Casanova, Northern Ballet (Festival Theatre: 23 – 25 March ’17)

Giuliano Contadini as Casanova.
Photos. Guy Farrow, Northern Ballet.

“Sooo awesome!”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad

Casanova is a brand new ballet on its world premier tour, choreographed by Kenneth Tindall in his first major work. This could have gone either way but be reassured: this is a really exciting piece.

The story itself is based upon the life of Giacomo Casanova, taken from Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova. It starts with Casanova (Giuliano Contadini), a trainee priest, intent upon following his vocation when he meets musicians the Savorgnan Sisters, Nanetta & Marta (Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang). Together the sisters seduce the young priest and take his virginity. Upon discovery, Casanova is cast out of the seminary with only his violin and a book: a forbidden text given to him by Father Balbi (Jeremy Curnier), a renegade priest who, being hunted by Inquisition, offloads the book on to the young man.

What follows is a story of the rise and fall of Casanova, first in his native Venice and afterwards again in Paris after being forced to flee by the Inquisition. Casanova takes himself seriously: he is an intellectual, a mathematician and a social climber. Ultimately though it is a story of talent wasted through dissipation and through that, he loses the women who loved him and whom he loves in turn: Henriette (Hannah Bateman) and Manon Balletti (Ayami Miyata).

In the central role of Casanova, Contadini (almost literally) carries the entire production. This is an incredibly demanding performance, having to show a wide range of emotions, the intellectual acuity, the boredom of unending lust and upmost despair to the brink of self destruction. Contadini is a good choice: the proportions of his Italian frame adds a level of authenticity to the production. The role itself is incredibly physical, one of the toughest I have seen for a male dancer, so it is with little wonder that there was just the slightest sign of fatigue by the end. As Henriette, Bateman’s performance is very moving and, as the nun M.M., Ailen Ramos Betancourt is extremely seductive. The cast delivered their roles wonderfully in a fabulous ensemble performance. Casanova should be sexy and frankly this lot are sex-on-a-stick. Christopher Oram (Costume and Set design) really delivers on this point: creating dance costumes that invoked the 18th. Century while being as revealing as a Berlin cabaret. His set is extremely versatile, which along with the change in lighting (Alastair West) allows the action to be set in the grandeur of Venice, in the glitter of Paris and down in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

The whole production is driven, almost relentlessly, by the score written by Kerry Muzzey. Again the music is modern while being true to the roots of the period. For this writer it brought back memories Michael Nyman’s music for the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989). The music certainly is cinematic in quality, which is reasonable given this is Muzzey’s background. One audience member was heard to say afterwards “You could have watched that blind. The music!” Tindall is reported as saying that he approached Muzzey to create the music because neither of them have had the experience of creating a major production for ballet before. It shows, but not in a bad way. If one is used more to the Russian style, the choreography perhaps lacks the ostentation and even some of the elegance in comparison. However, the audience is instead offered something a lot more visceral and more approachable. During the interval I met a friend in the audience who had never seen a ballet before. Her eyes were glowing as she said “It is sooo awesome!”

In Casanova, Tindall has created a new ballet which is quickly going to be accepted as a modern classic.

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer:  Martin Veart (Seen 23 March)

Go to Casanova at the Festival Theatre and to Northern Ballet

Visit Edinburgh49’s  Festival Theatre archive.

+3 Review: Price (still) Includes Biscuits. (the Space @Surgeons Hall. Until Aug. 27 18:15)

“Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience.”

Editorial Rating: Stars: 4 Outstanding

When Naomi Paul comes out to the soundtrack of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and plants herself stock still in the centre of the brightly-lit stage, one immediately gets the impression that this show is going to be different. So it proves to be. 

Paul reassures the audience that the price does indeed include biscuits but they come later. It is then straight in with her observations on living in modern Britain. Paul uses her home city of Birmingham to illustrate the ridiculousness of current government policy and the effects of prolonged spending cuts. Slowly her body starts to move and her stance becomes more natural as Paul starts her first piece of audience interaction. On a small side table, she displays her latest certificate: Radicalisation General Awareness Training. Do you need to take the test? Are you aware of the signs? Perhaps you are a radical already and need to be reported?

Moving on from modern multicultural Britain, Paul then reflects upon her own Jewish and Eastern European roots. Through the media of spoken word, song and a coat, Paul tells how her America-bound ancestors to ended up in the Welsh valleys. The story moves from the ancestral selling of haberdashery to the fitting of industrially-constructed bras. The best laid plans of her mother, attempting to preserve the virtue of the teenage Paul, didn’t exactly go as expected.

Through further songs and stories of poverty and the workhouse, we return to the present with a treatise upon the dangers of Thinking. Especially dangerous is being careless with the incriminating evidence of Thinking. Rubbish bags and computers should be treated with caution, as should the practice of speaking with strangers. With that due warning, it’s time for the audience Biscuit Break.

From biscuits and budding (if potentially subversive) audience relationships, Paul continues with the subject of modern social contact. For some, the most meaningful conversations are with the call-centre operator or a visiting Jehovah Witness. This sweeps into the area of mixed marriages, diversity and religion. Where is the best place to be Jewish at Christmas?

Price (still) Includes Biscuits goes beyond the normal boundaries of observation comedy and satire. Over the course of the hour, Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience, leading to an outcome which is different from any other show on the Fringe. Maybe she hasn’t got the best singing voice  but the show is funny, it works and, what’s more, it gets one thinking.

Thinking. Dangerous business that nowadays.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Spoon-Feeders (The Space@ Surgeons Hall. Until Aug 27th, 20:30)

“Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: 

Tension is build from the start even as the audience take their seats to the soundtrack Go! by Public Service Broadcasting. On the small stage is a brightly-lit office set: a desk and chair beneath a window, the view outside blocked with a heavy venetian blind. Large filing boxes are stacked to the right hand side. Go! fades and is replaced by the sound of public disorder: a large crowd shouts, chants and the sound of police sirens. Max enters: forehead glistening, his business shirt heavily marked with sweat. He twitches the blind to view the scene outside but rapidly turns away. This is clearly a man under a huge amount of stress, steeling himself for something momentous.

The mood is totally shattered by the loud strains Sinatra’s New York, New York, badly sung a cappella by staffers Tibby and Jons as they literally prance into the office. Their carefree existence is soon under threat however, when Max informs them that a graduate, Stephen, will be joining the team. Will the office dogsbody, Fizz, ever get her time to shine?

Max (performed by the play’s author Patrick Watson) owns the acting agency and employs the others. His company specialises in voice-over for broadcast news items. They don’t actually gather news: the blind remains resolutely shut on the disturbances outside. Instead it is their job to repackage and filter: deciding what makes it out for public consumption. This, along with the office politics, forms the themes of the play and results in the creation of a dark satire.

Light relief comes from Tibby (Aidan Clancy) and Jons (James Howlett), whose characters are totally outrageous. This leads to some incongruity because Max, Stephen (Joseph Campbell-Smith) and Fizz (Alex Burns) are played in earnest. If there is a weak point to this production it may be the characterisation. It is hard to imagine any of them having much of a hinterland, or existing beyond the performance space. Then again this may be intentional on the part of Watson, a sly nod to the morality tales of theatre ages past when audiences were presented with characters as symbols, used to represent deeper truths.

There is an awful lot to praise in this outing by Newcastle University Theatre Society. Production values are very high – way beyond those usual to the Fringe – with excellent use of sound, set and props. The actors all perform well within their remits so due credit to them and director Lucy Sherratt. This is Watson’s first play and he should be applauded for taking on big issues from the outset. If he continues to do so, Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Glummer Twins (Paradise in The Vault: 22-28 Aug. 11.35am 1h.)

“The guys are genuinely funny”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

On a small, well-lit stage, deep in subterranean Edinburgh, The Glummer Twins start their set with Just Turned Sixty and Taking it Badly: a really good bemoaning of being the owner of an ageing body.  Through the medium of beat poetry and music, the Glummer Twins (David Harmer and Ray Globe) take a look back to 60’s childhood, 70’s aftershave and 80’s yuppies.  They ask the important question of whatever happen to the mods?  Autobiography is included, such as after moving from south London, the warm welcome David received from his new Doncaster school chums.

The Twins look forward to the future with the poems  Old Bloke Blues and Fiery Jack: the latter a must-hear for any pharmacist or person taking a large range of medications.  Groans and laughs are generated in equally generous measure as we follow the puntastic adventures of poet-noir detective Percy Shelly – private dick.  The poems comes thick and fast, with fifteen being delivered over the hour.

The theme of the show is ageing and reminiscing because there comes a time in life, theirs in particular, that there is a lot to look back on but not so much to look forward too.  The Glummer Twins state they have been coming to the Fringe for thirty one years and obviously love what they do.  The audience are in the safe hands of veterans.  Both were members of the performance group Circus of Poets, which in the 1980s appeared on nation television and toured Europe.

The style of comedy is, fair to say, gentle.  That does not mean unfunny: far from it.  While Percy Shelly is undoubtedly the comedic highlight, the spirit and black humour of South Yorkshire is also evoked.  Whatever will happen to Derek the Trainspotter?  One also has to ask, in the wake of the recent Brexit vote, whether there is deeper meaning to the poems Mediterranean Homesick Blues and Speak Scandi?

Harmer and Globe are good, solid performers who deliver rhymes and laughter.  Globe handles the musical side with electric guitar, pedal beat boxes and shares vocals, while Harmer’s performance is spoken word and costume change.  The show is squarely aimed at older generations.  They know that their style and material are not going to rock the foundations of comedy but that does not matter.  The guys are genuinely funny.  Watching The Glummer Twins is a fine way to wind up a morning on the Fringe.

P.S. – if one wants to know the origins of the name, Google “The Glummer Twins” and see what comes up.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart  (Seen 26 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Penetrating Europe, or Migrants Have Talent (Paradise in Augustines: until 28th Aug: 21:35: 1hr)

“Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars:  Nae Bad 

Our host (Dave Strudelbar) for this evening’s episode of Migrants Have Talent bounds down the stairs before introducing the evening’s two judges: immigration officer, Nigel Nobson (Uilleam Blacker) as well as glamorous former illegal immigrant, Nigella Smith (Lesya Liskevych).  Nigella explains that she was talent-spotted after five years of cleaning the toilets at Television Centre. She cleaned toilets under her original name, she minor celebs with a new one, changed by deed poll. Together Nigel and Nigella decide who stays and who is deported, with the audience voting in the event of a tie.

There are five contestants. Actor Iaroslav Tsigan’s character is from Ukraine. He traveled to Britain on false Polish papers. A likeable character, his honesty fails to impress the stern judges. Interwoven with the talent show format are the stories of two young people, who relate how it is to travel and cross borders. One is going east to Ukraine for an adventure; the other west, by land and sea, to join family already in Britain.

These paired stories, delivered solo with other cast members playing the role of various officials, are the most effective part of the production.  The contrasting experiences and expectations of the two young people are increasingly moving. Actor Ira Sandalovych compellingly portrays a descent into fear. Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.

Most of the large cast are employed in the Migrants Have Talent sections.  Writers Blacker and Olesha Khromeychuk deploy a tongue in cheek style of satire that seeks to lighten what are, in reality, stories of genuine human suffering. At no point are we allowed to forget that not a million miles away from the Fringe, real people are really living through such uncomic tragedies. Still, this is above all a theatre piece. How effective (as opposed to affecting) is it?

The message is crystal clear. Humanity is common: borders and suffering man made.

If there is a problem it’s is one of counterpoint. Does the satire sparkle bright enough against the darkness of the immigrants’ tales? The lighting is handed well and sound, with the ensemble song describing cranes flying away to die in foreign lands (a poem from 19th century Ukraine) is truly beautiful in such a small venue.  However, with such a large cast, the staging does slip into awkward moment but, overall, this is a more than likeable production whose heart is definitely in the right place.
nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart   (Seen 23 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Guy Masterson: Love and Canine Integration (Assembly Roxy: until 28th Aug: 17.40: 1hr)

“Masterson is a great gift to the stage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

When Guy Masterson punched above his weight and married the beautiful Paris-based model Brigitta, he forgot the first rule of life: no person is an island. Brigitta’s personal little slice of Alcatraz comes in the form of her oh-so-cute German Spitz: Nelson. Never in the course of human history has one man fought so hard against one dog for the heart of a beautiful woman.

In this show, Masterston relates the autobiographical story of how first he met his (now) wife Brigitta and her “other man”, Nelson.  Only one of the matches here are made in heaven. Masterson uses the entirety of the small stage to reveal the darkest recesses of this epic battle of wills between man and dog. Plots are hatched. Fantasies are spun. Opportunities taken. It is a sign of character that Nelson is able to rise above these foolish webs laid at his feet by a mere human. Nelson is channelled through his rival, with Masterson performing every snarl, growl and sniff of contempt.  In suitable tones, he explains Nelson’s stratagems: exploring the options that could lead to victory over the new would-be Alpha male.

As an award-winning actor and story teller, Masterson is a great gift to the stage. Extensive experience of one-man shows means that the audience is in the hands of a consummate professional. That is, once the story gets going. I think the preamble, where he explains the genesis of the show, while “enjoying” a cold jacuzzi in a bargain four star spa retreat with his wife, does not work so well. Hearing Masterson relating Brigitta’s question “Why can’t you be more funny?” led me to think, at that time, she may have a point mate. Fortunately once the main course is delivered, it is no dog’s dinner. The story is taut: Masterson’s exasperation palpable as failure is piled upon defeat.

As to the overall effect though, I have to ask the question: is it funny enough?  The material is all there.  The delivery is flawless.  I think the basic issue is that Masterson is an honest man.  This is his first foray into standup and I suspect he has stuck too closely to the truth and, in doing so, has sacrificed some laughs for the sake of integrity.  A more experienced comic may well have hanged truth from the nearest lamppost and had the audience rolling in the aisles.

A certain truth is this: Masterson has a problem. He thinks it is all over but it isn’t. Guy Masterson is suffering from PTPS: post traumatic pet syndrome.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 17th August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Master & Margarita (Zoo at St.Cuthbert’s: until 29th Aug (not 19-20, 25th) Aug: 22.00: 1hr 30mins)

“A Hell of a show”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

It was with a certain amount of trepidation when I met The Sleepless Theatre Company on the Royal Mile and discussed with the crew their production of The Master and Margarita. How on earth are they going to do it?, I thought.

Action opens with the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, in court session over an apparently worthless vagrant, Yeshua Ha Nostri. The procurator is ill and it would be so simple to dismiss this tramp with two words: “Hang him.” Nineteen hundred years later, it is a hot May night in Moscow and the committee members of the exclusive Communist Party writers’ guild, are sweltering in a small meeting room, waiting for the Chair, Mikhail Berlioz, to arrive. He is late. None of them can know that dark powers have already entered the city.

For Russians, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is the Soviet Union’s most famous novel. It is a wide-ranging satirical fantasy and the changes in location (across Moscow and Jerusalem), space and time are a daunting challenge for any adaptation. In this interpretation Sleepless Theatre does well at capturing those changes, using the magnificent setting of the St.Cuthbert’s Church to great effect. Like the cast, the audience too are expected to be mobile, following the action around the hall and even being participants if the scene demands. I found the flight of Margarita (Iona Purvis) over the rooftops of Moscow particularly effective: Purvis is obviously dance-trained and her graceful physical acting really added to the dreamlike quality. Against my expectations, the company’s low-tech approach often overcomes the staging challenges inherent in the novel and they should be highly commended for this.

The central relationship between Margarita and The Master (Jonny Wiles) is wonderful: both actors touchingly portraying the sacrifices each make for the other in the cause of their mutual love and Woland (James Blake-Butler) is suitably all-powerful and sinister. Gwenno Jones captures the tortured soul of Frieda perfectly; though as Yeshua, to me, Jones fails to show the calm and almost playful wit possessed by the character, even in the face of death. Coupled with Pilate (Georgia Figgis) lacking a real menacing streak, the opening scene rings slightly less true than the others, which are on the whole excellently delivered.

Narration is a large part of this production, with actors taking this in turn, and in the first scene I did have some concerns about the delivery (and, indeed the existence of) some crucial lines. During the interrogation Pilate lays too much emphasis on a certain word than is appropriate and leads the witness. The script sees the narrator point this out, rather than it being obvious from the acting, and it is a shame that writer Alexander Hartley keeps to narration here, rather than letting the acting speak for itself. Apart from this minor blip, the rest of the narration remains faithful to the book, and dedication to original text should otherwise be praised.

The Master & Margarita is a massive challenge for any company to take on, and for the most part Sleepless Theatre Company do a really good job: the central themes of the book come shining through. If you know the book, see Master & Margarita for the joy of seeing it live. If you have never read the book, go see. You are in for one hell of a show.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 16th August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED