Mary Woodward Review

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

***** (5 stars)

Author Kate Pankhurst didn’t discover she was related to the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst until she was in her twenties.  The heroine of this show, Jade, feels she is invisible: no-one ever listens to what she has to say – indeed, they rarely give her a chance to speak.  When her school goes on a trip to a museum, she isn’t really very surprised to find that everyone’s gone on without her, and she’s all alone – no-one has noticed she’s missing.  She’s always been good, polite, and helpful but that’s never enough: she wonders whether being naughty would get her noticed at all.

Suddenly a door behind her lights up, and to her astonishment a woman in a green flying suit appears, saying I heard you were lost so I came to find you – and Jade’s adventure begins.  The aviator is Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and then the Pacific Oceans.  She is joined by Trudy – Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel [incidentally doing it faster than the five men who’d managed the feat previously] – and Sacagawea, a native American Indian who guided explorers Lewis and Clark across the Rocky mountains in the west of America, translating for them and saving their lives on many occasions.

Emmeline Pankhurst joins the trio of women and Jade, who knows how effective she was in making heard the previously ignored voices of women demanding to be able to vote, asks the four women How do you get people to listen?  There have already been some great musical numbers underlining the importance of finding out who you really are, and what you’re capable of, but the ensuing ensemble DEEDS NOT WORDS gets the whole audience [and Jade] really buzzing.  Previous songs have been loudly applauded: the cheers for this one nearly blew the roof off!

The women leave, and Jade is left wondering what she really wants.  Jane Austen appears, but Jade doesn’t have a clue who she is until – oh, you wrote that film with Colin Firth in it – to which Jane responds does anyone still read nowadays?  The two are joined by artist Frida Kahlo, dressed in a riot of colour and lighting up the stage.  Her training as a doctor ended when she was involved in a traffic accident, and she tells Jade Life doesn’t always fit together tidily – sometimes you have to colour outside the lines.   She urges Jade to follow her example: she shows how she sees the world – this is my fantasy, I paint my own reality – but Jade isn’t so sure – I’m just no good at anything…

Jade feels she needs a superhero to fix her problems – and she gets not one, but four!  Most appropriately for Scotland, we meet the four Marys – Mary Anning, Mary Seacole and Marie Curie, along with Agent Fifi [whose real name turns out to be Mary, too].  Mary Anning was a fossil collector and palaeontologist whose discoveries in the cliffs at Lyme Regis in Dorset contributed to major changes in scientific thinking about prehistory and life on earth – though this was not widely acknowledged in her lifetime.  Mary Seacole, originally from Jamaica, went to the Crimea and, when ignored by the War Office, set up her own hospital and nursed wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. 

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in France: she discovered two new elements – polonium and radium – and championed the use of radium in medicine. Initially disregarded as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for physics simply because she was a woman, she is the only person to have received Nobel prizes in two separate disciplines – physics and chemistry.  Agent Fifi [real name Marie Christine Chilver] studied languages in Paris during WW2.  When Germany invaded France she was sent to a German prison camp but escaped: she was recruited as a secret agent and used her skills and knowledge to test and train other spies.

These four Marys tell Jade there is no such thing as an ordinary woman and inspire Jade to declare I can do anything; to which they respond so what are you going to do, Jade?  But Jade still really doesn’t know… Rosa Parks enters – Jade is overwhelmed to meet her heroine, about whom she knows so much.  Rosa tells Jade that her protest against segregation came about because she was tired of giving in, saying safe doesn’t change the world, does it?  To Jade’s protestation that she doesn’t know what she really wants, or who she is, Rosa responds you are PHENOMENAL, you will change the world just by living in it: if you stand up for what you believe in, it will be worthwhile.  Anne Frank, who now appears, didn’t live to see the world change – she died with most of her family in German prison camps – but Rosa tells Jade that Anne dreamed about the world she wanted, and her father, who survived, published her diary, and her dreams spread all round the world.  A better world for everyone begins with better dreams: dream of a world where everyone is welcome, everyone is free: not every story has a happy ending, but the work goes on.  

The final number celebrates all the fantastically great women who changed the world.  We are reminded that no-one changes the world all by themselves – we are all a part of something much bigger, and that we’ll never be alone – we have the inspiring example of all the sisters who have gone before us.  It’s a rousing number which has the largely young, female audience cheering and clapping along, applauding loudly at the final curtain calls, and going out into the ‘normal’ world in a buzz of conversation which I devoutly hope signals an awakening to the limitless possibilities that lie before them.

The show is inspiring, fast-moving and full of energy.  It was only during the closing number that I finally realised all these fantastic women are played by four extremely talented actresses – Renée Lamb, Kirstie Skivington, Christina Modestou and Jade Kennedy – while Jade herself was played by the amazing Kudzai Mangombe.  The songs by Miranda Cooper are catchy, apposite, and memorable, with musical director Audra Cramer on keyboards, Rhiannon Hopkins on keys and drums and Chloe Rianna on drums all perched in boxes up above the action. 

Director Amy Hodge has produced a magnificent show – brightly-coloured, superbly lit, and fizzing with energy – it’s a real treat, not to be missed.  I only wish something like this had existed when I was young and being indoctrinated into the “women are the lesser species” mentality that prevailed – my life might have been a whole lot different.   

Change the world: bring your sons, bring your daughters, your parents and grandparents to the show and let them see the vast range of possibilities that lie just waiting to be explored!

Mary Woodward

 Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 30thApril, For tickets go to:

Mary Woodward Review

Northern Ballet The Great Gatsby, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Review

**** (4 stars)

Well, what a contrast to last week’s Scottish Ballet Scandal at Mayerling – very different in tone, colour, music, mood and style, and a very welcome visit from Northern Ballet whom I used to see regularly when I lived in Nottingham.

I read Scott Fitzgerald’s novel many years ago, but couldn’t remember anything much about it – which was a pity, as I learned afterwards that the ballet closely follows the novel’s plot.  A quick glance at the synopsis beforehand wasn’t enough to follow the twists and turns of the plot, but this didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of the show [and a second reading in the interval shed more light on what was going on].

Jay Gatsby yearns for his childhood sweetheart, Daisy, but she is married to Tom Buchanan, with whom she has a daughter.  Daisy introduces her cousin, Nick Carraway, to her best girlfriend, golf champion Jordan Baker.  Nick senses that the Buchanan’s relationship is not all sweetness and light: we then learn that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of garage owner George.  In a series of flashbacks we see the start of the relationship between Young Daisy and Young Gatsby, its interruption by the Great War, and Gatsby’s increasing involvement in the criminal underworld, from which he has derived his current wealth.  Tensions mount between the three couples, and it ends in tragedy.

The score, using the music of the extraordinarily versatile Richard Rodney Bennett – composer of film music, jazz, symphonies, opera, choral and ensemble works – underpinned the fluctuating moods of the piece: swooningly romantic, nostalgic, exhilarating and dramatic.  Bennett was very happy to give former music director John Pryce-Jones and retiring artistic director David Nixon carte blanche to use whatever they pleased of his work, and the resulting collaboration meshed seamlessly with the action on stage.  I was particularly struck by the use of the fourth movement of Bennett’s concerto for percussion as the backdrop for the brittle scene in which Gatsby and Tom Buchanan challenge each other over “who gets Daisy”  while Daisy seems conflicted and uncertain about what and whom she wants.  Bennett died before the ballet was completed, so he never heard the final score – but eerily his presence was with us in recordings of him singing when the midnight choo choo leaves for Alabam’ and the final number  I never went away.

The production was full of light and shade, summery pastel costume colours contrasting with darker, glittery, nightclub ones, and the light shifting from glinting off the water surrounding Long Island to the darkness of Gatsby’s shady dealings and the hectic gaiety of nightclubs and parties.  Classical ballet sequences, modern dance sections, and frenetic twenties’ dancing – a superb Charleston sequence, jazz dancing and a mesmerising tango – created a kaleidoscopic mixture of styles, emotions and energies.   There were times when ‘dance’ took over from storytelling – but that’s the nature of most ballet, and what most ballet fans go for.

The thing I found hardest was working out who was who: I now realise I had confused the [both dark-haired] dancers playing Daisy and Myrtle at one point – no wonder I found the plot hard to follow!  The corps were also less easy to tell apart: unlike Scottish Ballet’s corps, they were pretty uniform in size and build.  The principals were, of course, excellent.  Riku Ito was a very self-contained Gatsby, hiding his feelings under a veneer of sophistication; Ashley Dixon’s Tom a thug, despite his ‘old money’.  Saeka Shirai was the conflicted Daisy – unwilling to rock the boat but melting when she remembered her former love for Gatsby, while Kevin Poeung [Nick] and Alessandra Bramante [Jordan] tried unsuccessfully to pour oil on the troubled emotional waters.  Harris Beattie was outstanding as the suspicious, cuckolded George Wilson and Rachael Gillespie sparkled as his unfaithful wife Myrtle.  Julie Nunès and Filippo Di Vilio were enchanting as Young Gatsby and Young Daisy, and Alicia O’Sullivan stole the show and the curtain calls as Daisy and Tom’s young daughter Pammy.

The Great Gatsby was a thoroughly enjoyable ballet, greatly appreciated by Thursday’s matinée audience, for some of whom it was their first visit in two years to a live performance.  Northern Ballet’s Sinfonia, conducted by Philip Ellis, received a rousing cheer and well-deserved thunderous applause.  Gatsby didn’t reach [for me] the heights of emotional and dramatic intensity that I felt at the scandal at Mayerling, but it was a hugely entertaining piece that I’m really glad to have seen.

Mary Woodward 

Northern Ballet The Great Gatsby, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 23rd April for tickets go to

Brett Herriot Review

The Drowsy Chaperone, Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

“A Comedy Musical Triumph!

**** 4 Stars

Local company Edinburgh Music Theatre mark there return to the stage after a 3 year pandemic gap with an inspired choice of production in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and the company deliver a comedy musical triumph.

For a piece set in 1928 it’s a modern show having originated in 1998 it went on to Tony award winning success in 2006, However the transfer to London wasn’t quite as successful running for less than 100 performances in 2007. It’s since gone on to be popular amongst local companies for its large cast of comedy characters.

With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Bob Morrison and book by Bob Morrison and Don McKellar, Drowsy Chaperone is a show with in a show and is a passionate play on the love of musical theatre. Focusing on the Narrator “Man In Chair” played by the utterly sublime  Ian Fallon he takes us into his new York apartment and explains his love of musical theatre and in particular the 1928 recording of the Drowsy Chaperone. Playing the record the show comes to life on stage before us with added observations, asides, comedic brilliance and on occasion truthful human emotion from the “Man in Chair”

This is a  production filled with comedy joy de verve,  Director Jo Heinemeier has succeeded in blurring the lines of the two worlds and created a joyous over arching performance from her talented cast aided by Ashleigh Le Cras’s big, bold and brashy Choreography that goes from Chorus line high kicks to tap dancing with equal aplomb.

EMT’s 25 strong cast deliver in spades but special mention must go to the Lead Ian Fallon, his ability to deliver comedy with pitch perfect timing is only outshone in the most emotional and human of scenes in act two as we realise whilst we can escape from feeling blue into the world of the musicals we must all come back to reality no matter how that reality hurts his performance is nothing short of west end worthy. The same is true of Andrew Hally’s over the top “Aldolpho” whilst pure vaudeville camp he delivers it with complete conviction.  In a remarkable feat Chloe Anderson took over the role of Janet Van De Graaff just a week prior to opening and my word did she deliver, a true credit to herself and the company.

Production wise the show almost equally delivers, Mathew McDiarmid’s Set design adds the right layers and space to shift easily between the two worlds of the apartment and the Chaperones theatre. George Cort’s lighting design is simply wonderful moving from intensely intimate moments to full on Busby Berkley Razzle dazzle that pops the eye and adds that magical quality to the show and ensures Lauren McAnna’s wardrobe selections sparkle.

The only real area lacking is sound, it’s just not where it needs to be,  during the musical numbers especially, Musical director Matthew Brown’s stellar 6 piece pit band simply over powers the entire company on stage making lyrics difficult to hear. There was a lot of popping during the first act, mic’s coming on late or too low even some audio from back stage made it through the audience.

EMT were shrewd in choosing the Drowsy Chaperone a true love letter to the theatre and their passion combined with talent ensured the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation having got there monies worth.  

There are a few last minute tickets still remaining so pop along to the Church Hill for an evening of laughter, music and the dazzling talents of Edinburgh Music Theatre.

EMT Presents, the Drowsy Chaperone, Church Hill Theatre Edinburgh; Runs until Saturday 23rd April, for tickets go to:

Arts News!

Scottish opera Breath Cycle workshops – a personal experience

Earlier this year I received an unusual press release from Scottish Opera – instead of news of a forthcoming production, this dropped into my inbox:


as a classically trained singer who for various reasons was currently unable to sing and last year was diagnosed with blood clots in my lungs which for some months seriously affected my breathing, I thought I’d investigate…

Breath Cycle began as a partnership between Scottish Opera and Glasgow’s Gartnavel General Hospital Cystic Fibrosis Service to explore whether learning classical singing techniques, including breath control, could improve the wellbeing of cystic fibrosis patients. The materials were created as part of a study into how singing techniques, including breathing exercises could replicate the effects of conventional physiotherapy to increase lung function.  

The new Breath Cycle workshops were very successful in their first term, with participants reporting improvement in a range of areas, such as anxiety, loneliness and confidence in addition to benefits to their physical health. One said they could ‘already tell (Breath Cycle) will be of great support’ to them, with another adding the online workshops ‘brightened up’ their week.

Jane Davidson, Scottish Opera’s Director of Outreach and Education said: ‘We’re delighted to be able to offer the programme for a second term starting in January. The Breath Cycle workshops have proven to be a perfect way for our participants, all of whom suffer from Long Covid or other long term lung conditions, to take a moment for their own wellbeing each week.

Gordon MacGregor, Respiratory Consultant at the Department of Respiratory Medicine of Queen Elizabeth University Hospital said: ‘Breath Cycle has been a fantastic project which was first launched in 2013 for people with Cystic Fibrosis. These new sessions provide a platform to work with patients with a range of lung conditions which allows them to exercise their lungs while having fun. This is absolutely key as it keeps them engaged and active in their lung health programme – it’s easy to take part and it’s rewarding.

‘We know how important lung health is to our overall wellbeing, and particularly now, where we’re seeing new patients who may be suffering from breathing issues related to Long Covid, so any treatment which can help address that and offers patients a treatment plan they can stick to, is a positive step.’

So – how was it for me?  I wasn’t able to attend the first workshop, so I approached the second one with great trepidation, afraid both that I’d be unable to do anything and that in the not-doing I’d make a complete fool of myself.

I needn’t have worried!  Regular and frequent use of Zoom meant that I was perfectly comfortable with joining the workshops from a tech point of view, and the welcome and encouragement from the group leaders when I expressed my fears meant that I was able to relax and explore what I and my voice might be able to do.  It also helped that the participants were all muted, so whatever noises we made weren’t shared with the rest of the class!

Each week’s session began with a gentle physical warm-up, for which you could sit or stand – or on one memorable occasion, do the whole thing lying on the floor!  This was followed by a gentle vocal warm up – our favourite one being the Fun Fruit and Vegetable Warm-up – and an introduction to the week’s song.  It didn’t matter if you’d never heard the song before: it was taught line by line, with the sheet music shared on the screen if you were able to read the notes [or just followed their ups and downs].  It was a joy to encounter both familiar and new songs – I particularly loved the Eriskay Love Lilt which I learned in school aeons ago, and The Rose – new to me, but still lingering: some say love, it is a river/ that drowns the tender reed: while Daniela’s fabulous tango milonga sentimental was a joy to listen to [but not attempt to sing!].

