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Mary Woodward Review

Mona Pearson: Celestial Body, Traverse Theatre, Review:

Presented as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint

*** (3 stars)

This is a play about dis-ease, discomfort, and deception.  

Laura has just moved into a new house, and as she unpacks her belongings she listens to the dreamy, vague tones of an astrologer talking her through several expensive minutes of preamble on her mobile before telling her nothing very much about what her immediate future holds.  Loud thumping music from next door temporarily distracts her before Laura dials another astrologer and the whole ‘message from an astral plane’ malarkey begins again.

In a gym, an enviably fit-looking Hamish is demonstrating the ease with which he can do warm-up exercises and weights.  An ill-at-ease and decidedly weedy Bruce tries to copy him without much success.  He asks Hamish for help but is brushed off several times before Hamish launches into a grand spiel about the importance of motivation, dedication, and effort.  Bruce bursts into tears and reveals that his wife is about to leave him and he is desperate to improve his physique so she won’t go.

Back at Laura’s, the astrologer’s still whispering in her ear while she busily bangs at something under the worktop.  The doorbell goes, and Hamish comes in to fix the washing machine.  A very one-sided and stilted conversation ensues – is Laura coming on to him?  Hamish even rejects a proffered custard tart, claiming to have an egg phobia.

At the gym, Bruce is demonstrating masterful ineptitude with a step.  When Hamish appears, Bruce is eager to engage his attention – is he coming on to Hamish?  Bruce suggests going for a drink after the gym; Hamish reluctantly agrees.

What is behind these awkward attempts to attract/ engage Hamish?  To whom will he respond?  Will the celestial bodies in the heavens turn out to be of greater importance than the “magnificent vessel” that Hamish feels his body to be?

I don’t want to give the game away: suffice it to say I didn’t see the end coming.  I’d spent some time wondering whether the awkward atmosphere came from the actors, the script, or the production – it seems it was intentional and well-done.  The dénouement was unexpected, and to some might seem mildly amusing – I found it ingenious but not very credible: perhaps a tighter script and a faster pacing might have given it more impact?  I also became confused with the conflicting ‘astral voices’ – they can’t all have been coming through Laura’s phone at the same time: if one was in her head, might it have been presented in some other way?

There were some splendid cakes [though I may avoid red velvet cake in future] and the three actors – Neshla Caplan [Laura], Ross Man [Bruce] and Samuel Pashby [Hamish] engaged our attention if not always our sympathies.  It was grand to be back in the Traverse, and the socially-distanced audience were keen to show their appreciation of being back at a live performance.  The pint was a welcome post-show reviver: the pie, however, was disappointing.

Morna Pearson: Celestial Body as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run ends Sat September 25th

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera,Opera Highlights Review:

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh

***** (5 stars)

It felt very strange to be sitting in a virtually full Brunton Theatre on Thursday night with people sitting all round me [mostly grey-haired but a fair sprinkling of quite young people, and one tiny who felt obliged to give us a running commentary throughout, despite her parents’ best efforts to keep her quiet].  Masks were in evidence everywhere, and I didn’t feel at all at risk – but nonetheless it was very strange to be so close to people I didn’t know, after eighteen plus months of keeping everyone quite literally at arm’s length.

Scottish Opera’s head of music, Derek Clark, has done another brilliant job of selecting pieces that suit the strengths of his singers and weaving what might seem a random assembly of opera excerpts into a narrative.  This season’s offering is a meditation on relationships, which may start with the euphoria of first love but are unlikely to stay that way for very long…

Our quartet of singers began with a joyful double wedding with properly coupled soprano/ tenor, and mezzo/ baritone singing Over the dark blue waters from Weber’s Oberon.  Mezzo Lea Shaw then serenaded the welcome shade of a tree with Ombra mai fu from Handel’s Serse, before baritone Alexey Gusov sang Don Giovanni’s Deh, vieni alla finestra – a wonderfully seductive aria delivered with such charisma that I’m surprised there wasn’t a fight to join him on stage…. Lea Shaw was suitably mesmerised, but encountered strong competition from soprano Meinir Wyn Roberts as Via resti servita from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro degenerated from polite hostility into a vicious cat fight.  Tenor Glen Cunningham then tried to defuse the tension with the serenade À la voix d’un amant fidèle from Bizet’s Jolie Fille de Perth, an opera whose charming music deserves to be better-known.

Meinir Wyn Roberts sparkled in Ah! Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.  Juliet rejoices in the pleasures she thinks will come from her engagement to Paris: each time doubts cross her mind, she retreats into her joyful dream.  Alexey Gusov and Lea Shaw looked back at past joys in O chudni slaskyi son! from Tchaikovsky’s little-known The Maid of Orleans; and then Glen Cunningham as Fenton serenaded his love Anne Page with Nicolai’s Horch, die Lerche Singt im Hain from Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, an equally delightful but less well-known alternative to Verdi’s Falstaff.

Lea Roberts was riddled with doubts in Leonora’s O mio Fernando from Donizetti’s La Favorita – she has been the king’s mistress but now is allowed to marry her true love, Fernando – but will he want her when he knows her history?  We returned to Bizet, as Meinir Wyn Roberts’ Micaela came to give Glen Cunningham’s Don Jose a kiss from his mother: he asked her to give him news of his mother back in their home village in Parle-moi de ma mere,seemingly oblivious to her baby bump, as he is already obsessed with the gypsy Carmen.  Alexey Gusov’s attempt to convince Lisa that they could be happy together – Ya vas lyublyu from Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades – was equally in vain, as she was engrossed in her hopeless love for Hermann, who was himself obsessed by his doomed quest for the secret of ‘the three cards’.

Meinir Wyn Roberts then demonstrated her ability to hoodwink the opposite sex with Norina’s Quel guardo, il cavaliere… so anch’io la virtù magica from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale – is the fact that she’s preparing to fool an old man so that she can marry her young true love excuse enough?  Tenor and baritone joined in serenading their loves with a duet from Julius Benedict’s The Lily of Killarne – The moon has raised her lamp above.  This prompted their partners to join them in celebrating their revitalised loves with the champagne song from Johan Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, a fittingly effervescent piece with which to end the evening.

Our four singers had been warmly applauded throughout the evening, but this final applause was so loud, prolonged and joyful that it seemed as though they wouldn’t be allowed to give us their encore – a gentle quartet praying for sleep at midnight – a beautifully calm close to the feast of emotions we’d experienced in a beautifully-chosen programme showcasing the talents of four extremely talented young singers.  

Meinir Wyn Roberts is making her debut with Scottish Opera, and I look forward to seeing her in future productions.  Lea Shaw and Glen Cunningham are two of 2021-2’s Emerging Artists, so we’re sure to see them again in the coming year, while Alexey Gusov was a memorable Emerging Artist in 2018-19.  Glen Cunningham’s quiet restrained style was slightly overshadowed by the other three’s full-throated outpourings, but then his gentle lyrical voice wasn’t given such show-stopping numbers to sing.  The other three made the most of their opportunities to show what they could do, and I was particularly impressed with Lea Shaw’s versatility and dramatic ability.  Meinir Wyn Roberts’ bubbly personality matches her high-flying voice – but the highlight of the evening for me was Alexey Gusov’s full-throated Russian singing – deeply seductive in Italian and virtually irresistible when singing in his native language. 

All four singers gave us a delightful evening’s entertainment, all the more enjoyable for it’s being the first time for so many of us that we have been able to enjoy a pleasure we took for granted eighteen months ago.  The audiences for the rest of this tour are in for a major treat, and I’m sure the applause will be as warm and heartfelt as it was in Musselburgh last Thursday night.

Scottish Opera,Opera Highlights,Scottish Tour Continues

Brett Herriot Review

9 To 5 The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

**** 4 Stars

The magic of live theatre returns ”

545 days since the doors closed at Edinburgh’s Playhouse theatre, the lights have come back on, the audience, masked, settled into their seats and the curtain went up once again and the magic of live theatre was in the air as the Playhouse rolled out the big guns with a transfer of the west end hit 9 to 5 from London’s Savoy Theatre

It’s hard to believe the motion Picture of “9 to 5” was released in cinemas in 1980 Over 40 years ago, the story of three women leading the charge for female empowerment in the business world of the high rises of New York gave Dolly Parton perhaps her most recognisable hit.

Telling the story of Violet Newstead , Louise Redknapp, who has truly matured in the role and gives a full force leading lady turn of a strong willed woman with aspirations of being CEO, Judy Bernly (Vivian Parks in a vocally powerful turn) an office newbie who facing up to life without her husband and whom must get on the work ladder and Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos who channels Dolly Parton wonderfully well but also imbues the character with her own style) who everyone thinks is a tart with a heart but does in fact have the brains to match.

The three women are stuck in a male dominated world, and repressed with a boss, Franklin Hart Jnr (a snide and excellently judge performance from Sean Needham) who is nothing more than a sexist pig. Having put rat poison in the boss’s coffee which he survives its sets off a chain of comedy events that see’s the woman finally find there feet in the business world and each other and change their world for the better.

This 2021 production retains all the charm of the west end run and the previous 2019 UK tour, with Director Jeff Calhoun retaining the shows new direction, this is musical theatre for adults, with sexual innuendo, bare buttocks and S and M references aplenty and it’s a comedy musical joie de  vivre. 

Dolly Parton’s Music and Lyrics and Patricia Resnick’s book is better served by this retooling one which works so well as rather than trying to please family audience’s it harnesses the power of the original film and explores the empowerment of women in business so well.

Lisa Stevens Choreography is sharp with nods to Bob Fosse scattered throughout added to Dean McDermott’s 8-piece band all the ingredients are mixed together for a superb night of musical fun. Special mention must also go to Tom Rogers inventive set design which really transport the show to New York and its office setting’s brilliantly and even allows Dolly herself to act as Narrator (sorry folks she is on pre tape not live in the theatre) which adds extra charm. With excellent lighting design from Howard Hudson and Ben Harrison’s Sound design you have all the trappings of a west end calibre show which relights the Playhouse stage once more.

As theatres around the country continue to reopen under the new restrictions its clear the Playhouse are pulling out all the stops to put on the very best programme and the fact they have chosen there gala reopening to be 9 to 5 is shrewd and a clear audience pleaser. 

9 to 5 remains an enduring hit as both a film and musical because of its heart and putting women at the centre of the story something which even now 40 years letter remains as relevant as ever. So, tumble out of bed and pour yourself a cup of ambition and head to the Playhouse for a real Musical treat!

Dolly Parton Presents, 9 To 5 The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Runs until Saturday 18th September, UK tour continues for tickets go to: www.atgtickets.com/shows/9-to-5-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/

Arts News!

SLO, Sings for the Kings

Edinburghs oldest Company kicks off the fundraising efforts!

Established in 1897 with a performance of “HMS Pinafore” at the long gone Operetta house in the capitals Chambers Street, makes Southern Light Opera or SLO as its known the oldest surviving amdram company in the city with a 124 year heritage.

The first five years they called the operetta house home before moving to The Royal Lyceum Theatre from 1901 – 1924, the company then moved to its longest held home, The King’s theatre Edinburgh. Over the 97 years that have followed the company have only broken with the King’s on four occasions (the most recent in 2012, with the Kings undergoing renovations the company returned once more to the Lyceum for “Curtains”)

Its safe to say the company and city connect SLO with the King’s and now the King’s is about to under go the biggest refurbishment in its history thanks to funding secured from the Government. However the King’s must raise the remaining £2.2 Million, therefore the King’s Theatre Redevelopment Fund has been established.

