Arts News!, Brett Herriot Review, Kieran A Wilson Review, Mary Woodward Review

2019! Thank you!

Thank you from all of us for an Amazing 2019!

With Hogmanay and the New Year Celebrations just around the corner, We at Scotsgay Arts have just published our 100th and final review for 2019. 2019 has been a epic year across the cultural landscape of Scotland and its as much of an honour and privilege now as it has been since we started to be able to sample the very best of the countries output.

To all 100 hundred productions we reviewed, the many more we previewed, the 100’s of reviews on our sister site SGFringe.com  we thank you for sharing your work with us, for being brave and sharing your creative endeavours with the world and for continuing to push the boundaries of the last truly uncensored space known as the theatre.

Personally I am indebted to the hard of work of my fellow writer Mary Woodward and thankful for the guidance and support of Taylor Crockett especially during the biggest arts festival known as The Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. My profound thanks to Kieran A Wilson for his guest writing contributions.

We will be back in 2020 with even more of the very best, News, views, Previews and Reviews from across Scotland. To you and yours thank you for being with us in 2019 we wish you a peaceful and Prosperous New Year.

Brett Herriot

Editor, Scotsgayarts.com 

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen

**** (4 stars)

Scottish Ballet’s Christopher Hanson has taken the Hans Christian Andersen story about a little boy Kay who is rescued from the clutches of the heartless Snow Queen by his friend Gerda and created a full-length ballet which mixes elements of the Andersen story with inventions of his own to create something one might be forgiven for thinking of as Frozen Gone Wrong.

The white-haired Snow Queen has a dark-haired sister, the Summer Princess.  Together they see in the Queen’s magic mirror the image of a young man, whom the Princess instantly decides must be her true love: despite the Queen’s disapproval she rushes off to find him, disguising herself on the way as Lexi, a young pickpocket.  Lexi arrives in the town where the young man – Kai – lives, only to see him propose to his sweetheart, Gerda, and give her a diamond ring.  Suddenly time stops as the Snow Queen appears and casts a spell on Kai: he ignores Gerda and shows more interest in the circus which has just arrived in town.

Kai volunteers to take part in the circus’s magic disappearing trick but when it’s time for him to reappear he’s really vanished – the Snow Queen has frozen time again and stolen him away.  Gerda is distraught, and begs Lexi to help her find Kai – reluctantly ‘he’ agrees, but only when Gerda has been forced to pay ‘him’ with her engagement ring.  On their journey they encounter a bandit camp where a fortune teller tells them Kai is in the Snow Queen’s palace. Gerda goes on alone, encountering wolves, dancing snowflakes and frost-men who try unsuccessfully to stop her.  She tries to rescue Kai, but he is obsessed with the Queen and ignores her.  Gerda is powerless against the Queen: suddenly Lexi appears in her true guise and fights and defeats her sister.  Kai seems dead, but Gerda’s tears melt the ice in his heart and the two lovers are reunited.

It’s a fascinating story, generally well-told, though I do wish I were more familiar with ballet gestures: there were one or two which were obviously extremely important, but which to me could have meant just about anything… Most of the narrative was clear and well-told, but the final ‘battle’ between the sisters was underwhelming in the extreme and the dénouement brought a ripple of giggles to the house which seems to indicate a little reworking is needed.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s music has been arranged by Richard Honner to provide a good ballet score, though on occasion I was slightly distracted by hearing something I recognised but generally couldn’t place: the exception being the Flight of the Bumblebee… The Scottish Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard created some magical sound-pictures, with lively contrasts between the icy stillness of the Queen’s palace and the frosty aggression of her servants, the earthy realism of the town in which Kai and Gerda live, the rambunctious showmanship of the circus folk and the dramatic swagger of the bandits. Special mention must be made of on-stage gypsy violinist Gillian Risi who was unfazed by the extremely lively dancing going on all around her.

The dancing was full of contrasts with some outstanding passages. Kai and Gerda’s initial perfectly-synchronised duet reappeared, but with the two lovers now out of harmony with each other: Kai perfunctorily dancing with Gerda but being continually distracted first by the circus folk and then by the Snow Queen. The circus performers were impressive: I loved the Ring Master’s exuberant showmanship, the effortless way the Strong Man could pick up the Ballerina and the casual naughtiness of the Clowns. The bandits and their leader Zac leaped and danced joyfully and most impressively and even managed to entice timid Gerda to join them at times. I was less impressed by the ‘snow ballet’ which was a bit too ‘old school’ for my taste, and didn’t really do much to advance the story.

Sadly, I wasn’t taken with the Snow Queen herself – she danced most impressively but didn’t make me warm to her at all: there were hints that her heartlessness arose from her sister’s abandonment of her, but it didn’t convince me. Her sister was perhaps warmer and more impulsive but ultimately equally self-absorbed in going off after her man: no trace of the sisterly affection between Elsa and Anna here! Gerda was forced out of her small-town complacency [grow up, get married, have kids, die] and set off to rescue someone she loved, finding a previously unknown strength and resilience on the way; while Kai loved Gerda, was bewitched and forgot her, got rescued, and hopefully was a better and wiser man thereafter.

The audience obviously knew and loved their ballet, and were generous in their applause throughout. The Snow Queen is a delightful winter-time entertainment, with something to please, amuse, and entertain people of all ages: it’s a welcome change from the usual fare on offer at this season.

Scottish Ballet,The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 29th Dec, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen

Mary Woodward Review

Flutter, The Studio, Edinbugh, Review:

Flutter

**** (4 stars).

I arrive at the Studio and watch the ever-increasing crowd of tinies, many in minute Christmas sweaters, eagerly await the invitation to enter the house for the first performance this year of Tortoise In A Nutshell’s Flutter.  We are asked to take our shoes off, and most people comply, though for those whose feet, like mine, get cold very easily it’s possible to sit at the back of the audience.  Most people, young and older alike, sit on the cushions and low benches nearest the stage but blessedly there are chairs for the less-bendy among us.

As we enter the performing space, we can hear snoring… can it be from the inhabitants of the tiny boxes we pass on our way in?  To the sound of Brahms’ lullaby we enter a snow-covered landscape, and a hush falls on everyone till a trumpet-playing pigeon wakes us up and the show begins.  Christie and Hannah enter and start sliding and swooping on the ice, spinning and turning, leaping and jumping, enjoying the freedom this cold white world offers them.  Hannah, in an orange jacket, is bold and lively, blue-clad Christie is more fearful and hugs her toy penguin for comfort: she gradually becomes more confident, and has a great time.  Filip the penguin develops a life of his own, trying to steal sandwiches, hiding in a number of extraordinary places, and ultimately saving the day.
There is a lot going on between the two girls as they play  – teasing, hurting each other, falling out and making up – and I wonder how much of this the tinies are picking up: but apart from one wee girl who howls and has to be taken out, they all sit silently entranced with the odd comment to a parent or gran and some delighted giggles at the antics of the penguin and the two girls’ puzzlement as they search for him.  We didn’t quite get to “he’s behind you!!” but the potential was definitely there!  There was drama and potential disaster as the wind blew harder and the snow started to whirl, but in the end all was well and all the sleeping creatures we’d seen on our way in joined in a general disco of rejoicing.
It was a delightful show, with a lot packed into a very short time on a very cleverly-designed set, much inventive use of physical theatre and puppetry and an attractive aural and musical soundscape.  My only criticism is that Flutter is billed as ‘immersive’ and ‘interactive’ but the only immersion/ interaction that takes place is at the end of the show, when the tinies are invited to dance [in their seats] and then to come on to the acting area or to talk to Christie and Filip.  That aside, it’s an excellent show for little ones [and their adults] – but you may have to wait for next year to see it, as the run is already sold out!

Flutter, The Studio, Edinburgh, Runs until 24th December, SOLD OUT

Mary Woodward Review

Strange Tales Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Strange Tales ,Traverse Theatre, 

**** (4 stars)

This intriguing collection of stories was adapted for the stage by Pauline Lockhart and Ben Harrison from Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, translated by Ewan Macdonald. Pu Songling wrote these tales around the time of the restoration of the Stuart monarchy after the English civil war, but their messages are as relevant today as they were when they were written, and easily cross the cultural divide between east and west.

When wind and snow fill the sky and the fire has grown cold, relight the coals, warm the wine and turn up the wick of the lamp. We enter these tales in the shadows of night, but hopefully emerge into daylight…

Master-storytellers Luna Dai, Robin Khor Yong Kuan and Pauline Lockhart present a fascinating Chinese, Malaysian Chinese and Scottish blend of wit, wisdom and experience as they tell us eight tales from Pu Songling’s collection. A dead young maiden seeks to escape from the demon that is forcing her to wreak a terrible vengeance on young men; a very refined young lady receives visits from two charming and amorous strangers who are not what they seem; a young man from Paisley who wants to learn a short cut to eternal wisdom gets what he deserves, and we learn to beware of sneezing and corrupt fortune tellers.

We are warned at the start – unless we approach these tales with an open mind and a brave heart, we may be taken over by them and never break free: and should we be feeling somewhat sceptical, we are given a graphic illustration of this very fate at the end of the show…

This co-production between Grid Iron and the Traverse is a visually splendid and delightfully engaging blend of storytelling, puppetry, martial arts and physical theatre, with fascinatingly diverse costumes, haunting music, cutting-edge digital technology and subtly terrifying sound effects. I loved the kimonos, was particularly impressed by the giant red demon, and will never feel quite the same again about eyes…

Fox spirits may not be familiar us in Scotland – but there are kelpies and selkies and other creatures which interact with humans in both loving and terrible ways, while demons and ghosts are part of both eastern and western tales, though they may assume different forms. What is interesting is the very different attitude towards death and ghosts, and the belief that it is possible for the dead to interact with the living and even be brought back to life.

Strange Tales is not for the faint-hearted, or those of a nervous disposition – there’s an age guide of 14+: but if you want to shiver with fear, laugh out loud, and cheer when evil is defeated, look no further than the Traverse this December!

Strange Tales, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh run ends 21st December, for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/strange-tales

 

 

Mary Woodward Review

Mascagni Iris: Scottish Opera in Concert City Halls, Glasgow, Review:

Mascagni Iris: Scottish Opera in Concert

***** (5 stars)

Earlier this year Scottish Opera’s conductor Stuart Stratford bounced on to the stage and enthusiastically introduced us to Mascagni’s Silvano: now, equally enthusiastically, he invited us to become acquainted with another rarely-performed work by the same composer. At Iris’ first performance in 1898 the opening choral and orchestral Hymn to the Sun was an immediate hit – and yesterday’s performance supported Stuart’s belief that it’s probably the best operatic sunrise there is, powerfully depicting the glory and life-affirming warmth of the sun.

Unlike previous concert performances by Scottish Opera Iris was not semi-staged, though the singers were in costume. Stuart explained that he and the cast had all been struck down with flu at various times in the rehearsal period – and, indeed, the original Iris had had to withdraw after that morning’s dress rehearsal, her place being taken at very short notice by a superb young Australian soprano, Kiandra Howarth, of whom we are surely going to hear much more in future.

The plot is fairly simple – Iris, a beautiful young girl, lives with and cares for her blind father. She is still of an age to play with dolls, and loves the birds and flowers in the garden that surrounds her little cottage. Her beauty attracts the attention of a young nobleman, Osaka. With the assistance of Kyoto, keeper of the local geisha house, and Dhia, one of his geishas, Iris is kidnapped and taken to the geisha house.

Osaka endeavours to seduce Iris, who simply doesn’t understand what he’s getting at. Osaka is quickly bored, and Kyoto decides to display his newest acquisition to the locals, who are astonished at her beauty. Iris’ blind father arrives and, believing his daughter to have deliberately abandoned him and chosen to enter the geisha house, curses her and spits at her. Iris, now completely bewildered and terrified, throws herself from the balcony into the open sewer below the geisha house.

Three days later, Iris’ body is discovered in the sewer by rag-pickers and scavengers, who scatter when they realise she is still alive. Delirious, she imagines she is visited by Osaka, Kyoto and her father, all of whom show no remorse as they bid her farewell. She feels the rays of the rising sun warming her, and sings the ecstatic hymn to the sun as she dies among a field of flowers which spring up around her.

It’s a shocking piece which is all too relevant today. I feel it could well be re-named Così fan tutti All men are thus – as it highlights the heartless treatment of women as sex toys, objects to be bought and sold, used, and abandoned without a thought. There is no point at which the men demonstrate any remorse for their behaviour, or the slightest understanding of their complicity in her death – Osaka says he’s going to look elsewhere now, Kyoto sees her as the victim of her own beauty, and her father berates her because now there’s no-one to see to his comfort. In the equivalent of a musical shrug all three sing Così la vita; addìo / vo [such is life; goodbye / I’m off ]…

The music is superb, with many original and unusual instrumental combinations and sonorities. I’m glad Stuart Stratford pointed out many things to listen out for – the most unusual being the leader of the orchestra’s positioning of a coffee cup on the body of his violin at the beginning of act three, producing a weird buzzing sound to lead us into the darkness of the sewer in which Iris’ broken body lies.

The singing was magnificent, with the greatest honours going to Kiandra Howarth whose radiant innocence and utter belief in the power of the sun god’s son Jor was in stark contrast to the duplicitous and self-absorbed Osaka of Ric Furman and Roland Wood’s corrupt and heartless Kyoto. Charlie Drummond’s Geisha was an aural delight, and I loved her fabulously embroidered rose-coloured kimono! James Creswell’s sonorous and powerful bass gave full weight to Iris’ blind father, while Aled Hall made the most of his few moments in the spotlight as he celebrated the moon’s light in act three. Arthur Bruce and Fraser Simpson sang their wee parts from among the chorus, who were major players in the drama, while above, around, and throughout the whole performance the brilliant Scottish Opera Orchestra created a unique and unforgettable sound world in which a heartbreaking but all too contemporary tragedy was played out.

Yet again Scottish Opera have brought a neglected masterpiece to vibrant life – we can but hope that there will be a repeat performance before too long.

Mascagni Iris: Scottish Opera in Concert, City Halls, Glasgow, RUN ENDED

Mary Woodward Review

Still No Idea, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

Still No Idea by Lisa Hammond, Lee Simpson and Rachael Spence

***** (5 stars)

I can’t get that refrain out of my head – cheeky face, cheeky face – as I come out of the Traverse and head for home after an evening which challenged, moved, frustrated and angered me as Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence invited us to join them on an expedition to find the material for a new show, the results of which they presented to us in a mixture of styles and formats that had us both laughing and crying – crying not with laughter but with frustration that, despite anything anyone may think or say about how “it’s so much easier/ so much better/ things are more equal” for people with disabilities, the demoralising fact is that things are much, much worse than they were ten years ago…

The loudest laughs came from the audience members with mobility issues – laughing as they recognise the situations in which they so often find themselves, and the constant struggle to be seen as a person, not as a disability: to be taken seriously, given real parts to play in the world, not sidelined, patronised or spoken to in a special voice Wow! didn’t she do well…

So many of the suggestions made by members of the public when asked to suggest characters or plot lines arose from embarrassment and/or an inability to see Rachael and Lisa as two people of equal worth and importance, who might equally play a central character rather than an also-ran.  Cheeky face exquisitely highlighted the way people’s discomfort is expressed in a cheery bonhomie – you don’t know what to say to someone in a wheelchair and so try to wrap it in what is thought to be humour – here comes trouble! or my you’ve got a cheeky face: I bet you’re a barrel of laughs: i.e. don’t try to engage with a real live adult human being, treat them as you might an engaging puppy or a bouncy toddler.

And this in an age which prides itself on an equal society which doesn’t hide disabled people away… But what good is celebrating the successes of paralympians if it makes people think that every disabled person ‘ought’ to be able to do what they can?  What sort of society do we live in when people who are seen walking as they transfer themselves from one wheelchair to another are insulted and called scroungers and benefit cheats? What sort of government proposes policies based on kicking away their crutches will make them stronger??

Under all the humour there’s an anger and a despair that our current society is so hostile to people with disabilities that they are led to commit suicide rather than continue the struggle against unjustly reduced or discontinued benefits, and sometimes die of their medical condition before their appeal has been heard or dealt with.

What can be done?  Laugh rather than cry; try to see people as human beings rather than ‘conditions’; imagine the hero or heroine of your favourite novel, play, tv series or film as someone with a disability – see them as central to the action rather than as a bit player or moving wallpaper – in short, try to create the picture of a world in which there is equality of opportunity for everyone.

Still No Idea has toured extensively in England: the Traverse gig is the sole Scottish appearance. Don’t miss it – and be prepared to have a good laugh while having all your comfortable notions turned upside down.

Still No Idea by Lisa Hammond, Lee Simpson and Rachael Spence, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, run ends 9th November for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/still-no-idea

 

Mary Woodward Review

PRISM, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

PRISM 

**** (4 stars)

homage to a genius of cinema

The curtain rises on something that looks like a film sound stage, whose sliding door’s upward passage is constantly interrupted by someone who won’t allow it simply to open but keeps commenting on the ratio of length to width of the slowly-increasing aperture beneath it. The legs we see beneath the door turn out to belong to an irascible older gentleman, an impatient younger man and a young woman who stands awkwardly in the background, taking no part in the argument.

The shutter finally slides upwards completely, allowing the three to enter the room, which turns out to be a garage: a convolutedly cyclic conversation ensues between the two men and tries to include the young woman – This is the garage: if it’s a garage, where’s the car? Outside the pub – mine’s a scotch and soda – no, she’s not the barmaid, and this isn’t the pub, it’s the garage: well, if it’s a garage, where’s the car? It’s a somewhat illogical conversation which alerts us to the fact that the older gentleman is suffering from dementia. The man who turns out to be his son tries constantly to bring his father into the here and now by demonstrating the absurdity of many of his remarks: the father is constantly sliding between alternate realities and making responses that could be utterly illogical, or completely sane wisecracks.

And so we enter the multi-layered world of Jack Cardiff, cinematographer and director, known as “the man who makes women look beautiful”, who knew better than almost anyone else how to use the Technicolor process to make films look gorgeous. The prism of the title is the one that sits inside the Technicolor camera and splits the light entering it into three separate colours, recorded on three separate strips of film and reunited after processing to produce a richness of colour previously unknown to cinematography.

Jack much of his time living in his memories – particularly of Katherine Hepburn and the filming of African Queen: his son, Mason, is trying desperately, and almost aggressively, to keep his father in the present to finish the autobiography he has begun. Jack’s wife Nicola is heartbroken that Jack no longer recognises her, but uncomplainingly takes Hepburn’s part in the conversations he continually holds with her while Lucy, who has been engaged as a care assistant for Jack, tries to put into practice the ‘correct’ ways of dealing with people who are dementing that she has learned in her all-too-brief training.

Robert Lindsay gives a magnificent performance as the man who was obsessed with light, the different ways in which it illuminates everything it touches, and the gorgeous emotional atmospheres it can create in films. Tara Fitzgerald is desolate and yet stoically pragmatic as she watches the man she loves slowly disintegrate – remembering the wonderful women he worked with in the past but failing to see the reality of the one who’s living with him now. I couldn’t quite decide whether Oliver Hembrough’s Mason was solely motivated by a desire to get his father’s autobiography completed and made into a film: was he desperately trying to complete the project as a way to come out from his father’s shadow and make a name for himself? Victoria Blunt’s Lucy was a curious mixture, too: what was the point of making her tragic backstory part of the play, and would Jack’s wife and son really engage a carer with so little knowledge and experience? Yes, she had compelling reasons to make a success of the job, but it felt almost as though her character had been invented to tick a number of boxes needed to make the plot work and to provide ‘dumb blonde’ responses for the audience to laugh at.

What is real? The lines blurred between Jack’s ‘present’ and the past he increasingly lived in. At one point we were transported to the African jungle, where Jack watched Bogie and Bacall and tried to persuade Kate to leave Spencer and accept his love instead; at another, a scene which had played out in the first act was repeated, but with different characters – Marilyn instead of Lucy, Arthur Miller replacing Mason, and, as ever, Katherine – which makes the motivation for the first scene instantly clear: Jack is living in his own world, and the other three become the players in it.

How true is it all? Terry Johnson says “I never intended to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. He’s combined an engaging narrative and homage to a genius of cinema with a moving portrayal of the effects of dementia not only on the sufferer but also on all the people around them to produce a piece which raised a lot of laughs and was greeted with appreciative applause both, I think, for the actors, and for the man who inspired the play – Jack Cardiff, cinematographer extraordinaire.

PRISM written and directed by Terry Johnson, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 2nd  November, then UK tour continues. for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/prism