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.

 

 

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

Bothered and Bewildered by Gail Young at Churchhill Theatre

BOTHERED & BEWILDERED by GAIL YOUNG is a trip along the rocky road of Alzheimer’s disease. This condition, which awaits increasing numbers of us as time passes, is a complex mix of symptoms that have a uniquely devastating effect on the people caring for sufferers. Young’s script tackles a difficult issue with warmth, humour and a little of the shock that prompts relatives to accept how different the patient has become and move to the next necessary stage of care. She commendably avoids sensationalising the awful moments many of her audience members will have experienced as they struggled to comprehend what was happening to a relative in their own lives. Having seen this condition in several family members and close friends, I know I sat up with a jolt at one or two points.

VAL LENNIE shines in the lead role of Irene with a strong and occasionally courageous performance displaying the bewildering mood swings and the crippling paranoia so characteristic of the condition. Director Mike Brownsell could not have asked for more. Also rising to the challenges of the script, Lynn Cameron and Anne Mackenzie playing the ‘daughters’ were unswervingly watchable.

The play offers an alter ego for Irene in the form of Barbara Cartland. Beautifully dressed and coiffed to replicate the standard photo of that Grande Dame of romantic fiction, Bev Wright gave a sterling performance. I would have liked a touch more steel in this personification of Irene’s unreason. The principals were well supported and it’s an altogether satisfactory evening of drama from Edinburgh People’s Theatre.

Run continues Thursday and Friday 26/27 at 7.30 pm and Saturday 28th at 2.30 pm Churchhill theatre, Morningside Road (Buses 5, 11, 16, 15, 23, 27 to Holy corner. Some parking in surrounding streets)

 

The Iliad – Mark Thomson- Chris Hannan – Homer

The Iliad in a new version by Chris Hannan rounds off Mark Thomson’s remarkable tenure at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and is directed by Mark.

This work is based on the poem by Greek writer Homer and covers part of the Trojan Wars (they went on a long time, don’t worry about it). My companion settled happily back when the lights were dimming and the wind rose onstage. Anyone who knows the work must feel that thrill. When we visited the site of Troy, our tour guide of the 21st century advised us to take our jackets because it was a windy place.

It’s really hard for twenty-first century minds to enter into belief systems that juxtapose Gods, half-Gods and humans. It’s even harder for twenty-first century women to embrace a time when winner took all and understand that meant the armour of the defeated, but also their women – after killing their children.

Or is it? When we read the reports of war in our life-time, there’s still so much of that going on. Old men flexing waning muscles while the young men tone theirs.

Philosophy aside, Hannan and Thomson make an entertaining and dramatic stab at the text. The audience enters into the long periods of sustained effort and also the long periods of ennui while behind the scenes diplomacy goes on. The Greek singing was quite lovely in parts. Ably led by Emanuella Cole, the Goddess Hera,  as one of Paris’s rejects for that golden apple, the Gods and Goddesses fight among themselves with huge repercussions for the mortals beneath. Richard Conlon as Zeus plays out the bitter infighting of marriage, but never quite pacifies Hera. Peter Bray and Amiera Darwish give us an interesting take on Paris and Helen – ostensibly the cause of the launching of those 1,000 ships. Paris is accused of being not quite ‘all there’ and displays an alarming tendency to wander off when he loses interest.

A towering production to mark the end of Thomson’s hand on the helm.

Run continues 20 April – 14 May. Tickets here

I AM THOMAS Royal Lyceum Edinburgh and touring

I AM THOMAS is described by the company, Told By An Idiot, as  brutal comedy with songs. More than a nod in the direction of Brecht, then. The question for the audience is whether it works.

I Am Thomas is written by the company. Music is by Iain Johnstone and lyrics by Simon Armitage. Collaboration is the underpinning philosophy and it’s not the way I find the most satisfactory theatre is created. This audience member likes a clear vision – from both the script (writer) and the performance (director). Collaboration to my eye allows for too much dilution and perhaps distraction.

There are a lot of people around in this university town who know far more about blasphemy trials, appeals and the general reluctance of the Establishment to allow anything approaching common sense to rear its head in a courtroom, than I do. They will tell you about what the play missed and missed out on. I, knowing nothing about Thomas Aitkenhead before I went along, enjoyed a lot of what I did find. There were huge positives to I Am Thomas.

I enjoyed the lively music, the way the main character moved around the cast and the sheer contrast to Arthur Miller’s towering achievement so recently seen here, The Crucible. Not all of the population find their religion in Godliness. For some the definition of truth is out there in the skies, yes, but it’s physical not theological.

I still don’t understand the single white shoes and if anyone reading this can help me, please leave your comment, but I so enjoyed the pseudo sports’ commentaries. Having been along to South Morningside School’s great Shakespeare evening, I was receptive to them and might even have recognised the trench coats.

It was great to meet Hannah McPake, Edinburgh born actor returning to her roots.

Run in Edinburgfh now finished, Touring to Inverness Eden Court 12-16th April and Wilton’s theatre, London 20-30 April