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Victoria, Northern Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Victoria

**** (4 stars)

This co-production with National Ballet of Canada marks the bicentenary of Queen Victoria ‘s birth.  Cathy Marston’s ballet is danced to an original score by Philip Feeney, played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia who tonight fielded a fair-sized band, complete with harp and baby grand.

The tabs went up and the stage was mostly in darkness – a solo trumpet sounded a melancholy lament as an old lady sat in a circle of light, writing in her diary.  A younger woman was watching her – as they began to dance, they seemed like conjoined twins, or a two-headed woman…  A huge bed became visible and the old queen, Victoria, laid herself upon it: her many children and their spouses encircled the bed, and her youngest daughter climbed up to sit beside her as she died.  A funeral bell tolled, and Victoria’s body was carried out.

The younger woman began reading from one of the innumerable red diaries that fill the towering bookcases at the back of the set: she is Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice, trying to reconcile her mother’s account of her life with her own recollections.

Victoria’s life is then shown in a series of unchronological vignettes interspersed with Beatrice’s reactions to what she is reading in her mother’s diaries.  With the aid of the programme, after the performance, I was able to confirm that most of my guesses were correct – but I totally missed the opium–using and opium trade references, and it took me a long time to realise that the man she appeared to be in love with shortly after her coronation was not, in fact, Prince Albert [whom she at first rejected] but the prime minister Lord Melbourne, who was a major influence on her life and her development as a queen.

I had read enough before Act 1 to follow the story of Beatrice and her engagement and eventually marriage to Liko, [who I now know to have been Prince Henry of Batternberg] and had already worked out that the first scenes involved the Scot, John Brown, [remember Billy Connolly luring Judi Dench out of her implacably silent mourning?] whose influence on her was strenuously resisted by her many children.  And having solved the puzzle of Lord Melbourne, it was easy to grasp Albert’s insistence on trying to take over government while tying his wife more and more strongly to the bed on which she had child after child, only to be released when Albert collapsed and died, probably from overwork.

To my surprise, having the device of Older Beatrice watching her mother and herself worked very well.  At times, Beatrice was shocked by her mother’s diary entries – both about John Brown and the details she records of her passionate relationship with Albert – and ripped out many pages.  When reading about her own story she was transported by the memory of her and Liko’s love – she joined in with Young Beatrice and Liko as they celebrated their love in a fascinating pas de trois – and then riven by grief at the knowledge of his fate.  He was killed on military service in Africa, and Older Beatrice tried desperately to prevent him going, and raged as her mother wrapped the heartbroken Young Beatrice in widow’s weeds.  Finally, as Victoria crumpled with grief over the tiny body of baby Beatrice, Older Beatrice finally made peace with her mother, realising that it was she who had made it possible for her mother to stand upright again and rule the country.

The scenes were well-linked with a flowing procession of chorus dancers, carrying piles of diaries [red for Victoria, blue for Beatrice], their unisex red skirts proving a welcome contrast to the starkly black and white costumes Victoria and Beatrice wore.  The orchestra played superbly as the music told the story well, voicing Victoria’s and Beatrice’s emotions, lyrical and triumphant by turns when relationships were going well, and stark and jagged when there was conflict or disturbance.

The dancing was superb.  Abigail Prudames made light work of her transitions from decrepitude to youthful joy and vigour, while Pippa Moore’s Older Beatrice was an excellent observer and participant.  Mlindi Kulashe leapt nimbly as kilted John Brown, while Sean Bates was a dashing but slightly disturbingly Prince-Harry-like Liko.  Both men reappeared in the chorus during Act 2, joining an impressive cast who multi-tasked with great aplomb.  Riku Ito did a wonderful job as Lord Melbourne, wooing the young queen, teaching her her duty, trying to divert her attention from Albert but finally gracefully standing aside as he saw himself supplanted.  Albert himself [Joseph Taylor] was good in what could be seen as a most unsympathetic part – a passionate lover who then almost dismissed his wife in his desire to rule the country and raise an ever-growing tribe of children to be educated in a proper [?Germanic] way…

Victoria lived up to my expectations: I’d seen their productions when I lived in Nottingham, and am happy to report that their high standards have continued since I moved north.  The audience was disappointingly small but their applause was warm and prolonged.  I urge you to see this ballet – it was an engrossing evening of inventive choreography and clever storytelling – before it moves on to Milton Keynes, Cardiff and Belfast, or catch it on the big screen on Tuesday 25 June: you won’t regret it!

Northern Ballet Presents: Victoria, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 13th April, then tour continues, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/victoria

Review by Mary Woodward

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Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window,Traverse theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window

***** (5 stars)

PPP [a play, a pie, and a pint] returns to the Traverse with a burst of laughter which sends the audience out into the world with a smile after spending an hour in the company of famous Scots comedian Chic Murray, his wife Maidie.

Maureen Carr sparkles in the spotlight as Maidie, the all-round entertainer whose stage career had begun at the age of three, and who was a well-established star when Chic first crossed her path. Her own talent, and her love for Chic, are obvious; her respect for and encouragement of his talent a joy to watch, and her pain when she can finally no longer tolerate Chic’s neglect of her and their children deeply moving.

Dave Anderson effortlessly holds the audience in the palm of his hand as he develops from the geeky and gawky partner in the Whinhillbillies, a would-be Dixie band, in which Chic spends more time telling jokes than making music, into an initially tentative and then confident stage animal and, ultimately, a world-famous comedian.  Along the way we catch glimpses of the tragedies behind the smiles, and the challenges of life as a comedian – everyone loves you when you’re funny, but doesn’t want to know you when you’re not – and of life with a comedian, or anyone who is obsessed with their art and less than attentive to the people around them…

Completing the cast was the multi-talented “Ensemble” – a jack of all trades, and master of them too. Brian James O’Sullivan plays a mean piano and piano accordion and a multiplicity of the characters, including a wonderful cameo as Liberace, who appeared in the stranger than fiction [you couldn’t make it up if you tried] story of Chic’s life.

Through it all, Chic/ Dave keeps the audience laughing with his one-liners, ridiculous stories and immense talent, while himself playing impressive piano and singing/ harmonising with Maidie: is there no end to his talents?  My favourite moment has to be a deliciously incomprehensible Scots poem performed for the Bruntsfield Burns Night, but there were many brilliant moments, both funny and sad, in this hour-long tribute to a great comedian.

As a Sassenach I grew up not knowing Chic, but my neighbours in the audience told me that he was a big influence on Billy Connolly – and this became obvious to me as the show progressed: both men have a wonderful ability to take a very simple incident, like walking down a street, and embroider it into a hysterically funny scenario that can leave one helpless with laughter.

If you don’t know the man, come and marvel: if you do, like many in the audience today, come and relish the opportunity to wander down memory lane – but hurry: it was a sell-out today, and tickets for this week will undoubtedly be hard to come by!

Chic Murray: A Funny Place for a Window, Traverse theatre, Edinburgh run ends Sat 13, For tickets go to https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-chic-murray-a-funny-place-for-a-window

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Remembering the Movies, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Remembering the Movies: starring Aljaz and Janette

**** (4 stars)

Lights! Camera! Action! introduces a total crowd-pleaser, which was given a rapturous reception and standing ovation by an obviously partisan crowd who wanted to join the love-fest that surrounds Aljaz and Janette from Strictly…  Following their previous tour celebrating Fred and Ginger we were taken on an all-too brief progress through some of the iconic dance routines from films going back to black-and-white movie days and coming right up to the present with La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Linking the various sections – Welcome to Hollywood, Leading Men, Leading Ladies, etc – there was a lot of delightful chatting across the footlights, with references to personal history and of course the Strictly phenomenon, continuing the ‘we love it all and it’s such a privilege to be able to dance for you tonight…’.  Both Aljaz and Janette do a wonderful job of talking to us as though we are their best friends and they are delighted to see us – making us feel that we ‘meet’ them as human beings as well as dance god and goddess…

Two singers – the incredible Janine Johnson and pretty amazing Damien Edwards -brought the otherwise pre-recorded soundtrack to dynamic life, giving voice to a huge range of emotions, setting the scene, creating the contrast, and giving the dancers something live with which to work: I can’t see the show having the same effect if the whole musical score were pre-recorded.  The bass and rhythm sections were at times painfully loud, so I spent a fair amount of time with my fingers stuffed in my ears, but this didn’t seem to upset anyone else…

There was an impressive cast of young supporting dancers, and a special cheer for the tall Scottish dance captain Martin Fenton. I couldn’t help noticing the blond dreadlocks of Aussie Steve Williams, and the differing characters and skills of the other dancers.  I really appreciated the explanation for Aljaz partnering Ash-Leigh Hunter for waltz numbers – she is tall, Janette is tiny – and we were given an impressive demonstration of why he doesn’t normally do ballroom with Janette: either he has to dance on his knees, or pick her up and carry her – lovely frame, darling but no footwork!  The dancers were all extremely talented but as yet don’t stand out the way Aljaz and Janette did, especially when they danced together.

There was a good selection of musical movies past and present – I got somewhat lost in the ‘modern’ section, having to guess the movie from the projected backgrounds, but was completely at home in the ‘classics’.  There were some beautiful moments, especially a Romeo and Juliet duet, lively moments from West Side Story and what I think was my favourite – Marilyn’s Diamonds are a girl’s best friend morphing into Madonna’s material girl before returning to my all-time favourite Ms Monroe… Each half ended with spectacular ensembles and opportunities for the young chorus dancers to strut their individual stuff – but I found their show-off ‘modern’ sections lost me a little – everyone was doing their own thing with no relation to anyone else on stage: mirroring modern life, eh?  There was some splendid choreography, very effective lighting, fabulous and rapid costume changes and a lot of interplay between the two stars.

Remembering the Movies showcases extremely impressive dancing – and, of course, all performed live.  It’s hugely entertaining, and was loved by every person present.  It’s good to remind younger generations about the people who broke new ground in entertainment and inspired dancers working today, and give them a sense of the history of musical numbers in the movies.  It was thoroughly good, crowd-pleasing entertainment, excellently produced and presented: you should have been there!

Remembering the Movies: starring Aljaz and Janette, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, RUN ENDED

Review by Mary Woodward

 

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Little Gift Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Little Gift, Traverse Theatre,

**** (4 stars)

Against a gigantic pile of suitcases, trunks and hatboxes Guy Hargreaves sings, dances, does magic and keeps a young audience [generally aged 3-7] completely silent for 45 minutes as he tells us about his ‘best job in the world’ – helping people.  “Who will we help today?” he sings: it’s Ted, who lives in Ted Street in The Busy Town, and off we go to find him…

Ted, a grey-clad and wispy-haired old man, lives alone and spends his time watching the world outside his window or staring at the television with no-one beside him on the sofa.  This splendid Shona Reppe puppet touches our hearts as we watch his lonely existence and pity his frustration at the noise his party-loving neighbours make as he’s preparing to go to bed.  A little bit of magic from Guy and we learn that Ted dreams of having a party – but there’s no-one on his guest list: he has no friends to invite.

This is where Guy and his sidekick Sylvie [a glitter-spangled feather who dances as she warbles her song] realise that their help is needed to get Ted to go outside into the world and meet people.  The button that had come off Guy’s jacket becomes a seed which is planted and, with the help of some delightful magic, becomes a plant which Ted is astonished to find beside his bed in the morning.  It grows slowly and becomes Ted’s constant companion – but one day it droops and wilts: surely it’s not dying?  Ted must take the plant outside into the fresh air and sunshine – but can he bring himself to leave his house…?

It’s very hard, but Ted does it – and suddenly comes to life.  He finds adventure – flying at the end of a kite string, climbing a hill to enjoy the view, and building a snowman to share with nearby children.  The plant recovers, and continues to grow, becoming a small tree: when Ted finally returns home he finds it’s now too big to take back inside the house.  At first Ted is very sad, but when he discovers that people come every day to watch the tree growing he makes more and more friends: he invites them all to a splendidly glittering party at which his noisy neighbours, who are now good friends, provide the music.  Ted’s party means Guy’s job is done – and he reflects joyfully that his is indeed the best job in the world.

This is a delightful show with an engaging and inventive soundtrack and a superbly imagined and constructed set which transforms into the different rooms of Ted’s house and the landscape outside into which he ventures, finally becoming the tree, now huge, through which Ted has made so many friends. Guy is a very versatile and talented actor who constantly engages with his young audience and keeps them enthralled.  With the help of Sylvie he is able to explain to the youngsters that what might seem unkind – letting the wee plant wilt – or sad – Ted having to leave his plant friend outside because it will no longer fit through his front door – are all part of the PLAN to help Ted: and we see that he is right – Ted’s life is completely transformed, all from the little gift of a seed.

I found this gentle show a joy to watch, and the audience loved it.   Little Gift is in Edinburgh as part of a wide-ranging tour – you can catch it when it tours to Livingston, Inverness, Paisley and Giffnock.

M6 Theatre company presents: Little Gift, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run Ended. Tour Continue.

Review by Mary Woodward