SLO will kick off the fundraising with a run of special shows, not being held in the King’s but at its big sister, The Festival Theatre to allow maximum funds to be raised from socially distant seating. Opening on Thursday 9th and running until Saturday 11th September SLO presents Sing for the King’s.

This concert performance will draw on the 125 year legacy of the company with numbers from previous productions including “Me and My Girl”, “Hello Dolly”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “My Fair Lady” and even “Brigadoon”

Artist Impression of the redeveloped King’s Edinburgh

The president of the company Jonathan Tait says “The King’s Theatre has been intertwined with our company for nearly a century and it is an honour to be able to help them at this exciting part of the theatre’s history. We are privileged to have the opportunity to perform in building that means so much to the people of Edinburgh and we are delighted to be playing a part in ensuring other will get that opportunity in the future!”

Fiona Gibson, CEO of Capital Theatres the Trust that operates the Festival, King’s and Studio theatres in the capital says ” We’re moved and inspired by Southern Light’s commitment to the King’s transformational redevelopment project. No only will Southern Light Sing’s for the King’s be a barnstorming evening of music and dance, it will also encapsulate how much of a treasure the theatre is now to the people of Edinburgh and will continue to be so for generations to come i its new and improved form.”

“We hope audiences will dig deep to ensure the Southern Light will be performing on our special King’s stage for another 100 years and beyond”

With an eclectic programme, large company on stage and a full orchestra it promises to a special evening, so book those tickets now!

For Tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/slo-sing-for-the-kings

Arts News!

Edinburgh Playhouse Reopens!

Scotland’s Largest Theatre Returns from the Covid Darkness:

The Playhouse with an impressive 3059 capacity was in the mists of a 25-week record-breaking run of Disney’s The Lion King, when it closed its doors on Monday 16th March 2020 following Government guidance aimed to limit the spread of Covid-19, before a mandatory closure notice was given by the Scottish and UK Governments on Monday 23rd March 2020 as part of a nationwide lockdown.  Now the team at the Edinburgh Playhouse, announces its eagerly awaited reopening date after more than 500 days of closure due to the coronavirus restrictions.

Following the Scottish Government’s announcement of Tuesday 3rd August, removing all legal restrictions for venues and the capacity dispensation granted by the Edinburgh City Council issued on Thursday 19th August, the Edinburgh Playhouse will open its doors on Sunday 5th September 2021 with two sold out performances. Upon reopening  the Playhouse will have been closed 536 days.  

Colin Marr, Theatre Director at the Edinburgh Playhouse said “I am absolutely thrilled to be able to reopen our theatre doors after more than 500 days of closure.  It has been a very difficult time for everyone and to be given the go ahead to reopen this iconic venue, is an incredible feeling.  I can’t wait to welcome back my full team, our wonderful audience members and the incredible gigs, comedians and musicals that we’ve all missed so much this last year and a half.”

The Playhouse will reopen with two sold out performances of the smash hit podcast Shagged, Married, Annoyed with Chris & Rosie Ramsey.  This will be followed by the award-winning Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5, which opens with our Gala performance on Tuesday 14th September.  Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Chicago the Musical, Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited and Gary Mullen & The Works performing One Night of Queen, Riverdance – 25th Anniversary Tour and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are just some of the highlights to look forward to in the coming weeks. 

The Edinburgh Playhouse is in its 92nd year since it opened as a super cinema in 1929 and has had a few rough periods over its history including the threat of complete demolition, but it was saved from the wrecking ball and has flourished as Scotland’s premier theatre welcoming many productions direct from the west end. COVID-19 has held a long shadow over the venue and its one of the last to announce its reopening plans.  Thankfully from darkness comes the light and long may the lights remain on at the Playhouse.