 1956 and ran for over six-and-a-half-years with a total of 2,717 performances, and won 6 Tony Awards. It was revived by the National Theatre in 2001 and last year saw an acclaimed return to Broadway.

The cast features Rebekah Lansley as Eliza Doolittle, John Bruce as Henry Higgins, Keith Kilgore as Alfred P. Doolittle, Alan Hunter as Colonel Pickering, Averyl Nash as Mrs Higgins, David Bartholomew as Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Judith Walker as Mrs Pearce.

my fair lady 2

My Fair Lady is directed by Andy Johnston, Musical Director is Crawford Moyes, Choreographer is Louise Williamson.

Director Andy Johnston,  “It is the universality of the story that makes My Fair Lady such an unforgettable piece of theatre. The innate desire to make something of yourself, to improve your life and your future are very human themes that we can all relate to. What George Bernard Shaw had to say about class, perceptions of class and social attitudes rings as true today as it did when he wrote Pygmalion over a hundred years ago. Much is made of the central relationship between Higgins and Eliza. Is it a pupil/ teacher relationship? Is there any hint of romance? Do they end up together or not?

Shaw had very strong ideas regarding this and so did Lerner and Lowe – not always the same views. With this production, we have not set out to finally and irrevocably solve these conundrums, but to investigate and find the truth in this most complex of relationships. Well, our version of the truth!

It is not often you get to work on one of the genuine legends of musical theatre and our company of over seventy, backed by a huge backstage crew and a twenty-three piece orchestra have been working very hard to bring this classic tale to life for a new generation and I couldn’t be prouder of the entire team.”

SLO presents My Fair Lady, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th March, For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/myfairlady

 

Mary Woodward Review

In Other Words Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

In Other Words

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

***** (5 stars)

Heartbreakingly brilliant, this portrayal of a deeply loving relationship that somehow survives in infinitesimally brief moments during Arthur’s increasingly rapid descent into a demented state in which he no longer recognises Jane and has no idea where he is brings tears to the eyes and a smile to the lips at one and the same time.

We first see an ageing Jane on her knees, struggling to get Arthur’s feet into his shoes and do them up while he stares vacantly into space, his face quivering and trembling: and then he rises to his feet, the years falling from him, as he recounts his version of The Incident – the accidental? deliberate? way they first met – the collision, the red wine spilt, the frightfully apologetic Englishman encountering the ‘exotic foreigner’ whose accent he can’t recognise as Scottish…

Several ‘replacement’ drinks later they dance to the Frank Sinatra number that becomes their signature tune – In Other Words [I love you] – and that’s the moment for each of them when they know ‘this is the one’.  We see the progress of their relationship, the love and care they have for each other and how, no matter how much Jane is irritated by Arthur’s behaviour, she can always be brought round with that song and the invitation to dance.

Arthur has already confided in us that [in his version of the story] The Incident wasn’t accidental: now he tells us of the beginnings of his forgetting – a fifteen-minute trip to the shops for milk and stamps that extends to twice that length because the first time he gets to the shop he can’t recall what he went for: it’s only when he reaches his front door that he remembers, and has to go back.  The mental, aural, visual fuzz he experiences is expressed with flickering light and confusedly muffled static – and this increases as he begins to be unable to understand what is being said to him or is confused by his surroundings or tries to go to help ‘the woman in the garden who is most unhappy’.

Jane provides her own commentary – once you become an expert, it’s easy to look back and see the beginnings, the signs, the warnings: but at the time you simply don’t realise… Arthur becomes increasingly confused, his memory begins to fail, his grasp of words diminishes, and his frustration and incomprehension explodes into anger when Jane won’t let him drive to the appointment and he hurls abuse at her.   Jane reveals to the doctor how weary she is, how hurt she is, and at one point how she wishes she could simply drown him while he is sitting happily in the bath humming out of tune as she sings while bathing him.

Finally Arthur is as we saw him at the beginning – slumped in his enclosed world, oblivious to her, mumbling to himself – but still able to be called to lucidity by the music that has been with him and Jane the whole of their life together: ‘red’ he mumbles, and for a split second he remembers The Incident, the spilled wine, the dance…

Two outstanding performances from Angela Hardie and Matthew Seager; a simple set – two armchairs and a standard lamp; and a soundtrack of Sinatra songs that weaves its way into our hearts.  We recognise the deep love that somehow survives almost intolerable strain, and witness the incredible power of music to bring people back from the world in which they have become trapped/ lost through dementia.

There was loud and prolonged applause from a profoundly-moved audience.   We were invited to give a donation and/ or stay for a q&a session with someone from Playlist for Life, founded by Sally Magnusson to promote the use and understanding of personal playlists for people suffering from dementia. [see playlistforlife.org.uk]

In Other Words, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run ends Saturday 2nd March then tours to Glasgow’s Tramway.

Review by Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Review

The Miseducation of Cameron Post ( the film shown as part of Pride Saltires LGBT History month programme)

***** (5 stars) 

This, the third and final film in the Pride Scotia series at the Brunton, was as excellent as the first two, and like last week’s played to a disappointingly small audience.  I had seen this film before, but was so impressed with it that I was more than happy to see it again. Chloe Grace Moretz, who first impressed me in Hugo, here takes on a much more mature role, as the eponymous heroine.

It’s 1993 and Cameron is going with her boyfriend and another young couple to the high school prom to celebrate graduation: in the unglamorous school hall all seems to be proceeding in a yawningly conventional fashion when Cameron, who has been dancing with her girlfriend rather than the boy she came with, grabs her hand and takes her outside, where they make out in a car – only to be discovered by the horrified boyfriend…

Cameron is taken by her mother to God’s Promise – a supposedly christian establishment which aims to ‘convert’ young people suffering from SSA [same-sex attraction].  Reverend Rick and his sister Dr Marsh, superbly and chillingly played by John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle, smile determinedly all the time, convinced they are doing god’s will.  Earnest and squeakily clean young people do their best to conform and identify the root causes of the SSA, which they are told is but the tip of the iceberg, a symptom of much deeper problems.

The film is beautifully shot, cleverly presented, and a hideous picture of the damage that can be done by people who, it becomes clear, are simply making it up as they go along.  Adam [Forrest Goodluck] and Jane [Sasha Lane] refuse to be taken in by the ‘religious claptrap’ and Cameron gravitates towards them as she silently tries to work out what’s going on around her, to fit in and to do what’s expected of her.  It’s only they who can see things as they really are – that Dr Marsh ‘converted’ her brother Rick and is now trying her method on others: everything being done in the name of god, with bible references to back up, while brother and sister are oblivious to the damage that is being done.

Cameron finally rebels, refusing to accept that this treatment is anything other than emotional abuse.  She asks the man sent to investigate the facility after one ‘disciple’ seriously and deliberately mutilates himself “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”  The three rebels ceremonially burnt their ‘iceberg’ pictures and ride off into who knows where in the back of a pickup truck, and for the first time we see them begin to smile and then laugh…

My companion found it incomprehensible that people could (a) think that way and (b) treat people so appallingly.  She said that her teenage children simply can’t grasp why anyone should get in a snit about how anyone else perceives their gender or sexuality – but then they’re Quaker children.  To those of us who’ve lived a good part of their lives in the closet, these views and behaviour are all too familiar even today – many people are still convinced that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice as well as a sin, and that it’s possible to ‘convert’ people to ‘normality’.

Review by Mary Woodward.