Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera / National Opera Studio – Showcase King’s Theatre, Edinburgh: Review

Scottish Opera / National Opera Studio – Showcase

**** (4 stars)

Well, it did exactly what it said on the tin, and showcased the talents of the current crop of students at the National Opera Studio in a series of extracts from a wide range of operas.  It was most interesting to see particular singers go off-stage having finished one excerpt and reappear instantly in a different role and a different language – this helped highlight what did and didn’t suit each singer, and seemed to give more of the spotlight to some that to others [why only one appearance from the counter-tenor, for example?]

There were some good bits, some interesting bits, some very good bits, and some extremely good ones, with a few outstanding individual performances – in particular baritone Jake Muffett who was a superb Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and an equally accomplished Count in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – he’ll undoubtedly be a magnetic Figaro in that, too.  Tiny soprano Ana-Maria Bacanu kept re-appearing and making a stunning impact whatever she sang – most particularly a heart-rending Rodelinda bidding farewell to the husband she’d thought was dead and with whom she’d just been re-united [trust Handel to write truly gut-wrenching music for that scene!] and the heartless Adina in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, rejecting Nemorino’s protestations of true love [glad that she gets her comeuppance later in the opera] and finally as Susanna pretending to agree to the Count’s proposed assignation  – a superb, though brief duet: and then suddenly the show was over…

There was a lot of rope and string, well used as props which linked one scene to another – though at times one could become more interested in what was being done with it than in what was being sung…

I wasn’t wildly impressed by the scene from Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, not because of poor singing but because the sentiments being expressed really pissed me off – “how cruel men are to teach us love…then ride away while we still yearn” – presenting women as helpless and two-dimensional puppets…  I found the subsequent scene from Peter Grimes much more compelling – and showcasing the brilliant playing of the orchestra of Scottish Opera as they created the sounds and movement of the sea and subsequent rising storm.  Tenor Roberto Barbaro made the cruelly high lines seem easy, and gave the sound a lot more welly than some tenors I won’t name.  He was less pleasing to listen to in the extract from Cosi, when his voice lacked the smooth roundedness to cope with the flowing melodic lines: he didn’t entirely convince me as a successful lover, either – but then maybe this is part of the plot which it wasn’t really possible to portray fully in that one scene.

Charlie Drummond and Margo Arsane were well-cast as the card-consulting gypsies Frasquita and Mercedes, and Marvic Monreal sang Carmen’s brooding solo well, though with a little too much vibrato for my taste.  I wasn’t convinced by her ‘sulky street kid’ attitude: hopefully she will mature into this role.  Margo Arsane returned to be the feisty and quick-witted Rosina to Jake Muffet’s Figaro in the duet where she learns her love for the ‘student’ who’s been serenading her is returned.

A most pleasant evening and a lot of very promising names to look out for, which bodes well for the future of opera.

Scottish Opera / National Opera Studio – Showcase – Kings Theatre Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Review by Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

Touching the Void, The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Touching the Void, 

***** 5 Stars

“The most triumphant,  Intense and Thrilling Theatre production to Grace the stage”

In 2003 a docudrama film based on the biography of mountain climber Joe Simpson reached critical and public acclaim, its story of human survival pushed to the ultimate limit and the life and death decision many of us will never have to make seared its way into the public consciousness. It was always deemed to be unstageable as a stage play, until now and what truly magnificent piece of stage craft it is.

Lyceum Artistic Director David Greig has taken on the challenge of adapting the book into a stage play and he has delivered an edge of your seat experience that takes you right inside the mind of Joe, played with consummate conviction by Josh Williams. Williams performance is the centre of the story, taking the audience beyond the physical endurance that would stun a mere mortal man, to right inside the mind set of Joe Simpson and what truly pushed him to survive against apparently un-survivable odds.

Joining Williams in the cast also delivering nothing less than award winning performances are Patrick McNamee as Richard, Richard Hawking was on the mountain that night taking care of base camp and was unaware of events until Simon Yates , played by the sublime Edward Hayter returns to base camp. Hayter’s performance is truly gifted as he stands high above the lyceum stage on the edge of the cliff as a snow storm blows through, it is he who must decide to cut the rope connecting him to Williams, his ability to express the agony of the decision is breath taking. Rounding out the cast is a composite character “Sarah” performed by Fiona Hampton . Sarah floats for apparently reality to a dream figure with Joe Simpson mind driving him ever forward to survive and reach base camp despite the extreme pain, fatigue he is enduring.

