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Brett Herriot Review

The Night Watch, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

The Night Watch, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

**** 4 Stars

Theatre at its best!”

Following in the wake of the Man Booker Prize winning book and the critically acclaimed BBC adaptation, Sarah Waters story of forbidden love in the darkness of war torn London of the 1940’s comes to the stage for the first time and visits the beautiful King’s Theatre Edinburgh for a run.

The storyline is told in reverse starting from 1947 and moves back to 1941 the height of the blitz featuring the fragmented lives and the strange interconnections between Kay( Phoebe Price) Helen (Florence Roberts) and Julia (Izabella Urbanowicz), three lesbians; Viv(Louise Coulthard), a straight woman; and Duncan (Lewis Mackinnon), her brother, whose sexuality is ambiguous. The war, with its never-ending night watches, serves as a horrifying counterpoint, a backdrop and metaphor to serve as a constant reminder of the morbidity that surrounds life and love.

The power of Water’s original writing is captured beautifully in Hattie Naylor’s adaptation and directed with emotional detail by Alastair Whatley none more so that from an ensemble cast who deliver excellent performances throughout. Special mention must go to Price as Kay who does deliver an emotional and powerful performance in equal measure. The same is true of the real highlight of the production, Lewis MacKinnon turns in a tour de force performance as Duncan that’s superbly judged and keeps all eyes focused on him as he allows emotions to overwhelm him. Its theatre performing at its finest.

David Woodhead’s evocative set and costume design combined with Nic Farman’s beautifully understated lighting design takes us right inside the heart of London in the war years. This is further bolstered by a stunning sound design by Max Pappenheim that brings to life Sophie Cotton’s compositions that fuse evocative soundscapes with classic standards like, A nightingale in Berkley square and adds real class to the show.

The only thing keeping it from a fifth star is in the pacing, at times there does feel like a slight drag is developing and some fine trimming may aid eradicate this and make the play over all more capturing throughout.

The Night watch is indeed a play from a historical view point that says much to todays generation, the hurt and pain of the needless loss of war was felt beyond heterosexual couples, long before legal rights were won, The LGBTQI plus community suffered to, even more so for feeling a love that many deemed wrong and illegal. This play puts a strong context to that pain, and it’s felt across the foot lights and well into the audience. It’s a piece which truly touches the viewer and for that it makes this theatre at its best.

So get along to the King’s Theatre Edinburgh and be transported back to London in the war years for a play which will touch your heart.

The Original Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal Present, The Night Watch, King’s Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 19th October, for Tickets go to : https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-night-watch

Mary Woodward Review

The Sweetest Growl, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Sweetest Growl part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint

***** (5stars)

One completely unexpected bonus of coming regularly to PPP is being educated in Scottish culture and history – in this instance learning about Mary McGowan, the jazz singer from the Gorbals who rose to fame with the Clyde Valley Stompers, sang with Louis Armstrong, knocked Doris Day off the no. 1 spot in the charts, and then gave up what promised to be a stellar career to be a wife and mother back in Glasgow.

In this excellent play by Claire Nicol, Mary [played and sung magnificently by Elaine C Smith] has agreed to sing at the Stompers’ reunion concert: she’s sitting in her dressing room, wracked with nerves and wondering why on earth she ever agreed to do the gig.  In comes Kate Tierney, her best friend from school, who’s been instrumental in getting Mary to consider singing again.  An extremely stilted and edgy conversation over the teacups hints at past conflict and leads into reminiscence: the first time Mary sang in school, when she was slapped down in no uncertain terms by the dominie “you want to be a singer? Sit down and don’t be so stupid”; the support and encouragement her father gave her; singing to her nurse mother’s patients; and winning the talent competition that won her the engagement with the Stompers.

Two years on tour, and Kate is living vicariously through Mary, loving all the famous people she’s meeting, envying her the glamour and fame.  Mary tries to tell her that it’s bloody hard work and not easy being the lone girl among a bandful of men, but Kate, who would have given anything to have had Mary’s opportunity, can’t hear what she’s saying: she certainly can’t understand why Mary would decide to give it all up and marry her sweetheart Bob – she never wanted the money, the glamour and the fame: all she wants is a home, a husband, and weans…  At the wedding, a drunken Kate tries to get Mary to sing: she doesn’t want to, and the quarrel which began when Mary told Kate she was stopping singing escalates past the point of no return.

Back to the stilted teacup conversation.  Kate finally apologises for breaking their friendship, and Mary explains that I sang as long as I could: in those days it was impossible for a woman to have a home and a career, and she didn’t want to go the way she saw the other female singers going.  Bob in his own way apologises too – he was so busy thinking about what was best for their relationship he didn’t pay enough attention to what was best for Mary – and encourages her to sing with the Stompers again.  Back in the dressing room, Kate encourages Mary, who reveals her terror – not that she won’t be able to sing, but that she’ll be torn by regrets for having given it up: out she goes into the spotlight – and it’s as if she’s never been away…

Hilary Lyon was splendid as Kate – desperately wanting to succeed, and always having to settle for being second best, and incidentally displaying her not inconsiderable musical talent.  George Drennan was splendid as the Stomper’s trumpeter Ian Menzies [and his brother Bob, who married Mary], the vinegar-supping dominie and, in a brilliant scene, not only Mary’s ukulele-playing father but also [with the help of some nifty wig/ nurse’s hat holding from Kate] Mary’s mother as they argued over their daughter’s desire to sing.  All three – with yet more wigs – briefly appeared as three of the Beatles, who were the supporting act when the Stompers played the Cavern in Liverpool… and shining through above all the rest, the incomparable Elaine C Smith, whose talent is awesome and whose singing voice can raise the rafters with the best of them.  We could have listened to her for hours – her final numbers were all too short, and the applause was warm and enthusiastic.

The show’s not only highly entertaining, but also gives food for thought – how many other women musicians have been forgotten, how many had to give up their dreams because they couldn’t – weren’t allowed to – try to reconcile the demands of home and family with the need to express themselves through music? The Sweetest Growl is on for the rest of the week – give yourself a treat, take a walk down memory lane or discover yet another amazing part of Glasgow’s musical history: today’s show was a sell-out, and tickets will be going fast!

The Sweetest Growl part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat 19th. for tickets go to: http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-the-sweetest-growl

Mary Woodward Review

Marie Jones: Fly me to the Moon, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Marie Jones: Fly me to the Moon as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint

**** (4stars)

Well, the rest of the audience loved it, applauded loudly, and laughed almost all the way through.  I found it impossible to enjoy the humour, much of which seemed to me to consist of laughing at the opinions and actions of the two main protagonists, Weegie care assistants Loretta [Sandra McNeeley] and Francis [Julie Austin].

Into Davey’s bedsit comes Francis: Frank Sinatra’s singing, but she switches him off, plugs herself into something considerably livelier and is bopping away to it when Loretta joins her.  She’s late because this wet Monday she had to take her son’s football boots to school: this meant Francis had to go against health and safety regulations and do her back in taking Davey to the toilet by herself as he couldn’t wait.  She’s done her back in: how badly – “Is it claim bad?

They chat about their families and their constant need of money as they start to redd up the room: Francis’ son is doing well for himself, flogging pirated dvds which he makes himself “most professionally”, while her current partner’s encouraging reaction to her invitation to a friend’s hen do in Barcelona – “you deserve a break” is to assume that he’s having an affair and wants her out of the way.  There were lots of laughs from the audience – sympathy with the views being expressed?  Or at the accurate depiction of people who probably won’t be coming to laugh at themselves at Oran Mor or the Traverse?

Periodically the women yell to Davey, asking whether he’s finished in the bathroom, but there’s no reply.  When Loretta finally investigates [Francis refuses to go] she finds Davey dead on the floor.  The two women panic as they try to work out what to do – and this is, for me, when things started to go sour: Loretta is genuinely trying to do what’s right, but Loretta starts to see the opportunity to help themselves to the pension they would normally collect for Davey on a Monday, trying to convince Loretta that “it’s what Davy would have wanted” – rather them than the taxman!  Francis’ intimate knowledge of CSI prompts her to work out possible scenarios and traps to avoid as they try to create a way to collect the money and then ‘discover’ Davey’s death: things become increasingly complex when they discover that the £2 bet he placed yesterday has resulted in a win of £500…surely Davey would have wanted them to have that, too?

It’s clear that these two women, who have been caring for Davey for the last two years, are almost the only people he sees: they are poorly paid and always struggling for money, and see it as only fair that they should get some sort of reward.  I have great sympathy for anyone in that plight – but I really struggled to divorce myself from the reality that someone had died while the thought of personal gain led Francis to manipulate Loretta into agreeing to her first suggestion of sharing the pension, and couldn’t appreciate or laugh at the subsequent scheming, quarrelling and ultimately farcical shenanigans.  The writing and acting were excellent, but I wasn’t comfortable with the characters or their reactions to the situation in which they found themselves, and I’m not at all sure about the ending…

You’ll have to go and see whether you agree with me, or everyone else in the audience!

Marie Jones: Fly me to the Moon as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Mary Woodward Review

Amadeus and the Bard, Scottish Opera Scottish Opera Production Studios, Glasgow

Amadeus and the Bard

***** (5 stars)

At first sight, what’s the connection between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Robert Burns?  Well… Both born on January 25th, three years apart [Mozart 1756, Burns 1759]; both died young and poor, from neglected illnesses; both appreciated women; both were Masons; both were geniuses whose output of words and music was enormous, and both were infinitely more highly-regarded and better-known after their deaths: need I go on?

As we entered, a fiddler and accordion player serenaded us: they were joined by George, the owner of the Mauchline pub known as Poosie Nansie’s, Burns’ local, well-kennt to us from his The Jolly Beggars and Tam O’Shanter. George and his wife Nansie welcomed and introduced their customers and we were encouraged to join in their lively rendition of Green Grow the Rashes, Oh! which got us singing, clapping and stamping and entering into the spirit of the convivial evening celebrating the lives of their local lad, Rabbie, and that other contemporary genius, Wolfie.

If you didn’t know much about either of these men before the show began, you would certainly have a good idea of their lives, loves, and work by the time it ended. If you already knew them, you would enjoy this celebration and the brilliant way their works complemented and overlapped each other – and even, to my enormous delight, were put together in an incredible mash-up of the two men’s creations which had me smiling in sheer delight at the amazingly apposite juxtaposition of some of them.

The cast’s energy and enthusiasm were infectious, and their talent staggering. I first came across narrator Andy Gray in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Harte, with which I fell in love nearly a decade ago: he was just as talented and versatile here, singing, playing guitar and chilling us with superbly sanctimonious rendition of Holy Willie’s Prayer.

Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artist Arthur Bruce was joined by soprano Stephanie Stanway and a quartet of singers from Scottish Opera’s Young Company, Cara Blaikie, Ross Fettes, James McIntyre and Erin Spence, all of whom switched genres effortlessly, displaying their superb vocal technique in a variety of solos, duets and ensembles from Mozart’s operas and not overdoing it in the Burns songs, where their enthusiasm encouraged us all to join in. The ensemble was completed by fiddler Shannon Stevenson and music director Karen McIver on piano and piano accordion, with members of the cast also displaying their instrumental skills.

The staging was simple, and the effects ingenious. The cast morphed into Rabbie, Wolfie, and their wives simply by putting on a coat [blue for Burns, green for Mozart] or a shawl: each of the singers got a chance to shine, and shine they did! Highlights for me? The delightful array of glove puppet birds that accompanied Papageno and Papagena’s delight in finally being united; the glorious My love is like a red, red rose and the heartfelt For the Sake O’ Somebody.

