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Brett Herriot Review

Cats the musical Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline, Review:

Cats the musical Review:

***** 5 Stars

The Memory truly did live again!”

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s break out success of the early 1980’s was Cats, staged at the New London Theatre (now the Gillan Lynne named after the chorographer of Cats and so many others) this isn’t a musical, it’s a song cycle based on the poems of T.S Elliot, there is very little in the way of leaner story line, instead it’s a patchwork of individual stories told as the cats seek to make the journey from the jellicle ball to the Heaviside layer and be reborn to bigger and better things.

The amateur rights have only very recently after nearly 40 years become available and have some severe restrictions, companies are not allowed to stage the show in a rubbish dump, or costume it in anyway that mimics the original, its therefore a stealthy challenge to undertake and one of which Limelight truly excels!

Director and Choreographer Kenny Christie working closely with associate Director/Choreographer Elinor Burns have set the show in the roof tops of the Alhambra albeit a London Alhambra and thanks to the set design of Christie, Bobby Mitchell, Bob Mitchell and Mark Lister it breath fresh life to the show and adds an additional sparkle that makes it shine.

Performances from the cast are uniformly excellent as they work hard in both physical dance elements and vocal numbers to create 40 unique Cats that pervade the stage throughout the show. Special mention must go to Haig Cruickshank as “Munkstrap” whose rich voice and strength of personality is a real bonus to the role, and it radiates across the footlights. The same is true for John Ramsay as “Skimbleshanks” the railway cat, a song which is full of joy and lightness and one of which Ramsay delivers in style. The Central role of “Grizabella” the stray tabby, shunned by the other cats and longs to live the memory in the moonlight is played by the simply divine Fiona Mackenzie who takes on the legend of Elaine Page and delivers a “Griz” that’s truly all her own. Her performance of Memory ultimately stops the show with its power and intention, truly musical theatre at its best.

This production features the original take on “Rum Tum Tugger” not the reimagined “Rap Cat” of more modern professional productions, performed here by Fraser Jamieson his first song has such poor diction and clarity it was impossible to understand any of the lyrics. However, he did recover to deliver a paunchy support in “Magical Mister Mistoffelees”

Another sparkling highlight is “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” played by Fraser McLoughlin and Jenni Bangs this is a powerhouse duo blending strong vocals and impressive physical skills in a joy de Vere performance.

Christie’s and Burn’s choreography is spot on, never replicating the original but drawing rich inspiration and allowing a delicate sense of feline humanity to pervade the roof tops of this show, its charming, heart warming and often emotional to watch and makes this production of Cats worth everyone of its five stars.

The cherry on the cake of this show has to be Fiona Mitchell’s and Judith Davidsons outstanding costume design, yes, the spandex is back but this is a wardrobe look for a new generation of cats and they should be commended for there excellence. Combined with Jonnie Clough midnight laden lighting design and Paul Gudgin’s 12 strong orchestra Limelight have well and truly delivered a slice of west end musical theatre to the Alhambra Stage.

Long may Limelight continue to push the boundaries of theatre in the fife region and beyond and they have announced the will follow cats with perhaps Lloyd Webbers greatest work, Sunset Boulevard. Going by this spectacular were the memory truly did live again, audiences are in for a sure-fire treat!

Limelight Productions present Cats the Musical, The Alhambra Theatre Dunfermline, Run Ended

Mary Woodward Review

The Signalman, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

The Signalman  (As part of A Play, A Pie and a Pint)

****  4 stars. 

My first PPP of this all-too-short season: and it was a cracker to begin with!

I’m never able to cross the Tay rail bridge on the way into Dundee without a shudder and a thought for the people who plunged to their deaths on the night of 28 December 1870 when the central section of the eighteen-month-old bridge collapsed, sending the driver, fireman and passengers on the train from Edinburgh to Burntisland plunging to their deaths in the wild stormy night.
Peter Arnott has written a gripping monologue for Tom McGovern as the signalman Thomas Barclay, the last man to see the train and its passengers as they passed him on their way across the bridge and into the darkness.  Serious, bespectacled, checking the time on his pocket watch as he settles himself to work in the signal cabin he’s worked in for forty years, Thomas Barclay finds he’s feeling gey queer: hot and bothered, shivering and sweating…
Aye, it’s forty years to the day that it happened, and he minds how young he was, and how it felt to be in the public eye at the enquiry, with all those lawyers and judges staring at him, and so angry: at what, he wasn’t sure, but they were angry.  He wonders now whether it was because they all felt humiliated that the Brig o’ the Future had failed, had buckled: somebody had to be to blame.  He minds the sermons preached in the kirks the Sunday before the enquiry – all making out that the accident was divine judgement on sinners for working/ travelling on the Sabbath – and then the keenness of the following day’s enquiry, which began with questioning all the ‘little people’ who worked for the railway company and were at their work, not like the architect and shareholders who were off in the south of France getting their dose of winter sunshine…
At the enquiry Thomas patiently answers the questions from the supercilious lawyer who’s trying to trip him up, make him confess a fault: he goes through the entire safety procedure that governs the passage of a train along any single-line piece of track – the message from the signalman before him that the previous ‘down’ train has cleared the section of track between them, and from the signalman ahead that the track is clear; the ‘up’ train passes his own signal station slowly so that he can pass the crew the token that gives them the right to occupy that section of track and moves off into the darkness, into what the lawyer unemotionally describes as “boisterous weather”.
And what did you do then?
 
Thomas Barclay describes his terror-filled venture in the total darkness out on to the track and bridge, buffeted by the storm and fearfully aware of the fifty-foot drop to the wildly-churning water below, unable to see a thing, until a brief gap in the clouds allows the fitful moonlight to show the gap in the bridge and the broken bridge supports looking like a mouthful of teeth buffeted on every side by the waves.
It’s a cracking piece of writing, superlatively delivered without sensationalism by a master storyteller.  I’m not so sure about the questioning of self and others that’s woven into the piece – why do people always have to apportion blame; why do there have to be stories [“the stupider, the better”] woven around people who die tragically – “why can’t they just be folk?”.  Why do innocent people die, why do their deaths seem meaningless?  Profound questions, but for me they didn’t quite arise naturally from the drama, but rather seemed inserted artificially.  But on another day I might feel completely different about this, and accept it all and be very pleased with the whole play.
The audience certainly appreciated a superb performance from a consummate actor.

The Signalman, Traverse Theatre, Runs until Saturday 5th October. For tickets go to: http://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-the-signalman RETURNS ONLY

 
Mary Woodward Review

A Woman of No Importance, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

A Woman of No Importance: Oscar Wilde

**** (4 stars)

I confess, I had to look up the plot of this Wilde play, and when I’d read it I wondered whether it would hold up in 2019 in front of an audience whose attitude towards ‘fallen women’ was undoubtedly very different from that in Wilde’s day. I shouldn’t have doubted…

Written in 1892, Wilde’s play holds up a mirror to society of the time and exposes the hypocrisy and dual standards of the day. Women are expected to be paragons of virtue: one slip and they are cast out into the outer darkness – no forgiveness, no redemption – while men’s ‘amusing peccadilloes’ are deemed of no account, and in many cases lauded, even where they are the very cause of the women’s downfall.

A country-house party, with titled and wealthy guests, is the idyllic setting. Hostess and guests sit on the terrace, exchanging witticisms and commenting on the gossip of the day: Miss Hester Worsley, one of the guests, is an oddity – a self-confessed Puritan, and an American, to boot. Much is made of the absent Lord Illingworth, “such a charming man”, who has just offered to make young Gerald Arbuthnot his personal secretary, much to everyone’s delight. An MP, who seems rather uncomfortable in this illustrious gathering, holds forth pompously about the national importance of PURITY. The rather ‘daring’ Mrs Allonby bets Lord Illingworth he can’t make a pass at the young American: he recognises very distinctive handwriting on a letter, but dismisses it as by “a woman of no importance”…

Gerald’s mother is invited to join the party in the evening, and arrives to join the ladies [who have left the men to their after-dinner drinking] in time to hear Hester deliver a scathing condemnation of the wealthy English élite among whom she is staying, contrasting their “selfishness and sin” with the morality and egalitarianism of American society. Mrs Arbuthnot has not previously met Lord Illingworth and appears shaken when she learns how he came, most unexpectedly, to inherit his present title: he is the father of her illegitimate child, who refused to marry her when she told him she was pregnant – the prospect of Gerald being his private secretary is abhorrent to her, but she doesn’t want to destroy her son’s love for her by revealing the truth about his parentage, nor can she explain why she thinks his love for Hester will not reach a happy conclusion.

