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2020 Years End:

Reflecting on a year like no other:

As the hours tick away to the clock striking midnight and heralding in 2021, we as we do every year look back at the 12 months just gone. I think we can all agree 2020 is a year like no other, our arts industry and the entire world beyond it have changed beyond recognition.

Since March Theatres and arts venues across Scotland have remained closed, the Edinburgh festivals were cancelled, concerts of all shapes and sizes didn’t take place and the rebirth of Drive in Cinema became the norm. Further afield theatres did reopen in England then got caught in the yo yo of ever-changing rules and regulations from a clueless government.

The fight to secure funding to carry on is a fight far too many companies and venues have lost and most heartbreakingly it’s the vast swave of freelancers who have born the brunt. That said its also been a humbling experience to see how people view the arts and value it, the quantity of online content and the overwhelming desire that no matter what, Theatre and arts will survive and prosper once more.

We at Scotsgay Arts published our last review in March before a substantial break and introducing our Theatre vs Covid series of news items, we were truly blessed to publish a few more reviews just this month including the London palladium pantomime.

Theatre matters, The Arts Matters and the burning light of creativity will never go out, so to all those productions we did manage to review we thank you for allowing us to cover your work. To all those in the creative industries from performers to technicians and beyond, the curtain will rise once more and we are so excited to be there and see the lights come one again.

To Mary Woodward thank you for your ongoing contributions, to our readers, we wish you a Happy, Peaceful, Prosperous and Healthy New Year. May 2021 truly be better for us all.

Mary Woodward Preview

Scottish Ballet film The Secret Theatre, Preview

The Secret Theatre

Available on Scottish Ballet’s website from 6pm Monday December 21

tickets free, bookable up to 5pm December 24

It’s been a long hard nine months – I can hardly believe that the last live performance I went to was Choice Grenfell at the Brunton theatre at the beginning of March.  As we move towards the shortest day, and out the other side, Scottish Ballet have given us the perfect antidote to the darkness, and something to help lift our spirits as our earth turns once more towards the light.

A young boy clutching a football walks through crowded streets.  He notices an imposing door, which is slightly ajar.  Silently it swings open, and he tiptoes through to discover an empty theatre foyer.  Moving forward he enters the auditorium – dark, empty, all the seats sadly waiting for an audience.  He hears a noise, sees a light, and crouches down to avoid the torch beam of the security guard.

Then suddenly the lights come on, the tabs go up, and the boy is drawn onstage.  Exploring further, he is mesmerised by the costumes, ‘heads’ and all the props lying around, just waiting for the performers.  Suddenly a big hamper’s lid opens, and out comes…

The Secret Theatre wascreated by Scottish Ballet’s CEO and Artistic Director Christopher Hampson and long-term collaborator Lez Brotherston and directed for screen by Jess and Morgs, using music by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, recorded live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.  Anyone familiar with Scottish Ballet’s recent Christmas shows will recognise characters, choreography and music from previous works, and have fun identifying characters and situations.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I was delighted to get another look at some of my favourite parts of the Snow Queen and the Nutcracker.

What I found fascinating, and what for me is one of the huge advantages of a show that was conceived and directed for the camera, is the possibility of close-ups of the dancers and an ‘all-round’ view of some of the movements.  Even more attractive because usually impossible was the engagement of the dancers with the camera lens – seeing real people rather than fairy-tale characters remote from everyday life, interacting with each other and particularly with the young boy, superbly played by Leo Tetteh – just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence coupled with a keen sense of fun and enjoyment of this magical world into which he’s suddenly been catapulted.  All the incredible dancers in the company were given the opportunity to show off, and they did so with a right good will – though I noticed that the girls rarely got to show off quite as athletically and exuberantly as the boys did – but that’s ballet for you, eh?   

I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of a press screening, and will cheerfully watch the show again, probably more than once, in the run-up to Christmas, as it’s a perfect antidote to the gloom that can so easily settle around us in these challenging times!

The Secret Theatre will have its public premiere on Monday 21 December at 6pm. It will be available to watch until 11.59 on 24 December. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance via Scottish Ballet’s website, and can be booked up until 5pm on 24 December (all times are GMT).  The film will be accompanied by a series of talks and workshops tailored to the communities Scottish Ballet tours to, delivered in partnership with venues – check the website for details. 

And that’s not all – there’s plenty to look forward to in 2021, including a brand new short film The Swan, inspired by the stage production of Swan Lake; a new programme of adult and children’s ballet classes presented on Zoom and a range of health resources, including dance classes for those living with neurological conditions, and movement resources for NHS staff and keyworkers.  In addition, a free membership scheme has been launched so that audiences can stay connected with Scottish Ballet.

As Christopher Hampson says, Dance is a medium that brings people together and now, more than ever, we need to connect with each other. By bringing new artistic and engagement work into people’s homes this winter, we celebrate the benefits and importance of creativity in all its forms.

Thank goodness for Scottish Ballet and all the other companies that are working so hard to keep our spirits up and help us look towards the time we can once more enjoy live theatre.  If you’d like to support the making of The Secret Theatre please consider donating. Thank you.

If you would like to make a donation online, you can do so here

Alternatively, you can donate via text:

Text SBXMAS 5 to 70450 to donate £5

Text SBXMAS 10 to 70450 to donate £10

Text SBXMAS 20 to 70450 to donate £20


To donate by text, you must be 16 years or older and in the UK. Texts cost the donation plus one standard rate message. Please make sure you have the bill payer’s permission before donating.

Mary Woodward

Brett Herriot Review

A Christmas Carol, The Dominion Theatre, London Review

A Christmas Carol:

**** 4 Stars

“ A Classy Classic Christmas Treat“

A Christmas Carol is a musical with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens. The musical is based on the classic Dickens  novella of the same name. The show went on to become an annual festive treat at New York City’s Paramount Theatre in Madison Square Garden from 1994 to 2003.

It was adapted into a TV film in 2004 for NBC America before arriving in London’s west end at Christmas 2016 at the Lyceum Theatre and returned in 2017 and 2018. Its now back once more for Christmas 2020 for a socially distant run in London’s massive Dominion Theatre, well it was until the Pandemic put paid to the run-on December 15th.

The age-old tale of the Mizer Scrooge played with Craggy understatement by Brian Conley, who values money above all else is taught the errors of his as he is visited by 4 ghosts over the course one long night on Christmas Eve. A Tale of love, family, and redemption its message has never been more fitting for the restricted Christmas we are all facing.

This new production is a staged concert and features the London Musical Theatre Orchestra and 40 strong company. The decision to use the Dominion has paid off as they borrow the set from the resident production “The Prince of Egypt” wrapping the orchestra around the back of the stage and forcing the actors to use the front of the stage whilst remaining totally socially distant from one another.

Menken is acclaimed for his work especially the Disney Classics Aladdin, Beauty, and the Beast amongst others. Christmas Carol is not as strong as those but does remain nevertheless utterly charming and the music captures the child like wonder of Christmas crossed with the emotion of musical theatre.

Performances are uniformly excellent especially from the Principals, Conley delivers in style, he usually spends his Christmas in panto, but he has allowed his locks to go silver and inhabit a shrewd and emotional Scrooge but also knows how to mine a laugh from a line. Matt Jay-Willis (yes he of Busted) plays Bob Cratchit to wonderful acclaim  he has a real talent that’s been hidden by the trappings of the pop world for too long. The same is true of former EastEnders Jaqueline Jossa as old hag/Emily/Ghost of Christmas Future. She has a rich strong voice and a beguiling honesty in her performance.

The ensemble cast are also excellent and inhabit the Dickensian world  with ease. It does feel as though more could have be achieved from the staging, its often feels more concert than staged concert. That said the clever use of projection really opens up this classy Classic Christmas treat, and the audience can’t help but be whisked along on the emotional journey.

Speaking of emotion, the curtain call to a resounding standing ovation in the Dominion was totally deserved as Brian Conley said himself the cast feel lucky and blessed to have been able to perform for just 11 performances, they have proven that theatre can be done safely during a pandemic. They did this by working as a tight family fuelled by the love of performing. They will all be back in a theatre as soon as the time is right.

London’s west end once again sits in a calm silence lit only by the Ghost Lights, it is apt that A Christmas Carol should be the show to lower the curtain, whilst the Government may not care Dickens Tale has stood the test of time and theatre and indeed the Arts will too, Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today. This production while indeed live long in the memory until perhaps next Christmas.

Freddie Tapner and Gary England Present A Christmas Carol, Due to London entering Tier 3 restrictions all Theatres must close forcing the closure of Pantoland at the Palladium. Please note the reviewer followed social distancing and working guidelines from both the UK and Scottish Governments in the creation of this review.

Brett Herriot Review

Pantoland at the Palladium, The London Palladium Review:

Pantoland at the Palladium,

***** 5 Stars

“Tears, Laughter a Panto Masterclass“

Despite the Odds, South of the border a handful of venues have staged socially distant pantomimes  leading the charge is the world-famous London Palladium. With a solo bubble seat secured, temperature check complete, lashing of sanitizer and social distancing in full force we at Scotsgay Arts were proud and honoured to see what turned out to be just 1 of 6 performances of Pantoland at the Palladium.

What a joyous experience it was to be back in a theatre and not just any theatre, The Palladium which has lit up Argyll street for over one hundred years and to do so during the glitz and sparkle of pantomime. Yes, it feels different but also life affirming and joyful too, for those who adore the arts in whatever capacity they work within it or choose to view it from those glorious auditoriums the over whelming feeling of being back will never be forgotten.

This year Qdos have forgone a “traditional” plot driven fairy tale, time was short,  and it was important to celebrate the return of live theatre. Director and Producer Michael Harrison has struck gold with this celebration of the last 5 years of creating panto at the palladium as well as celebrating the masters of the genre that built the palladium panto to where it is now.

The big differences first, this is presented on one set, Ian Westbrooks gorgeous palladium Cinderella set is back accompanied by a brand-new front portal that is bedecked in posters from the history of palladium pantos, there is no ensemble cast or babes and the stars of the show clearly follow social distancing to the letter.

This production is nothing short of a Masterclass of pantomime, this panto reprises moments from Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Snow White and Goldilocks and three bears and adds some new material in a glorious display of pantos past, present and future.

Palladiums regular Team Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin, Gary Wilmott and Nigel Havers all return and are joined by Dick Whittington’s Elaine Page, Charlie Stemp , Ashley Banjo and Diversity, and making their Palladium Pantomime Debuts are Beverly Night and star of Joseph Jac Yarrow.

This really is a show about paying tribute to the venue, the overture by the Orchestra is the Classic Sunday Night at the London Palladium and sets the bar high, that is matched by the incredible talent of Beverly Night playing a fairy type role as she belts out “Finding Pantoland” (lyrics rewritten to the tune of Finding Neverland) its obvious the cast much like the audience are glad to be in a theatre. Gary Wilmot is next up in his Dames Frock he delivers several wonderful moments the best of which is his tribute to the London Underground that names every single station on the network that was updated to include new stations opened since Dick Whittington Closed!.

Julian Clary is in the form of his life; the innuendo  laden comedy has laughter ringing around the building he also gets to parade some of the best of Hugh Durrant eye popping costumes from the last 4 productions. Clary is master of his craft his ability to work the audience whilst knowing how far to push the outrageousness is epic.

There may be no ensemble, but dance is well catered for with Ashley Banjo and Diversity who have formed a work “bubble” that allows them to work at close quarters to pull of those breath-taking routines.

Nigel Havers does exactly what he does best, perform out of his skin in ever more outrageous costumes whilst continuing the schtick of the previous years of simply wanting a role to play and watching him work with Julian it clear there is genuine affection between them.

Paul Zerdin and Little Sam deliver something for everyone, Zerdin must be the great Ventriloquist act in the world. Its a childlike charm that also captures the adults when needed is the very epitome of Pantomime.

Cheeky chappie Charlie Stemp a veteran of two palladium pantomimes shows his west end leading man smile as well as performance skill and he is an absolute delight when he reprises “Dick”. Jac Yarrow is utterly charming and gorgeous and matches Stemp every step of the way. There is also a wonderful moment in the “12 days of Christmas” when Nigel Havers rips down a back cloth to reveal the cast in an off moment, it appears Mr Yarrow likes to parade around in his dreamcoat!

The last star to enter the show is the Queen of the West End Elaine Paige, she does not appear until halfway into act 2 but its worth the wait, reprising her Queen Rat role we are treated to a rewritten “New Ways to Dream” from Webbers Sunset Boulevard, the moment she sings, “we’ve come home at last” is one that has never rang so true. Paige is joined again by Clary for a rousing rendition of “I know Dick so well” it’s as funny now as it was in 2017.

The most touching moment in the entire show comes with Beverley Knight performing the sketch “The Great Clowns of Pantomime” which sees the posters on the proscenium arch lit up in a fitting tribute to the many stars who are no longer with us, the sense of loss is deepened this year as we have seen Bobby Ball, Des O’Connor and Dame Barbara Windsor to name but a few to leave us.

Pantoland at the Palladium brings Tears and Laughter in equal measure not just for the cast but also the backstage and production team. This show has the absolute best including outstanding musical arrangements by Gary Hind, faultless lighting by Ben Cracknell and on point sound design by Gareth Owen.

At the Curtain call the vastly reduced audience gave the longest and loudest standing ovation ever seen in the Palladium, even in the middle of a Pandemic live theatre can happen and happen safely people do want to be entertained. Despite the shocking lack of communication and treatment from the Government it was moment that will always be remembered as Julian Clary and his fellow cast stood on stage drinking in the ovation and humbly said thank you and made us one promise, they will be back next year same time same place! Just one question remains just what Fairy tale adventure awaits us in Pantoland at the Palladium next.

QDOS Productions Present Pantoland at the Palladium, Due to London entering Tier 3 restrictions all Theatres must close forcing the closure of Pantoland at the Palladium. Please note the reviewer followed social distancing and working guidelines from both the UK and Scottish Governments in the creation of this review.

Brett Herriot Review

Camp As Christmas, Bare Productions Virtual Review:

Camp As Christmas,

*** 3 Stars

“Frothy Festive Fun“

Edinburgh based Bare Productions were scheduled to perform “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” at this years Edinburgh Fringe but this has been put back to Fringe 2021, meantime the cast have gathered for a virtual festive offering.

Hosted by “Jovid” Jo and David are bringing us some camp festive nonsense with sketches, interactive challenges interspersed between cast members singing festive tunes drawn from the world of Musicals, Film, and Pop.

After the introductions and a charming performance of “Let It Snow” by Rebecca Drever, the first challenge is watching our hosts devour an entire chocolate advent calendar, watching someone shovel chocolate into themselves is not the most thrilling thing to watch and the build up to revealing who won said challenge takes a tad too long.

An Interactive dance challenge is next up, which will allow audiences to vote for the best “Priscilla Inspired” dance routine. This challenge is cascaded across the entire broadcast which does add a nice sense of freshness that outstrips many other online offerings.

The company’s youngest member Luke Murray is next up with sweet performance of “Last Christmas” Luke has a strong voice for his years and great presence on screen which hopefully bolds well for his stage performances. “Jovid” are they tasked with recreating a scene from “Love Actually” which does deliver some funny lines in amongst the pathos.

The Sketch from the three actors playing Tick, Adam and Bernadette in Priscilla is shrewdly judged with laughs aplenty and is seriously very adult and all the better for it! Just watch those Aussie Accents!

Closing out the first act of the virtual offering is Charlotte Jones with a full throttle and big voiced “ All I Want for Christmas is you.” It is a powerhouse performance that really Hits those big notes and brings the curtain down on Act 1 in style.

Following a 10-minute interval that features adverts from businesses that’s support Bare Productions is into Act 2 and Performance of “Driving Home for Christmas” by Darren Johnson a naturally gifted vocalist who brings the right sense of festive charm to the number.

What follows is more anarchic sketches from “Jovid” accompanied by further updates from the “Dance Challenge”. A second challenge is opened for a Ru Paul inspired Lip Sync battle, set to East 17’s festive favourite “Stay” its gonna be a close run challenge to get a winner.

After more challenges, we get the final performances in the dance challenges after which its time to vote with the results announced via social media. Closing out the virtual festive romp is Zoe Brookes who gives a beautiful rendition of Have Yourself a “Merry Little Christmas”. With a voice that touched by warmth and honey its an emotional performance with just the right mix of runs and riffs. A truly lovely end to virtual performance.

Over all its pure Frothy Festive Fun with a warm heart at its centre, however the links could be tightened up to shorten the overall length and technically if all the contributors had filmed in “Landscape” it would have given the overall product a smoother finished. That said you cant help but be charmed by this offering and its worth every penny of the five pounds! So why not pop online for a festive treat.

Bare Productions present, Camp as Christmas, for tickets go to: www.facebook.com/Bareproductions