The crowning gloreis of the afternoon were Andy Gray’s performance of the witches’ Sabbath from Tam O’Shanter, underpinned by the scariest bits from Mozart’s Requiem depicting the terrors of Judgement Day, and the final scene from Don Giovanni when the statue of the murdered Commendatore comes to dine with the Don and invite him to dine with him in hell. The Commendatore’s height and magnificent voice made him infinitely terrifying and the spine-tingling moment when screaming furies came to drag the Don into the raging fire was an inspired piece of theatre.

The show ended with another wonderful mashup: A man’s a man for a’ that [which always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat] overlaid an inspired medley of Mozart melodies – I heard snatches of his Rondo alla Turca, the Queen of the Night’s stratospheric stabbing notes, and I’m sure there was much, much more.

Music Director Karen McIver and creator/ director Mary McCluskey must have had a ball putting this show together. It was packed out – the penultimate performance of what must have been a very successful tour: if the show returns, don’t miss it!

Amadeus and the Bard, Scottish Opera, Scottish Opera Production Studios, Glasgow, Run Ended

Mary Woodward Review

The Drift Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Drift, Traverse Theatre,

***** (5 stars)

The Drift is a mesmerising one-woman show written and performed by Hannah Lavery in which she reveals the pain of her [mostly non-] relationship with her father and the continuing stream of insults and gibes she suffers as a result of her extremely tangled mixed-race heritage.

Hannah’s father died suddenly in 2014. After a long period of estrangement, they were beginning to reach out to each other again – but he died from a heart attack while she, all unknowing, was reading one of her poems to an appreciative audience.

I should love to see a copy of the script – it’s pure poetry as it shifts through time and place, weaving together a picture of her complex heritage – Scotland, West Africa, Jamaica, Burma, India; slaves, slavers, ordinary folks and aristocrats; vocal and silent.

Hannah is filled with rage – rage at her father for being absent from so much of her life and for dying with so much unsaid between then; rage at the Scots involved in the slave trade who took advantage of and abandoned defenceless women, creating a race of half-breeds; rage at the continuing merciless persecution of children and adults who aren’t accepted as belonging to the country in which they live – Where do you come from? Here. No, where do you come from? – no matter how many generations of ancestors have lived in the same place…

And the rage is symptomatic of Hannah’s nearly unbearable pain. History repeats itself endlessly; there is the longing to belong and the continuing reminder of forever being seen as the outsider; the pain for her children who also suffer from the ‘casually racist’ remarks made by their peers as well as adults passing in the street.

It must have taken a phenomenal amount of courage to write and perform this story – especially to a nice white mostly middle-class Edinburgh audience: I wonder how many of us will have come away from the theatre determined to examine ourselves and root out those [hopefully] unconscious, unthinking attitudes towards our fellow-Scots.

Hannah’s introduction to her play begins Our Scottish history is not a fixed thing. It changes under observation and through investigation. We would be fools to think we are done with it, that it is written. We would be fools to think our history is done with us, its secrets spilled, and that it has been spoken by all those who should speak it, heard by all those who should hear it. She invites us to look at ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves and others around us, while finding a way to begin making peace with her heritage and her father. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and a deeply moving story.

The Drift, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, RUN ENDED

Brett Herriot Review

We Will Rock You, Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

We Will Rock You, Review

*** 3 Stars

The music of Queen is the winner in this new production!”

The west end smash hit, that opened at the Dominion Theatre in 2002 and went on to enjoy a 12 year run, before closing is back, touring the UK in a brand new production that does deliver on the music but sadly misses the mark a little on the overall product.

Written by Ben Elton and featuring 24 hits of the might gods of Rock “Queen” this was always a tongue in cheek show telling the story of a group of Bohemians who struggle to restore the free exchange of thought, fashion, and live music in a distant future where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same. Musical instruments and composers are forbidden, and rock music is all but unknown.

This 2019 version of the show sees a change to Elton’s book with the characters of “Pop”, “Meat” and “Macca” all dropped and replaced with “Buddy”, “Oz” and Macca Disappearing completely. This isn’t new to the show as there have been several changes to the script over the years.

Performance wise across the board, they are excellent with Ian McIntosh as “Galileo” really showcasing his rock vocals and excellent timing especially opposite Elena Skye as an earthy “Scaramouche”. In the role of “Buddy”, which s clearly just the “Pop” character given new life is Michael McKell who delivers a Mick Jagger soaked comedy creation, he is underused in act 1 but really gets great stage time in act 2 especially when he covering for technicians appearing on stage!

Where this production falls down is in the setting, set design from Stufish entertainment sees giant video screens brought to the extreme with moving decks and blocks used. However, its clear there is still work needed as more than once technicians could be seen securing the set at various points. Towards the end of the second act to see stage crew take to the stage to haul a motor bike off whilst “pop” covers for them says a lot. Also, the set hasn’t been properly masked so seeing into wings is fairly easy.

Director Cornelius Baltus does deliver though by putting the music of queen at the heart of the show, this production does still retain all the charm of the original. The actual video that’s used through out the show is excellent and gives an even more futuristic dimension. Added to Rob Sinclair and Douglas Green fulsome lighting design which goes from delicate to full out Wembley stadium rock concert motif with ease, this is show that aims big.

Ultimately, it’s the music of queen that’s the winner in this new production and if they can master the set then a real treat for a new generation is with in its grasps. For the moment We Will Rock you reminds you of how the show transcended the musical theatre and enriched the legacy of Queen and makes this well worth the ticket price! So, head to the Playhouse!

Queen and Phil McIntyre Entertainment Present, “We Will Rock You”, Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 12th October, UK Tour Continues for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/we-will-rock-you/edinburgh-playhouse/

Brett Herriot Review

On Your Feet, A New Musical, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

On Your Feet, A New Musical, Review:

**** 4 Stars

Salsa Latin Fever and lets an enduring love shine”

Following a hit run in London and success across the Atlantic, On Your Feet is on the road around the UK and comes to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre for a run.

Telling the story of Latin pop cross over superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio’s astounding success from the early days of Cuba to forming of the Miami Sound Machine to solo success. It’s a story of Cuban culture, true love and coming back from a horrifying coach crash.

Taking on the role of Gloria is Philippa Stefani who simply radiates charm and passion in equal measure especially in her vocals and she whips her way through the Estefan back catalog including Anything for you Conga, coming out of the dark and the mega hit, Rhythm is gonna get you. Her husband Emilio, played by George Ioannides during Act 1 and due to indisposition taken over by Sharif Afifi during Act 2, both actors brought a deep sense of truth to the part and brought to life the understated real life persona of Emilio but also let the truth of his passion for Gloria and there family shine through.

Alexander Dinelaris Book is detailed in charting the Estefan journey and never shines away from the lows that came amongst the most incredible high and deals with the pain of Gloria’s recovery from the horror crash with a great deal of truth and Humanity. However, that said it does feel slightly over long and some trimming may have served the show better.

Acclaimed west end and Broadway Director Jerry Mitchell brings his well developed and expertly executed touch to the show combined with Sergio Trujillo Latin infused Choreography which is truly the highlight of the entire production.

David Rockwell’s Scenic Design serves the show well however its heavily brought in on the Festival Stage to the point its completely surrounded in black clothes, however it does put Musical Director Danny Belton and his excellent 7 strong band on stage on a moving platform that allows them to blend with the action when needed and deliver the epic concert style finale with real style.

Kenneth Posner’s Lighting Design is truly epic, with enough lamps to light up Live Aid it’s a dazzling affair especially in the pacer numbers and its clear they have brought the west end on tour with this rig. It is also further boosted by Darrel Maloney’s inventive projection designs which are peppered throughout the show.

Ultimately, On Your Feet is more than just a normal jukebox musical thanks to its story that captures the life of a global superstar who until now has seen her journey undocumented, that’s all changed now with a production that’s filled with Salsa Latin Fever and lets an enduring love shine.

So get on your feet and conga to the box office for a night of musical joy.!

Jamie Wilson and Gavin Kalin Present, “On Your Feet”, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 12th October, UK Tour Continues for tickets go to: www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/on-your-feet