Director Tom Morris has truly delivered the most triumphant, intense and thrilling theatre production to grace the stage thanks not only to his stellar cast and the incredible writing of Grieg but also the gifted production team of Designer Ti Green alongside Lighting Design of Chris Davey and Composer and Sound Designer Jon Nicholls. Together they have made it possible travel from the heart of Edinburgh to the Snow Strom swept  mountain tops of the Peruvian Andes and allowed audiences to experience an unforgettable journey the searches the very soul of humanity and forces us to ask ourselves what we would do to survive above all else and fight for the very right to draw breath.

The Lyceum prides itself on delivering theatre that engages and challenges the audience and under David Grieg’s tenure and working in collaboration with the Bristol Old Vic, Royal & Derngate and Fuel, they continue to push the boundaries of what can physically be achieved and for that they should be justly applauded.

I implore you to do what you can to grab a ticket and take a seat in the splendour of the Lyceum’s auditorium then be transported to the far-flung mountain tops of Peru and then ask yourself would you survive when faced with Touching the void?

Theatre doesn’t come any better, more powerful, engaging and just sheer brilliant than this production and long may it Transend the art form.

The Lyceum, Bristol Old Vic, Royal & Derngate Northampton, and Fuel presents “Touching the Void”, The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh runs until 16th February for tickets go to:

Mary Woodward Review

Glasgow Girls, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Glasgow Girls, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

**** (4 stars)

“Together we are strong” is the refrain that haunts me as I leave the theatre and go out into the dark, wet night.  I have a home to go to and, despite being a Sassenach invader, I have a home in Scotland and the right to stay there, not to be forcibly removed in the middle of the night, taken to a detention centre, and threatened with removal to a war-torn country that is not safe for me to be in.  But this is the fate of men, women, and CHILDREN, because despite the Scots law that protects the child, refugee and asylum-seeker matters are devolved to Westminster and seemingly we Scots are powerless to prevent forcible detention, imprisonment and deportation.

But this is not so: six schoolgirls from Drumchapel High School, one of the most deprived schools in one of the poorest areas of Glasgow, have shown us the way – are we brave enough to follow their lead?  We may not always win – but that’s no reason not to fight: each little act to oppose both the injustices and the ocean of prejudice and misinformation with which we are constantly bombarded is another addition to the ocean of love and compassion which opposes all the negative attitudes: we’re all Jock Tamsin’s bairns, we’re all Scotland’s weans, and hurt to me hurts everyone around me.

David Greig and Cora Bisset’s show celebrates the six girls who changed the world around them. Powerful music, electric energy, moving situations, brutal imagery depicting the disproportionate force and brutality used against people who are offering no resistance – does it really take ten men to arrest a mother and her small son?? – and the power of the Noreens and Jeans of this world who stand up for their neighbours and time and again defy the forces of the law who believe they have right on their side combine to produce a show which blazes with the Scottish sense of justice and fair play for everyone who lives here.

It’s a powerful show, with a message that is even more relevant today than when the show was first written. A magnificent selection of heart-felt songs, a cast of nine who manage to be so many different people during the course of the show, good and bad alike, and a superb fiddle player who keens and laments and celebrates with the girls and their neighbours, proclaim the feisty spirit of the people of Scotland who will not stand by and see injustice and unfair treatment of innocent people, but will fight with every means they can find to oppose it – and invite and inspire us the audience to join in the struggle, even though there is no guarantee of victory.

There were rousing cheers from the audience for the songs, bursts of laughter at ourselves and our typical Scots reaction to things and situations, and prolonged and vociferous applause at the end of the show.  The only reason I’ve not given five stars is that the amplification was such that some of the words of the songs were inaudible – and maybe had I been sitting in a different seat this would not have been a problem.  It’s another David Greig/ Cora Bisset unmissable show – who will go out tomorrow and start to change the world, little by little?

Together we are strong….

Glasgow Girls, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Run Ended, Production tours to Perth Theatre, Perth January 30th and Eden Court Theatre, Inverness 7th -9th February.

Review by Mary Woodward.


Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera, Anthropocene, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Review:

Scottish Opera Presents Anthropocene, Theatre Royal, Glasgow: 

**** 4 Stars

Well, what was that all about??

I had come to Glasgow expecting Scottish Opera’s usual excellence in what I would loosely term ‘modern opera’ and am sorry to say I was somewhat disappointed.  The dangling, flayed seal carcass, the printed circuit board that snapped when dropped, and the bloodfest at the end [sniggerworthy rather than moving] neither engaged me nor taught me deep truths : but there were some brilliantly memorable images and moments –  the ice block being slowly winched to the ground with the curled-up body clearly visible inside; the thawed-out Ice-girl, wired up and in a hospital bed, shrinking away from the greedily outstretched hands of the Professor and her husband; and her horror at the total absence of love or lovingkindness of the final brutal sacrifice.

This was  an excellent exhibition of greed, vanity, self-interest, hypocrisy and all the less appealing human trait.  It tried along the way to present us with a huge moral dilemma – save the planet, or save a few people’s lives?  But the vehicle for this was, alas, a fable that beggared belief,…

Brief outline of story: a research ship, the King’s Anthropocene, is moored off the Greenland coast at the end of the Arctic summer.  The Professor is supervising the collection of deep level ice samples, assisted by her husband Charles, another scientist.  The expedition has been funded by wealthy entrepreneur Harry King: his daughter Daisy, an amateur photographer, accompanies him, and journalist Miles has been employed to report the expedition’s hoped-for success in revealing the origins of life.  The captain of the ship Anthropocene and his engineer Vasco complete the crew.  An ice storm is brewing, and the Captain and Vasco want to make for open water without delay: but Charles, Daisy and Miles are away collecting samples and the Professor hesitates, not wanting to abandon them.  They arrive on board, she orders their departure, but too late – the ship is icebound.

Charles has discovered a body in the ice and brings it back to the ship. Daisy is convinced she sees its eyes move, and Vasco uses an axe to free the body: everyone is amazed when the young woman starts to breathe and move.  Miles sabotages the ship’s communications system but is seen by Vasco, whom he later ‘accidentally’ murders; Harry King is obsessed with worry about the fate of his many schemes while he is trapped on board; the two scientists are convinced they will be as famous as Newton or Darwin; Daisy is desolate over Vasco’s death; and the Captain foresees doom and disaster everywhere, regarding the strange young woman, whom they call Ice, as an abomination who will bring disaster to them all.  Ice reveals her story – she was sacrificed to release her tribe from the ice which had imprisoned them – and says that only blood will melt the ice in which they are all trapped…

White curtains framed the acting area: vaguely nautical and scientific stuff was moved around the deck of the ship: large letters spelling out the ship’s name were initially in pristine order but were whirled around by the cast as the storm wreaked its havoc.  The costumes were mainly arctic parkas and trousers, which must have been hot to sing in: the final act’s simple white ‘pyjamas’ must have come as a relief.  Ice was dressed in teeshirt and trousers once she’d escaped from her bed in the sick bay: she obviously didn’t feel the cold!

There was a lot of singing but few recognisably melodic lines, and some interesting combinations of sounds: but on this first hearing I found it hard really to take much notice of the music, which was an integral part of the action but didn’t have much memorable about it [unlike some of the lines in Walsh and MacRae’s the Bottle Imp].  There were many unlovely lines of speech bellowed above a complex orchestral score.  I was very near the front of the stalls [wonder whether the balance would have been better had I been further back?] and didn’t find much that engaged my interest: in the end it became a constant succession of Noises – with the honourable exception of Ice’s lines which were always interesting and easily audible.  Maybe this too was the intention – to represent the cacophony of contemporary life and the chaos and confusion of warring relationships, and contrast it with the simplicity of Ice’s existence, part of her tribe, knowing she was loved even in the moment of her death.

There was an outstanding performance – yet again – from Jennifer France [the Controller in Flight, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne Auf Naxos] whose seemingly effortless ability to sing ridiculously high and while making every word audible is staggeringly impressive.  She gave a sensitive and deeply moving performance as the girl murdered to save her tribe from the ice who finds herself alive and breathing in a completely alien world.

Paul Whelan’s Captain, moving in and out of madness [channelling his inner Captain Ahab?] was only allowed to bellow; Marc le Brocq’s Harry King [not Terry Pratchett’s King of the Golden River, but a megalomaniac obsessed with his reputation and his share prices] sang melodically in the first act but didn’t do much later on; Anthony Gregory’s Vasco, the innocent victim, made some beautiful sounds but was bumped off before he could do much more.  Benedict Nelson’s Miles cleverly portrayed the self-obsessed journalist willing to put everyone’s lives at risk then lying continually to save his skin; Jeni Bern’s Professor and her husband Charles [Stephen Gadd] were obsessed with claiming the glory for finding the girl in the ice with no notion of her as a sentient being; Sarah Champion’s Daisy tried to make her flirtatious scene with Vasco interesting and credible, but failed to convince me.  All in all, the 21st century characters were all pretty unpleasant and unloveable, without redeeming features –  I wasn’t involved in their lives and didn’t really care what happened to them.  I was deeply concerned for Ice, involved in her plight and her feelings on coming back to life, and angry at the insensitivity with which she was treated.

One excellent thing about the production – it had my companion and me talking about it all the way home!  It’s not an easy evening’s listening, and it doesn’t have the ebullient ‘in your face’ impact that Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek had, but it’s a most interesting attempt to make some comments on contemporary society and attitudes.  Tonight’s performance was the world premiere.  The packed audience was very loud in its applause both for the hard-working cast, conductor and orchestra, the creative team, and composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Walsh – but the honours of the evening undoubtedly belong to the amazing and sensitive performance of Jennifer France.

Scottish Opera Presents Anthropocene, Theatre Royal Glasgow Run Ended, Production will tour Edinburgh Kings Theatre from 31st Jan to 2nd February then Hackney Empire Theatre, London from 7th to 9th February. For Ticket info go to:

Review by Mary Woodward

Arts News!

The Lion King Returns to Edinburgh!

The Edinburgh Playhouse, Walt Disney Company UK and Ireland has today announced that the award-winning musical THE LION KING will return to the Edinburgh in December 2019, the only Scottish dates on the second UK and Ireland tour.

lion king 2

The tour coincides with THE LION KING celebrating 20 years at London’s Lyceum Theatre. Since the UK premiere in London on Tuesday 19th October 1999, THE LION KING has entertained over 15 million theatregoers and remains the West End’s best-selling stage production and the sixth longest-running West End musical of all time.

Colin Marr, Theatre Director, the Edinburgh Playhouse said: “We are incredibly excited to have Disney’s THE LION KING return to the Playhouse. I saw it for the first time in London recently and was blown away by the size and scale of the production. It’s an incredibly exciting show – a great spectacle but with brilliant humour too. I can’t wait to see it on our stage. The previous visit had a huge impact on the city attracting hundreds and thousands of visitors and generating millions of pounds for the local economy.  As the only Scottish venue, we are looking forward to welcoming audiences of all ages from Edinburgh, the rest of Scotland and internationally.”

lion king 3

The first tour of THE LION KING which ran from 2012 – 2015 broke box office records at the Edinburgh Playhouse with a 15 week sell-out season playing to more than 325,000 people, 60% first time visitors to the venue with 29% from Edinburgh postcodes.

The Christmas slot at The Edinburgh Playhouse is a legendary with the biggest and best of the west end seeking to fill the Greenside Place venues massive house. The Lion King which brings together the very best creatives from the musical theatre word and promises to be the ultimate festive treat.

the lion king

So Edinburgh get ready, The biggest show of all time is getting ready to Roar its way back into Scotland!

Disney presents The Lion King, Edinburgh Playhouse, December 2019

Tickets will go on sale in March 2019. Fans can sign up for priority access to tickets at


Mary Woodward Review

Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur­ – Metropolitan Opera, New York – Review

Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur­ – ( Via Live relay to British Cinemas)

***** (5 stars)

This rarely-seen opera was performed by a stellar cast demonstrating exactly why it’s such a rarity: you need more than superb voices – magnificent acting and a brilliant ensemble are also mandatory if this piece is to catch fire and not flop embarrassingly, as some Met productions I’ve seen have done.

At its most basic, the story is a battle between two strong women – the eponymous actress and the Princess de Bouillon – in love with the same man – Maurizio, Count of Saxony.  Add in the Prince, a philandering husband jealous of his wife and suspecting her of infidelity, Michonnet, the stage manager who silently loves Adriana, and the bickering and gossiping cast of the Comédie Française, and you have the bald outline of the plot of Adriana – but this is to ignore the many subtleties which twist and turn the plot into a kaleidoscope of fluctuating emotions and propel it to its tragic end.

Premiered in 1902, the opera pays homage to the bel canto tradition while also looking forward to verismo but, as conductor Gianandrea Noseda said, not blood and fire verismo but real emotions, with passion tearing people apart.  The superb score with its detailed orchestration was brilliantly played by the Met orchestra, painting pictures of the backstage bustle prior to a performance, the joyous outpourings of the happy lovers, the agitation and concealed menace as the plot thickens, and the desolation and doom-laden final act.

Adriana Lecouvreur really existed, as did the Count of Saxony and the Prince and Princess de Bouillon, the former an expert in poisons.  Adriana was an actress at the Comédie Française in the 18th century who was particularly noted for her naturalistic acting which contrasted strongly with the artificial style of the time.  She really did have an affair with Maurizio, and her sudden death gave rise to rumours that she had been poisoned.

The cast were magnificent.  Anna Netrebko was at her diva assoluta best as the actress torn by doubts and fears yet radiant in her love, who rises to the peak of her dramatic powers publicly to scorn her rival for unblushingly carrying on an affair under her husband’s nose.  The Princess, Anita Rachvelishvili, was breathtakingly assured in her wealth and power, riven by jealousy of her rival and determined never to give up her lover – a fabulous voice and a commanding personality.  Piotr Beczala made Maurizio’s outpourings – romantic, tender, martial, passionate – seem effortless as he trod the tricky path between furthering his ambitions by responding to his patron, the Princess, and wooing the actress who had transformed his life.  It was a delight to have three superb Italian character actors in the other principal roles: Carlo Bosi as the scheming, pandering Abbé, Maurizio Muraro as the two-timing but incandescently jealous Prince, and the incomparable Ambrogio Maestri as the silently suffering Michonnet, the stage manager who has loved Adriana and suffered in silence for five years.  He gave a master class in subtle, understated acting which cast into strong contrast the impressively dramatic and at times almost histrionic performances all around him.

I’ve loved this opera for years – the delightfully haphazard and seemingly shambolic backstage life in a big theatre, the subtle orchestration, the cleverly atmospheric themes running throughout the score.  It was with enormous pleasure that I saw David McVicar’s 18th century box set theatre being moved around the stage during each act – presenting us with the view from backstage, from the wings, and from the audience, being transformed into the Prince’s house in which the after-show party is held and the two women begin to realise that they are rivals], and ending backstage again, in the drabness of the morning.  The final tableau in which the whole cast of the Comédie Française came to the footlights to see and salute Adriana’s final, and only too real death scene was a fitting tribute to an evening in which the lines between acting and reality were continually being blurred.

Enrico Caruso sang in the first Met performances of Adriana:  Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni, Montserrat Caballé and Renata Scotto were all megastars of the Met who triumphed, each in their own way, in this role.  Anna Netrebko out-diva’ed the lot of them: but for my money, the greatest performance was that of Ambrogio Maestri as the great-hearted and ultimately disappointed Michonnet.  I’m so glad finally to have seen this opera – such a dream team may not be assembled again in my lifetime…


Wasted Youth, Scottish Story Telling Centre, Edinburgh, Preview:

Wasted Youth, 

Edinburgh based performance artist, DJ and Drag Performer Jordy Deelight  brings his brand new biographical one man show to Edinburgh for the first time. Where the art of Drag  is to create fantasy, this production will deliver the reality of a rather human journey.

So, what is Wasted Youth? Its A devised theatre performance featuring elements of drag performance and video footage.

“I go to bed every night and I look back throughout the day I had, making sure I called my friends and family in between to ask how their day was. I wonder if they’re ok, and if at any point they were lying to me, as not everyone has to be strong.”

Wasted Youth. A non-conventional drag show. A piece of media. A journey. The synchronicity method. A life sentence from the age of 2. Learn about Jordan as told by Jordy

wasted youth 3

Jordan spoke to Scotsgay arts saying  “Wasted Youth asks the question, who is Jordy Deelight? As I seek to explore who is behind the make up using performance drag and multimedia projections. I am also delighted this performance will be fully BSL interpreted as I wish to ensure the performance is open to all.”

Wasted Youth takes to the stage on Wednesday 30th January at 19:30 at the Scottish Story Telling Centre on the High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Please note this production is strictly an 18+ event and under 18’s will not be permitted in the theatre.

wasted youth 2

Theatre has always been the last uncensored space, a home in which creativity shines and boundaries can be pushed, its also the place where real human stories can be explored, wasted youth will harness the power of one persons journey through life and offer up the truth of the performer behind the lipstick and high heels and promises to be an unforgettable evening of theatre. Get those tickets now!

Wasted Youth, Scottish Story Telling Centre, Wed 30th Jan 2019 19:30 , For tickets from £7 go to: