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


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


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

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!