Mary Woodward Review

I…er…me, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

As part of the Imaginate international Children’s Festival

***** (5 stars)

What a way to begin my experience of this year’s International Children’s Festival!  Talk about stimulating the imagination – where do I start?  A set that revolves through a whole 360 degrees, a giant salt-water goldfish that can eat anything, mysterious hands appearing and changing things around while your back is turned…

A man lives a life that is disciplined down to the last millisecond.  His phone beeps every few minutes to remind him about yet another thing that needs doing.  Everything around him has to be Just So – the plastic bag folded impeccably neatly, the coat hanging perfectly straight on the hanger.  So why is it that when his back is turned, they are awry?  Why, when the phone rings and he answers it, all he hears is a voice at the other end of the line repeating what he himself is saying?  How can it be that the chillies he’d been chopping when the phone rang have mysteriously disappeared?  What is happening to the goldfish in his impressive wall-to-wall fish tank, which normally comes to greet him when he feeds it?  Is someone else in his house doing all these weird things, or is it all in his mind?

This is at the same time a glorious display of physical dexterity as VVV navigates the revolving set, where the floor becomes the wall of another room and bits of furniture rise up out of the new floor, and a disturbingly accurate representation of distorting reality in a disintegrating mind.  Without giving too much away, credit must be given to three actors – Martin Franke, Daan Hamel and Martijn Schrier – and four technicians – Tjarko Van Heese, Roy Vermeer, Gerrit Schilp and Tomas Van Schelven – who between them operate the revolving set and make the seemingly impossible happen before our very eyes.  The main actor’s stamina and ability to remain [mostly] vertical when all around him is slowly revolving is staggering, while the complex choreography that must take place back-stage is simply mind-boggling. 

The set, which revolves through a full 360 degrees, is breathtaking, and the split-second timing of every appearance and disappearance is staggering.  A door becomes a bath as the floor becomes a wall; furniture and fittings emerge from and sink back into surfaces which are successively floor, wall, or ceiling; goldfish swim outside their tank – in fact, goldfish get everywhere!  The design of the production and the way the impossible is made to appear commonplace is simply magic – all credit to Artistic Director Elien van den Hoek. 

It was very satisfying to be able to applaud not only the main actor but also the giant saltwater goldfish, the third actor and  three members of the stage crew who all had fish to play with.  There was a huge, prolonged ovation for the man who was taking the set through its extraordinarily complex manouevres.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to be allowed behind the scenes to see the set from behind: a truly wonderful creation..

It’s a fantastically entertaining show.  Those of us who’ve experienced some type of mental disturbance may find it harder to laugh at some of the things that we see on stage – but we will resonate strongly with what might recognise as a version of our own attempts to deal with an at times distorted reality.  Others may simply find it laugh out loud funny, as increasingly bizarre things happen.

Whichever is your experience, this show is glorious – congratulations to all concerned in bringing it to the EICF, and good luck to the company for their forthcoming European tour.

I…er…me, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Run ended.

Brett Herriot Review

Gypsy, Pitlochry Festival Theatre Review

***** 5 Stars

“A Beguiling New Production!”

For over 70 years, audiences have descended on Pitlochry for its annual summer season of repertory Theatre that truly brings theatre without bounds to the heart of Perth and Kinrosshire there is no greater musical for a rep company than perhaps Stephen Sondheim’s greatest lyrical gift. Gypsy with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Julie Styne and Sondheim’s Lyrics have thrilled audiences from the moment the great Ethel Merman stepped on stage in 1959. This is a musical which Transends the genre and Pitlochry have harnessed its raw power for a beguiling new production that puts performances at the fore.

Telling the story (much of which is true) of “Mama Rose”, a most astonishing and capturing performance from Shona White, a showbiz mother who pushes her daughters, June, Patricia Pather in fine form and Louise, the utterly divine Blythe Jandoo who brings a new emotional depth to the roll, to the heights of fame thanks to the family Vaudeville act. When the reality is Rose longed for the bright lights of Broadway herself is there a way to attain your dreams vicariously without it costing the love of your flesh and blood? Gypsy gives us the answers. With songs including “Some People”, “Everything’s coming up Roses” and the classic “you gotta get a gimmick” the Pitlochry team give this all-time classic a thrilling new lease of life.

Director Ben Occhipinti has clearly taken Jerome Robbins original direction and tapped into its heart whilst ensuring it can work for a tight ensemble actor musician cast, he keeps the story clear and moving but allows finely tuned performances to flow over the footlights. This is totally complimented by Maggie Rawlinson’s choreography which is effortlessly flowing throughout.

Performances are universally excellent but special mention must go to Shona White, the greatest women of musical theatre, Merman, Lansbury, Daly, Peters, Lu Pone and Staunton have brought Mama Rose to life, with such a lineage it must be the greatest challenge to create something unique, but White does so with ease, her peerless performance and vocals never feel forced but come from deep within. She is match in such acclaimed by Blyth Jandoo who brings an understated charm to “Louise” that makes her endlessly watchable.

Production wise this is a triumph, Liz Cooke wonderful set design that sees a stage on stage concept executed with brilliance thanks to a rotating turntable being used to great effect. Combine this with an old school lighting design from Kate Bonney that brings a touch of the original to stage but also giving it a flavour of Pitlochry, itself is a charming touch. Lorna Munden’s sound delivers in spade and ensures every word, note and lyric is heard.

Pitlochry have delivered a Gypsy that inspires, entertains and thrills in equal measure, transporting you from the rolling hills and mountains of Scotland to New York City, a truly thrilling musical fable. After 70 years Scotland’s most renown rep theatre company shows it metal in the best musical theatre fashion and you simply must beg, borrow or steal a ticket for what will go down as Pitlochry’s greatest musical production yet. 

Gypsy A Musical Fable, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, runs until Saturday 30th September 2023, For further info go to:

Brett Herriot Review

The Stamping Ground, Festival Theatre Edinburgh Review

*** 3 Stars

“Wears its Scottish Heart on its Sleeves!”

Following a lengthy development period and a successful run at the Eden Court Theatre Inverness in 2022 Morna Young’s “The Stamping Ground” embarks on its first Scottish Tour. Telling the story of Euan (Ali Watt) and Annie (Jenny Hulse) who return from London to the highland village of Glenbeag. Bringing with them there 16-year-old daughter Fiona (Caitlin Forbes) who is recovering from a serious attack whilst in London.  The plot follows the family struggling to hold it together in a place they struggle to remember and yet is changing all round them as the impact of financial and environmental change take their toll on the family, village and its people. 

Morna Young script based on a concept by Alan B McLeod has much to offer even when it strays in soap opera and light comedy, but by using the music of Runrig (with gorgeous arrangements from musical director John Kielty) gives it serious emotional depths and strong Scottish flavour throughout.  

While the thirteen strong ensembles cast and musicans deliver well, especially vocally, the script is somewhat clunky and over long at least 10 minutes could be cut from each act to quicken the pace, the production feels its two hour and ten minute run time.  Runrigs music remains timeless and its beautifully performed and sung in the show making it worthy of ticket on its own but the show feels like it’s trying to emulate Stephen Green Horn’s “Sunshine on Leith” or the stellar Royal Lyceum theatre production of “Local Hero” but never quite gets to that level of engagement with its audience.

Production wise the show is a triumph, Kenneth McLeods stunning Costume and Set design is a remarkable achievement transporting the audience from the heart of Edinburgh to the Heart of the highlands. This is boosted by Simon Wilkinson’s sublime lighting design and Garry Boyle’s intimate sound design brings the best out in both performers and story alike.

The Stamping Grounds is a truly Scottish Collaboration of the arts with Raw Material and Eden Court Inverness wearing there Scottish beating hearts very much on their sleeves and the characters capture the angst, emotion, joy and fun of life in Stirling style. The overall show does still feel like it’s still very much a work in development and somewhere deep inside the Stomping Ground is a show with so much to offer and as it matures it may well go onto greatness.

For the moment what we have is an engaging testament to Scottish ideals with worthy writing, stunning production values and the awe inspiring music of Runrig, music that comes from the heart and Transends a generations, as the curtain fell to the strains of “ Loch Lomond” it was clear the audience were ready to jump from their seats in celebration of the place we all call home and that alone makes getting along to the Festival Theatre the place to be for this truly deep night of musical theatre.

The Stamping Ground, Festival Theatre Edinburgh  runs until Saturday 27th May 2023, For further info go to:

Mary Woodward Review

Dear Billy: a Love Letter to the Big Yin, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

***** (5 stars)

“Perfection of the storytelling”

The Traverse bar is abuzz as the audience comes out – everyone has something to say, to share, to tell someone how much they’ve loved the show, and share their own memory of the Big Yin as they head out into the night or, like me, stay for a glass of wine and the chance to recall some of the multitude of gems we’ve been presented with the night.

It’s a very simple idea – Gary McNair and his story gatherers have been the length and breadth [and width] of the country collecting stories about Billy Connolly, aka the Big Yin, and presents some of them to us.  This is not a chronological canter through his life, though the memories are arranged sort of chronologically, and if you didn’t know anything about his life you might find some of the references in the show pass you by. 

It’s not all a paean of praise – there are the people who don’t find him funny, and the people who don’t know who he is.  There are the people who claim to have known him, people who think they could be just as funny if they’d left the shipyard, people who think they sound just like him, people who say “well, he’s not written anything, he’s just used stuff we’ve told him” …

I don’t want to run through a ‘this person said this, this person said that’ – that would destroy the magic of the show.  What struck me most was the love that was palpable – a love joining those on stage with us in the audience as we united in a celebration of the larger-than-life personality who has impacted so many people’s lives in so many different ways. 

It’s obvious that Billy has had an enormous effect on all our lives – changing so much of the way we think and act, showing us that it’s possible simply to be oneself without apology or excuse, and without going on a crusade, encouraging us to live life to the full and enjoy everything that comes our way.

What is so amazing about this show is the perfection of the storytelling.  Gary McNair doesn’t just tell the anecdotes: he becomes each person who’s sharing their experience of the Big Yin.  Each person comes alive in front of us – voice, posture, mannerisms perfectly presented – it’s brilliant!   His movement around the stage is very impressive, and keeps our interest alive – a number of mikes at different levels facilitate the rapid changes of character.  It’s a very complex feat of choreography which adds another layer of interest to an already riveting show.  It’s an impressive feat of memory too, to get the huge variety of body language, facial expressions and vocal delivery so spot on.

Composers and musicians Jill O’Sullivan and Simon Liddell play a variety of instruments – I spotted two guitars, a violin, a melodeon and a strange accordion-like box whose proper name I don’t know.  There might have been more…  Their instrumental music and Jill’s haunting vocals provide a subtle background to all the characters who come to life on stage. 

Mention must also be made of the creative and production teams, whose work behind the scenes made the show the success it is.  And huge credit must be given to the People of Scotland who contributed their stories, and Robbie Gordon, Jacqueline Houston, Genevieve Jagger and Jamie Marie Leary who gathered all the stories – heartfelt thanks to you all!

As you’d expect, it’s a very funny show: ninety minutes of virtually non-stop laughter, with some serious moments along the way.  There’s no attempt to present Billy’s material or ‘do’ his sketches.  There is a patchwork kaleidoscope picture of a man seen through other people’s eyes – a love letter to Billy.   I’m so glad Gary McNair didn’t wait for Billy to die before giving us this show – allowing us to celebrate the Big Yin and the joy he’s brought to so many people’s lives.

What comes over most clearly is the enormous love people have for Billy Connolly, and how we would all love to be able to go to him and say “Dear Billy, thank you so much for all the joy you have given us – we love you so much”…

National Theatre of Scotland, Dear Billy: a Love Letter to the Big Yin, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 20th May for tickets go to: Traverse Theatre | Traverse Theatre

The production then tours across the length and breadth of Scotland.

Brett Herriot Review

SLO: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

“True Theatrical Joy

***** 5 Stars

The legendary 1968 movie beloved by a generation made its stage debut at the London Palladium in 2002 sticking faithfully to the films story of Caractacus Potts (The sublime Rory McLean) a much maligned inventor who with his Children Jeremy (Oliver Thomson) and Jemima (Martha Brodick) and rich heiress Truly Scrumptious (The Devine Tanya Williamson) embark on an amazing magical adventure in the restored racing car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and do battle with the evil Child Catcher (a deliciously evil turn from Charles Leeson-Payne). Southern Light Opera Edinburgh’s oldest running local company do more than justice in this production which is true theatrical joy from start to finish.

Everything in this epic show is joyful, from stunning lead performances to an ensemble that numbers nearly one hundred its clear every member of the cast is enjoying their moment on stage and that flows across the footlights to audience who are with them from the off. Director Quintin Young has delivered in spades ensuring the story comes through at a cracking pace and allowing the vast company to build unique characters, this is character show at heart and perfectly suited to the SLO. Assistant director and Choreographer Louise Williamson brings a skilful touch to the dance numbers working with a dedicated core de dance but also getting the wider ensemble moving.

Musically this show is a triumph the Sherman brother’s score brought to life by Musical Director Tommie Travers excellent 12 piece pit orchestra  with the lush orchestrations filling the Festival theatre grand auditorium,  a auditorium that befits and enhances the production no end. Couple the music with faultless vocals from the entire company and musically this is a slice of the west end in the heart of the capital.

Production wise this is glorious in every respect, James Gow’s beguiling lighting design is faultless going shrouded growing darkness to full on animation and the moment that Chitty takes flight brings a deserved ovation and makes for a spine tingling moment. Paul Smith’s sound design also delivers, despite a couple small slips which if anything were just opening night jitters he ensures every word and lyric is heard.

Sandra Summers Costume design is on an epic scale including an array of every crazier outfits, mix this with Scenic Projects impressive set and Adrian Patricks inventive projection design ensures that quality runs through this production from top to bottom.

Southern Light should be proud of this stellar production that delivers true value for the ticket money and really does deliver an excellent night of musical theatre that embraces all the family with all the elements blending together for a truly scrumptious adventure! So rush to the Festival Theatre for those last tickets before there all gone! And beware of the Child Catcher!

SLO: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Festival Theatre  Runs until Saturday 20th May, for tickets go to: Southern Light presents: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (