EQ: Dance! (Various, until 14 June ’17)

“A real treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Quartet are one of our favourite live music acts here at Edinburgh49, and while normally it’s my colleague Charles we defer to for his superior knowledge of classical music, I was interested to see how a collaboration with Youth Dance Scotland would work, and what unexpected gems might be uncovered when combining classical music with contemporary dance.

The evening commences with a traditional musical performance by the quartet, followed by three dance/music collaborations: all original compositions for the quartet, and with original choreography from Marc Brew.

The first of these, For Sonny captures a very childlike and playful feel, with the dancers darting in and around the musicians (who are positioned centre-stage), seeming to make the rules up as the go along. There’s an element of give and take to the piece as the dancers respond directly to strokes from the quartet in the quieter elements, and to movements from each other – as if playing a rather bizarre version of “follow the leader” throughout. It’s fascinating to see such a close relationship between the dancers and the musicians, even though the danger of collisions sometimes causes the heart-rate to rise somewhat!

The quartet move to the side of the stage for the final two pieces, yet still feel integrated within the performance as the dancers watch and respond to them throughout. The second piece feels just slightly more grown up as the dancers adopt a more uniform and unison approach to their movement, though they become more animalistic – like a set of production line workers in rebellion against the formality of the everyday. Different dancers take turns to break out from the group, using more and more of the space, until they surround the quartet at the end, as if waiting for their next direction or inspiration.

Silent Shores has a significantly more ensemble feel, and combines the best of both of the previous two pieces, with some daring lifts and tableaux in direct response to the music, following its stops and starts with playfulness and control. Reflecting the nature of the isle of Arran, it’s a complex interrelationship as the different aspects of the piece – contrasting stillness and frantic movement – bring about a sense of ongoing time and flow, like the changing of the seasons.

Overall what’s most pleasing about the whole setup is the relationship between the dance and live music, which is cleverly structured and choreographed to integrate the two. At times the movements did lack a little polish and finesse – but perhaps given that the piece is touring across different venues in Scotland for just one night at a time, it can be expected that the dancers will have to adapt to the size and shape of their performance spaces each time, not allowing them to fully relax into each performance.

Something for both dance and classical music aficionados, a real treat. It’s a shame that, at just shy of an hour, the performance is so short.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

Visit the Summerhall archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum: 4th June ’17)

“Resident host Sian Bevan never fails to amuse”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Ding ding, it’s round three of the Lyceum Variety Nights, and the last in the current season.

This latest outing had a very contemporary and slightly alternative feel, and it’s good to see curator Jenny Lindsay flexing her little-black-book muscles to bring a more diverse line-up of music, theatre, poetry and dance to proceedings.

Overall the night was a pleasing mix of more established artists sharing some of their fondest work from yesteryear, performing alongside some red hot and right now acts, sharing pieces from their latest collections. Among the red hot and right now were dancer Jack Webb, whose inclusion as the first dance act of the programme I was really excited about. He performed an emotive and powerful contemporary-style piece to a discordant soundscape, which, while not the most accessible of pieces, certainly brought some zing to proceedings. Musical acts The Miss’s and Maud the Moth were also bang up to date and on the pulse, sharing genre bending tunes and stunning vocals that just left me breathless.

It was nice too, to have the quieter moments, perhaps most finely shared by Caroline Bird, whose rather more introverted stage presence created a lovely balance between a lot of the madness and noise of some of the other acts. Her poetry was awash with splendid imagery and moments to cherish, that really left me longing for more. Mairi Campbell, accompanied by viola, brought a touch of the traditional to the night, and even had us all singing along with her folk-style music at the end of her set – delightful.

Yet while the variety of the performers was wider than in previous instalments, thus making it feel a little more niche, for me it’s the quality of all the acts which is key to the night’s success. Each night’s line-up never fails to include award winners, experienced practitioners and well-regarded artists from across the spectrum, and though they may not all appeal to individual tastes, those with a wider appreciation for the arts should be able to at least enjoy the overall skill on display. A special shout-out too to resident host Sian Bevan who never fails to amuse with her witty and sometimes humorously irreverent compering!

I have to say that this was not my personal favourite evening of the programme, but that’s variety for you – you can’t win ‘em all! I very much hope another season of these nights is programmed for next year, and I look forward to attending them all.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 June)

Visit the The Lyceum archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

War in America (Former Royal High School/King’s Theatre: 24-27 May ’17)

Connor McLeod as Mr Slype. Photo by Greg Macvean

“Some fine performances from the young cast”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

War in America’s revival in the build-up to the current UK General Election is very apt – and almost feels as if it is written especially for this moment, though it is now over 20 years old. The narrative sees the rise of a female political leader (known only as “She”), who hides behind a variety of lies, disguises and games in order to get to the top. Meanwhile, in a pleasingly Orwellian set-up, our little man Mr Slype (a rather spineless MP) is bullied by rival parties to vote for a law he neither wants nor doesn’t want, and some rather underhand tactics see him inadvertently give his vote to She, handing her the reins of the country. What happens after gets a little confusing.

Given the setup and opening few scenes where the main characters and topics are introduced, the first fifteen minutes of this production really makes it feel like a cutting-edge, gripping political drama – not too dissimilar from Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, which I reviewed last year. Jo Clifford’s dialogue is cutting, intelligent and witty, Susan Worsfold’s direction is slick, and there’s palpable tension between rival factions to keep us on our toes. The production loses its way somewhat in the second half, however, and tries to cram in too much with too many characters and melodramatic revelations, that it becomes more of a slog to sit through.

That being said, there are some fine performances from the young cast, most notably Andrew Cameron as the cunningly-named and deftly acted Mr Fox, who is very charismatic and convincing and throughout. Scenes with him and his assistant Alfred (Mark O’Neill) were among the most compelling of the performance, and I could easily picture them on a bigger stage receiving great acclaim. Connor McLeod is also strong as Mr Slype, with great variation in swagger and guilt from scene to scene.

It is, however in the more dramatic scenes where the tension and integrity of the piece slips. She’s relationship with her estranged daughter fails to ring true throughout the piece – distinctly missing the deep emotional connection needed to be convincing, and its climactic resolution is very sloppy compared to the polish evident in other areas. Indeed, many aspects of the show like this come across as rather rushed, when a more considered approach would be more powerful. While in general it’s a gutsy effort from the young cast (and great for them to be getting involved with works on important subjects like this), I think in some cases it would have been beneficial to have some more experienced actors to give the brutal narrative the necessary punch it needs.

And the “too controversial” content, which led the show’s initial production being cancelled 20 years ago? For me that must have been a lot of fuss over very little, as the more overt elements were perfectly pitched within the overall mood of the piece, never seeming gratuitous or unnecessary. Indeed, the scenes with sexual content were handled and incorporated very well, and while spawning a few titters, were powerful insights and metaphors into the darker side of politics. If anything, I think these elements could be pushed further.

Overall this is a show with fantastic potential, and with some more development could be very special indeed.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 26 May)

Visit the King’s Theatre archive.

For The Love of Cousins (Various: 13 May-24 June ’17)

Jack Elliot, Taylar Donaldson and Christie Russell Brown

“A very commendable effort”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Funerals are often melting pots where far-flung family members are reunited for the first time since the last significant event, and in For The Love of Cousins, we see seven semi-friendly cousins meet just before the funeral of their mutual and much-loved grandmother. They are a mixed-bag of characters, with different stories and relationships with each other, and as the piece unravels, we learn more about each one – their secrets, their prejudices, and vulnerabilities.

While there is no compelling narrative overall, where Blazing Hyena’s production really succeeds is in the overall feel of the piece and the clear sense of family the company really creates – the use of repetitive jokes, the ganging up and snipping at each other all feel very genuine. Truths come out and perspectives change over the course of the action, all of which are presented humanely and sensitively.

For a play that centres around family members about to attend a funeral, it is packed full with jokes, and while the cast weren’t afraid to go for the laughs, sometimes the focus on the comedy aspect detracts from the realness of the situation, which some cast members are more guilty of than others. For me it is Jack Elliot as David, Rosie Milne as Dayna and Gillian Goupillot as Ronnie who are most impressive in maintaining the integrity of their characters throughout (while still being funny) and deliver fine performances.

Jack Elliot’s script, while commendable in its weaving of different characters and perspectives, is structurally a little rough around the edges – comings and goings of each character could be have more significance, while the closely intertwined nature of the dialogue sometimes makes it difficult to follow specific streams of narrative and relationships. A few tweaks here and there could make it very special indeed.

Catherine Exposito’s direction capably keeps the action slick, with respect to the light and shade required to keep the piece engaging throughout. Sometimes the staging and specific actions seem rather forced (I lost count of how many times a tablecloth was unnecessarily rearranged as a time-filler), so I would have liked to see the company use more creative ways to explore the natural “low” moments in order to maintain authenticity.

Overall, it’s a very commendable effort from this young company – especially given the adaptability they have to perform in different venues each night as part of this, an extensive Scottish tour. Do try and catch it on one of their future dates if you can. Full details here.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 May)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Hay Fever (Lyceum: 10th March -1st April ’17)

Rosemary Boyle, Susan Wooldridge, Charlie Archer. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

“Susan Wooldridge is sensational as Judith Bliss”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

The overarching theme in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is one of contrast: theatre vs real life; keeping up appearances vs showing your true colours. And while capturing a lot of the inherent comedy in such situations, this latest production from the Lyceum Theatre Company and the Citizens Theatre, for me, goes one contrast too far in creating a production of paradox which ends up being somehow less great than the sum of its parts.

Without the traditional curtain opening at the start of the show, Tom Piper’s stark and stripped back set, which exposes a lot of the “backstage” area, is immediately visible. On first impression, it feels cheap and unfinished, leading me to worry I’ve walked into the theatre a week too soon. It does, however, create a rugged bohemian mood, which seems to make a lot more sense as the piece progresses.

When the action begins, much of it early on feels quite forced, with the first scene in particular a mass of very obvious stage directions with vases, cushions and sitting down. Thankfully, Rosemary Boyle as Sorrel allays many of my fears by capturing that much-needed sense of balance between theatricality and reality, with charming facial expressions, tone and timing all making her compelling to watch. In contrast her on-stage brother Simon (Charlie Archer) consistently leans towards being melodramatic, and it’s only in the final scene where his character starts to blend with the rest of his family that he feels like part of the same play as everyone else.

Indeed, this sense of mismatched acting styles also applies to the guests. Pauline Knowles brings a wonderful Jordan Baker coolness to Myra, with a clear journey in mood as she resists the madness around her, while Nathan Ives-Moiba (Sandy) seems quite content to bark his lines at anyone and everyone, with little subtlety or variation throughout.

Considering all of the above, perhaps what jars most about this production is how difficult it is to believe any chemistry or relationship between the family members and their guests. Susan Wooldridge, who is sensational as Judith Bliss in the second half of the piece, with commanding presence and vitality, is perhaps too old and withering to be believed as Sandy’s obsession, while Benny Baxter-Young’s frustrated and frumpy David seems the exact opposite of what Myra and Jackie would endure a trip to this house for. Individually the characters work, but together they don’t.

Hywell Simons and Katie Barnett. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

In saying that, there are some moments of brilliance. My personal highlights include the hilariously awkward arrival of Jackie and Richard – deftly played by Katie Barnett and Hywel Simons – which captures just how amusing British politeness can be to the outside eye, while Clara (Myra McFadyen) dazzles every time she sets foot on stage, particularly in the unexpected interlude. Even more unexpected (for everyone concerned) in this performance was the breakfast trolley’s stage direction to topple over, which though admirably covered by quick-fire improvisation, perhaps most deftly sums this production up: funny but off-balance.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 March)

Visit the The Lyceum archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

A Step In Time (The Magnuson Centre, Edinburgh Academy: 10th & 11th March ’17)

“The group demonstrates all the qualities that make show choirs eminently lovable”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

In large part thanks to a popular American TV series from the 00s, being in a show choir has become a lot more socially acceptable – even “cool” in some circles – in recent years, so it was great to see a packed house for Edinburgh University Footlights’ latest show, and a stage full of diverse young people who love being there.

In A Step In Time the group demonstrates all the qualities that make show choirs eminently lovable: fun renditions of upbeat popular tunes, killer vocals, show-stopping choreography and smiles big enough to fill the room. But behind all the glitter and grapevines, did the performance itself deliver a knock-out punch? In my opinion, not quite.

Opening number Step in Time set the scene well as a lively and energetic introduction to the night’s proceedings with some clever, subtle changes in lyrics and arrangement to make the song feel like the choir’s own. Accompanied by full-on intricate choreography, it says something about the fitness and dedication of the group that they were even able to breathe for the next ten minutes, let alone perform song after song, complete with dance routines.

For me, it was a shame there was significantly more focus on the “show” rather than the “choir” elements of the performance, with complex choreography and numerous costume changes detracting from the vocals throughout. Harmonies and power were often lost in the frantic flailing of arms and apparel, and what remained was at times imprecise and unnecessary. The flow of the performance was also quite stilted, with some uncomfortable lengthy pauses between songs, hindering the overall enjoyment of the night.

However, it was in the simpler and more stripped backed numbers where the group really excelled: the 90s medley, Seasons of Love and the 00s medley in the second half really showcased the strength and depth of the choir’s vocal talents, and it’s a shame we didn’t see more consistent top quality vocals and arrangements like these from the choir as a whole throughout the show. There were also some beautiful stand-out solo and small group performances (specifically Believe, She Used To Be Mine and I Know it’s Today) which highlighted some really gorgeous individual voices.

I would have preferred more quality over quantity in terms of the choreography, using it cleverly in specific numbers to give wow-factor, with greater focus on the basics of group singing as the overarching emphasis. Overall I think the group tried to do too much too often, which left the lily not just gilded, but smothered in cream and cherries too.

Still, it was an entertaining performance from a talented bunch of young people, that was, on the whole, very enjoyable. I look forward to the next one.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 March)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum: 26th Feb ’17)

“A fab night of quality entertainment”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

“This is a night of pure joyful entertainment,” co-host Sian Bevan tells us in her opening gambit. And entertaining it absolutely is, with another excellently curated programme of work from seven fine artists across music, spoken word and theatre.

The Lyceum’s Variety Night, though, is more than about just going to see a selection of snippets of work from talented acts. What makes it extra special is the joy and level of informality of proceedings that sets a tone somewhere in between your regular night at the Lyceum and a slightly drunken party. And there’s a raffle.

Bevan and the programme’s producer Jenny Lindsay, who act as comperes throughout, seem genuinely excited to be there and by the acts they are about to introduce, and they are a very natural pairing. Once again, it’s a shame not to hear more from them by way of warm-up to the main event, but with such a packed a programme it’s understandable why they want to crack straight on with the action, which flows professionally and smoothly from one act to the next.

This night had a very noticeably Scottish feel to it, with Gerda Stevenson and Rachel Sermanni sharing some absolutely gorgeous and ageless poetry and song, while Aidan Moffat and Colin Maguire performed rather more masculine musings on ex-girlfriends and bed, among other things.

It was only Adele Hampton, right at the end of the evening, who perhaps brought that real sense of “variety” to proceedings. Hailing from Washington DC and with a very international flavour, her work stuck out both for its gentle, flowing lyricism, and engaging quality of never really feeling like she was performing, rather just talking to friends. The Creative Martyrs also shone with their cabaret-style double-act with a slight political message – easily the most risqué act in a relatively tame programme.

It’s a little rough around the edges – some of the performers use notes, there’s some coarse language thrown in from time to time, and the low-tech stage-sharing brings a sense of rawness and individuality to this unique show, but all of that makes it infinitely more likeable in my book. Everything about how the night is put together gives a sense of being part of something really special and celebratory, and as a one-off show it’s a real treat to know you’re witnessing something unique, like being part of a secret club.

Perhaps this was a little safer, with slightly less wow-factor than the opening instalment three months ago, but overall it was still another fab night of quality entertainment. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 26 February)

Visit the The Lyceum archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED