Brett Herriot Review

A Splinter of Ice, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Review:

**** (4 stars)

“Taught and Engaging”

Following the longest period in history of every theatre in Scotland going dark, the curtain has risen once more at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre with the taught and engaging exploration of what it meant to be a spy in Ben Brown’s masterful, A Splinter of Ice.

Set in Moscow on a freezing winters night in February 1987, the cold war much like the USSR is in it death throws, this true life story catches up with the ailing Kim Philby (played with deft and understated touch by Stephen Boxer) the British double agent who defected behind the iron curtain in 1963. Philby was believed to have been recruited by the KGB in 1934 and was implicated in the “Cambridge Five” affair along with selling secrets during World War 2.

Philby is reunited with his protégé Graham Greene ( a tour de force performance from Oliver Ford Davies), Greene who would go on to be an acclaimed novelist, dramatist and screen writer worked in MI6 during the war bringing him into contact with Philby starting a lifelong friendship.  

It’s that friendship that is the crux of the play, the two old friends spend a night over dinner reflecting back on a life in the spy business, and find the inescapable truth that even in later years they are still keeping secrets, they are however more reflective on the true human cost their actions created.

This is a triple hander with the role of Philby’s wife Rufa, being played by Karen Ascoe. Ascoe truly delivers in her limited stage time as a woman clearly driven by love and the realisation that nothing material lasts forever but love endures.

A Splinter of ice is beautifully written by Ben Brown who has clearly done the research that allows the cast to bring these characters to life, with taught, tight direction from Alan Strachan who also peppers the play with moments of wry comedy it makes for a thrilling return to theatre.

Production wise Jason Taylors Lighting design is stark in its simplicity but inventive in making the location of the flat and building clear. This added to Michael Pavelka’s striking set and costume design and Max Pappenheim’s Sound (he is also the composer) ensures this intimate west end treat of play succeeds.

A Splinter of Ice excels in transporting the audience back to a time before the digital age where to be a spy truly was putting your life on the line, and accepting the consequences will shape the rest of your life.

If you like your theatre, engaging, thought provoking and real this is unmissable and after the darkness of closed theatres is a joy to raise the curtain too.

Original Theatre Presents, A Splinter of Ice, Kings Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 17th July, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/a-splinter-of-ice

Brett Herriot Review

Big Band Does Valentines, BBD Productions, Virtual Review:

Big Band Does Valentines:

**** 4 Stars

“ A Performance fuelled by love”

Edinburgh based BBD productions are keeping ultra-busy following the release of their Big Burns Night Bash in January they are back with a new offering especially for Valentines day! This time its all about love and the emotions that love can bring, they deliver in style over this 45-minute virtual production.

Opening with the utterly gorgeous “Blair Gibson” and his well-polished energy filled take on Jackie Brown’s hit “Higher and Higher” it is a rousing, full throated belter of an opening setting the stage well for what lies ahead.

Following this are “Henry Shine” & “Ailsa Biggerstaff” with the song “First Impressions” from the rather obscure “First Date a musical comedy” which did have a short run in 2019 in London’s Other Palace. Shine and Biggerstaff deliver a flawless performance both vocally and in acting performance.

While theatre land awaits Andrew Lloyd Webbers new production of “Cinderella” BBD takes us to Disney’s production of the story and the song “So this is love” Ceili O’Connor delivers a stripped back but utterly beautiful performance of the song that equally charming as it is beguiling.  Speaking of Lloyd Webber “Rachel Flynn” is up next with a stunningly operatic performance of the title song from “Love Never Dies” the sequel to “Phantom of the opera”. “Flynn has a stunning voice that’s displayed in a way audience haven’t seen before, it’s a true must-see moment of the production.

Changing tact but retaining the incredible flow is “Kamen Brown” a gifted vocal impressionist who performs “Nat King Cole’s” hit “L.O.V.E” this is triumph of variety from Peter Griffin via the Muppets to Elvis Presley and so many more making vocal appearances “Brown” has a big future in live performance of his vocal impressions.

Next up is “Funny Girl” with “Rosie Houlton” bringing the razzle dazzle vocals to the role of “ Fanny Brice” in her take on “My Man”. “Houlton” delivers the power vocals needed for this showstopper!

Moving onwards to Jonathan Larson’s rock opera “Rent” and the song “Take me or leave me”  with “Rebecca Ellen” & “Megan Grace” playing Joanne and Maureen, respectively. “Grace” has portrayed Maureen on stage previously and it shows with a totally flawless performance and “Ellen” matches her every step of the way.

Changing direction and slowing things down is “Chris McLeish” and his honey-soaked vocals going to work on “Elton John’s” “Your Song”. Its a beautiful rendition and gives colour and depth to the over all production and “McLeish” is on point as usual. Keeping the change of direction flowing is “Danielle Logan” who performs “Lets be Bad” from US tv hit “Smash”. This up-tempo number really allows “Logan” to show the range of her voice, its joy to see a performer explore the depth of her talent and she smashes this number literally.

Musical Comedy performer and BBD producer “Scott Coltman” is next taking on Victoria Wood’s cherished “ The Ballad of Freda & Barry” it’s a huge risk to not only perform this comedy masterclass but to then add additional lyrics and material could well be a step too far. “Coltman” succeeds by shrewd comedy judgement. This is a performance “ Wood” herself would love.

Getting into the home straight of the production is “Evie Rose Lane” taking on the challenge of “Natural Woman” famously performed by the late “Aretha Franklin” although the song from the pen “Carole King” has had many interpretations. “Rose Lane” makes the song her own blending power vocals with suitable restraint that makes the performance a joy to watch.

To bring the curtain down are two company numbers, starting off with “Can’t Help Falling in Love” from the Elvis Musical “All Shook Up” the vocals are flawless and special mention must go to  “Tommie Travers” whose editing skills set a new bar of excellence allowing all 12 performers to share the screen with complex harmonies intact. All that is left is the mash up “ Shut up & Raise your Glass” from “ Moulin Rouge the Musical” which is coming to London’s Piccadilly theatre later in the year. Its fitting and fun celebration song to close the show.

Big Band Does productions have delivered another stunning and fun production to lighten the darkness of the lockdown, although none of the music is “big band” in either its orchestrations or delivery its clear where the company able to stage the production live on stage then all the choices would lend themselves perfectly to their mantra of Big Band.

For now, support the company at the Charity “Acting for Others”  as this is a joyous 45 minutes of Love!

BBD Productions present, Big Band Does Valentines go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J3fcVMfHuw

Please consider a donation to Acting for Others!

Brett Herriot Review

A Little Theatre Company, A Love Letter to Theatre, Review:

A Love Letter to Theatre:

***** 5 Stars

Newly formed Glasgow based A Little Theatre Company make their debut with a digital concert that gives the audience a beautiful hour of gorgeous vocals as they set out on a journey to explore the best of musical theatre. There are some interesting artistic choices made that benefit the overall production so well.

The Concert will be available from Sunday 14th February but we at Scotsgay Arts were given an advance copy to take a peek for review and what a joy it is.

Opening with a comedy sketch as a lament to those famous pre show announcements the company then launch into “ Some things Never Change” from Disney’s “ Frozen 2”. Cleverly filmed it ensures the entire company make their mark from the off.

Swiftly moving on to a medley of Love songs from the Pen of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Chris McLeish  gives a full throated rendition of “Love Changes Everything” from “ Aspects of Love”  his honey soaked vocals are at full power from the off. Blending into Matt Howells “Unexpected Song” from “Tell me on a Sunday” his voice soars and it’s always nice to hear a male take on the female intended song. Completing the Medley is Sally Swanson with “I don’t know how to love him “from “Jesus Christ Superstar” which is powerfully sung with the right amount of emotional punch behind it.

Next up is Stephen Schwartz and Bob Fosse’s “Pippin” and a performance of “corner of the Sky” sung with conviction by Richard Dalrymple whose piercing eyes truly sell the song; it’s an assured and touching performance. This is followed by the return of Chris McLeish singing “out there” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. This has to be the most vocally challenging song in the musical cannon with complex timing and rhythm. McLeish literally slays it this is a west end worthy performance.

A throw back to 80’s high hair and shoulder pads comes next with Sally Swanson and Julie Henery performing “I know him so well” from “Chess” the monster hit that saved a lacklustre show. The vocals are on point and attention to detail would Make Elaine Page and Barbara Dickson proud.

Its then time for a touch of “Cabaret” with Jen Park and Richard Dalrymple performing the titular “Money” using  film effects and Fosse choreography to create a suitably fun “Cabaret” section that’s equally well performed.

Things then slow down into a ballad section kicking off with Jen Park performing “Where did the rock go?” from Webbers “ School of Rock” Park has a unique voice that flows with emotion but retains enough timing to make you feel the passion of the song. Leading into Matt Howells “You don’t need to love me” from the Broadway smash “If/Then”. This has to be emotional high point of the production, the audience can almost touch the emotion of Howell its equally captivating as it is compassionate.

The company then join together for a mash up of “If I never knew you” and “You’ll be in my heart” from “Pocahontas” and “Tarzan” respectively.  The company let loose with Disney songs really get to showcase the vocals they have and the joy that awaits when they make their stage debut.

Turning to “Finding Neverland” Howells and Henery’s performance of “What you mean to me” both performers shine in a song that imbues love from a forgotten time but never the less remains strong.  Simply beautiful musical theatre at its very best.

Love takes its view through same sex relationships with Intrabartolo and Hartmere’s “Bare, A Pop Opera” and the title song “Bare” with McLeish and Michael Lynch taking on the emotions of the shows lead characters, Peter and Jason, delivering in depth, Style and grace its wonderfully performed.

The company stay state side with a performance of “Screw Loose” from “Cry Baby” Jen Park gets to showcase her acting chops well in this comedy infused number.  Sally Swanson then takes on the musical based around Pie’s namely “Waitress” and “When he sees me” and does the song real justice.

Next up is DreamWorks monster hit, literally, “Shrek, The musical” and “Who I’d Be” with Dalrymple, Park and Howells taking on the vocal, this is the most poignant moment in the show as we get to see inside the performers lives on stage for all of us in the arts in truly shows how much we miss our home, but we stand together, strong working to see the curtains rise once more.

Michael Lynch brings the production into the home straight with a stunning performance of “ Being Alive” from Sondheim’s “Company” it’s clear Lynch is an industry professional with a big career ahead with faultless vocals, timing and sheer passion for performing all coming through.

The company then bring the curtain down by turning to Jonathan Larson, (No not Rent and seasons of love) “Tick Tick Boom” and the outstanding song “ Louder than Words” this is a rousing and fabulous curtain call. Utilising every single ounce of the company’s vocal talents to a rousing conclusion.

“A love letter to theatre” does just that, it celebrates love of theatre, performing, friendship and each other and the Little Company truly deliver the magic of musical theatre that continues to flicker like a burning candle during these dark times for the industry. I for one applaud them and can’t wait to see what comes next! Hopefully live on stage. For now however grab a ticket for this hour long treat!

 A Little Theatre Company Presents, A love Letter to Theatre. For tickets by donation to “Acting For Others” go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-little-company-presents-a-love-letter-to-theatre-tickets-137304269767

Brett Herriot Review

BBD Productions Big Burns Night Bash

Big Burns Night Bash Review

***** 5 Stars

Edinburgh based Big Band Does Productions continues its collection of Online offerings. Following Halloween and Christmas inspired productions they turn to Scotland’s national Bard Robert Burns and all things Scotland for a production that see’s them return to form.

Opening with a visually stunning and vocally haunting rendition of “Sky Boat Song” performed with touching Grace by Natalie and Danielle Logan. The perfect blend of Scotland’s lands and  truly accomplished vocals get this thirty minute production off to a beautiful start.

Next up is Lewis Watson with a “Burns” inspired ode “Tae a Sesh” pithy, witty and charming this is contemporary Scotland reflecting on its heritage and both writing and performance blend in a perfect marriage.

Caledonia, Dougie MacLean’s hit from 1977 has become somewhat of alternative national anthem for many Scots. Here Luca Manning and Rosie Graham give it a touchingly simplistic covering. They let the lyrics speak for themselves and it shines! Luca must have the best ear rings of the production to boot!

Moving on to our first dose of actual “Burns” Sally Cairns delivers “To a Louse” yes that’s not a mistype of the more well known “To a Mouse”. Cairns deliver’s with excellent accession and dialect that blazes through the screen.

 We then get some Scottish pop in the form of Amy McDonald’s “This is the Life” performed by Georgia Fish, her rich “indie” style vocals give extra charm to this punchy number.

The Devine Chris McLeish takes us back to 1841 and “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” this song will always be eternal and McLeish delivers something truly special, he sings from his soul and its achingly beautiful.

Returning again to “Burns” himself Rebecca Gordon Scott delivers a charming “A Red, Red, Rose”.

Producer Scott Coltman takes to the screen next, performing “Wee Andy Webber’s Scottish Medley” which proved a hit for Dean Park back in 1998. The medley see’s Lord Webbers greatest hits given a Celidh twist. Coltman brings the comedy to the production along with a costume change or two! Its a fun change of pace.

If you’re going to have a “Burns” bash you have to have a haggis! Joe Hunter delivers the “address to a Haggis” in a flawless performance of depth that showcases Scotland’s love for its National Dish.

The Haggis eaten, the Dram’s drunk it’s time for “Auld Lang Syne” performed by Hazel Beattie, well know to Scottish Audiences for “Rabbie” and “Sunshine on Leith” this is the ultimate high point of the production. A vocal that touches the heart, and moves the soul. Made all the more powerful by the touching tribute to the great “Andy Gray”. Musical performance at its best.

To close the show, the company turn to monster hit musical “Sunshine on Leith” and full cast rendition of “Over and Done with” it brings the video to a rousingly Scottish curtain down.

Superbly edited by Tommie Travers BBD have returned to form with the Big Burns Night Bash let’s hope it rolls over into their next venture, BBD does Valentines. Beyond that lets all wish the company are back performing Live soon. For now this is well worth half an hour of anyone’s evening.

BBD are Supporting Acting for Others please donate what you can at:

www.actingforothers.co.uk/donate

BBD Big Burns Night Bash is available digitally at the link below:

Brett Herriot Review

Sunset Boulevard – In Concert, At Home, The Curve, Review

Sunset Boulevard – In Concert, At Home

***** 5 Stars

“ As if we never said Goodbye“

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s undeniable masterpiece of filmic composition will always be Sunset Boulevard. Telling the story of faded silent movie star Norma Desmond (the utterly divine Ria Jones) who longs to reclaim her stardom when studio writer Joe Gillis (the gorgeous Danny Mac) happens upon her mansion thus leading to a story of love, forgotten dreams, broken hearts and lives forever changed.

The show came to life in 1992 in Webbers Sydmonton festival with then unknown Ria Jones performing the role of “Norma” to great success but due to her youth she never travelled to Broadway or the west end with the production. Fast forward over 25 years and following a stint covering for Glenn Close in the Colosseums famed 2016 production, the original star Ria Jones returns once more to reclaim the greatest role of all and succeeds in style.

The Curve originally produced this show in 2017 and toured it extensively in 2018/19. To accommodate social distancing the production was to be revived for socially distant run, however the closures of theatres to audiences led to a change in plan and Director Nikolai Foster working with Crosscut Media have produced a filmed version of the show that is truly Astounding.

Using every inch of the theatre, including the auditorium, fly tower and lighting rigs this is an astonishing tour de fore production that is the perfect blend of live theatre and motion picture which is enhanced by Douglas O’Connell video and projection design. Ben Cracknell’s Lighting design is everything and more from sweeping vistas of the balcony to a stunning moment in the spotlight for Norma.

Jones performs with consummate grace with a voice that soars through the lens of the camera and into the heart of the viewer, especially during numbers such as “with one look” and “as if we never said goodbye. She grips the audience with her utter conviction as Norma, her’s is the Ms. Desmond for all time, played with style and class she grips from the off and never let us go, her descent into madness is both thrilling and breathtaking

Danny Mac also delivers spectacularly, imbuing Gillis with wisdom, corruption, and an honesty the role demands and possess a powerful voice and understated charm the character needs. Special mention must also go to Adam Pearce as Max Von Mayerling his voice is thrilling for his depth and warmth. Completed by a strong supporting cast and a large 16-piece orchestra, Director Nikolai Foster has delivered the most awe-inspiring production of the show to date.

Whilst we still await being able to sit in the darkness of theatre auditoriums once more The Curve have achieved the almost impossible, delivering the thrill of live theatrical performance for audiences at home, this production truly does teach us all new ways to dream, unmissable, thrilling and delivered with love. Sunset Boulevard has never shone brighter.

The Curve Leicester presents Sunset Boulevard – In Concert, At Home, The run has been extended to Sunday 17th of January to book tickets for the live stream go to: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/sunset-boulevard-in-concert-at-home/