SCROOGE! – The Musical Pitlochry Festival Theatre

SCROOGE! the musical – Book, Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse  running at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until Friday 23rd is a dramatic delight.

A large cast is headed by Philip Rham and supported by an onstage live band. The band are almost hidden by the set’s chimney pot skyline, but the music is great.

Three sets of youngsters take the juvenile roles and we saw The Red Team who were excellent. But I’m confident the two other teams are good, too. If I might be permitted a minor quibble I found the casts’s voices a little over-miked. Really minor though.

Scrooge is of course based on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, 1843. The programme notes tell us the original was a commentary on Britain’s infamous Poor Laws with their introduction of Treadmills in the Poor Houses. The piece is as much needed today as it ever was.

PITLOCHRY FESTIVAL THEATRE

Playing Catch-up Democracy and others

Democracy by Michael Frayn is an enthralling play about the late Chancellor of Germany, Willy Brandt and the East German spy, Gunter Guillaume whose presence in Brandt’s inner cabinet, the hat-stand man, proved to be his downfall.

Democracy is at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre again tonight 0131 529 6000 and is well worth catching. The all male cast is headlined by Tom Hodgkins as Brandt and Neil Caple as Guillaume. Frayn doesn’t stint on the frailties of the human spirit that are the main architects of Brandt’s eventual fall, but he doesn’t labour them either. Both actors turn in rounded performances depicting two men caught by the exigencies of time.

And why no opinions on Hard Times, Role Play and This Happy Breed – all Pitlochry – and Dundee Rep’s energising The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil?

A new book launched and the timing caught me a wee bit by surprise, so online marketing has taken up the computer hours. Courting the Countess takes Beauty and the Beast and turns it on its head. She’s scarred by fire and he’s Greek God Gorgeous. Will it work? Hope you have a kindle and you can find out for yourself.

The plays were great, by the way. Still time to get to Pitlochry.

Oct 1st Edinburgh King’s Theatre, then touring. Rapture Theatre

EIF – The Toad Knew – King’s Theatre

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée and Compagnie du Hanneton opened last night at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh.

I am grateful to Mark Fisher and Dorothy Max Prior whose programme notes fill in and explain so much of the experience that is The Toad Knew. They tell one, for example, of Thiérrée’s circus and theatre forebears. Charlie Chaplin, Victoria Chaplin and Eugene O’Neil for starters are bound to have produced an intellect of depth and a body capable of the strength and grace needed for circus performance.

Supported by Valérie Doucet, Samual Duterte, Maraima, Yann Nédélec and Thi Mai Nguyen onstage, together with puppeteers, and backed up by a formidable array of stage props and costumes, the production is a delightful hour and a half.

Part dream sequences, part clowning, part musical, part acrobatic, part illusion – where did all those plates come from? The ever-moving set was a constant surprise and delight.. Not only was it interesting in that it appeared to be an electrical shop full of upside down saucer-shaped fittings, but the acrobats made full use of it for up-in-the-air performance.

Run continues till Sunday 28th August, ’16. Do go: Tickets are here

EIF 2016 – Measure For Measure

Ruling Heads, Naples

Ruling Heads, Naples

 

MEASURE FOR MEASURE  presented by Cheek by Jowl and the Pushkin Theatre is a masterly production of a seriously unpleasant play. Why choose this one?

The excellent programme notes provided in part by Cheek by Jowl, in part by James Shapiro and finally Peter Kirwan are full and informative. The play, Measure For Measure, is reckoned to be Shakespeare‘s first Jacobean one, but the text used today is also thought to have been updated by Thomas Middleton. Shakespeare’s play may well have been set in Italy, Ferrara, but the one we now see performed is in Vienna.

James 6th and 1st was obsessed with how his subjects thought and what they did. The Duke, in M for M is likewise interested in how nobly his subjects would behave without his guiding hand. So off he goes, but not far. Disguised as a friar, he lurks in the dark corners of the big city and is soon hearing people’s confessions as they await an illegitimate birth or their own execution. The play covers moral breakdown, personal and political, the over-zealous enforcement of laws and inflexible good as epitomised by the doomed man’s sister, Isabella.

It’s one of the mysteries of the play that one is unable to warm to Isabella until her final few scenes when she is left aghast by the Duke’s decision to marry her (without asking and in the face of the implacable godliness referred to above). I suppose the traditions of the time meant all available child-bearing women needed a husband and this match rounded the numbers off nicely.

Despite the handicap of the story, the production by Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod with a cast from the Pushkin Theatre, is full of wonderful, quirky beats and an excellent staging. Short scenes and multiple exits and entrances can be an issue with Shakespearean performance, but this production answers the problem by keeping the cast on stage and revolving them as a silent chorus from which the central performers peel off. Three large red boxes provide ample cover for costume changes, although there is a moment of fleeting male nudity.

The play runs at the Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 20th when there’s also a matinée. Tickets are here

EIF 2016 SHAKE -adapted by Dan Jemmett from 12th Night by William Shakespeare

Singers, Bengal

Singers, Bengal

SHAKE is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Dan Jemmett and the Eat a Crocodile company have crafted a delightful show full of cultural nods – music hall, end of pier theatricals, cross-dressing set-piece humour, filmic song and dance routines – in French with side-titles.

Identical twins Sebastian and Viola are ship-wrecked and each thinks the other perished. Viola dresses as a man and seeks work as page to Orsini with whom she falls in love. Sebastian is looked after by Antonio, who harbours a hopeless love for him, and eventually Sebastian is married by the beautiful Olivia – who is the object of Orsini’s desire. Okay, still with it? Into the mix, we have Feste, yesterday’s jester, who tells jokes in American English, and Malvolio, the buttoned up steward and perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most well-defined character studies. Not forgetting Sir Toby and Sir Andrew – one of them is a music/pier show dummy and one a drunk.

The Eat a Crocodile company deliver a touching, humorous and polished show from a set of seaside bathing cabins. They sashay through two wonderful hours of acting, singing, dancing, costume changes, a ventriloquist’s dummy and more……….

Tickets for the two remaining performances Sat 13th  2.30 and Sat 13th 7.30 are here

EIF The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams

Buy your ticket for The Glass Menagerie here

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a modern masterpiece.

I first encountered The Glass Menagerie when I signed up to study American Literature as part of my English Literature degree at Edinburgh University. I first met director, John Tiffany when I signed up to the Traverse Women’s writing group in the nineties. There’s a sort of quiet satisfaction when areas of one’s life come together in such an unexpected, but altogether satisfactory way.

Five star reviews of this production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, which began life on 2nd February 2013 at the Loeb Drama Center for The American Repertory Theater, abound. I don’t award stars but I don’t argue with those assessments.

Memory is a strange thing. Take six of us witnessing an event and ask us what happened a year later. The accounts will vary. We may not even be able to agree on the result! Add family relations with their perceived inequalities to the mix, and the result will be even further from exact.

Tennessee Williams also stirs physical disability, mental instability and the pernicious effect of the Great Depression into his pot. The results are reaching boiling point when the play opens and bubble up to engulf the stove by the end.

Cherry Jones reprises her role of Amanda Wingfield and what mother in the audience hasn’t felt the frustrations she’s experiencing? Amanda is a monster of motherhood, but the reasons are compelling. Tom Wingfield her much put-upon son and financial support comes in for almost all of the flak. He is not, however, his absent father. He is a young man with his hopes and ideals shackled by duty. Laura, the daughter with a mild visible disability, which gentleman-caller, Jim, had to be reminded of, and a much greater personality disorder, is the catalyst for all that ensues. Her mother does not, or will not, take on board the issues. She does delude herself though, that Jim, the much wanted gentleman-caller, will resolve all them all for the future of her vulnerable adult daughter.

The audience sighed with satisfaction as the house went dark. It’s by no means a happy ending, but the cast and the direction brought The Glass Menagerie to life with such care, all the over-heards while leaving were of an evening that could not have been better spent.

Buy your tickets here. There are another 11 performances till run ends 21st August.

 

 

NORMA Bellini

Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness

NORMA by Vincenzo Bellini is this year’s BIG EIF production.

Written by Vincenzo Bellini in the early nineteenth century, NORMA was set in Gaul where Druid resistance to the occupying Roman army was led and dictated by the High Priestess, Norma. Cue 2016 and we’re morphed into the second world war and German occupation of France. I didn’t really take to this.

Much of the human drama of Bellini’s NORMA is universal and timeless. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in Gaul or France because a wronged woman is a lethal enemy to make in either time-frame. However, there were issues. The scene where NORMA collects all the mistletoe her followers have secreted about their persons would work so much better if the actors were in robes than in 1940s dress. The dramatic climax where her betrayed followers set alight a pyre made of school classroom furniture is saved only by the chorus member who is determinedly snipping off NORMA’s hair. It was a chilling reminder of they way the French treated women identified as collaborators.

All of these issues apart, what of the music – the singers, the period instruments and the chorus?

I enjoyed all of the soloists and don’t have enough technical knowledge to get involved in the arguments about whether a mezzo-soprano should sing a soprano role and so on. I also enjoyed the chorus. Some critics have found them understated. I thought they sounded really good and they were also acting a community under oppression. Would they be loud and joyful – it’s not as if the audience couldn’t hear them.

The I Barrochisti period instrument ensemble’s regular conductor was indisposed and the chorus master, Gianluca Capuano, stepped in to conduct. An excellent job in the circumstances.

Tonight’s off-stage entertainment was provided by the huge number of people we knew in and around our seats. Congrats to the 4 chaps who arrived last and departed first. Hope you made the 10.30 show, wherever it was.

Supposing you’ve read one of my historical romances, I’d love a review. August is ‘leave an author a review’ month. Did you know/ Here’s my collection.

EIF 16 The Destroyed Room

THE DESTROYED ROOM by Matthew Lenton and Vanishing Point is a much less comfortable evening in the theatre. Three folk left from seats around us when the male character, played by Barnaby Power, described the video showing the death of the Jordanian pilot at the hands of ISIS, frame by frame. Those who conscientiously avoid such graphic material on the web have every right to feel cheated.

The play’s point at that moment was to show how clever such manipulation is.

The script is naturalistic, the behaviours of three folk coming together and falling into one of those conversations – this one started “If you had to destroy one thing in your house, what would it be? – and led on, as scripts must, into deeper and darker territory than might have been expected.

THE DESTROYED ROOM is a play for our times full of the big questions and its performance by three talented actors – Elicia Daly and Pauline Goldsmith joined Power – is incomparable.

Also on stage are two cameras and their operatives sending close-ups of the performers onto big screens. Does it remind us how everything we do today is recorded – or do they just get between the audience and the play? I began to watch for the close-up when any of the three performers held sway, my companion was simple irritated. He’s not on FB and has only ever appeared in one selfie.

I was able to open the sweeties for our neighbour.

Run continues and tickets are here

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL2016 – Interiors

And we have lift-off…

In-flight entertainment was provided by ‘Wee Hughie”s antics trying to get to Edinburgh for the Preview of Matthew Lenton’s Interiors presented by Vanishing Point.

He’d messed up, ‘Wee Hughie’ had  and the lady  whose telephone conversation with his mum/girlfriend/sister was broadcast on speaker phone to the whole Grand Circle was not pleased. The rest of us were much entertained, although very happy that it was all switched off in response to the authoritative voice from the outer darkness, ‘Switch it off now, Love, switch it off.

So following this, Lenton and Vanishing Point had ground to recover. And recover it they did with a warm, affectionate look at the frailties of both the human condition and a community living on the edge. The polar bears, the narrator informs us, are very hungry at this time of year. Where society is small, the individuals making it up have to get on, compromise and respect one another.

They might also entertain one another and there is a dance routine you should try not to miss.

Interiors is in rep with Vanishing Point’s The Destroyed Room at the Royal Lyceum theatre till Monday 8th August. Tickets from the EIF Ticketing Hub

Do you have my historical romance on your e-reader? Buy for kindle here

GAME PLAN by ALAN AYCKBOURN

Theatre Al Fresco

Theatre Al Fresco

 

Game Plan by Alan Ayckbourn at Pitlochry Festival Theatre was an absolute delight. Directed by Richard Baron and starring three female actors, the play explores that most volatile of human relationships between a mother and her teenage daughter.

Lynette and Sorrel Saxon – Amanda Osborne and Kirsty Mackay – find themselves abandoned (for another woman) and penniless ( internet business is like that). Lynette works as an office cleaner and Sorrel is faced with having to commute into her prestigious London school. While Lynette is securing interviews and calling in favours with various degrees of success, Sorrel goes off to talk to the ‘BAD Girl’ who was expelled from her school for soliciting. She also leans on her dotty friend, Kelly – Gemma McElhinney – to help.

Let the farce begin.

Delicious one liners, slow burning jokes (what is that sink plunger doing there?), excellent costume choices and a superb ending ensure the whole play captures and enthrals from the get-go.

Run continues. Tickets here