As I’ve said, no-one else could hear what noise you were making, and we were encouraged to report our experience using the chat function.  Some people found the high notes hard, others [like me] simply failed to sing low notes: the workshop leaders were very good at responding to the chat comments and engaging with individuals if they had a specific problem which others were likely to share.  Some weeks we went into breakout rooms with individual leaders, which meant it was easier for some of us to share personal difficulties and have possible approaches suggested to us. 

All the time we were encouraged to do what we could, and not do anything that either hurt or didn’t work for us.  I think the range of singing experience among us was very wide, but the language used to describe the exercises was designed to ensure that no-one would feel left out or be unable to understand what we were being asked to do.  It was fascinating to find that one leader’s favourite exercise was another’s nightmare – one size truly doesn’t fit all, especially when it comes to singing!

We were continually reminded to take a break if we needed to – not everyone can sustain an hour even of gentle exercise – and each week also contained an ‘everyone’ break, during which one of the leaders would sing or play something gentle: so we got to hear them as performers as well as teachers.  The sessions would always end with a gentle ‘winding down’ meditation, after which those who wished to could stay on to chat, give feedback, or ask questions.

The workshop leaders were friendly, supportive and encouraging, and the feedback from participants was universally positive.   A community feeling grew up among those of us who took part ‘live’ – and I gather that a sizeable number of people who couldn’t join us worked with the recordings of the sessions, the links for which were sent out each week after the class.  The final class was both rejoicing and sad – celebrating everything we’d each achieved, unilaterally thanking the workshop leaders for the astounding difference the workshops had made to our lives, and desolated to think that lunchtime on Wednesday would no longer be the fun high spot of our week. 

My personal experience was definitely life-changing.  Having struggled for years with a voice that used to be pretty damn good and now was a wreck which I knew would take more time and energy than I possessed to get back into anything like reasonable nick, I discovered that I could sing, and enjoy singing – not particularly well by my standards, but sing without having to struggle to make anything come out, or contend with huge [and distressing] gaps in the voice.  Wearing my Quaker hat, I took part in a number of ecumenical events and, for the first time in years, was able to join in the hymns without stressing about it.  I’ve even found myself singing quietly to myself around the house, something I’ve not done for years.  I now know that, should I want to take this further and get back into singing in some way or other, I have the tools to help myself make a start.

A parallel song-writing course ran alongside Breath Cycle, and in our final session some of their work was sung to us.  Linda’s song, describing a week in the life of her and her voice, sang about the pains and pleasures of trying to get the voice back, whole, again. At the end of her week my laugh is back: hallo voice, I’ve missed you – did you miss me too?  Linda spoke for so many of us with her song.  Thank you so much, Scottish Opera and Breath Cycle – you’ve changed so many people’s lives for the better.

Another Breath Cycle series begins this month, and hopefully more will follow.  If you have problems with your breathing, for whatever reason, do get in touch with Scottish Opera.  You don’t have to be a singer or read music, you just need to want to help yourself get a bit healthier – and you’ll have great fun too!

Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

The scandal at Mayerling, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Review

Scottish Ballet

***** (5 stars)

Well, this is certainly not your ‘usual’ classical ballet – the image of sticky-out tutus and ballerinas on one leg being twirled around by discreet but athletic young men who stay in the background is hard to shake off!  And indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker last December – the perfect way to celebrate being alive and back together again: shame the reintroduction of covid restrictions prevented the show touring in January.

Now, however, Scottish Ballet are back, and back with the biggest possible bang you could imagine – an enthralling exploration of the slowly unravelling mind of crown Prince Rudolf, eldest son of Emperor Franz-Josef and his Empress Elizabeth, who has grown up in the stultifying atmosphere at court, never knowing love or affection from his parents.  He seeks thrills and excitement in drink, drugs, and women – it doesn’t seem to matter to him whether they are noble or common, and he certainly isn’t monogamous.  He has friends among the Hungarian officers but the closest person to him seems to be Bratfisch, the coachman who drives him to his assignations and hangs around to take him home again.  

The ballet opens with a funeral.  A coffin is slowly lowered into the ground, a priest reads some prayers – but there isn’t a grieving crowd, just a pair of men with umbrellas and someone lurking on the sidelines: whose funeral is this?

Flashback some years to the grand party at the Hofburg palace in Vienna to celebrate the marriage of the prince to Stephanie, a young princess who is thrilled by her situation and determined to be a good queen-in-waiting.  She can’t understand why the prince is flirting so violently with her younger sister, Louise, or why he takes so much interest in Countess Larisch and her daughter Mary Vetsera whom she presents to the prince.  Rudolf is summoned by his mother to explain himself, but his anguished behaviour is not met with any sympathy – she recoils from this attempts to reach out to her.  On their wedding night princess Stephanie is shocked and then terrified by the prince’s wild behaviour, his obsession with a skull, his brandishing of a revolver, and his ultimate rape of her.

The prince’s irrational behaviour continues – he drinks with his friends, who try but fail to calm him down; he takes his bride to a tavern where she is shocked by the behaviour of the brothel workers.  Rudolf abandons her as he pursues Mitzi Kaspar, his regular mistress and becomes embroiled in the machinations of some Hungarian nationalists.  Countess Larisch continues to press him into a relationship with Mary Vetsera while encouraging her daughter’s romantic dreams with assurances that they are to be together.  The prince’s mother interrupts a meeting between the prince and Countess Larisch, but departs before he is joined by Mary Vetsera – their relationship inflames their joint obsession with death, and they make a suicide pact.  

At his hunting lodge at Mayerling, Rudolf is drinking with his friends, but rapidly sends them away.  Bratfisch enters with Mary Vetsera and attempts to obey his master’s order to entertain them, but leaves when he realises he is invisible to them.  Rudolf, now spiralling out of control, is precipitated into the morphine-fuelled carrying out of his suicide pact with Mary, shooting first her and then himself.

We return to the funeral with which the ballet began:  now we know that it is Mary Vetsera who is being buried in secret, with Bratfisch the only grieving witness to this attempt to hush up the scandal at Mayerling,

In this ballet it’s the man who takes the starring role.  Rudolf is rarely off stage, and in this technically demanding role has pas de deux with many different women, all of whom dance in different styles which reflect their feelings – the terrified bride, the flattered sister, the scheming older mistress, his regular ‘common’ mistress, the infatuated young Mary Vetsera.  Evan Loudon expertly blended a sensitive attention to each of his partners with a chilling indifference to them all while himself dancing magnificently.  His solo curtain call gave the audience the opportunity to salute his dramatic performance, his amazing athleticism and his supreme technical skill.

Constance Devernay was brilliant as the initially proud and excited Princess Stephanie who rapidly unravels in terror at her new husband’s irrational behaviour on their wedding night.  Sophie Martin was excellent as the young, naïve girl responding excitedly to Rudolf’s passion and rapidly joining, and even exceeding Rudolf in his obsession with death.  All the other female roles were equally striking in their individuality; the four Hungarian officers tried but failed to control their prince’s erratic behaviour while taking part in some memorable all-male quintets.  Bruno Macchiardi’s wonderful comic abilities provided the only lighter moments in a pretty heavy piece, which never oppressed but didn’t shrink from portraying the blacker side of royal life.

Martin Yates, guest conductor of Scottish Ballet’s orchestra, was also responsible for the re-orchestration of the score for Kenneth MacMillan’s original ballet to meet the need for a reduced, touring-sized, orchestra.  The music of Franz Liszt was a perfect match for the action on stage, with some ‘ooh I know this bit’ moments and a continuously-flowing accompaniment to the drama.   MacMillan’s original large-scale ballet was re-worked by Christopher Hampson and Gary Harris, with the full approval of his widow Deborah, to create a production that could be taken on tour and also use the whole company’s talents.  It’s a visual feast, with magnificent costumes and atmospheric lighting, played against very simple backdrops which rapidly reflect the changes of scene.

Yet again Scottish Ballet have come up with something memorable, which I hope won’t disappear from their repertoire but be presented to us more than once.  Do try to get to see it if you can: and if not, look forward to another new production – their take on the classic Coppelia, which will first see the light of day in this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Mary Woodward

Scottish Ballet Presents, The scandal at Mayerling, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Run Ended, Scottish Tour Continues.