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.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 March)

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LoopsEnd (Traverse, 2nd Feb ’16)


“A visual feast”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

I have seen many spectacular aerial displays over the years, from companies all over the world,  and with their latest work, LoopsEnd, Edinburgh and LA based Paper Doll Militia is definitely right up there with the best of them in terms of risk, precision and wow-factor. However, while technically the gymnastics were great, I was a bit disappointed by the overall cohesion of the work.

A performance in two parts, the first half, Ashes, was inspired by the tearing down of an industrial estate where the group used to rehearse. The main visual element of the piece was two long ropes hanging from the rigging, twisted and weighted down with bags of powder. Even watching the ropes untwist and retwist in the empty space was graceful and compelling, and when combined with George Tarbuck’s stunning lighting design and the trademark tricks and treats of a seasoned aerial company, this piece was, at times, nothing short of a visual feast.

Throughout the performance, white powder was used in various ways to represent the “ashes” – one performer literally had a pile on his shoulders in the opening sequence, while the closing image was of the two bags attached to the hanging ropes slowly emptying as the ropes swung in the space. These individual instances were very powerful visually, but it was difficult to see the link between these, and any sort of narrative or progression within the piece. Indeed, many of the “theatrical” devices seemed under-developed and incomplete: there were too many moments of clichéd wide-eyed wonder and writhing around in angst, and at one point one performer walked back and forward many times, overtly undecided about whether to touch the rope. Such basic and overused devices unfortunately offset the splendorous vision of the other sections.

In the second piece, Unhinged XY, projection was also used, which in some ways added another dimension to the visual smorgasbaord, but in others gave a seemingly unnecessary layer of complexity and confusion to the action – again, it often wasn’t clear how the costumes, music, acrobatics, projections and design all married up.

The aerial silk work in this piece, and the use of wind and fabric combined to make some stunning visuals and standout moments. When one performer walked up a hanging piece of silk, weighted at the bottom by another, while competing with gusts around her, I was awestruck by the strength and artistry on show.

It was a bit of a shame that both pieces relied quite so heavily on overpowering recorded sound and music. While at some points it was great in setting and supporting the overall tone of each section, its constant use meant the work was unable to establish a mood for itself, so I would have preferred a more selective and sensitive approach to the aural aspects of the performance.

Overall, there’s no denying the talent and visual creativity that have earned Paper Doll Militia their excellent reputation. However, LoopsEnd left me somewhat hanging in mid-air, rather than applauding with my feet flat on the ground.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 February)

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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)

Go to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Visit the King’s Theatre archive.

My round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe


Where to begin? The official stats say that Edinburgh’s summer festivals this year were their biggest ever, with Edinburgh International Festival selling 19% more tickets than last year, while Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows issued a whopping 2.3 million tickets between them, an increase of 5% on 2014.

At Edinburgh49, following the launch of our dedicated +3 page, we also saw a massive increase in popularity this August, with just shy of 9,000 visits (easily our best ever monthly figure), and a doubling of our followers in the same period.

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We’re really proud of that achievement, and I would personally like to thank our fantastic team: Dan Lentell, Alan Brown and Jacob Close for their contributions this festival season. Thanks also to our friends at Cult Espresso for their support, and to every one of you – the companies and punters who’ve come to us for informed reviews, and who’ve spread the word far and wide.

Several people have asked me what my favourite shows were from this year, and for me that’s always a difficult one to answer as it’s hard to compare shows across genres. What I learned from Johnny Bevan – a one-man show written and performed by Luke Wright – is definitely up there, as is Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas – a production conceived in Scotland that I sincerely hope gets the chance to be toured further afield. The Gin Chronicles, Jurassic Park and Promise and Promiscuity were all theatrical hits in my book, while La Meute (which I didn’t review) and Smother were my favourite dance/circus acts. In His Own Write and Aunty Donna certainly made me laugh the most, while Trans Scripts, To Kill A Machine and Out of The Blue’s emotional final show in their current line-up left me sobbing helplessly. Sexy, I know.

It’s certainly been a very different Festival experience for me this year, as my reviewing has taken me to many shows that I would not otherwise have considered, often with serendipitous results. And what with juggling a full-time job, working around the team’s schedules and needing to sleep once in a while, it is with a pang of regret that I must apologise to those companies who invited us to shows we were unfortunately unable to make. One of those, Guru Dudu, has extended its run until this weekend, and would very much welcome an audience – I’ve heard great things about it.

Now September’s here and Edinburgh slowly gets itself back to normal, I hand the reins back over to Alan, and I look forward to what delights will be shared in Edinburgh’s theatres for the next 49 weeks.

Edinburgh: Festival City Explorer Tour (Venue 363, Aug 7-20, 22, 24-31 : 10:00 : 1hr 45mins) (Preview)

“Really insightful … I found myself asking intelligent questions”

Editorial Rating: Outstanding

Until this preview I’d never been on a walking tour of Edinburgh, despite witnessing what seems like several hundred of them in earnest progress from day to day. It was with some trepidation that I dragged myself to the agreed meeting point on a Sunday morning, for I had no desire for pantomime-esque shouting, spun-out theatricals, or vaguely competent script recitals. Thankfully, Gareth Davies’ Festival City Explorer Tour does not do these.

Photo credit: Malena Astrom

Starting at one end of the Grassmarket, Gareth immediately sets out what to expect and what makes it both interesting and unique compared to louder and more commercial efforts. He introduces it as a tour of two cities – the old, the new; the charming facades, the sordid histories; and the intriguing combinations of the geological and the human that have shaped the city into what it is today. What follows is a fascinating lesson in 101 things you didn’t know you didn’t know about Edinburgh.

At just shy of two hours, and taking in a fair whack of our city, it’s certainly not one for those hoping for a quick stroll. The tour encompasses both new and old town – exploring the stories of their design and build, finishing up on Calton Hill to view it as one whole.

In the old town we learnt about hangings, trade routes, and (yes, ok) a ghostie. As we passed along Mound Place on our way down to Princes Street, Gareth pointed out that not many tours actually venture into the new town. Indeed, the methodology behind his tour is to focus on those parts of the city that don’t feature in the glossy guide books. We spent very little time on the Royal Mile, and instead unearthed many of Edinburgh’s lesser-known treats in sidestreets and wynds, from walkways and vantage points.

What made this tour really special was Gareth’s personable and honest way of talking. He is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about what he does, but without the overblown routines and tired witticisms that you can get from a showman guide, especially in August. During the Fringe no group will number more than 10 people, which I think will help keep it all friendly and informative.

This was in fact a really insightful experience. For one thing it woke me up and for another I found myself asking intelligent questions that I’d never before considered – just how did some of our streets get their names? Remarkable.

Wear a comfortable pair of shoes and bring an open mind – you don’t know what you’ll discover.

Edinburgh: Festival City Explorer Tour runs Monday-Thursday at 10am during the Fringe. Booking is highly recommended.


Ft. Encounter With The Karaoke Cabbie

You can hear Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s own Karaoke Cabbie, live on the Christmas ’14 edition of Edinburgh Nights. 15:00-16:00, Friday 19th December on Shore Radio. Alternatively you can subscribe to the podcast here.

I tumble into a taxi on Hanover Street, or is this Frederick? I’m never entirely certain, even at the best of times, and it’s been a good night. If I am no longer exactly on the level, here’s hoping the Great Architect of the Universe can keep me straight until I’ve staggered up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire. But this is Edinburgh and you can’t escape unanticipated spectacle so easily.

“Do you like music?” Is there someone else in the cab? Hazily, I remember the first episode of Sherlock, and that there is ALWAYS someone else in a hired hackney. “I don’t mind a tune mate,” I reply to the driver’s enquiry. A pause and then he asks, “You like Barry Manilow pal?” To this I’m …er… less committal. And that is how the conversation started. That’s how I encountered Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s very own Karaoke Cabbie.

It’s December. It’s cold and it’s going to get colder. August is a distant memory and yet the spirit of the Fringe moves among us. Turns out I’m the audience at a hopeful’s impromptu show. Brian’s been on Britain’s Got Talent, he’s been on The Voice, and yet he’s still waiting for his break together with the recognition his gigantically gentle stage style deserves.

The backing track comes on as we turn onto Waverley Bridge – not too quiet, not too loud – this is finely tuned improv. Brian’s warms up with classics from the song book of the artist formerly known as Barry Alan Pincus (Did I know Manilow started using his mother’s maiden name after his bar mitzvah?).

I had a guy in the back one time. Said he was a big pal of Manilow’s. Said I was the best tribute act he’d ever heard.

The best lounge crooners don’t just imitate, they resculpt the classics to their own range and unique aesthetic. Listening to Brian sing you come to realise this is a guy familiar with the engineering under the artistry. He appreciates it, respects it. Why does he suppose Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra never meshed on stage? “Very different styles, Dan pal, what you have to understand is…”

We’re bumping over the Royal Mile. People come from all over the world to see this view. I’d never imagined it could be improved until I saw it, long after the midnight hour, bathed in the magic Brian can conjures from In the Wee Small Hours. With the Current Mrs Dan away Christmas shopping in NYC, it brings a lump to my throat. “Give us something more cheerful can’t you Brian?” Of course he can!

If there’s one thing living in Edinburgh has taught me, it’s that great art (high and low) doesn’t just happen. Years of practise are required for each single hour of top quality entertainment, and that punters are just as responsible as producers for finding and celebrating artists. Why would you leave it to the corporate clever clogs behind the Saturday Night talent shows?

Consumption isn’t just consuming only what’s been put in front of us. I needs us to go out, explore, trying something new, take a risk and watch it pay off. Yes, you might have to listen to a bit of Manilow before you get to the Sinatra, but it’ll be so worth it in the end. You might even discover that… actually… you quite like Manilow after all.

By: Dan Lentell (Seen 5 December)

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Edinburgh Nights: The Ukridge-Off

Competitive(ish) Wodehouse – World’s 1st Ukridge-off

Do you know Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge? Chances are you’re aware of Jeeves and Wooster, that’s if you haven’t been living under a particularly out of the way rock for the past 99 years. Ukridge is an older (but certainly not a wiser) comic creation, who first appeared in 1906. A schemer and a dreamer, Ukridge is P.G. Wodehouse at his most inventively silly.

One Friday in October Clive Hayward and Sarah Marie Maxwell popped by the Edinburgh Nights studio to big up the national tour of Irving Berlin’s Top Hat as well as Rights of Man, Clive’s own new musical based on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.

Having described Clive as “Wodehousian perfection” it seemed to me like a rather splendid opportunity for some competitive(ish) Wodehouse. Two readings of two Ukridge passages (selected at random) by Clive and Edinburgh Nights‘ host Ewan Spence. England playing Scotland at home for the title. Will you agree with Sarah Marie’s choice of the winner?

E49 and Edinburgh Nights (141017) The Ukridge-Off ft. Clive Hayward v. Ewan Spence

As well as writing for Edinburgh49 Dan Lentell is also the co-host of Edinburgh Nights. It’s a madcap weekly broadcast for Scotland’s Capital, promoting shows, events, and music that will be taking place that weekend across Edinburgh. The show is recorded live between 3pm and 4pm every Friday, and you can listen online or catch the podcast after the show. Click here to hear to whole episode.