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Brett Herriot Review

Cinderella, The Theatre Royal, Newcastle Review:

**** 4 Stars

“Simply Beautiful!”

For 17 years Newcastle Theatre Royals, panto dream team of Danny Adams and Clive Webb have reigned supreme, accompanied for 15 years by the most glamorous of Dames Chris Hayward and its now time for teams fourth production of the fairy godmother of pantos, Cinderella, and they only way to mark this long running record is to bring the critically acclaimed London Palladium production to the heart of the Northeast and what true joy of a panto it is.

The fairy tale story if fully intact with Danny Adams delivering a high energy and hilariously funny “Buttons” where he gets the energy to turn in such physically demanding role is astounding especially on Saturdays where its plays three times a day. Adams brings the child out in all of us and reminds us of the joy of innocence that panto exudes. Clive Webb as “Baron Hardup” seems refreshed this year, make each moment on the stage count and although it’s clear the “12 days of Christmas” routine is exhausting for him, he can still deliver in spades. 

Returning for his second year is the simply gorgeous and divinely voiced Joe McElderry as “Faerie Godfather” a nice twist that works well and Joe showcases not only his singing skills but his comedic acting abilities and truly shows what a talent he is. That said for the second year running, the use of jokes regarding his sexuality are simply not needed and are in no way in the vein of pantomime and make for a rare error of judgement from the production team. 

All goodies need a baddie and this year for the second year running Chris Hayward is bad, very very bad as “Baroness Volupta” and he simply wonderful, getting the balance spot of on, achieving boo’s with ease but always ensuring not go too far. His costumes and wigs are spectacular and with confirmation that Chris will revive Dame Rita for next year’s Pinocchio it seems the North Easts most glamourous and beloved Dame will return to the good side. No Cinderella is complete without a pair of ugly sisters and Kylie Ann Ford as “Vindicta” and Christina Berriman Dawson as “Manupulata” bring the wickedness in spades and blended with pure hometown charm make them a winning pair.

Wayne Smith is back again as “Prince Charming” his suave good looks and fabulous vocals make him an audience winner and his winning of Cinderella heart is utterly charming. Oonagh Cox takes on the title role of “Cinderella” and while she is underused, she is everything a Cinderella should be and makes every little girls dreams in the audience come true. 

Mick Potts is back in harness as the “Idiot” except this time round he is playing “Dandini” but its clear it’s just the “idiot” role again, but he does deliver it with consummate style and brings a rich tradition of slapstick to proceedings. Also joining the cast to give an injection of street dance are “Flawless” in the role of “The Princes Royal Guards” and their appearances go down a storm as crowd pleasing sparkling moment. The production also features a eight strong ensemble who deliver Choreographer Ashley Nottingham’s excellent dance numbers with style and grace. 

Production wise this show is simply beautiful Ian Westbrooks stunning London Palladium set, while it may have been brought in a bit to make it fit, looks gorgeous on the Theatre Royals stage as does Mike Coltman’s and Teresa Nalton’s Costume design and they all sparkle under Ben Cracknell’s outstanding lighting design. Richard Brookers sound design is accomplished and ensures musical Director Michael Bradley’s five strong Orchestra truly rock the audience to the core. 

It’s clear to see why the Theatre Royal Newcastle’s pantomime is the jewel of the North East, Director Michael Harrison is a local lad who has never forgotten his roots despite his enormous success, his care,  dedication and sheer passion for pantomime is palpable and he ensures the ongoing golden period of the panto dream team forever embraces new generations of panto audiences and with the news the venue will have a totally brand new show next year a new chapter awaits. 

For now, be sure to grab a gold dust ticket for the most magical pantomime of them all!

Crossroads Pantomimes Presents “Cinderella”, The Theatre Royal, Newcastle, runs until Sunday 15thJanuary 2023, For further info go to: https://www.theatreroyal.co.uk/whats-on/cinderella/

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Brett Herriot Review

Beauty and the Beast, The King’s Theatre, Glasgow Review:

***** 5 Stars

“Pure Pantomime Perfection”

The King’s Theatre Glasgow has an historic and hard-earned reputation for bringing true classic pantomime to the city and wrapping it in spectacle born of love and dedication of its casts. Casts which encompass the greats in Scottish Theatre, Rikki Fulton, Jack Milroy, Una Mclean, Gerrard Kelly and Jimmy Logan are just some of the many legends enshrined in the bricks of the buildings. 

That legacy and lineage now rests with the resident headline team of Elaine C Smith and Johnny Mac who return with a title never performed at the King’s, that being the tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast, and my word it pure pantomime perfection from the moment the curtain rises until it falls.

The true magic of this panto is in the writing by Alan McHugh with additional material by Johnny Mac, it puts the fairy tale story at its heart but adds enough variety and pure pantomime ingredients to see it sore. 

The story of Prince Sebastian (Calum McElroy) who having crossed paths with an Enchantress (the sublime Rachel Flynn) is transformed into a beast, and the only way back is to understand the power of true love before the last petal of the rose falls is at the beating heart of this show. 

Elaine C Smith must be the country’s finest female dame delivering a warm hearted and utterly charming “Mrs Potty” and her performance of “Make you feel my love/Loch Lomond” brings tears to the eyes with its beauty. She also delivers the laughs alongside the divine Johnny Mac as “Jack Potty” with some classic panto sketches including “haunted bedroom”, “12 days of Christmas” and up to date live camera gag the ensnares the audience.  It’s clear Johnny has earned in place amongst the king’s theatre legends.

Rachel Flynn’s full throated Enchantress sores both vocally and physically and thrills the King’s audiences, also returning to the regular team is Darren Brownlie as “Shuggie” the inventor a camp comedy creation that gives Johnny Mac a run for his money. Delivering a sweet hearted “Belle” is Blythe Jandoo but it’s wonderful to see a princess with real backbone too. Every Panto needs a baddie and the rather gorgeous and muscular Matthew McKenna brings “Malky McSneer” to life in all his snide nastiness getting the boos with ease.

Production wise the Kings have got it spot on with a gorgeous set beautifully lit by Alex Marshall, Sound design by Olly Steel and video and projection design by Duncan McLean which ensure the entire King’s auditorium comes to life in all its magnificent splendour. It even brings out the grandeur of Mike Coleman’s Costume design. Those boys at Twins FX deliver a magical moment that sees Johnny Mac Literally roar over the stalls.

Director Kathryn Rooney has truly tapped into the heart of Glasgow for this panto and sprinkles it with magic especially with Karen Martin’s accomplished choreography which is performed in style by an eight strong ensemble. The cherry on the production cake must be Musical Director Richard Anderson and his five strong orchestra in the pit, the music adds true joy to this marvellous spellbinding pantomime adventure.

Beauty and the Beast is a true joy to watch, dedicated and accomplished performances, stunning sets and costumes and huge dash of magic ensures that although it may be the first time the Beast has held the panto court at the King’s it won’t be the last. If you can only see one panto this season, make it this one, grab a ticket, let your inner child out and believe in the magic of pantomime once again.

Crossroads Pantomimes Presents “Beauty and the Beast”, The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Runs until Saturday 31st December 2022, For further info go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/beauty-and-the-beast/kings-theatre-glasgow/

Brett Herriot Review

Sinbad The Pantomime, The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh Review:

*** 3 Stars

“leaves us believing in the magic of Christmas”

Writer and Director John Binnie turns in his fifth pantomime for the Brunton that reunites what’s become a regular staple of cast members with some newbies for the sea faring pantomime adventure Sinbad the pantomime. 

While there is plenty of adventure to be had the show lacks in actual pantomime, especially Act 1, where there are no panto sketches or many local references to be had, it’s very plot heavy with just the odd “its behind you, oh no it isn’t”. The choices made are interesting as last year’s Hansel and Gretel did see a return to a more traditional pantomime style so for this year to revert to a such a plot heavy formula seems a step backwards. That being said Act 2 does dial up the panto fun which is bolstered by a fabulous “bring doon the cloot” moment.

The casting is excellent with Wendy Seager returning to play not just one baddie but four, Seager always seems to get the balance between nastiness and redemption spot on. Calum Barbour makes his Brunton debut as “Sinbad” and brings a warm charm to the role. The same is true of Ross Donnachie as “Cuddles Nine-Lives” who transforms the “silly billy” character into something the kids adore and a unique twist at the end shows a rare emotional moment in panto. 

Eilidh Weir “Rose” makes a fine female hero and her teaming with Isabella Jarrett as “Nurse” brings a charming and heart-warming honesty to the show. The shining star of the show must be Graham Crammond’s legendary dame “Betty Brunton”. A true pantomime creation with a plethora of ever silly costumes and always ready with a quip and audience aside his dame is pure panto perfection, however it is striking that Crammond doesn’t get a musical number of his own this year, surely every dame deserves a song to wow their audience into the panto magic.

Production wise Sinbad shines with Robin Mitchell’s Set and Costume design being on point and bolstered by Craig Dixon’s excellent Lighting Design that brings the Brunton alive and supported by Clark Beddie’s Sound Design.

Musical Director Tommie Travers once again delivers in spades blending pop tunes with a catchy nautical underscore that even sees a nod to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest Runner up. Once again Travers is on his own in the pit, why the Brunton simply won’t engage even a small band for the pit is striking. Even the smallest additions can make the biggest impact.

Sinbad the Pantomime is a lot of fun, and has a lot of Christmas magic to share, it just needs more of an injection of actual pantomime to fully justify its title. What it does have is an adventure story that calls to the child in us all and leaves us believing in the magic of Christmas. So, you won’t go wrong in buying a ticket and setting sail with Sinbad, Betty Brunton and the gang! So hurry along to the Brunton!

The Brunton Theatre Presents “Sinbad The Pantomime”, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Runs until Saturday 31str December 2022, For further info go to https://www.thebrunton.co.uk/en-GB/shows/sinbad%20the%20pantomime/events

Mary Woodward Review

Tam O’Shanter, Tales & Whisky, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Review

**** (4 stars)

Stolen Elephant Theatre’s Tam O’Shanter, Tales & Whisky, which celebrates the poems and songs of Robert Burns alongside re-tellings of classic Scots folk tales, was first seen in the Edinburgh Fringe this year, and came to Musselburgh as part of the Saltire festival.  

Shian Denovan, Catherine Bisset, Karen Bartke and Andy Dickinson were joined by musicians Douglas McQueen Hunter and Douglas Caird who perform as The Court of Equity, celebrating Burns’ songs, when they’re not part of the folk rock band The Picts.

The Brunton’s Venue One is a large and versatile auditorium, which was packed for the recent National Theatre of Scotland show Enough of Him.  The wide spacing of the seats and their distance from the performing area [and the excessively enthusiastic air-conditioning] meant that the cast had to work harder to establish a rapport with their audience than they would have had to in a more intimate venue – but they did an superb job and kept us well entertained.

We were given very lively renditions of tales about the Witch of Fife, whose Guid Man was at first tolerant of her wild behaviour but came to an unpleasant end when he tried to join in; the Carter of Dunlop who went to extreme lengths to discourage upstarts challenging his monopoly of carting in the local area; and the eerie tale of the water elves who lived in the Haunted Ships.

Two of Rabbie Burns’ most famous poems – Death and Dr Hornbook, the Address to the Deil – were delivered with gruesome Gothic gusto: but the high point of the evening was Shian Denovan’s mesmerising performance of Tam O’ Shanter which nearly brought the house down and received the loudest and most enthusiastic applause of the evening.

Between all these the two Douglases performed a number of classic Burns songs – Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie, Ca’ the yowes to the knowes, Tibbie Fowler, Corn rigs and barley rigs, and John Anderson, my jo, my John – with a captivatingly lively twist to them that invited us to join in and clap: had we not been seated so respectably, I’m sure many of us would have got up and danced.  Guitarist Douglas sang and kept a strong rhythm going, while Duggi’s fingers flew about his piano accordion keyboard and gave us some beautifully decorated solo verses.  He also chilled our spines with an account of how he came to compose his piece the Saddlewood Chase – it’s a wonder we had the courage to leave the safety of the Brunton and venture out into the dark night!

I can quite see why Tam O’Shanter, Tales & Whisky was such a success in the Fringe!  Those who’d come with ‘hard copy’ tickets were able to claim a free whisky in the interval – alas, I wasn’t so lucky, having failed to collect a ticket before the show: I’ll know better next time!  With or without the alcoholic stimulus, this was a rare evening’s entertainment, greatly appreciated by the audience.  I’ve searched in vain to find a listing with tour dates, but did notice that the show will appear at the Traverse in Edinburgh in January.  Make an effort, search it out, and have a grand evening getting better acquainted with these wickedly entertaining works.

Tam O’Shanter, Tales & Whisky, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Run ended.

Mary Woodward Review

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

“a most enjoyable evening”

**** (4 stars)

This is the second time I’ve seen Artistic Director Christopher Hampson’s ballet loosely based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson.  It’s been slightly changed in some respects since last I saw it, but in many respects it’s still very much the same in both its excellences and slight disappointments.

In the Anderson story, Kay and Gerda are children: the Snow Queen puts an icicle in Kay’s heart, and it’s Gerda’s tears which melt it and bring him back to life.  In the Scottish Ballet version, Kai and Gerda are grown-ups who are in love, while the Snow Queen has a sister, the Summer Princess – a bit like Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, the former is hard and prickly and the latter warm and impulsive.  The sisters quarrel and the younger one leaves the Winter Palace to find the handsome young man she’s seen in her sister’s enchanted mirror.

The Summer Princess is now the pickpocket Lexi, plying her trade in a busy town: she sees Kai and recognises the man from her sister’s mirror.  She is horrified when Kai proposes to Gerda, who joyfully accepts.  The Snow Queen appears and freezes time: she begs her sister to return to the Winter Palace with her, but she refuses.  A circus arrives in town and begins a dazzling display: during this the Snow Queen spirits Kai away, hoping that her sister will follow.

Lexi does follow, but not quite in the way the Snow Queen intended – to her surprise she finds herself helping Gerda to find her fiancé.  They arrive at a gypsy encampment, where a fortune teller reveals that Kai has been stolen by the Snow Queen.  Lexi tells Gerda she will never break the Snow Queen’s power but, undaunted by the terrors of the forest and attacks by Jack Frosts, Snowflakes, and Snow Wolves, Gerda finds her way to the Winter Palace.

In the palace, Kai fails to recognise his sweetheart and gives all his attention to the Snow Queen.  She is about to attack Gerda but is diverted by the arrival of Lexi, who has transformed back to the Summer Princess and means to stay with her sister.  The Snow Queen’s power is broken, Kai recognises Gerda, and the two lovers dance happily.

It’s a lovely show for the Christmas audience, with a lot of lively action, colourful costumes, and the gorgeous music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, brilliantly played by the orchestra of Scottish Ballet under Jean-Claude Picard.  There’s icy drama and glittering frostiness to contrast with the lively scenes in the town and the gypsy encampment.  There’s a lot of fantastic dancing with some incredible lifts which made me think of this year’s Strictly’s Hamza as he picks up Jowita and tosses her, spinning, into the air.  The scene in the gypsy encampment is particularly memorable, both for the flamboyant, exuberant dancing and the superb onstage violin solo from Gillian Rissi, who strolls among the gypsies as though she was born in the camp.

The slight disappointment I felt was twofold.  Firstly, being unskilled in the art of reading dancers’ ways of communicating, I easily grasped that Gerda was delighted to receive Kai’s proposal and happily showed her engagement ring to everyone, but was much less clear about most of the rest of the story line. 

Secondly, I remember that last time I saw The Snow Queen I found the confrontation between the two sisters rather too long and not very credible: this time it was over almost before it began – the two sisters briefly appeared side by side at the back of the palace [if you blinked, you would have missed it] and then Kai came back to life and he and Gerda danced happily [and for quite some time] till the curtain came down.

That apart, it was a most enjoyable evening.  Constance Devernay-Laurence was once again a scarily spiky and vengeful Snow Queen, while Alice Kawalek was a glowing Summer Princess and a very agile pickpocket.  Roseanna Leney was first a warm and loving, and later a steely, determined, Gerda – nothing was going to keep her from Kai, superbly danced by Jerome Barnes.  Rimbaud Patron was a splendidly athletic Ringmaster Zach, introducing his glittering troupe of artistes – Strong Man Evan Loudon easily lifting his Ballerina, Claire Souet, impossibly high above his head, while Acrobats Anna Williams and Rishan Benjamin and Clowns Jamie Reid and Aaron Venegas had incredible fun getting in everyone’s way and tangled up with each other.  Grace Horler’s Fortune Teller first appeared with the other circus performers and really came into her own in the gypsy encampment, as she and Zach led the other dancers in a succession of fiery and passionate explosions of joy – even Gerda forgot her sorrows for a while and joined in.

Supporting these dancers were the incredible Artists of the company – the supply of talent seems endless and their ability staggering.  Together they made an opening night that was a joyful, energetic, and thoroughly entertaining way to lift our spirits and enable us to face the long dark nights of winter.  The audience applauded loud and long, and went out happily into the dark streets of Edinburgh.

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, runs until 10th December for tickets go to: Scottish Ballet’s The Snow Queen (capitaltheatres.com)

 The production will then visit  Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Newcastle.