Romeo and Juliet (Pleasance: 6 -10 March ’18)

Eliza Lawrence as Juliet and Douglas Clark as Romeo.
Photo: EUSC.

“A very appealing production “

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Outstanding


Can Romeo and Juliet be refreshing? Deffo.

For a start, as with Heineken, there’s the beer. Verona’s birra is Mastro Matto’s; in 1594 quite possibly a thriving business for either the house of Montague or of Capulet. Beer is liberally served in this production. The Prologue opens Act 2 truly blattered, heels in hand. The invitation to the Capulet party is ‘Pray come and crush a cup of wine’ [… or bottle of lager].

Downstage right and centre there’s a café. Mercutio and Benvolio are often in there, sitting down with a beer and talking lewd. You can forget how this high romantic tragedy starts way down low and mucky with the bawdy Sampson thrusting women –  ‘being the weaker vessels’ –  to the wall. However, no chance of that in this production: the Prince and the Friar are women, the Nurse is on man-topping form and Juliet is a very self-possessed #MeToo 16 year old.

Romeo sits ‘off’, to the side of the platform stage, appalled yet entertained, as Mercutio summons Rosaline’s ‘scarlet lip’ and ‘quivering thigh’. He’s then up on the platform, facing forward, for the balcony scene with Juliet behind him at the front of the main stage. It’s a terrific, captivating effect, each speaking to the other but straight at the audience as well. A window on wheels turns around to frame, alternatively, either the inside or the outside of Juliet’s room. This works well as an occasional framing device and is typical of Director Finlay McAfee’s ‘eye’ on his audience and how it will see and interpret the action.

What with body bags on a stark blue- grey set, Love looks ‘death-mark’d’ from the start, but this is not, I felt, a certainty. There is more immediacy and irresolution in the course of this production than in many, which is always appealing in a play whose awful end is common knowledge. The fighting –  tricky when Health & Safety shrinks rapier to titchy (plastic?) dagger – relies on fist, boot, and head bashing which looked sufficiently dangerous to make you realise how fatal accidents are so often juvenile and hot-headed. Mind you, Romeo’s dispatch of Tybalt is definitely murder.

Michael Black as Benvolio with Douglas Clark, Romeo.
Photo: EUSC.

Eliza Lawrence is Juliet and does indeed ‘teach the torches to burn bright’. (Probably not accidental then that Mercutio and Romeo play around with an LED lenser.) This Juliet may be sweet but you can believe that her suicide is the result of an extraordinary love and not momentary despair. Douglas Clark plays  Romeo with the same verve and assurance that he brought to Alan in Equus three years ago. That does make his wrecked helplessness with the Friar at the news of his banishment close to unbelievable but this is still (another) outstanding performance. Kirsten Millar’s programme profile says she is ‘immensely excited’ to add another old lady to her ‘eclectic portfolio’ and you can only admire her cracking truthfulness! Esmée Cook is a Friar whose diction over the whole piece is admirably steady, which helps in a play that can pitch and yaw from one scene to the next. Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller’s Capulet has attractive style – his jacket and shoes combo do half the talking – until he slaps his Juliet right across the face. Bam! And Will Peppercorn as Mercutio poses the usual problem: once he’s dead what’s to do without all that wit and energy? The draining effect of rainfall upon Romeo’s sleeping-bag in Mantua is actually genius!

As well as the yoof n’beer, it was Romeo sitting on the bed tying up his trainers after his few hours with Juliet that confirmed it. This is a very appealing production of Romeo and Juliet. Its effects may appear natural but are the result of new thinking and creative rehearsal. The musical score by Madison Willing – electro brooding Michael Nyman strings with grim rumbles – does ‘Tragedy’ proud, whilst the casual modern dress even gives it something of West Side Story. The Capulet ball, simply yet ingeniously staged, could have been in the Pear Tree. Does it serve Mastro Matto’s L’Ultima?



Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 March)

Go to Romeo and Juliet at the EUSC

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Our Country’s Good (Bedlam: 26 February – 3 March)


“Bold and disciplined”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars:  Outstanding

Lashings of intelligence here. That and the knowledge that ‘the shoulder blades are exposed at about 100 lashes’. There’s also sand on the stage floor, figuratively blood stained, but handy for gritty effect and for when you want to represent a play as ‘a diagram in the sand’, as proof of what could be and what might be changed for the better whatever the wretched circumstances.

And Lord knows that Australia has been there and done that. In literary terms it’s a swift line of descent: Robert Hughes’ ‘The Fatal Shore’ was published in 1986, Thomas Keneally’s ‘The Playmaker’ in 1987, and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good opened at the Royal Court, London, in September 1988. Historically it took eight months for the convict transports to get from Portsmouth to Botany Bay, arriving in January 1788. The action in Wertenbaker’s play – by now surely reckoned to be a modern ‘classic’ – is spread over five to six months. It is Edinburgh University’s official English Literature play of the year and this student production does it proud.

Of course, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ it ain’t. Major Robbie Ross (Amelia Watson) sees to that. He bitterly resents being in such an alien and depraved place, orders floggings for impertinence, and fears that any sign of weakness – ie. kindness – will result in revolt. Arguably it’s the toughest role because he is so singularly awful and Watson has the scowl and the whiplash voice to do it. He is opposed by Governor Arthur Phillip (Matthew Sedman) whose far-seeing humanity guides the play beyond the horror of its opening to its near jubilant close. Wertenbaker indicated that her play end with the ‘triumphant music of Beethoven’s 5th’ but perhaps that was felt to be too much for Bedlam on a freezing evening in February.

What Phillip does do is to require the production of George Farquhar’s Recruiting Officer (1706), directed by theatre loving 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Jacob Baird). The fact that Clark only has two copies of the play and that some of his cast cannot read and that Ross regards him as a sorry excuse for a Marine makes it a tall order to carry out. Baird is well cast as officer class decent but his character is frustrated almost to breaking point, emotionally and sexually. The relief provided by The Recruiting Officer is palpable and is far better for him than pining at his fly buttons for his beloved Betsey Alicia back home.

So, here’s the pre-text of late Restoration comedy within a docudrama, with its 22 strong cast list of gentlemen heroes (2), wise man (1) and villain (1), and the rest (several) as good-for-nothing, not! Robert Sideway (brilliant by Domi Ucar), pick-pocket to the gentry, and glorious ac-tor is a scuttling hoot, establishing her melancholy and rehearsing her bow. He is being flogged on deck when the play begins so it is a defining moment when during the second rehearsal scene he completely upstages a brutal Ross. No such joy for Midshipman Harry Brewer (Gordon Stackhouse) tormented by guilt and by his jealous love for his ‘Duckling’ girl (Anna Swinton). Their time together is raw and explicit and (for young actors) pretty impressive. Tiffany Garnham convinces that her Liz Morden, violent, in chains and born to be hanged, can still be redeemed. Jack McConnell is John Arnscott, transported for life, and so pleased that he can ‘be’ someone else. Erica Belton, speaks wonderfully as Ketch, apprentice hangman, who wants to be an actor because he remembers some players coming to his village in Ireland where they were loved ‘like the angels’. Anna Phillips’ shy Mary Brenham owns a precious and appealing dignity from the start. Anubhav Chowdhury’s Caesar is from Madagascar and you have to wonder at the bad luck that got him into a British penal colony but his French accent and daft woes do provide easy laughs. Hannah Robinson manages to be both upper class twit Campbell and illiterate Dabby, bless her, who never gives up on getting back to the soft rain of Devon.


Matthew Sedman as Wisehammer and Anna Phillips as Mary, behind. Photo: Louis Caro.

Two characters remain: Wisehammer (Matthew Sedman again) and the Narrator, the Aboriginal Australian. Both command attention but Sedman is outstanding. In this production the Narrator (Sophie Boyle) plays a signature phrase on the violin and her few linked lines are a reminder of the tragic consequences for her people that followed this European ‘entertainment’. Wisehammer, as you can guess, is something else: almost a gentle philosopher, certainly a writer, and Sedman’s careful Northern delivery nail the words, especially his simple Prologue that gives the play its title and it is intoned twice for effect. The fact that Ralph Clark reckons it would give Major Ross apoplexy is a quality judgement.

Our Country’s Good is serious drama and directors Luke Morley and Jane Prinsley take it seriously. This production is bold and disciplined, barely cut – if at all – and its actors work a demanding script with real attention. Yes, there’s some yelling – you would too if you’re being whipped – and it drowned Wisehammer’s astonishing, ghastly opening description of men and women ‘spewed from their country’. Naval uniform is in short supply and despite its appeal the thrust stage doesn’t work, but the actors being constantly visible, on or ‘off, does; and the onstage set design by Natasha Wood and Bryn Jones of a short mast, sail cloth and crossed spars is all that is needed.

I’m with Governor Phillip’s: ‘We will laugh, we may be moved, we may even think a little’. There’s a conviction worth upholding.



Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 26 February)

Go to Our Country’s Good at EUTC, Bedlam

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The Belle’s Stratagem (Lyceum: 15 Feb. to 10 March ’18)

Angela Hardie as Laetitia.
Photo. Mihaela Bodlovic.

“Jaunty, diverting and quick. A noteworthy woman playwright is not short-changed”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars Nae Bad

There was gleeful mention of the ‘shit wagon’ and of the reeking ‘Nor Loch’ but these early New Town characters keep their stockings a blinding white and the hems of their fancy gowns spotless. It’s that kind of play: a slight comedy of appearances. Or should that be ‘sleight’?

The Belle’s Stratagem is a jaunty piece, giddy even. Its leading man is Doricourt (Angus Miller), although he’s led by the nose, and he has ‘l’air enjoué’ of a chap with too many Air Miles and too many hours in Club class. Well, he would have, except this is 1788 when Gold Cards and guineas were more likely gifted by pedigree than work. He’s back in Edinburgh after his ‘Grand Tour’ of assorted lounges, demoiselles and signorinas and finds himself betrothed to Letitia (Angela Hardie), known almost from birth and now two years out of boarding school, and he’s not impressed. She, Letitia, is pissed at this – vulgarity clearly crossed Princes Street – and is determined to have her man love her or lose her. Meanwhile, Sir George Touchwood (32 and of the Jacob Rees-Mogg brigade, benign branch) is back in town with his lovely, guileless, wife, Lady Frances. Beware! Cad about, Courtall by name (geddit?), who will have the lady.

Tony Cownie has adapted Mrs Cowley’s Belle’s Stratagem of 1780 and removed the whole play to Scotland, aka that ‘subjugated bunch of hills north of Berwick’. Deacon Brodie is stealing about; Doricourt and the honourable Saville (John Kielty)  are soft Jacobites; Laetitia’s father is Edinburgh’s Provost and Laetitia (in disguise) wins Doricourt’s heart and the audience’s with an aching ‘Will ye no come back again?’ The best joke of the evening is Courtall’s as he goes off to France for an assignation with the Revolution.

Theatre history is all over this piece, if you look for it. The big brother of Cowley’s original has to be George Farquhar’s Beaux Stratagem from 1707. Farquhar had arrived in London in 1697 from Dublin’s wonderfully evocative Theatre Royal at Smock Alley. Cowley’s play opened at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Nicola Roy’s Kitty, a prostitute with a proper sense of what’s decent, would fit well into those dodgy streets. She’s the key to foiling Courtall’s foul intrigue. The two widows, Racket (Pauline Knowles) and Ogle (Roy, again) give lechery a good name by repeatedly calling out the hypocrisies of male behaviour but enjoy eyeing the men themselves.

Helen Mackay as Lady Frances and Grant O’Rourke as Sir Edward.
Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Historians place The Belle’s Stratagem at the endpoint of a period when the Comedy of Manners went bourgeois. Marriage and compatibility within a marriage become a pair and so enter Sir Edward and Lady Frances, who (for me) are more interesting and entertaining than an infatuated Doricourt and the infantile Laetitia of the first half and the minx Laetitia of the second. Grant O’Rourke plays the country squire (ok, laird) as if to the manor born. He’s a kind fellow, whose daft helplessness (check O’Rourke’s real comic quality in the Venetian Twins) rallies to the call of defending his wife. He ends up an endearing character and – a near no-no in the Restoration comedy of times past – a deserving husband. And Lady Frances (admirably done by Helen Mackay) is bold enough to love him true once she has established her own rights, which again is rather refreshing. The New Town will be all the better for their rectitude during their three months residence in town! Laetitia’s father, the Provost, is more typecast as the lookout for a wealthy son-in-law but Steven McNicoll gives the part considerable warmth and humanity, not least in a party dress.

There’s pretty music, dancing, a masquerade, numpty grumpy footmen, and squeaky clean, impressively silent Heriot Row facades but all the same I longed for some ruggedness, more spit and bite. The gossip columnist, Flutter, is played by an impish John Ramage and that gets close, but finally it’s light and undemanding. The ‘modern’ script is frequently diverting and quick, actors help it on enormously, and a noteworthy woman playwright is not short-changed, but the intrigue unwinds too rapidly and I found much of the humour either forced or slack.

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Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 21 February)

Go to The Belle’s Stratagem at the Lyceum

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Tom at the Farm (Bedlam: 7-10 Feb ’18)

“Intelligent and engaging”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

A dark, brooding affair, Tom at The Farm sees charming city-boy Tom visit his (secret) lover’s family farm in rural Ontario for his funeral, under the guise of having been purely his friend and co-worker. What unfolds is a tale of grief, secrets, identity and duty, akin to the works of Emile Zola, with the tensions between the characters evident upfront, and an intriguing journey ahead as to how each one will play out.

To that end, Michel Marc Bouchard’s script really is delicious serving up a twisting tale of deceit where Tom falls further and further into an elaborate web of lies in order to keep the family happy, though peppered with enough dark humour and sexual tension to make it enthralling on all levels. Asides and textual motifs are used cleverly to capture the sense of inevitability throughout, while the scene in French is simply a stroke of comic genius.

Director Joe Christie does a stellar job in capturing the overall mood of the piece, and attention to detail throughout each scene gives the production an intelligent and engaging quality – everything happens for a reason, and each contributing factor drives the narrative to its gritty resolution. The production team also deserve credit for transforming the Bedlam space into what could easily be believed as a rundown farmhouse, while the other visual and sound effects all contribute well to the psychologically intense nature of each moment.

With grief being such a strong central theme, it’s a tough ask for the student cast to delve into that level of emotional depth, but on the whole they handle it very well. Yann Davies as Tom is barely ever off stage, and steers the character from pillar to punch-bag with electrifying conviction, and Peter Morrison is every inch the guy you love to hate as Francis, oozing with masculinity and a genuinely frightening presence. Matilda Botsford brings a tender and controlled approach to Agatha, capably balanced out by Kathryn Salmond’s irreverent Sara.

For me the only real downfall in this production are the dips in emotional intensity and honesty that generally occur between scenes. Given the changes in dynamics and relationships throughout the play it sometimes takes the actors a little a while to really establish the tone of each new scene and bring us with them to where they are. The style of the production requires a lot from the audience to follow the journey, believe what happens in between each scene and then be present in each moment on-stage moment, and though it’s a tough ride, it is very well worth it in the end. I’d happily go again.




Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 February)

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Bedfest 2018: Scotland the Bollocks (Bedlam: 23rd Jan.’18)

Design: EUTC.

If all history lessons were like this, I would know and understand a lot more of my country’s story

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

 To explore the EUTC’s Bedlam Festival 2018, ‘BedFest‘, we decided to go along to see Ross Baillie’s stand-up routine Scotland the Bollocks, an enthusiastic rendition of stories (in)famous in Scottish history. 

Straight from the word go Baillie is genuine and entertaining, if slightly unorganized at times. He is alone on stage, although he always has his stage manager Huw Jones at hand to help him via a screen in the backgroundWhen Baillie gets a little confused or forgets what he is talking about next, Jones is quick to provide funny pictures, anecdotes and explanations.  

The atmosphere remained relaxed throughout as Baillie told exciting stories of Mary Queen of Scots and ….. of the Bank of England. He engaged with an audience that seemed shocked yet highly amused by his hilariously sarcastic outbursts and at times slightly inappropriate sense of humourI was quite happy as I was not sitting in the front row.  

Baillie questions our national identity as he explores the mishaps and (if this is what we can call it) the ‘series’ of very unfortunate events which have fallen upon Scotland since the beginning of history as we know it. His show is almost a mock Horrible History lesson mixed in with some modern jokes about Trump and Brexit. One of my favourite moments was a make-believe Twitter argument between famous people from the 18th century.  

At times I was unsure if Baillie was genuinely confused or if his disorganisation was indeed part of the act –  either way, although his performance could have been a little more polished, the show worked really well. If all history lessons were like this, I would know and understand a lot more of my country’s story.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 24 January)

 Go to EUTC, the Ediinburgh University Theatre Company

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The Lover (Lyceum: 20 Jan-3 Feb ’18)

“Glimpses of brilliance”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Margerite Duras’s sensational autobiographical novel about an affair between a 15-year-old girl from a poor family and a Chinese millionaire almost twice her age is certainly potent stuff for stage adaptation, and presenting this spoken word/dance interpretation on the backdrop of #MeToo and #ItsTime is a brave choice for co-collaborators The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre, which will be sure to attract interest. Unfortunately, given the finished product, it probably won’t be the level of interest hoped for.

The performance is narrated throughout by The Woman (Susan Vidler), who looks back on how her affair began, developed and ended. Jemima Levick’s and Fleur Darkin’s adaptation is somewhat lazy in its construction, with too many unnecessary accounts of (mimed!) dialogue and a plodding monotony which Vidler’s voice does little to enliven, leaving the other performers often stranded in the middle. Indeed, the confluence between text and movement seems at odds throughout, feeling not unlike a playground grapple for territory.


Darkin’s choreography at times gives glimpses of brilliance – from the awkward intimacy between the lovers to the playful fights between Paulo and Pierre – and the production’s moments of stillness (particularly towards the end) and subtle gestures often convey far more than the tedious narration. Yet, in saying that, the choreography also too often lapses into writhing around on the floor and clumsy movement of furniture which instantly breaks any of the mysticism and poetry previously built. It’s a genuine shame not to see lengthier dance sequences to tell the story at the sacrifice of some of the narration, while simplifying and minimising some of the on-stage antics would also ease comprehension.

In The Lover’s defence, Emma Jones’s lighting design and Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundtrack do pleasingly act as mediators throughout, dragging the other disparate elements into a clear time, place and mood. Yet the overriding impression this performance leaves – much like the subject matter of the show itself – is one of misfit: an attempt to bring together two different hearts for glorious joy, yet which ends up flat and, somehow, unfinished. What could have been.

In my book, this is a production that should have worked – it has enough of the right cards (including three great collaborating companies and a fantastic base text) to play a good hand – yet it dithers and dallies its way into such a mediocre result that my only constructive criticism would be to start again from scratch. A commendable concept, poorly executed.


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 January)

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A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline (Rose Theatre: 1-30 Dec ’17)

“Everything about this production oozes quality”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

For the uninitiated (like me), Patsy Cline was an American country music singer who found fame in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and went on to become one of the most influential, successful and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th century. Her life was tragically cut short at the age of 30, and this production represents a fresh (and fitting) celebration of the star and her work as part of Gilded Balloon’s winter programme at the newly revived Rose Theatre.

Created by the team that introduced Doris, Dolly & The Dressing Room Divas to the world at the Fringe in 2015, A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline is a hilarious new musical play featuring all the classic songs fans will love. Yet the only wine you’ll see is the free (mini) bottle you get as part of your entry to the show…

Written as a whistle-stop tour of Cline’s short life, Morag Fullerton’s script slickly presents the turning points in her career and personal life, squeezing in the hits, plenty of laughs and a few of the sadder moments along the way. I would have liked to see more detail in some moments and more creative risk taken with the structure of the piece – it’s safe, straightforward biographical narrative ticks along at a consistent pace – but otherwise everything about this production just oozes quality.

Giving Cline new life in this production is local gal Gail Watson: one of the most accomplished performers currently working in Scotland. Not only a supremely talented singer and impressionist in her own right, Watson commands the stage as the title character and delivers a knockout performance, demonstrating stamina and vocal control performers half her age dream of. Her standing ovation is well-deserved.

Watson is more than capably supported throughout the performance by Sandy Nelson and Hannah Jarrett-Scott, who not only play numerous roles between them, but also act as band and backing singers during the musical numbers. Given the teases of brilliance they demonstrate, it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of each and the wonderful cameo roles they play throughout the show.

Beware – some audience members like to sing along with every song. Those who prefer a silent audience may cringe and crush their plastic cups at the thought, but it’s the kind of show where some formalities can be overlooked. In short: you’d be Crazy to miss it!


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 December)