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Brett Herriot Review

The Book of Mormon, Edinburgh Playhouse Review:

A breath of fresh air to the musical theatre world

**** 4 Stars

Finally after a long pandemic delay the smash hit, Tony and Olivier award winning musical, “The Book of Mormon” makes its debut at the Edinburgh Playhouse the final stop on its first UK tour which started out in 2019.

The show opened on Broadway in 2011 and found instant success thanks to its creators (the minds behind the animated success South Park) tapping into the counter culture in the younger generation of modern society. The show tells the story of two Latter-day Saints missionaries as they attempt to preach the faith of the Church to the inhabitants of a remote Ugandan village

It sounds a very simple idea for a musical but the book, music and lyrics of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone delivers a show which redefines the genre, tackling issues including HIV, oppression, female genital mutilation as well as oppression. This combined with lampooning some of the biggest Broadway musicals of modern history makes for a joyous evening of musical theatre that is strictly for adults, it very near the knuckle and if your easily offended think twice, this really needs an open-minded audience for it to succeed and succeed it does.

Performances on the whole are great but the show rests on the leads Elder Cunningham “Conner Peirson” and Elder Price “Robert Colvin”, Pierson shines as the comedy foil of Elder Cunningham and puts the giant heart of the character fully on show and it’s a pleasure to watch. Colvin’s portrayal of Elder Price doesn’t always succeed too often words are dropped and his singing voice needs to be a little bit stronger to fully convince but there is an undeniable charm to his performance that carries the audience along. The leads are supported by a strong 24 member company who shine brightly delivering the gutsy score and comedy in equal measure with style.

Scott Pask’s set design is quite simply the west end production on tour and looks stunning under Brian MacDevitt’s excellent lighting design. Brian Ronan’s sound design is functional but the whole sound level isn’t loud enough, it seems strange to say it, but it feels like the whole thing needs turned up to give it that vital oomph it needs to get the 5 stars that are clearly in this production.

The greatest element of The Book of Mormon is it never takes itself seriously and pays tribute to the entire musical theatre universe with The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom of opera and others managing to sneak into the sly nods and occasion just blatant rip offs which are aided and abetted by Musical Director Colm O’Regan and his 10 piece band who are in terrific form throughout.

The Book of Mormon truly delivers a breath of fresh air to the musical theatre world, sometimes audiences need to be challenged in order preserve the fact that theatre is and always will be the last uncensored space.  So what you waiting for! Head to the Edinburgh Playhouse and grab those tickets as many of the performance are already sold out. Well done the Playhouse for opening the Autumn and Winter season but once again bringing the best of the west end to Scotland!

The Book of Mormon, Edinburgh Playhouse Runs until Saturday 8th October for tickets go to: The Book of Mormon Tickets | Edinburgh Playhouse in Edinburgh | ATG Tickets

Please note following the sad death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II the performance scheduled for Monday 19th September has been cancelled as a mark of respect on the day of the National State Funeral.

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Mary Woodward Preview

James IV – Queen of the Flight, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Preview.

Following the incredible trilogy of ‘James Plays’ which I saw and loved some years ago, the National Theatre of Scotland is adding a fourth play: James IV – Queen of the Flight.  Presented by Raw Material and Capital Theatres in association with National Theatre of Scotland, the play is in rehearsal, ready for its world premiere at the Festival Theatre in October.  I can’t wait!

Writer Rona Munro and Director Laurie Sansom are reunited with Designer Jon Bausor who also worked on the first three James Plays; and joined by Venus ex Machina as Composer. British Historian Dr Onyeka Nubia has been working as a historical consultant on the project. 

Blythe Duff (Taggart, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) returns as Dame Phemy, after her iconic performances as Isabella in James I and II and Annabella in James III.   Daniel Cahill (All My Sons for Dundee Rep and River City for BBC) will play James IV, his role in James III, creating continuity throughout the series.   Danielle Jam (Them! for NTS, Molly and Mack for BBC) as Ellen, and Laura Lovemore (Queen of the New Year for BBC and Life is a Dream for The Lyceum) as Anne, join the company as two high-born Moorish women who take their place in the royal court. 

James IV – Queen of the Flight, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Friday 30 September – Saturday 8 October 2022 for tickets go to: James IV: Queen of the Fight (capitaltheatres.com)

Then Production will then tour Scotland: Theatre Royal, Glasgow  Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 October, Dundee Rep Theatre  Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 October, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Wednesday 26 – Saturday 29 October, Eden Court, Inverness Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 November, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 November.

Mary Woodward Preview

Scottish Opera Highlights Tour, Preview

It’s that time of year again, when some intrepid young singers and a pianist set off to bring Scottish Opera to the remoter parts of Scotland.  This tour is no exception – it starts in Dundee and ends in Durness: on the way it visits [among others] Forres, Shetland, Stranraer, Biggar and Durness.

Director Emma Jenkins and designer Janis Hart bring verve and creativity to this year’s original piano-accompanied production. The cast includes Scottish Opera’s 2022/23 Emerging Artists Zoe Drummond and Osian Wyn Bowen who both performed in The Gondoliers and Utopia, Limited 2022, alongside Christopher Nairne and Shakira Tsindos, led from the piano by Scottish Opera’s 2022/23 Emerging Artist repetiteur Kristina Yorgova.

With 1970s inspired costumes, join the cast as they transport to another world, where anything is possible. The production also features the world premiere of a new piece by Scottish Opera 2021/22 Emerging Artist and composer Toby Hession, with libretto by Emma Jenkins. Titled ‘Told By An Idiot’ it is a modern and humorous re-working of Macbeth.

Scottish Opera’s Head of Music Derek Clark, combines repertoire favourites, with a treasure trove of lesser-known pieces. The playlist includes much-loved classics from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Macbeth and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers Duet alongside music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Gounod and music written by Mendelssohn when he was just 12 years old. It is the ideal opportunity to experience a selection of Opera Highlights in a two-hour performance.

Director Emma Jenkins said: ‘Four young singers in search of an identity find themselves, like Alice in Wonderland or the children of Narnia, propelled along an operatic rollercoaster of love and loss, devotion and desire, jealousy and jubilation. The overriding theme of the Opera Highlights is LOVE. Love in all its forms, both positive and negative. Our singers put on and take off various roles as if possessed by the force of love in a fast-paced performance that celebrates not only the voice, but also ensemble work and physical theatre.  All this against the backdrop of Janis Hart’s stunning design which combines a retro 70s feel with an anarchic theatrical space in which one feels that anything could happen!’

Scottish Opera Highlights Tour Tour starts Thursday 22 September 2022 in Dundee and ends Saturday 29 October in Durness.  For Tickets available from the Scottish Opera website www.scottishopera.org.uk

Mary Woodward Review

National Youth Choir of Scotland Chamber Choir, Loretto School Chapel, Musselburgh, Review:

**** (4 stars)

Lammermuir Festival

This was a very exciting first – the first public performance of the National Youth Choir of Scotland’s chamber choir, formed earlier this year – and they did themselves and their conductor Christopher Bell very proud indeed.  The chamber choir’s members, aged between 18 and 25, are selected from the NYCOS, entry to which is by audition.  Unlike many choirs, they don’t have weekly rehearsals, instead coming together for a residential course during which they learn their repertoire for the coming year: in this case a very challenging quartet of choral works, the earliest of which was written in 1943 and the newest less than ten years ago.

The programme opened with Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, which I remember struggling to learn many years ago.  Using fragments from the longer poem Jubilate Agno [rejoice in the lamb] written in the later eighteenth century by Christopher Smart while he was incarcerated in St Luke’s Hospital, Bethnal Green and subject to the inhumane treatment which was then meted out to people with mental illnesses.  

The opening Rejoice in God, O ye tongues had strong, confident choral singing, underpinned by the organ, and a wonderfully hushed Hallelujah, which I remembered as one of the highlights of the piece.  For I will consider my cat, Jeoffrey / For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour and For the flowers are great blessings all featured excellent solos.  In For I am under the same accusation with my Saviour we could clearly hear Smart’s agony; and then relax and rejoice with the sections praising God.  For H is spirit and therefore he is God featured another excellent solo; again I remembered fun of singing For the instruments are by their rhimes.  The piece ended with the calming For at that time malignity ceases and its segue into a repeat of Hallalujah from the heart of God.

This piece alone would have been enough to command my respect for this new chamber choir, but then they presented me with three complex and brilliant works I’d not heard before – the way these were handled was extremely impressive, and bodes well for the future of this group of singers.

James MacMillan’s Culham Motets were written in 2010, and was ideally suited to the acoustic of Loretto’s chapel, where the sound could ring and soar and the silences blazed with light.  Sung a capella, the music seemed to me to be somehow much more credible and relevant, with a much cleaner sound.  There were more excellent solos and some fascinating aleatoric passages – the singers know the pitches they have to sing, but it’s up to each individual to decide exactly how long their particular notes will last.  [I’ve sung such a piece myself, and it’s both enormous fun and absolutely terrifying – full credit to the choir for making it seem unbelievably east and simply great fun!]  The final motet Your light will come, Jerusalem was full of edgy harmonies and striking silences which expanded out into the chapel like rays of light bursting through the clouds: not a comfortable light…

After the interval we heard Caroline Shaw’s And the swallow and Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year.  Caroline Shaw (b 1982) is an American singer, musician and composer and the youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music (2013).  And the swallow sets portions of Psalm 84, using the choir antiphonally, overlapping words and phrases to create a multi-layered web of sound from which individual phrases stand clear.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and virtually indescribable!

I first came across Jonathan Dove’s work when Scottish Opera staged his opera Flight, which deals with the plight of a stateless person who is, in effect, trapped in an airport, unable to leave because he has nowhere he can go.  Earlier this year I was enthralled by one of his choral works, Bless the Lord my soul, which soared above us in St Giles’ Cathedral and made my spirits soar.   The NYCOS chamber choir had worked on The Passing of the Year in May, but the words took on an extra significance in the light of the Queen’s death.  The work opens with the spring opening of buds, the glories of blossoming summer, the frantic skittering of bees around the bushes: it’s suffused with radiant joy.  Hot sun, cool fire contrasts shimmering heat with the coolness of black shade, the sound lush and voluptuous; Ah, Sun-flower is full of the chiming of bells, their glorious cacophony celebrating the fullness of autumn and then fading away.  Adieu! farewell earth’s bliss is quiet and sombre: a constant ground of have mercy on usunderpins a great crying- out – I am sick, I must die: death comes to us all, rich and poor alike.  The final movement Ring out, wild bells sets Tennyson’s poem: we have arrived at the turning of the year, not lamenting the death of the old but rejoicing in the birth of the new.   Apposite, indeed…

 As with the other three pieces, The Passing of the Year was greeted with a deeply appreciative silence which then became loud and prolonged applause as the audience saluted the impressive talent of the NYCOS chamber choir.  Soloists Emily Kemp, Olivia Mackenzie, Alexander Roland, Christopher Brighty, Lewis Gilchrist, Lorna Murray, Morven McIntyre and Jack Mowbray were all warmly applauded: all are singers to look out for in future.  Pianist and organist Michael Bawtree and conductor Christopher Bell also took their bows as we acknowledged the sterling contribution each had made to a memorable afternoon.

I’m sure I’m not the only person looking forward with great interest to the next outing of the National Youth Choir of Scotland’s chamber choir.  They are already fully-formed and raring to go – from here onwards, I trust they will only get better. 

National Youth Choir of Scotland Chamber Choir ,Run Ended.

Mary Woodward Review

Thérèse, Scottish Opera, St Mary’s Church, Haddington, Review

As part of the Lammermuir Festival

***** (5 stars) 

 A love triangle set during the French Revolution, Massenet’s Thérèse centres on the eponymous heroine, torn between her dutiful love for her husband, André, and the romantic love she felt for Armand, Comte de Clerval.  André and Armand grew up together on the Clerval estate near Versailles, the former being the steward’s son, the latter heir to the estate. 

Led by the Girondin faction, the revolutionaries have deposed and imprisoned the king, Louis XVI.  André, one of their leaders, has bought the Clerval estate, from which Armand fled when the revolution began, and now lives there with his wife, Thérèse, whom he has rescued from a life of poverty.  She rejoices in their rural seclusion but fears that the growing excesses of the revolution will one day turn against her husband.  He is drawn away from home by his duty to his country, but rests secure in the knowledge of her love.

Armand returns from exile and endeavours to re-ignite Thérèse’s love for him, but she refuses to weaken.  André finds them together and is delighted to welcome his old friend.  He offers him shelter in his home and, when revolutionary soldiers challenge his identity, declares that Armand is his brother, thus ensuring his safety.

Eight months later, the three are in Paris.  The king has been executed, and the more extreme Jacobins are gaining power over the more moderate Girondists. André urges Armand to leave – he has obtained a safe-conduct for him.  Thérèse begs Armand to leave France, but he refuses to leave without her.   She tries to resist the temptation but weakens and agrees to leave with Armand, only to learn that her husband has been arrested.  She tells Armand to flee, promising to join him, but when she sees her husband on the way to his execution, feels she must be with him.  “Vive le roi!” she shouts from the window – signing her own death warrant.

I find myself comparing Jules Massenet with Stephen Sondheim: both prolific and talented composers with a genius for coming up with totally different sound worlds for each of their compositions.  I love Sondheim’s Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George and Massenet’s Cendrillon, Werther, Chérubin – and now Thérèse.   The music constantly changes, evoking moods, expressing emotions, raising and releasing tension and vividly portraying the turbulent times in which the action takes place.  I particularly loved the nostalgic minuet against which Armand reminds Thérèse of their love.  Scottish Opera’s orchestra, under the baton of Alexandra Cravero, were simply magnificent – as they always are.

I last heard Lithuanian mezzo Justina Gringyte in 2018, when she sang the part of the villainous Tigrana in Scottish Opera’s Edgar.  Tonight’s role was more complicated – I was never totally convinced by her remembered love for Armand, nor that more dutiful relationship with her husband: but that’s possibly the fault of composer and librettist, and the limitations of an opera lasting only seventy minutes.  Certainly the singing was superb, and I can’t wait to hear her Carmen later this season.  

Tenor Shengzhi Ren, one of Scottish Opera’s most recent Emerging Artists, sang Armand. I saw him in February at the start of the touring company’s spring tour, and was struck then by his rich voice, expressive face, and good comic timing.  I was less impressed last night – the sound was rich and round, but some of the top notes were swallowed, his voice didn’t have the ‘ping’ that both Justina Gringyte and Dingle Yandell had in abundance and at times was lost in the swelling orchestral sound.   Again, the brevity of the opera didn’t give him much opportunity to be anything much more than a typical tenor seducer, using every weapon he could find to wear down Thérèse’s resistance.

I first saw Dingle Yandell in Jonathan Dove’s Flight some years ago, and was impressed with his vocal quality in his brief appearance as the Immigration Officer.   He seems to have become a regular – for which, hoorah! – and his latest appearance as André confirmed the power, resonance and expressive nature of his voice.  Massenet gives André a constant stream of noble emotions to pour out – love for his wife, passion for his country, and heroically fraternal love for his boyhood friend who he knows also loved Thérèse.  Dingle Yandell gave us all these and much, much more in a glorious outpouring of sound that filled St Mary’s church and made the rafters ring.

The staging by Roxana Haines was simple but effective.  The action took place on a raised platform, meaning everyone could see – and prefiguring the steps to the scaffold that overshadow the final scene.  The cast were all in black and the action simple.  The chorus of revolutionaries added both to the menace and the sorrow for lives lost ‘for the cause’ as yet again a movement hoping for reform produces a terror-filled bloodbath.

Stuart Stratford, Scottish Opera’s music director, has a genius for finding little-known and rarely-performed operas, and with Thérèse he’s done it again.  Selfishly, I’m profoundly grateful that the performance wasn’t cancelled following the death of the Queen, whose passing we marked with a minute’s silence followed by the orchestra playing the national anthem.

Thérèse, Scottish Opera, St Mary’s Church, Haddington, Run Ended