Brett Herriot Review

A very old man with enormous wings, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Review

***** (5 stars)

As Part of the Imaginate Edinburgh International Children’s Festival 

Truly magical, a wonderful way to end my time at Imaginate.  Simplicity itself – two people telling a story – and at the same time wonderfully complex in the inventive ways in which the story is brought to life.

A man sitting at a table, making small humanoid figures from corks and what look like cocktail sticks.  A woman standing a little behind and to one side.  A low-level bookcase stuffed with all sorts of things from which you might create who knows what… and the story begins

Elisenda (Karen McCartney) is very direct with us: “we’re going to tell you a story.  It’s not our story, someone else told it first.  There’s no lesson in it so don’t go looking for one.  There’s crabs in it, and a sick baby, and a very old man with enormous wings, and a branding iron, and a bunch of onions – but that’s not till the very end.”

And the story unfolds, with many tiny figures, an explosion of feathers, an infestations of crabs, some extremely realistic chickens, the neighbour woman who knows everything about life and death, Fr Gonzaga who’s best friends with God, crowds of people from near and far, a girl who was turned into a spider because she disobeyed her parents, some extremely realistic vomiting, loads and loads of Angel Merchandise, and a child learning to walk…and then it ends.  Just like that.

The inventiveness with which this tale is told is astounding.  Elisenda is quite bossy and very definite: Pelayo (Manus Halligan) is more tentative and apologetic.  Both are superb physical comedians.  Their interactions while they are telling their story are a whole tale in themselves, and were a source of great delight to me.  

From the sides of their table-top set they draw panels of what appear to be cardboard, which provide the backdrop to their story and show Elisenda and Pelayo’s house becoming bigger and bigger as their fortunes increase.  Tiny lights and cameras are manipulated to give us close-ups of figures on the set and the faces of the performers: at times images are superimposed with scintillating effect.

Most of the soundtrack is provided by Karen McCartney and Manus Halligan, sometimes with the help of one of those wonderful devices that records and repeats phrases on top of which more layers of sound can be created, sometimes just with lips, teeth and tongue.  The crabs, the chickens, and the girl who was turned into a spider – just a few of the multitude of memorable moments in this magnificent production.

The audience of 8–13-year-olds was silent, transfixed throughout, only bursting out into a hubbub of noise as they left the theatre.

Magic.  Pure magic.  The simple magic of the very best storytellers, holding you rapt until the end of their tale.  And then they went.

A very old man with enormous wingsAssembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Run Ended

Brett Herriot Review

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Review

*** 3 Stars

“Truly Charming!”

The 2011 smash hit and critically acclaimed movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel finally comes to the stage on a nationwide tour ahead of run in London’s West End, based on the original book, “These Foolish Things” see its writer Deborah Moggach adapt her book for the stage in a play which brings back those beloved characters but gives them new life on stage with a transposition of the storyline back to the original book source.

The story of 6 people over pension age deciding they can’t leave life without one more adventure board a plane bound for Bangalore to see out there days in the Grand Marigold Hotel only to discover a new life awaits, basking in the culture of India and discovering the truths about love, life and dealing with the pains of the past, it’s a script that’s rich in human emotion and understanding even when it tries to take on political subjects like colonialism yet never follows through.

The play doesn’t feel as balanced as the movie with a short first half feeling drawn out compared to the longer second act which packs a great deal of storyline in at whipping pace that although feeling disjointed does lead to a satisfying and oft emotional evening of comedy drama.

Director Lucy Bailey delivers a real ensemble piece and given the multiple cast changes so far is more remarkable that performances are universally excellent. Musical theatre legend Paul Nicholas really shows off his acting chops as “Douglas” weary of his wife and having settled for something less than his heart desires until he finally discovers love in the place he calls home, its truly charming performance. Tessa Peake-Jones as “Evelyn” is a true joy to watch and has the fullest journey of discovery within the play and Peake-Jones puts that over the footlights so well. The entire cast are marvellous and special mention must go to Belinda Lang as “Madge” who revels in the comedy joy of her character as she is too old to give a fuck but is willing to embrace a new lease on life giving an utterly wonderful performance indeed.

Production wise the show is excellent Colin Richmond’s costume and set design is a triumph bringing the heart of southern Asia to the stage and Oliver Fenwick’s outstanding lighting design brings quality. Mic Pool’s sound design does work but there are often little niggles in mic’s coming on but that will smooth out as the show beds into its run. The production also benefits massively from Kuljit Bhamra MBE score that brings the richness of Indian music to the show but also heightens the emotions at the most appropriate places. 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will always find an audience especially in theatres where the natural appeal to a certain demographic of the audience is clear, what it does succeed in delivering is a night of theatre that doesn’t rely on glitz and special effects but a story with a rich heart and performance of an outstanding quality so for that checking into the Marigold is well worth the ticket price. 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, runs until Saturday 3rd June, For further info go to:

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:

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 (