Mary Woodward Review

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

***** (5 stars)

Author Kate Pankhurst didn’t discover she was related to the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst until she was in her twenties.  The heroine of this show, Jade, feels she is invisible: no-one ever listens to what she has to say – indeed, they rarely give her a chance to speak.  When her school goes on a trip to a museum, she isn’t really very surprised to find that everyone’s gone on without her, and she’s all alone – no-one has noticed she’s missing.  She’s always been good, polite, and helpful but that’s never enough: she wonders whether being naughty would get her noticed at all.

Suddenly a door behind her lights up, and to her astonishment a woman in a green flying suit appears, saying I heard you were lost so I came to find you – and Jade’s adventure begins.  The aviator is Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and then the Pacific Oceans.  She is joined by Trudy – Gertrude Ederle, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel [incidentally doing it faster than the five men who’d managed the feat previously] – and Sacagawea, a native American Indian who guided explorers Lewis and Clark across the Rocky mountains in the west of America, translating for them and saving their lives on many occasions.

Emmeline Pankhurst joins the trio of women and Jade, who knows how effective she was in making heard the previously ignored voices of women demanding to be able to vote, asks the four women How do you get people to listen?  There have already been some great musical numbers underlining the importance of finding out who you really are, and what you’re capable of, but the ensuing ensemble DEEDS NOT WORDS gets the whole audience [and Jade] really buzzing.  Previous songs have been loudly applauded: the cheers for this one nearly blew the roof off!

The women leave, and Jade is left wondering what she really wants.  Jane Austen appears, but Jade doesn’t have a clue who she is until – oh, you wrote that film with Colin Firth in it – to which Jane responds does anyone still read nowadays?  The two are joined by artist Frida Kahlo, dressed in a riot of colour and lighting up the stage.  Her training as a doctor ended when she was involved in a traffic accident, and she tells Jade Life doesn’t always fit together tidily – sometimes you have to colour outside the lines.   She urges Jade to follow her example: she shows how she sees the world – this is my fantasy, I paint my own reality – but Jade isn’t so sure – I’m just no good at anything…

Jade feels she needs a superhero to fix her problems – and she gets not one, but four!  Most appropriately for Scotland, we meet the four Marys – Mary Anning, Mary Seacole and Marie Curie, along with Agent Fifi [whose real name turns out to be Mary, too].  Mary Anning was a fossil collector and palaeontologist whose discoveries in the cliffs at Lyme Regis in Dorset contributed to major changes in scientific thinking about prehistory and life on earth – though this was not widely acknowledged in her lifetime.  Mary Seacole, originally from Jamaica, went to the Crimea and, when ignored by the War Office, set up her own hospital and nursed wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. 

Marie Curie was born in Poland and studied in France: she discovered two new elements – polonium and radium – and championed the use of radium in medicine. Initially disregarded as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for physics simply because she was a woman, she is the only person to have received Nobel prizes in two separate disciplines – physics and chemistry.  Agent Fifi [real name Marie Christine Chilver] studied languages in Paris during WW2.  When Germany invaded France she was sent to a German prison camp but escaped: she was recruited as a secret agent and used her skills and knowledge to test and train other spies.

These four Marys tell Jade there is no such thing as an ordinary woman and inspire Jade to declare I can do anything; to which they respond so what are you going to do, Jade?  But Jade still really doesn’t know… Rosa Parks enters – Jade is overwhelmed to meet her heroine, about whom she knows so much.  Rosa tells Jade that her protest against segregation came about because she was tired of giving in, saying safe doesn’t change the world, does it?  To Jade’s protestation that she doesn’t know what she really wants, or who she is, Rosa responds you are PHENOMENAL, you will change the world just by living in it: if you stand up for what you believe in, it will be worthwhile.  Anne Frank, who now appears, didn’t live to see the world change – she died with most of her family in German prison camps – but Rosa tells Jade that Anne dreamed about the world she wanted, and her father, who survived, published her diary, and her dreams spread all round the world.  A better world for everyone begins with better dreams: dream of a world where everyone is welcome, everyone is free: not every story has a happy ending, but the work goes on.  

The final number celebrates all the fantastically great women who changed the world.  We are reminded that no-one changes the world all by themselves – we are all a part of something much bigger, and that we’ll never be alone – we have the inspiring example of all the sisters who have gone before us.  It’s a rousing number which has the largely young, female audience cheering and clapping along, applauding loudly at the final curtain calls, and going out into the ‘normal’ world in a buzz of conversation which I devoutly hope signals an awakening to the limitless possibilities that lie before them.

The show is inspiring, fast-moving and full of energy.  It was only during the closing number that I finally realised all these fantastic women are played by four extremely talented actresses – Renée Lamb, Kirstie Skivington, Christina Modestou and Jade Kennedy – while Jade herself was played by the amazing Kudzai Mangombe.  The songs by Miranda Cooper are catchy, apposite, and memorable, with musical director Audra Cramer on keyboards, Rhiannon Hopkins on keys and drums and Chloe Rianna on drums all perched in boxes up above the action. 

Director Amy Hodge has produced a magnificent show – brightly-coloured, superbly lit, and fizzing with energy – it’s a real treat, not to be missed.  I only wish something like this had existed when I was young and being indoctrinated into the “women are the lesser species” mentality that prevailed – my life might have been a whole lot different.   

Change the world: bring your sons, bring your daughters, your parents and grandparents to the show and let them see the vast range of possibilities that lie just waiting to be explored!

Mary Woodward

 Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 30thApril, For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/fantastically-great-women-who-changed-the-world

Mary Woodward Review

Northern Ballet The Great Gatsby, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Review

**** (4 stars)

Well, what a contrast to last week’s Scottish Ballet Scandal at Mayerling – very different in tone, colour, music, mood and style, and a very welcome visit from Northern Ballet whom I used to see regularly when I lived in Nottingham.

I read Scott Fitzgerald’s novel many years ago, but couldn’t remember anything much about it – which was a pity, as I learned afterwards that the ballet closely follows the novel’s plot.  A quick glance at the synopsis beforehand wasn’t enough to follow the twists and turns of the plot, but this didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of the show [and a second reading in the interval shed more light on what was going on].

Jay Gatsby yearns for his childhood sweetheart, Daisy, but she is married to Tom Buchanan, with whom she has a daughter.  Daisy introduces her cousin, Nick Carraway, to her best girlfriend, golf champion Jordan Baker.  Nick senses that the Buchanan’s relationship is not all sweetness and light: we then learn that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of garage owner George.  In a series of flashbacks we see the start of the relationship between Young Daisy and Young Gatsby, its interruption by the Great War, and Gatsby’s increasing involvement in the criminal underworld, from which he has derived his current wealth.  Tensions mount between the three couples, and it ends in tragedy.

The score, using the music of the extraordinarily versatile Richard Rodney Bennett – composer of film music, jazz, symphonies, opera, choral and ensemble works – underpinned the fluctuating moods of the piece: swooningly romantic, nostalgic, exhilarating and dramatic.  Bennett was very happy to give former music director John Pryce-Jones and retiring artistic director David Nixon carte blanche to use whatever they pleased of his work, and the resulting collaboration meshed seamlessly with the action on stage.  I was particularly struck by the use of the fourth movement of Bennett’s concerto for percussion as the backdrop for the brittle scene in which Gatsby and Tom Buchanan challenge each other over “who gets Daisy”  while Daisy seems conflicted and uncertain about what and whom she wants.  Bennett died before the ballet was completed, so he never heard the final score – but eerily his presence was with us in recordings of him singing when the midnight choo choo leaves for Alabam’ and the final number  I never went away.

The production was full of light and shade, summery pastel costume colours contrasting with darker, glittery, nightclub ones, and the light shifting from glinting off the water surrounding Long Island to the darkness of Gatsby’s shady dealings and the hectic gaiety of nightclubs and parties.  Classical ballet sequences, modern dance sections, and frenetic twenties’ dancing – a superb Charleston sequence, jazz dancing and a mesmerising tango – created a kaleidoscopic mixture of styles, emotions and energies.   There were times when ‘dance’ took over from storytelling – but that’s the nature of most ballet, and what most ballet fans go for.

The thing I found hardest was working out who was who: I now realise I had confused the [both dark-haired] dancers playing Daisy and Myrtle at one point – no wonder I found the plot hard to follow!  The corps were also less easy to tell apart: unlike Scottish Ballet’s corps, they were pretty uniform in size and build.  The principals were, of course, excellent.  Riku Ito was a very self-contained Gatsby, hiding his feelings under a veneer of sophistication; Ashley Dixon’s Tom a thug, despite his ‘old money’.  Saeka Shirai was the conflicted Daisy – unwilling to rock the boat but melting when she remembered her former love for Gatsby, while Kevin Poeung [Nick] and Alessandra Bramante [Jordan] tried unsuccessfully to pour oil on the troubled emotional waters.  Harris Beattie was outstanding as the suspicious, cuckolded George Wilson and Rachael Gillespie sparkled as his unfaithful wife Myrtle.  Julie Nunès and Filippo Di Vilio were enchanting as Young Gatsby and Young Daisy, and Alicia O’Sullivan stole the show and the curtain calls as Daisy and Tom’s young daughter Pammy.

The Great Gatsby was a thoroughly enjoyable ballet, greatly appreciated by Thursday’s matinée audience, for some of whom it was their first visit in two years to a live performance.  Northern Ballet’s Sinfonia, conducted by Philip Ellis, received a rousing cheer and well-deserved thunderous applause.  Gatsby didn’t reach [for me] the heights of emotional and dramatic intensity that I felt at the scandal at Mayerling, but it was a hugely entertaining piece that I’m really glad to have seen.

Mary Woodward 

Northern Ballet The Great Gatsby, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 23rd April for tickets go tohttps://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/nb-the-great-gatsby

Mary Woodward Review

The scandal at Mayerling, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Review

Scottish Ballet

***** (5 stars)

Well, this is certainly not your ‘usual’ classical ballet – the image of sticky-out tutus and ballerinas on one leg being twirled around by discreet but athletic young men who stay in the background is hard to shake off!  And indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker last December – the perfect way to celebrate being alive and back together again: shame the reintroduction of covid restrictions prevented the show touring in January.

Now, however, Scottish Ballet are back, and back with the biggest possible bang you could imagine – an enthralling exploration of the slowly unravelling mind of crown Prince Rudolf, eldest son of Emperor Franz-Josef and his Empress Elizabeth, who has grown up in the stultifying atmosphere at court, never knowing love or affection from his parents.  He seeks thrills and excitement in drink, drugs, and women – it doesn’t seem to matter to him whether they are noble or common, and he certainly isn’t monogamous.  He has friends among the Hungarian officers but the closest person to him seems to be Bratfisch, the coachman who drives him to his assignations and hangs around to take him home again.  

The ballet opens with a funeral.  A coffin is slowly lowered into the ground, a priest reads some prayers – but there isn’t a grieving crowd, just a pair of men with umbrellas and someone lurking on the sidelines: whose funeral is this?

Flashback some years to the grand party at the Hofburg palace in Vienna to celebrate the marriage of the prince to Stephanie, a young princess who is thrilled by her situation and determined to be a good queen-in-waiting.  She can’t understand why the prince is flirting so violently with her younger sister, Louise, or why he takes so much interest in Countess Larisch and her daughter Mary Vetsera whom she presents to the prince.  Rudolf is summoned by his mother to explain himself, but his anguished behaviour is not met with any sympathy – she recoils from this attempts to reach out to her.  On their wedding night princess Stephanie is shocked and then terrified by the prince’s wild behaviour, his obsession with a skull, his brandishing of a revolver, and his ultimate rape of her.

The prince’s irrational behaviour continues – he drinks with his friends, who try but fail to calm him down; he takes his bride to a tavern where she is shocked by the behaviour of the brothel workers.  Rudolf abandons her as he pursues Mitzi Kaspar, his regular mistress and becomes embroiled in the machinations of some Hungarian nationalists.  Countess Larisch continues to press him into a relationship with Mary Vetsera while encouraging her daughter’s romantic dreams with assurances that they are to be together.  The prince’s mother interrupts a meeting between the prince and Countess Larisch, but departs before he is joined by Mary Vetsera – their relationship inflames their joint obsession with death, and they make a suicide pact.  

At his hunting lodge at Mayerling, Rudolf is drinking with his friends, but rapidly sends them away.  Bratfisch enters with Mary Vetsera and attempts to obey his master’s order to entertain them, but leaves when he realises he is invisible to them.  Rudolf, now spiralling out of control, is precipitated into the morphine-fuelled carrying out of his suicide pact with Mary, shooting first her and then himself.

We return to the funeral with which the ballet began:  now we know that it is Mary Vetsera who is being buried in secret, with Bratfisch the only grieving witness to this attempt to hush up the scandal at Mayerling,

In this ballet it’s the man who takes the starring role.  Rudolf is rarely off stage, and in this technically demanding role has pas de deux with many different women, all of whom dance in different styles which reflect their feelings – the terrified bride, the flattered sister, the scheming older mistress, his regular ‘common’ mistress, the infatuated young Mary Vetsera.  Evan Loudon expertly blended a sensitive attention to each of his partners with a chilling indifference to them all while himself dancing magnificently.  His solo curtain call gave the audience the opportunity to salute his dramatic performance, his amazing athleticism and his supreme technical skill.

Constance Devernay was brilliant as the initially proud and excited Princess Stephanie who rapidly unravels in terror at her new husband’s irrational behaviour on their wedding night.  Sophie Martin was excellent as the young, naïve girl responding excitedly to Rudolf’s passion and rapidly joining, and even exceeding Rudolf in his obsession with death.  All the other female roles were equally striking in their individuality; the four Hungarian officers tried but failed to control their prince’s erratic behaviour while taking part in some memorable all-male quintets.  Bruno Macchiardi’s wonderful comic abilities provided the only lighter moments in a pretty heavy piece, which never oppressed but didn’t shrink from portraying the blacker side of royal life.

Martin Yates, guest conductor of Scottish Ballet’s orchestra, was also responsible for the re-orchestration of the score for Kenneth MacMillan’s original ballet to meet the need for a reduced, touring-sized, orchestra.  The music of Franz Liszt was a perfect match for the action on stage, with some ‘ooh I know this bit’ moments and a continuously-flowing accompaniment to the drama.   MacMillan’s original large-scale ballet was re-worked by Christopher Hampson and Gary Harris, with the full approval of his widow Deborah, to create a production that could be taken on tour and also use the whole company’s talents.  It’s a visual feast, with magnificent costumes and atmospheric lighting, played against very simple backdrops which rapidly reflect the changes of scene.

Yet again Scottish Ballet have come up with something memorable, which I hope won’t disappear from their repertoire but be presented to us more than once.  Do try to get to see it if you can: and if not, look forward to another new production – their take on the classic Coppelia, which will first see the light of day in this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Mary Woodward

Scottish Ballet Presents, The scandal at Mayerling, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Run Ended, Scottish Tour Continues.

Mary Woodward Review

My Doric Diary, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

A Play, a Pie and a Pint

***** (5 stars)

Theatre at its best makes you laugh, makes you cry, takes you out of yourself and into someone else’s world for a wee while – there’s all this and more with a peek into My Doric Diary, this week’s a Play, a Pie and a Pint.

Daisy’s a live-wire sixteen-year-old who has our attention right from the start.  We’re in the Broch [that’s Fraserburgh to you], we’re in the theatre where onyhin con happen: if you think I’m talking funny it’s because I’m speaking Doric and if you don’t understand what I’m saying – well, TOUGH! 

It’s Hogmanay, and Daisy has been invited to the Hogmanay party at the civic centre by Autumn, her blue-haired pal who works at the petrol station.  She really wants to go, but the problem is her Grunny [Granny to you] Flora, with whom she lives.  Grunny considers Doric uncouth, speaks very properly, is very fond of saying when I was your age, and has imposed a 7.30pm curfew on Daisy, despite the fact that she will be seventeen tomorrow.

The Hogmanay tradition in Grunny Flora’s household is for them to sit together and watch a video of The Wizard of Oz, which Daisy feels she has outgrown – other people her age drink, and smoke and even [say it very quietly] have sex, for goodness’ sake!  But when she overrides her inner counsellor and asks Grunny if she can go to the party, saying she doesn’t want to watch the film, Grunny responds but you love it, to which Daisy shouts no, YOU love it before storming out, slamming the door, and taking refuge in her bedroom.

And this is where things start to become a little strange – the lights keep flicking, there’s a strange clattering sound, and inside her cupboard she finds a big yellow box.  Inside the box… now there’s a tale, and a cracking good tale it is too – but you’ll have to come and hear it for yourself.

This is a brilliant, lively piece of theatre exploring relationships, love, and loss.  Katie Barnett is a real live wire as teenage Daisy – singing, dancing, switching accents, characters and moods, and holding us in the palm of her hand.  Musicians James Siggens and Gavin Whitworth add depth and colour to the score, play an integral part in the action, and vocals which produce some lovely three-part harmonies.  Music is a vivid, integral, and significant part of the piece – funny, lively, heart-rending and saying so much more than mere words can do.

Yet again PPP has come up with a winner – I’m sure I was not the only person in the audience both laughing out loud and moved to tears, not least with the final song – so well known, but sounding completely fresh and new in Doric.  The meanings of one or two words in the script eluded me, though others in the audience seemed familiar with them: but you don’t need to be a linguistics scholar to appreciate this rich and expressive language – the underlying message of the play speaks in all languages: there’s nae place like hame.

The audience loved it!  My Doric Diary is on till the end of the week: catch it if you can: and if you can’t, hope that the Traverse will soon reintroduce an evening PPP performance, so that a wider audience can enjoy the fascinating range of drama being created in Scotland today.  This is the last play in the current PPP series – rock on the next one!

PS – On a culinary note, I was delighted to arrive in time to get the last of the chicken and mushroom pies on offer today – delicious, thank you!  Let’s hope they are a regular feature on the menu next season…

Mary Woodward

My Doric Diary, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 16th April, for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/a-play-a-pie-and-a-pint-my-doric-diary

Mary Woodward Review

Daniel Getting Married, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

A Play, a Pie and a Pint

***** (5 stars)

This play pressed all my buttons, took me down memory lane, and had me enthralled throughout.

Daniel’s singing to himself as he gets ready for his wedding, sorting out his things and getting changed in the church vestry, anticipating the pleasures of his wedding night [has he been watching Bridgerton, I wonder?].  His mum, Joy, comes in and starts fussing around him: Daniel protests, but is also anxious that everything should be perfect: he’s especially concerned that Zak shouldn’t see him before the wedding.  His mum protests that she and his dad spent the night together before the wedding, and walked to church [this very same church] together, and they were together for forty-five years – surely Daniel’s making a fuss about nothing?

Daniel realises that he’s got the ‘something new, something borrowed, something blue’ – but where’s the ‘something old’?  Joy comes to the rescue, bringing out his dad’s cuff links and says how happy he would have been to see this day.  She tells Daniel to practise his vows – and tears up at the love he’s expressing, saying “Zak’s the one, isn’t he?”

Daniel seems flustered by this: he’s already reacted very badly to being called Eeyore, and now asks “is this about Gabriel?”  His mum responds by saying “your dad wasn’t the only one, you know” and telling her son about her Interrail romance with Luca – an unlikely pairing who really hit it off.  Luca asked Joy to marry him, but she knew she wanted to go to university and so they parted.

Joy goes off to attend to wedding details and Daniel is alone.  A knock at the door has him shouting in a panic to Zak not to come in – but the knock is repeated…and repeated…and Gabriel comes in. Daniel is completely thrown, can’t stand it when Gabriel calls him Pooh Bear, and furiously tells him to get out – why is he here, today of all days: why didn’t he get in touch any of the 1,642 1/2 days since they saw each other?  Yes, there’s been a pandemic, but there are phones, right? Things you call each other on, right?

The ensuing conversation triggered so many of my memories/ regrets/ past wishes: I was mesmerised, torn between wanting Daniel to sort everything out with Gabriel and vanish into the sunset with him, and wanting him to resist all his blandishments and stick with Zak and the solid life the two of them have established together.   I was divided between Gabriel’s scorn of all things hetero – ‘we can make our own rules or have no rules, we don’t have to live by theirs’ – and Daniel’s ‘I want to do this, two men getting married, in the church in which my mum and dad were wed, in front of all the people who made my life hell when I was growing up – the biggest F*** You of them all’.

How does it end?  Well, dear reader, you’ll have to go and see for yourself!  Despite Covid striking two of the original actors, meaning that Joy and Gabriel were acting script in hand, the play was completely engrossing.  Emily Winter’s Joy was lovingly maternal, everything she did being [in her eyes at least] in her son’s best interests; Michael Dylan’s Gabriel was the archetypal seductive Irish charmer – was it all blarney or was it for real?’  Neil John Gibson’s Daniel was superbly conflicted, deeply passionate, and desperate for the stability and happiness he’d longed for all his life. 

A classic love triangle with a contemporary twist and some covid complications, this is a show not to miss.  I wish I could say the same about the pie…last week’s Scotch pie had virtually bulletproof pastry and a rather slimy and nondescript filling: this week’s macaroni pie was marginally better, but had been sitting so long it was dried out: I’m lucky enough to get it as part of my press ticket, but paying punters might well be somewhat put out by being asked to shell out for something that undistinguished [but the glass of wine – after the show – was most welcome.]

Next week’s show is the last of this series My Doric Diary – if it’s anything like as good as Daniel Getting Married, we’re in for a real treat!

Daniel Getting Married, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 9th April, for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/a-play-a-pie-and-a-pint-daniel-getting-married