Lysistrata (Kings: 27 – 28 Jan.’17)

Cait Irvine, centre (Lysistrata) Photo: Greg Macvean

Cait Irvine, centre (Lysistrata)
Photo: Greg Macvean

“5th Century revel disarms ‘Call of Duty’”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars: Outstanding

This is a tumultuous inaugural production by the Attic Collective. It has that shameless tumescent quality that really would ‘Make Greece Great Again’. Athens/Attica was still big in 411 BC but had been sorely bashed in Sicily and was hurting. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata must have been excruciating, urgent fun back then and it is remarkable that – in the right hands – it can still have the same effect.

As a play it’s less in-your-face than in-your-crotch. Just look at the tall curvy door, upstage centre, and reckon, pretty confidently, that it’s all about Pussy Power. Then there are the phalluses, not one of leather, but several of rubber and latex, and all impressive, but none more so than the Spartan emissary as gauche walking dick. Naturally enough there is supplication to Zeus for relief from priapism.

The men suffer because the women have crossed their legs. Lysistrata leads a women’s revolt that denies sex to husbands (and wives) until the Peloponnesian War ends. They occupy the Treasury – a smart kick in the balls –  and wait for their men to come to their senses, as it were. They are finally brought to it by the body beautiful of Kim Kardashian, aka. Aristophanes’ figure of Reconciliation. Of course, the women are frustrated too and invent desperate, hilarious, excuses to return home.

Conor McLeod (Men's Leader) and Megan Fraser (Statyllis)

Conor McLeod (Men’s Leader) and Megan Fraser (Statyllis)

This is when a 5th Century revel disarms ‘Call of Duty’. ‘Tits not Targets’ is the message. It’s summery: the men are in a uniform of white shirts, cropped chinos and canvas slip-ons. Not a spear or bronze helmet in sight. Just helmets from the Urban dictionary. Cinesias (Adam George Butler) has his shades. Their leader (Conor McLeod) is a dapper, convinced and convincing kind of chap. Meanwhile the women are a riot of colour with their white faces and ‘war paint’ and they soak the men with Water Blasters. It’s loud too, especially when Charlie West hits his box drum.

Arguably the on-stage debate is one-sided. Determined Lysistrata (Cait Irvine) and cocky Stratyllis (Megan Fraser) reduce the men to defensive huddles and oddly impotent hakas. Deciding  to dump the split Choruses of the old men and women of Athens does tilt the balance in favour of the youthful and the libidinous (no real loss!) and the sense of the words can go AWOL in dionysiac chant and jabber but there’s no doubting the drive and sense of the piece as a whole. Director Susan Worsfold and Musical Director Garry Cameron succeed in sustaining dramatic form, resolved in celebration, from a plot that is about as carnal and abandoned as it gets.

By the by, a Belgian lady senator called for a sex strike in 2011. It was meant as a provocative joke but it excited the Christian Democratic opposition to remark that “Politicians are not there to strike. On the contrary, politicians are there to arouse the country.” Hear! Hear! (Aristophanes).



Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 27  January)

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Legally Blonde: The Musical (King’s: 16 – 19 March, ’16)

“Catchy songs, big dance numbers and laughs a-plenty”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

For those who know the film, the premise of the musical is almost exactly identical – blonde bombshell and fashionista Elle Woods from Malibu, California is determined to bag her man, so she buries her head in books and chases him to Harvard law school in the hope of impressing him. The accompanying score is very poppy and upbeat, and while not to my personal taste, even the sternest of faces can’t help but bop along with some of the numbers.

On the whole, local troupe the Bohemians Lyrics Opera Company handle this big production very well – with some impressive dance routines and real powerhouse vocals throughout. The mind boggles at some of the quick changes performed, especially those done on stage, so credit where credit’s due for the risk and professionalism to carry those off. At times, particularly in Whipped into Shape, the performance felt a little flat and a stretch too far for this amateur group – perhaps a bit of shakiness on opening night or not quite having the musical tempos nailed – but otherwise it’s very well rehearsed and full of personality.

Lydia Carrington gives it her all as leading legal lady Elle Woods, and shines with fantastic energy and likeability. Her spirit never falters throughout – impressive considering she is barely ever off stage – and she shows great range and versatility to reflect the changing mood in each scene. However, it’s Lyndsey McGhee as Paulette who raises the biggest cheer of the night with the very moving Ireland (watch out for that towards the end of Act 1). Her voice is deep, rich and she delivers a knockout performance. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of her throughout the show.

While the leads very much hold their own throughout the performance, for me it is some of the cameo roles that make this production really enjoyable: Ross Stewart is eminently watchable as UPS guy Kyle, while Sam Eastop and Andrew Knox make a great comic pairing in Gay or European. And of course, there are dogs. Scene-stealing dogs. You have been warned…

Yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s American, and yes at times it’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s also a show full of catchy songs, big dance numbers and laughs a-plenty (my favourite line being “I see dead people” in relation to the rather bizarre inclusion of a Greek chorus). If you like the sound of all that then you’ll love this production.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 March)

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The Perfect Murder (King’s Theatre: 1 – 5 March ’16)

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie. Image credit: Honeybunn photography

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie.
Image credit: Honeybunn photography

“Dark humour and plenty of jumpy moments ensure sheer entertainment”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

An (almost) Perfect Murder is taking place at the King’s this week, which, on the whole, I think is worth witnessing. Despite the slightly shaky plot and occasional drop in pace and energy, this stage adaptation of Peter James’ original novella is filled with enough dark humour and jumpy moments throughout to ensure a thoroughly entertaining production.

The plot centres around the rocky married life of Joan and Victor Smiley, played by Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie of Eastenders fame, as they each plot to kill the other in order to run away with their respective new lovers and start a new life on a beach in Spain drinking mojitos all day. Idyllic? These characters seem to think so, and what ensues is a darkly funny and occasionally completely ridiculous two hours, as they attempt to carry out their cunning plan.

The majority of the audience are clearly there to see ‘Kat and Alfie’ in action, yet as the play progresses and we witness the duo in their first scene alone on stage together, the shadow of the soap opera couple diminishes and Wallace and Richie prove they are not one trick ponies, with convincing performances of new characters. The chemistry that works so well between the two on screen is immediately evident on stage, and despite the potentially dull moments of petty marital bickering throughout the first act, the two carry this off with such exuberance and fine-tuned comic timing that it is more than bearable to watch. Wallace in particular, through her portrayal of Joan, is successful in being totally neurotic and batty, yet kooky and loveable at the same time, and for me her solo moments on stage were one of the play’s highlights.

While not quite matching up to the prowess of Wallace and Richie, the rest of the cast are largely commendable in their efforts to bring heart to moments in the plot that don’t quite work. Stephen Fletcher as Joan’s ‘new man’ and subsequent partner in crime, Don, was delightful in a simple, buffoonish performance that worked well alongside Wallace’s Joan. Equally, Simone Armstrong as the psychic Croat prostitute provides necessary comedy and warmth. Benjamin Wilkin’s DC Grace falls slightly off the mark, and there is an immediate drop in the pace of the action in his scenes with Armstrong. While Grace doesn’t seem to do any policing and comes across as quite an unnecessary character altogether, there is definitely potential for a deeper exploration of character to create more interest that Wilkin does not fully exploit.

Michael Holt’s set works well alongside the action, using large homey rooms built on top of one another in a house-like structure to provide the different locations in the plot. High-pitched screams and ghostly flashing lights, reminiscent of an old-school horror movie, do add a certain haunted air that ensures many a jolt of shock among the audience. Director Ian Talbot has led this cast to create an audience-pleasing production whose strong performances allow us to forget about the nitty gritty details of the slightly silly plot and instead enjoy an evening of dark comedy and ultimately, sheer entertainment.

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

Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 2nd March)

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (King’s Theatre: 28 Nov. ’15 – 17 Jan. ’16)

Frances Mayli McCann as Snow White with Ensemble. Photos by Douglas Robertson

Frances Mayli McCann as Snow White with Ensemble.
Photos by Douglas Robertson

“Packed with laughs for audiences of all ages”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

I’ll admit, ever since the age of about 9, panto has never been very near the top of the list of my favourite art forms. And it’s true that I do tend to like my theatre a bit more high-brow. In saying that, this panto all but shattered my age-old preconceptions by being very, very funny, and at the same time embodying surprisingly high production values.

Where to start, but with Edinburgh’s pantomime royalty – Grant Stott, Allan Stewart and Andy Gray. Their on-stage chemistry is just as visible as they say it is, with lots of friendly jibes and presence that oozed confidence and star quality. The banter between them was great, and their improvisation and cover-up skills were spot-on. Stewart in particular impressed as Nurse May, with a dazzling array of seamless costume changes and a likeability that almost made the stage feel instantly more alive whenever he was on it.

Andy Gray, Allan Stewart and Grant Stott.

Andy Gray, Grant Stott and Allan Stewart.

Both Greg Barrowman as Prince Hamish and Frances Mayli McCann as Snow White also impressed with powerful singing voices, and their personalities perfectly balanced out those of their more esteemed cast members. But for me it was the dwarfs who stole the show, in particular the scene where they were riding an array of animals, and I was disappointed these characters were not used more often. The troupe showed fantastic energy and comic timing, and brought the ridiculous hilarity already on display to new heights every time they made an entrance (or exit!).

The script wasn’t so much littered as smothered with witty one-liners, topical references, football jokes, and a healthy sprinkling of good old-fashioned farce. Indeed, this show certainly has a bit of everything for the little’uns and their respective elders: there’s flying, dinosaurs, pyrotechnics, colourful costumes and a touch of audience interaction. I defy anyone not to giggle at at least one element of this offering.

The musical numbers were all delivered with aplomb, with dance sequences many grades above the step-ball-change choreography I was expecting. Song selection (mainly covers of popular songs) often seemed shoehorned in for the spectacle, but then again, one doesn’t go to panto for that. Still, the music was upbeat, in tune and full of fun.

I can forgive that the structure was a bit all over the place, that some of the scenes between the fab three bordered very closely on self-indulgent, and the almost never-ending rendition of a well-known Christmas song towards the end. It’s a show packed with laughs for audiences of all ages, and brings a lot of sparkle to brighten even the hardest of hearts. Oh yes it does!



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 December)

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Brave New World (King’s: 29 September – 3 October ’15)

Photos: Touring Theatre Consortium Company

Photos: Touring Theatre Consortium Company

“Trim, bold and emphatic”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This is a didactic staging of a hugely instructive book, so here are two questions from the lecture theatre: how near do you like your future and do you shop in ‘lower caste stores’? For me the answers are (i) pretty close and (ii) it depends.

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, which seems a long time ago, but he was seriously long-sighted and along with keen definition came the vision thing. OK, his Doors of Perception (1954) is a mescaline trip but he really did see what might be and his World State is bad and appalling, unless that is ‘You’re worth it’, in which case you might love to bits its mind-numbing, slogan-ridden lifestyle.

As for the second question, I bought some excellent coffee at ALDI last week and am very pleased with my jacket from Tu Clothing at Sainsburys, which by Huxley’s reckoning makes me a quantifiable Delta. Naturally part of the ‘fun’ of reading Brave New World is knowing that at least you’re not an Epsilon-Minus lift operator.

Huxley’s story, this play, is about misfits in the sorted, post-apocalyptic society. Bernard is a maladjusted Alpha-Plus psychologist who sees his way to a snappy suit by introducing John, an impure bred, unconditioned primitive, to his lords and masters. Or rather to Margaret, Margaret Mond, Regional World Controller. Lenina, a Beta-Plus lab technician with dodgy longings for a monogamous relationship, joins Bernard on the visit to the Savage Reservation to look at those unfortunates, who still suffer childbirth, disease and aging and who still experience family, love and heartbreak. There they find John and bring him and his mother home to London. It all gets messy when John claims his right to be unhappy.

Mond (Sophie Ward) and John (William Postlethwaite)

Mond (Sophie Ward) and John (William Postlethwaite)

Dawn King’s adaptation of Huxley’s text is trim, bold and emphatic. Its Display settings are, if you like, maxed out: Bernard is so inadequate that voice recognition software won’t recognise him; Lenina is sweetly confused; Mond has an answer for everything and John would take an axe to the whole ignoble shebang. He won’t take soma though – a legal high gone stratospheric – or sex gum, which is a relief.

There is a whole new order to configure here so it is unsurprising that video, lighting and sound provide illustration and support for the ten strong cast. There are multiple screens, helicopter rides and ‘feelie’ films and an immodest electronic score by ‘These New Puritans’ that all make the use of a centre stage curtain look decidedly old-fashioned, if not clumsy.

There is no hiding, either, of the pared down script and my unfortunate impression was of good actors managing one educative but end-stopped line after another. Flow was there none. On the other hand, and to be fair, I read Brave New World so many times when I was at school that I’m a fastidious, prose bound geek and anyway Huxley’s narrative is ‘set’ on information overload. Nevertheless, I did like William Postlethwaite’s tousle-haired John, with his subversive use of Shakespeare. Even the uber-cool Mond (a poised Sophie Ward) would have him, which is way beyond Huxley; but Scott Karim as the rebel writer Helmholtz really isn’t given enough to say.

So, fittingly enough, this is Brave New World encapsulated as feature drama. It is a little plastic, a little lurid, but still potent.

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 29 September)

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All My Sons (King’s: 22 – 26 September ’15)

Robbie Jack as Chris. Photo. Rapture Theatre.

Robbie Jack as Chris.
Photo. Rapture Theatre.

“From event to moral consequence to personal calamity”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Edinburgh theatregoers can salute one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights this week, as Scottish company Rapture Theatre bring Arthur Miller’s All My Sons to the King’s Theatre. Marking the end of their month-long tour of Scottish cities, Rapture’s production does not disappoint and ensures that Miller’s 1947 play still hits home. This week’s breaking news of Volkswagen AG marketing dodgy car engines in US  is an unlooked for dividend. At the heart of Miller’s plot are faulty cylinder heads shipped out to the Pacific ‘theatre’ during WWII. High diesel emissions don’t kill outright but Joe Keller’s cracked engine blocks killed twenty-one pilots.

The backyard set is minimal, portable yet effective, and closes tight around the Kellers as the story is stitched together. It felt a little uncomfortable at first but grew familiar, with more ‘give’ as the actors took hold. Paul Shelley as Joe Keller gives a commendable performance in that epitome of Miller roles: the grafter with no college education behind him who has managed to make it from shop floor to Board room. It is easy to believe in the image of the honest family man but that only adds to the effect of the sudden breakdown in relations with his second son, Chris. Equally credible, but with good reason, Trudie Goodwin is the heartbroken Kate Keller, a mother unwilling to accept the fact that her first son, Larry, did not come marching home. That grim acronym ‘MIA’, missing in action, is stamped all over the fate of Mr and Mrs Keller.

Robert Jack’s portrayal of Joe’s son Chris is especially notable and is the role to underline. A far cry from his Jacko in Gary: Tank Commander, Jack’s performance grows through each scene and his electric presence on stage is almost palpable. Deliberately more contained in the first act, Jack developed Chris’ character in such a way that the audience couldn’t help but be drawn into his hope for love, and subsequent devastation at the discovery of his father’s actions.

Throughout the play, sound effects are used to bring back the past as characters are reminded of their time as children back home in the yard. While an interesting idea, this often sounded clunky, and the nostalgia broke off from the rest of the production.

Despite some disappointing and/or distracting American accents from supporting cast members, which is often a big ask to get right, director Michael Emans does deliver the goods. The three central performances by Shelley, Goodwin and Jack are well sustained and the ‘unwinding’, as Miller put it, from event to moral consequence to personal calamity is unforgiving and inescapable.

Rapture Theatre are currently showcasing their Arthur Miller season in Scotland and will be at Summerhall with The Last Yankee next month.

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

Reviewer: Rachel Cram  (Seen 22 September)

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‘Yer Granny’ (King’s: 2 – 6 June ’15)

Gregor Fisher as Granny. Photography: Manuel Harlan

Gregor Fisher as Granny.
Photography: Manuel Harlan

“A performance of grotesque delights”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

This is a rollicking and roiling mix. The Russo family grew up with Fritto Misto and Potato Croquettes but it has all gone belly up since then. Their chip shop closed two months ago and perky Cammy is scraping a living out of his old burger van. There is no De’Longhi Deep Fryer on the worktop, just a hazardous barrel drum of cooking oil downstage right. Halfway to tragic maybe, but I took my seat to the whooping sound of Slade’s Mama Weer All Crazee Now, which (looking back) is one lurid invitation to excess. “Don’t stop now a c-‘mon” is what happens next and it’s flammable fun.

Writer Douglas Maxwell has lifted Roberto Cossa’s La Nona from Buenos Aires in 1977 and puts it down in Glasgow in the exact same year. Cue the glam soundtrack of the late 70s with Mrs Thatcher warming up and set that against the dismal fortunes of famiglia Russo; not that dizzy Marissa (20) knows any Italian beyond “Ciao” but at least she’s bringing home some cash. Best not ask what her boyfriend is selling to the kids in the high rise flats. Her uncle Charlie is definitely not making it as a composer, although his aunty Angela has high hopes for him. She hears his bedsprings squeaking rhythmically at night, you understand. Marie, Cammy’s wife and Marissa’s mother, is keeping the home together but is screaming inside, not least when the Bay City Rollers are playing Money Honey. And that leaves Nana, 100 years old, a metre wide, and yer granny at the maw of Hell. Against Nana, no jar of mayonnaise is safe, no food bank secure.

Gregor Fisher, as Nana, puts in a performance of grotesque delights. He growls Glaswegian gobbets, waddles athletically, and reaches for the digestives behind the clock with unflinching courage. The audience actually feels for the old glutton as she balances on the step stool. The family chippy was ‘The Minerva’ but that didn’t last. Nana is the awful immortal here. Invoke her, if you dare, by calling out “Anymare?” Ironic that the Romans got around to seeing Nemesis, aka Nana, as the maiden goddess of proportion.

Barbara Rafferty as Aunt Angela

Barbara Rafferty as Aunt Angela

Maureen Beattie as Marie

Maureen Beattie as Marie

Considerable credit therefore to Maxwell’s adaptation and to Graham McLaren’s direction for ensuring that Nana does not swallow the whole play. Cammy (Jonathan Watson) gives us two hilarious spiels of HM the Queen in his shop – reopened for business. He’s a proud Unionist is our Cammy but still manages to tell the sovereign to bugger off. She, for good measure, calls him a fanny. By contrast, Maureen Beattie is serene and strong as Marie and would save them all if only her good sense got the respect it deserved. Unfortunately that’s unlikely to begin with and downright impossible when sensitive brother-in-law Charlie (Paul Riley) has a mad and smutty idea. Enter very slowly rival fish bar owner Donnie Francisco (Brian Pettifer) halfway through the second act who, together with Barbara Rafferty’s amphetamine addled Angela, creates category one scatological bedlam. Suddenly poor, obliging Marissa (a great turn by Louise McCarthy) has a lot on her plate too. Never, ever, will chips and cheese pass my mouth and the wonderful Singing Kettle’s You Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff a Bus has all gone to pot.

Brian Pettifer (l) as Donnie Francisco  with Jonathan Watson (r) as Cammy.

Brian Pettifer (l) as Donnie Francisco with Jonathan Watson (r) as Cammy.

My favourite (after Susi Quatro)? Donnie’s ‘It’s no that I dinae go fur older women … Mrs Robertsons (sic)? I love a Mrs Robertson so I dae. But surely to Christ there’s an upper limit on Robertsons?’

I enjoy eating at Nonna’s Kitchen on Morningside Road but that’s nothing to what Yer Granny serves up of West Kilbride. This National Theatre of Scotland production is a feast of Scottish comedy: clever and exquisitely tasteless.



Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 2 June)

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