It’s a fascinating play – a constant stream of Wilde witticisms and biting comments – which got the audience laughing within the first minute with an extraordinarily apposite condemnation of Parliament. Some of his characters lived only to sparkle and shock, but others were allowed to pour out their hearts and expose the period’s self-indulgence and hypocrisy, while the closing line was greeted with the satisfied laughter and applause it so richly deserved.

The sets were beautiful – framed by a gold picture frame which emphasised the artificiality of the life portrayed within – and the costumes were equally delightful to the eye. I didn’t warm to the artificiality of the characters who only lived to shock, and couldn’t see why any woman would be attracted to Mark Meadows’ Lord Illingworth, even before he was revealed as the villain of the piece. Tim Gibson was a delightfully young and vulnerable Gerald, and Georgia Landers’ Hester more than held her own in a society with which she was at such variance. Katy Stephens’ Mrs Arbuthnot seemed a little awkward at first but grew into a fearless tiger in defence of her young, and the final scene between these three promised well for their future.

Between acts we were regaled with music-hall songs delivered by Archdeacon Daubeny [Roy Hudd, playing the decrepit clergyman to perfection] accompanied by an interesting mix of social classes – servants and ‘nobs’ on fiddle, trumpet, guitar and piano accordion: very entertaining, though the ends of lines sometimes got lost, and cleverly masking the considerable effort going on behind the curtain to change the scenery.

If you only know Oscar Wilde as the author of The Importance of Being Earnest, I invite you to come and experience Wilde using his wit and dramatic skill to speak on behalf of people condemned and ostracised by society – a fate he was to suffer the very year that Earnest was first seen on stage.

A Woman of No Importance: Oscar Wilde, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh runs until Saturday 5th October, Tour continues for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/a-woman-of-no-importance

 

Brett Herriot Review

Annie the musical, Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Annie the musical Review:

**** 4 Stars

The Sun really will come out tomorrow!”

The Timeless story of the little girl orphaned in depression Hit New York City of the 1930’s has been cherished since it first came to the stage in the 1970’s. Now Acclaimed producers Michael Harrison and David Ian present a revival of the 2017 London production of the show.

With Birds of feather star Lesley Joseph leading the cast as Miss Hannigan this is truly a production of Annie for a new generation with a production concept from Colin Richmond that owes much to the “RSC’s” Matilda with the same stylish deployment of a set that uses the adage of Jigsaw Pieces as a metaphor for Annie trying to put her life in both its past and future together.

Joseph simply excels herself as the baddy of the story forced to work in a job looking after kids she clearly hates but would rather have the money than nothing at all, with great timing and a strong comedy ability she delivers well even if her accent does take a wonder every now again becoming more Chigwell the Manhattan.

As Annie the delightful Ava Smith smashes her way to success with the audience standing to greet her at the curtain call, these are stage kids with three different sets of kids used across the run to cope with the demands of the production and special mention must go to Alex Bourne who returns once more as Daddy Warbucks who continues to bring deep charm, a great voice and presence to the part as he transform’s Annie’s life.

Acclaimed Artistic director of The Curve Theatre Leicester Nikolai Foster helms this current production of Annie and delivers an intelligent, entertaining and joyful take on the timeless story and uses the cast to their full potential with the ensemble working hard to produce the people of New York and beyond.

The sparkling addition to this current tour is the simply stunning 9-piece orchestra under MD Daniel Griffin it’s a highly polished, rich and full west end worthy sound that drifts beautifully from the Pit to the auditorium. Its aided by Richard Brooker crystal clear sound design that brings touring theatre to a new standard.

Annie remains a timely and timeless musical that continues transcend time and audiences keep returning to enjoy its charms. This winning revival does much to embrace the very best of the heritage of the show whilst giving it fresh life and for that it should be applauded.

For a classic musical delivered in a contemporary way you won’t go wrong with Annie as she dreams of the sunshine that will come out tomorrow!

Annie the Musical, Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 5th October, UK tour Continues. For tickets go to: www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/

Preview

Queen of the F**king World, Preview

Queen of the F**king World, The Rum Shack, Glasgow

We at Scotsgay Arts are always pleased to see up and coming explorations of LGBT lives and Maysia Trembecka acclaimed show that stormed the audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe and now it’s the turn of Glasgow audiences to have a taste of her gifts. We managed to Grab Maysia for five minutes ahead of her performance! And here is an exclusive preview.

SGA) give us a snap shot of what your show is all about?

Queen Of The F*cking World is an audience-empowering ride exploring life on the front line of gender and sexual politics. ‘‘Gay or straight, never be a princess – you’ve gotta be a queen. Queens don’t need anyone to rescue them, they can do it all themselves”

It is a fierce tour de force that delves into how we are all judged by our sexuality, embracing everything from Mary Magdalene to RuPaul, via a Strippers Book Club. There is even a smattering of Robbie Burns. Whatever your identity or orientation, this show will leave you feeling empowered to rule your own fucking world !

This is now an internationally touring Adelaide Australia, Edinburgh Fringe and London acclaimed sell-out show by me, Marysia Trembecka, based on my Arts Council award funded interviews with women & LGBTIQ community including sex workers and strippers of every specialism.

SGA) what inspired you to perform and where did the inspiration for your show come from?

I have been internationally touring as a cabaret artiste for well over a decade and it is always about the audience. After one Queen show a father came to thank me for the show as his adult daughter had been shamed by the rest of the family for her sexuality and them seeing my show had made her feeling amazing about being just the way she is. I nearly cried myself in reaction.

My other touring character is my comedy The Singing Psychic with her own game show and again seeing my audience crack up in laughter and  have absolute fun together is just a joy. To be the ‘pied piper’ leading my audience to laughter, sometimes tears and back up again to feeling amazing is an absolute honour and my drug of choice.

The inspiration for the Queen show was when I was finally developing my Singing Psychic character into a full show in 2014, and the Queen character just popped up during a creative exercise. Queen was so outwardly fiercely sexual – as a stripper – but her internal monologue was intelligent and angry about being judged for her sexual choices and willingness to wear her sexuality openly.

I then applied for UK Arts Council funding to research and from my over 150 interviews from prostitute’s unions, strippers, sex workers specialising in the disabled gay community, to a huge amount of historical and literary research.

I even had to get my bass and guitar back out and start writing including the obvious titular ‘Queen Of The F**king World’ song inspired by  Wayne/Jayne County.

SGA) what does the future hold for you on stage and beyond?

More gigs including New York next year all being well, the message of Queen is so important I am determined to perform it everywhere! On my The Singing Psychic front, that character is officially about to become a TEDx speaker next month for Tedx Glasgow

SGA) in ten words or less sum up Queen of the f**king world.

Fierce, dark, intelligent and funny cabaret that is audience-empowering

Queen of the F**king World, The Rum Shack, Glasgow, Saturday 5th October For tickets go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/woff-presents-queen-of-the-fing-world-tickets-72355614591?aff=efbeventtix&fbclid=IwAR2Q4MX-x-276hyYCOBj7x5jD4NeivOUmA_LY1mErI3m0FOrZq-ynB9BuMw

Brett Herriot Review

Still Game Live, The Final Farewell, SSE Hydro, Glasgow Review:

Still Game Live, The Final Farewell, 

**** 4 Stars

The Final Farewell is a truly fitting celebration of all that is good about still game

Twenty two years ago in 1997 two elderly pensioners, Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade made their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe festival to an audience of just 8 people, fast forward to 2019 those same two pensioners are taking there final bows in front of 10,000 plus people each performance as the final curtain of a Scottish comedy institution falls its creators Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill have gone back to the very roots of “Still Game” and delivered a master class in pathos driven comedy.

There will be no plot spoilers here but this final set of shows picks up from where the final BBC television episodes left off and an aged Boabby the Barman (Gavin Mitchell) asks “Look who it isnae!” and thus starts the final adventure for Jack (Kiernan), Victor (Hemphill), Isa (Jane McGarry), Winston (Paul Riley), Tam ( Mark Cox), Boabby (Mitchell) and Naveed (Sanjeev Kohli).

What set this production apart is its clearly the end of the road for the characters, and the show kicks off with the arrival of two of “Chewin The Fats” star characters. The still game story started to develop more fully in chewing the fat with small sketches that was grown into a full comedy series that has changed the cultural landscape for good. There are nods to chewin the fat through out the show, as the creators look back at all that they have achieved over the years.

The stellar cast are joined by a 16 strong ensemble as well as surprise guest appearances from a raft of actors who have delivered equally special Still Game Characters. Director Michael Hines has beautifully transposed everything that’s good about Still Game from the tv to the vast expenses of the hydro always ensuring no matter where you sit you will always be part of the action.

There are several musical numbers in the show, all comedy driven and musical director, Tom Urie (who himself is known for playing Martyn in the tv show) delivers well and all the songs add momentum to an already well paced show.

The Final Farewell is a truly fitting celebration of all that is good about still game, comedy that’s drawn from situations we all see in our lives, whilst never taking shots at any individuals or groups its mature, understated and deeply gifted writing that has brought a group of pensioners (played by a much younger cast) to national attention. The affection that’s held for still game will be forever cherished even if there are no more episodes or further stage shows.

A fully committed cast, a sparkling script, expert direction, and above all else the love that everyone connected with the show has ensures this is truly an unmissable final farewell to the pantheon of the Still Game Universe.

The Universal truth is, age comes to us all, and as long as we embrace that and never give up then perhaps, we too can truly be Still Game.

Still Game Live! The Final Farewell, The SSE Hydro, Runs until Sunday 13th October. For tickets go to: https://www.thessehydro.com/events/detail/still-game-live-1

Brett Herriot Review

A Taste of Honey, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

A Taste of Honey,

**** 4 Stars

A reflection of the power to shock!”

At its premier in 1958 in Joan Littlewoods powerhouse “Theatre Workshop” at the theatre royal Stratford, Shelagh Delaney’s, A Taste of Honey, shocked with both its content and powerful performances and for the first time bringing the lives of the men and woman of the working class north to the theatre going population of the south and beyond. This is one of several productions that gave us the kitchen sink drama and ultimately laid the groundwork for continuing dramas like Coronation Street.

A Taste of Honey is set in 1950’s Salford. It tells the story of Jo (a stellar and human performance from Gemma Dobson), a seventeen-year-old working-class girl, and her mother, Helen (Jodie Prenger at the very top of game), who is crude and sexually indiscriminate, selfish but under it all there is a heart that’s survived the hurt and pain. Helen leaves Jo alone in their new flat after she begins a relationship with Peter (an eye patch wearing touch of villainy from Tom Varney), a rich lover who is younger than she. At the same time Jo begins a romantic relationship with Jimmy (a fine turn from Durone Stokes), a black sailor. He proposes marriage but then goes to sea, leaving Jo pregnant and alone. She takes in her friend and now lodger, Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson), who assumes the role of surrogate father. Helen returns after leaving her lover and the future of Jo looks set to enter the same circle of heartache endured by her mother.

This is indeed a stellar cast at work with both Prenger and Dobson shining as they plough through the gritty barbs and real life asides that make this all seem so very real, they bring to life a true connection the transcends the stage and drives this mother and daughter relationship home to the audience. Tom Varey’s take on Peter is everything it should be, a homophobic, chauvinist that’s easy to hate. The highlight of the show is Stuart Thompson’s Geoffrey and openly gay man in deeply heterosexual times. Making his entrance singing “mad about the boy” it’s a delicate and light performance for a character who longs to experience fatherhood, love all the things we long to have in our own lives.

This production is revival of the National’s 2014 original and retains the three-piece jazz band with David O’Brien on keys, Alex Davis on double bass and George Bird on Drums. The music richly enhances the piece whilst never distracting from it and band whilst onstage never intersect the action and often simply blend with Hildegard Bechtler almost industrial but 50’s rich set.

Combined with Paul Anderson’s lighting design and music from Benjamin Kwasi Burrell its clear director Bijan Sheibani has brought a human touch to the show.

That being said what made “Honey” stand out originally was its power to shock, mixed raced relationships, homosexuality where taboo subjects in 1958. In 2019 we take so much of the aforementioned as accepted in modern society. A taste of honey has become more of a reflection of the power to shock.

Theatre will always be the truly last uncensored space and we need to be reminders of the shows and production that changed the theatrical landscape A Taste of Honey justifiably stands amongst the best of them.

The National Theatre Presents, A Taste of Honey, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. Runs until Saturday 28th September. UK Tour continues prior to west end transfer. For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey