Starter’s Orders Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Pitlochry theatre in the hills

Pitlochry theatre in the hills

Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s 2016 season opened for us with the towering production of CAROUSEL. Musicals often have a dark underbelly camouflaged by sparkling songs, energetic dances and a sharp book. CAROUSEL scores on all levels.

Ferenc Molnar was Hungarian and he wrote the original play, Liliom. According to the programme notes he had already turned down approaches from Puccini and Kurt Weill before agreeing to let Rodgers and Hammerstein have the right to adapt and set it in America.

The Pitlochry production opens with a dance routine and the setting up of the carousel where Billy Bigelow is the barker. Apparently having a young and attractive male barker was the key to running a successful carousel as it drew in the girls. Of course being young and attractive can go to a guy’s head and it’s not long before the conflicted Billy is breaking hearts and breaking his own ties with a job and his self-esteem.

George Arvidson delivers a memorable performance as Billy shining as both actor and singer. He’s from Denver and has already been heard as Count Almaviva in the Marriage of Figaro. He’s well supported by the ensemble cast.

The techies and stage designers have had a great time with this production and bring some wonderfully humorous touches to it just when the audience might be feeling the emotional strain of the domestic violence theme. I won’t spoil that because you’ll want to be surprised in your turn.

Our performance was a sell-out.

Run in repertory with matinées at 2pm and evening performances at 8pm until Saturday 15th October 2016.

tickets here Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Anne Stenhouse’s historical romance is here

Prelude and Fugue by Clifford Bax – Theatre Broad for Forth Valley Art Beat Venue 45


Rebecca Fergus

Prelude and Fugue by Clifford Bax is being produced by Theatre Broad of Stirling for the Forth Valley Art Beat.


Carol Metcalf

Prelude and Fugue

The play, written in 1918 as one of twelve short verse plays, for this production is set in the 1930s. The company have used the musical interlude ‘Prelude and Fugue’ by Johann Sebastian Bach to allow reflection between the verses of conversation and interior monologue. It tells the story of Rosemary, who a week before her wedding, is having her likeness drawn in Charcoal by Joan. As Joan sketches, the two women discover a dark secret shared by both of them.To save Joan, Rosemary must decide whether or not to reveal all. Will she do the right thing and save the younger woman?

Prelude and Fugue is an excellent choice for an Art Festival and in Rebecca Fergus the company have found the perfect choice to play Joan as she is doubly trained in both Art and Acting. Indeed some of Rebecca’s intriguing pieces adorn the stage. Together with Theatre Broad’s founder member, Carol Metcalf, the women tease out the agonising steps of deciding whether to share a dark secret or not.

Often the revelation of bad news depends as much on whether the hearer can face hearing it as on whether the teller can expose themselves by telling. Perhaps the social repercussions would be greater in 1918/1930 than today, but the effect on trust between friends and lovers certainly wouldn’t.

As apposite for today as for the time it was written, this delightful production of Prelude and Fugue, takes one out of the world of petty concerns to reflect more deeply on a fundamental.

Theatre Broad was founded in 2003 and aims to provide regular, affordable, quality theatre in Stirling, the surrounding area and on tour throughout Scotland and Northern England. Directors, Carol Metcalf and Tangee Lenton have a team of regular actors, associate actors and associate playwrights.

Forth Valley Art Beat is an annual event of Performance, installations, exhibitions, open studios and pop-up studios. It’s situated across the Forth valley and if you visit their 2016 facebook page (link highlighted above) you’ll find out a lot more.

Run continues – take a moment out of your busy day for this lovely dramatized poem with its haunting music.

Venue 45 Cowane Centre, Stirling in the Studio Theatre Mon 13/Tues 14 June at 2.30 and Fri 17/Sat18 at 7.30 Ticket from the Albert Hall, Tolbooth £5. From the venue before performances.

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


THE CRUCIBLE by ARTHUR MILLER is The Royal Lyceum of Edinburgh’s flagship production to mark its 50th year. Royal Lyceum audiences have a long and mostly satisfactory relationship with Arthur Miller and this production of the Crucible will have enhanced that immeasurably.

The Crucible is a play ostensibly about witchcraft, but actually about so much that troubles any thinking person over the human condition. Religious fervour, superstition, greed, scapegoating, love, betrayal, the rule of law and the misrule of law. So much more is packed into the fabric of this work that further inklings strike one unawares.

It’s very difficult to single out individual performances, but the central love affair played out by Irene Allen and Philip Cairns as Elizabeth and John Proctor has not been bettered in my opinion. (Well, I haven’t seen it quite as often as Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it is around a lot…) Their quiet despair over where the love and trust went and why, is tangible and there can hardly have been a dry female eye in the house at the final scene.

John Dove asks a huge amount from his cast and they respond. The performances are all understated or hysterical as required by the script. The group of girls swayed by the unaccustomed attention to their views, is a terrible thing to watch. How easy it is for mass hysteria, at the time unrecognised, to influence otherwise hard-working and God-fearing (in the best sense) people. Danforth, the Deputy Governor, is unmoved by the obvious breakdown of social order caused by his lunatic questioning and blind adherence to the rigidity of words once uttered. How often do we see this polarisation between head and heart today? The cost remains high.

Run continues till 19th March, catch it!


ESCAPED ALONE by Caryl Churchill is the first production I’ve seen in The Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London.

In London for a committee meeting of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I was able to find a free evening and what a great experience it was. The Royal Court are trying out a short menu of ‘Boards’ for after the performance, so when it’s short or you were short of time getting to the theatre, then there’s a ‘board’ of cheese, charcuterie, smoked fish, or humus to calm that rumbling tum. My companion and I shared a cheese and smoked fish selection.

But you’re wanting to know about ESCAPED ALONE, not what I had for my tea.

The play by veteran writer Caryl Churchill is directed by James Macdonald and features four actresses with impeccable cvs. Linda Bassett, Kika Markham, June Watson and Deborah Findlay. Three of them are drinking tea in a garden when the fourth peeks in and is invited in. Four tales of life in its diverse experiences unfold for around fifty minutes.

So, I’m a little conflicted. Was the play so subtle, I won’t get it until it wakens me in the night some time later, or is it simply a homage to the achievement of survival? The performances were superb. The set great, although I could have done without the flashing light border. The fourth woman also acts a narrator and steps away from the garden to perform long speeches full of apocalyptic horrors – also at times very funny. These out-takes are when the stage is kept black but a surround of flashing red light created.

ESCAPED ALONE (the quote is attributed to the Book of Job and Moby Dick) does, however, stay with you and perhaps that’s its strength. Has the woman across there murdered her husband? Does the woman behind the curtains have agoraphobia? Why are cats terrifying? What caused the terrible rage? It makes you look again at those around – and wonder.

Run continues, Royal Court  Jerwood Theatre downstairs till 12th March

THE DEVIL INSIDE Stuart Macrae and Louise Welsh

What a lot we owe Robert Louis Stevenson. The Devil Inside, a new opera by Stuart Macrae with an excellent libretto by Louise Welsh is based on his 1893 short story called The Bottle Imp. The Devil Inside is playing for two nights at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre before touring through the rest of the UK and to Toronto. It is a co-commission and co-production with Music Theatre Wales.

Macrae and Welsh have collaborated before to write two operas for Scottish Opera, Remembrance Day and Ghost Patrol. Macrae observes that the pieces have become longer and The Devil Inside is certainly a beautifully paced re-telling of this older story.

The story is about all those ways in which we can let our moral guard slip. It’s about greed, addiction and ultimately selflessness. Who among us is capable of resisting the promise of a fail-safe investment? Life, as in the Faust legend, is long, and reparation a distant issue to be dealt with as and when.

Apologies to Mr Macrae, but I’m not qualified to judge the score. Those around me who were more musically educated, seemed happy enough. It’s great to encounter so many young people in Scottish Opera audiences. Indeed the young woman next to me was there on a press ticket for an online University newspaper. Didn’t catch her name or the name of the paper, but glad to see this interest.

The libretto, on the other hand, I do feel more at home reviewing and it was good. Excellent story-telling with a straightforward beginning, middle and end on view. Lots of scope for the characters to show their inner turmoil in the drama.

A pared back set was moved around by a black-clad crew who earned their own applause among the curtain calls.

Run continues tonight, 30 Jan, at 7.15 King’s Theatre Box Office 0131 529 6000

The Weir by Conor McPherson

THE WEIR by CONOR McPHERSON, playing at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, is a tantalising web of ghost stories, Irish faery-tales and real-life misery.

In this production directed by Amanda Gaughan, a quintet of Irish actors use their soft voices to tell a series of stories that have impacted on their lives to huge effect. There’s no plot as such, but there’s a wealth of story-telling to hold the audience attentive throughout the 100 minute straight-through performance.

Jack, the died in the wool local man, tells a tale involving Faeries. Like elephants, only smaller, they have their historic routes. If you build your house on one of them then it’s the house that’s in the wrong place not the faery traveller. Finbar, who saw the gaps and made money knows that  some people, often teenagers with their overly sensitive, hormone flushed perception, can see the dead. Call it coincidence to help you sleep, but it may drive the hardest headed man out of his habitat in search of company.

Jim, the odd job labourer met a ghost who would have been buried in a particular grave for a particular reason (I won’t give the spoiler). Jim had flu and a high temperature so maybe there was no ghost. And Valerie, the blow-in with her air of rigid control, has a human story unequalled in its horror by any of the supernatural ones.

And that brings us full circle to hear just why Jack never left the country-side. Presided over by the young barman, Brendan, the group bat their stories and memories to and fro. It’s a huge pleasure to listen to. Difficult human frailty wrapped in myth without the need for protagonist and antagonist. It’s a gem of a play. I recommend it.

Box Office 0131 248 4848

The Weir Run continues till 6th February

The Crucible 18/02 – 19/03

Traverse competition

Edinburgh’s wonderful new writing theatre, the Traverse, is looking for scripts to workshop. I received this in my E-news letter.


This Week’s News:

Words, Words, Words
Submissions call

Submissions are now being invited for the latest round of Words, Words, Words, the Traverse Theatre’s extravaganza of imagination and creativity. Writers are asked to submit their work-in-progress, and the most interesting, engaging and challenging will be read by actors following a day’s rehearsal.

The work can be the seed of an idea that may grow in the future, but the emphasis is on developing work-in-progress by bringing a script to life with a company of Traverse actors and directors. Let your imagination take you where it will, but make sure to submit your work to the Traverse by Thurs 22 October via our submissions page.

There are terms and conditions, folks, so read the rules carefully and don’t find yourself on the wrong side of a date…