Creeping Beauty Wee Red Bar

Pretty Knickers on full display at the Wee Red Bar!

This up and coming all female Scottish company of bold theatre makers bring a brash new version of an old tale to pantoland with their production of Creeping Beauty.
With a crackling script from Mhairi McCall, who also plays ‘Princess’ Aurora, the six-strong cast put a singular subversive stamp on the Grimm brothers’ story of Sleeping Beauty. In this version, all the key elements of the traditional tale are whizzed forward in time and cleverly turned on their heads.

Aurora is an internet star with a pushy, brilliantly named Mumager (Lana Pheutan) aka Mrs B. (Borealis?), who wants her daughter to increase her popularity and internet likes by hosting an internet ball. However, Aurora would rather go to the local pub quiz with her ‘weegie urchin gal pal’ Versace (McLachie) hilariously captured by Claire Docherty. Unknown to Aurora, an Irish witch called Maleficent (Sarah Dingwall) is replacing the traditional truthful mirror by checking with Siri as to who is getting the most hits on their site. With her evil sidekick Cordelia, played with comic menace by Niamh Kinane, they plan to gatecrash the ball and cast a sleepy spell on the innocent Aurora to leave a clear path for Maleficent’s glory. Is there not a good fairy to come to the rescue? Well, yes and no. The well-meaning but hapless Welsh Glam Fairy (Becky Niven) only got as far as glitter throwing at fairy school. She does, however, do a great job of opening the show with a high energy musical piss-take of the season.

In a charming blend of the old with the new, scene changes are shown side stage in the style of an old music hall with boards on an easel while karaoke-style singing sessions of Madonna’s Material Girl, Shania Twain’s Man, I feel like a Woman and Blondie’s One Way or Another along with a too brief hearing of Radiohead’s Creep, scatter the show like Glam’s glitter.
Pretty Knickers Productions is clearly on a shoestring budget (or should that be a budget as short as a yard of elastic?) but what they lack in polish is made up for by being so refreshingly naughty and clearly enjoyable to be a part of. With sell-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows since 2017, Pretty Knickers Productions is bursting at the seams with potential. Oh yes they are!

Monday 9th – Saturday 14th December (excluding Thursday 12th) at 7.30pm and 2.30pm for the matinee performance on Saturday 14th.
Irene Brown

Goldielocks and the Three Bears

Panto time at the King’s!

If you go down to the King’s today you’re sure of a big surprise!
In Pantoland anything can happen and the familiar story of a hungry, sleepy Goldilocks stumbling into the cosy cottage of three bears to taste their porridge and test their beds is eclipsed by the rivalry of two very different Edinburgh circuses. One is owned by the evil Baron Von Vinkelbottom who revels in animal cruelty, played by arch panto villain Grant Stott. The other by the McReekie family, that consists of Dame Mary and Andy McReekie, (Allan Stewart and Andy Gray), and their daughter Goldilocks (Gillian Parkhouse) who are on the verge of collapse unless they find a class act to draw the crowds. Joey the Clown, played by the superb new addition to the Edinburgh cast, Jordan Young, hopes to impress Goldilocks with his circus skills to win her heart, but what would really draw the crowds would be a troupe of talking bears. Who will win? Well, we know who will in the end but before that roll the drums, toot the trumpets and let the fun begin!
And that is exactly what the King’s annual panto knows how to do with big colourful brassy bells on. It is sparkly bright, as cheeky as it is cheery and audiences love it year after year. It continues to be a reassuring mix of reality and fantasy as the cast casually breaks the 4th wall dishing out good humoured insults to audience members in old Scottish variety show style. With de rigeur farting, skilled word play and tongue twisters, singalong music and enough esoteric Edinburgh jokes to fill the Nor Loch, it provides exactly what is needed in this dark time of year, not to mention the darker times we live in.
Some jokes and references are a bit risqué but seem to have been reined in a bit from other years, which is good and indeed for a time the show seemed a bit subdued. Never fear though. In this circus themed panto there are real circus acts such as the Great Juggling Alfio and the astoundingly daring Berserk Riders who perform death defying feats in what looks like a revved up snow shaker.
Reuniting the legendary panto triumvirate, Andy Gray returns to the stage to a heart-warming showbiz welcome. As well as River City and Scot Squad star Jordan Young, they are joined this year by Darren Brownlie of Glasgow Tron panto fame, whose distinctive moves are recognisable even through a fat baby bear suit!
So roll up, roll up to this circus themed panto for a great night out!
Runs till Sunday 19 January
Irene Brown

On Golden Pond Leitheatre at Churchill Theatre

Leitheatre takes us on a trip down memory lane in more ways than one.

As part of their ambitious tradition, they revive Ernest Thomson’s 1979 play On Golden Pond, that became the 1981 Oscar winning film starring Henry Fonda and Kathryn Hepburn. The play focusses on a forever married couple Norman and Ethel Thayer (Mike Paton and Alison Kennedy) who are at ‘the far end of middle age’. For the 48 years of their marriage, they have summered at Golden Pond in New England. This year, Norman is reaching his 80th birthday and their daughter Chelsea (Lynne Morris), whom they haven’t seen for 8 years, is visiting with her new man, Bill (Billy Renfrew) and his son, Billy (Callum McMaster).
The velvet tones of Frank Sinatra singing The Things We Did Last Summer is the perfect mood music, as it opens the play and marks scene changes. Phyllis Ross’s clear direction is carried out within Derek Blackwood’s impressively created domestic setting against which we witness the couple’s dynamics as they inhabit the separate spheres of their generation. Alison Kennedy brings a bustling normality to her role as Ethel, the long-suffering wife who carries out her role with patient humour that shows she’s no fool for tolerating her grumpy and difficult man. Retired professor Norman, convincingly played by Mike Paton, may be showing signs of memory loss but still holds a strong grip on his powers of sarcasm. His innate vanity is also in good health as is demonstrated by his multitudinous hat wearing.
Thomson’s script, that’s as packed with humour as Ethel’s removal boxes, continues to be a lesson in mutual love and understanding and remembering that even in the face of death ‘life marches on’. Although, when heard with 21st century sensibilities, the play is laced with outdated language, the message of being open to change and to new mores that can bridge relationship gaps is the overriding one. It’s well worth a trip to Morningside!
Leitheatre supports Alzheimer’s Scotland and a collection is taken at the end of each performance.
Irene Brown

Tosca Scottish Opera

Festival Theatre Edinburgh

How lucky am I, this is the second time I’ve seen Tosca in two weeks – both very different productions but both excellent. The first was in Turin on a grand stage and a grand scale, quite stunning and spectacular. This Scottish Opera production is more intimate and small scale which brings a different perspective but is equally powerful and moving. Director Anthony Besch first created this production of Puccini’s famous 1899 opera for Scottish Opera in 1980, cleverly updating it to Rome in Fascist Italy of the 1940s. It’s a staging that still has resonance today with its dark treatise on corruption, tyranny and abuse of power. At its heart, though, is love – for one’s country and for freedom and also the passionate love story between Tosca and her lover Cavaradossi.

Tosca is a beautiful and famous singer with a passionate and fiery nature. Her lover, Cavaradossi, is a painter and republican currently painting a portrait of the Madonna in the cathedral. He has based her likeness on a blue eyed blonde haired lady he has observed praying in church, Tosca is dark haired with dark eyes so right away we know trouble is in store. Angelotti, a political prisoner, has escaped from Castel Sant’Angelo and Cavaradossi helps to hide him but unfortunately doesn’t trust Tosca enough to tell her what he is up to. She wrongly suspects his secret is that he is having an affair with the lady in the portrait and, in a fit of jealous rage, denounces him to Scarpia, the Chief of Police, unwittingly setting off a tragic chain of events.

The hugely impressive cast includes Dingle Yandell as Angelotti, Roland Wood as the cruel and sadistic Scarpia, Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi, and Natalya Romaniw as Tosca. Jones and Romaniw do full justice to their roles and to their famous arias – Recondita Armonia, Vissi D’Arte, and E Lucevan le Stelle, all sung clearly and powerfully but with the right amount of emotion and tenderness. There was a bit too much static delivery for my taste when they could have been more closely entwined. Wood made a wonderfully wicked Scarpia but was drowned out at key points by the orchestra. The small chorus made a good go of the Te Deum at the end of Act One and the power of the music and the entrance of Il Duce still bring a chill but this is a scene where a bigger stage and chorus really can pay dividends.

These are minor points, however, and the overall performance was excellent with the cast and orchestra receiving a deservedly rapturous ovation from the audience.

Irene Brownlee

Cabaret Festival Theatre

A classic treatment for a classic musical

Surprisingly – well, it came as a surprise to me – I had never seen Cabaret on stage. The classic film with Liza Minelli and Joel Grey, yes, several times. So I had a new experience to look forward to with this production.
And a well worthwhile experience it was. While not without its flaws, forgivable given that we could not expect the star quality of the film, this is a production that entertains from start to finish. From the opening appearance of Emcee (John Partridge) ensconced in a lens aperture (a nod to source material I Am a Camera?) to his exit, defeated, as Hitler’s forces shut down the Berlin nightclubs, this is both entertainment and an education.
Kara Lily Hayworth shines as Sally Bowles, terrific voice, great dancing and acting skills combine to let us see Sally’s vulnerability, and how Charles Hagerty’s Cliff Bradshaw could fall for someone who is, on the surface at least, an extremely irritating character. Hagerty matches her; they come across as a perfectly suited pair. Not an easy task, given Cliff’s bisexuality.
Another perfectly suited pair are Fraulein Schneider – an absolutely marvellous Anita Harris – and her doomed Jewish fiancé, the greengrocer Herr Schultz (James Paterson) who perhaps epitomise the tragedy of the darkening times.
A faultless performance by the company of the Kit Kat Klub’s dancers, superbly choreographed by Javier De Frutos, the whole thing under the first class direction of Rufus Norris, with full marks to Lighting Designer Tim Oliver and Sound Designer Dan Samson, and what more could we ask? Yes, a fine band, and we get that too. “Even the orchestra are looking lovely tonight” to quote Emcee.
Having finally seen Cabaret on stage, I’m now looking forward to seeing it again.

Jim Welsh

The Exorcist King’s Theatre

Another scary production at the King’s

As the month for all things that go bump in the night comes to a close, the King’s Theatre certainly tries to eke it out with a rather spooktastic bang!

“The Exorcist” although starting out as a book, has developed quite the cult status as a horror film. A tale about a girl on the cusp of adolescence overtaken by a rather malevolent force. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ll probably still know of it or have seen some of the iconic imagery from it.

But what I discovered from the film is that although it has these rather shocking moments in it, they can all be a bit trashy. Still, it was genuinely seen as something quite provocative and horrifying at the time! I suppose the bread and butter of the macabre scene of previous years, were genuine monsters. But around the time of the late 60s/70s we were getting films that were a bit more about the evil inside innocence, be it “The Omen” or “Rosemary’s Baby”. And this was something of a similar ilk.

When I watched the movie, I found it genuinely well filmed and esoteric in parts too. And I was hoping whilst watching this production from ‘The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company’ that it would rely more upon this than gratuitous shocks. And I’ll admit this is genuinely something that is strived for and achieved in the first and second act of this production from playwright John Pielmeier.

I feel because of this we get a little closer to the bond between mother Chris MacNeil (Sophie Ward) and her daughter Regan (Susannah Edgley). Are there scare and shocks? Definitely. But they don’t compromise on the story because of it. I’ll be frank that the true stars of this whole experience are our stalwarts behind the scenes. Philip Gladwell and Adam Cork work hand in hand with their symbiotic lighting and sound design. Which can be slow and subtle or utterly bombastic as the appropriate scene arrives. Similarly, with Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington on projection design, they complement the illusions of designer Ben Hart very well. The way shadows are projected to tell part of the story can genuinely be quite unsettling.

And Ian McKellan who is cast as the voice of the malevolent entity seemed to be having a whale of a time whilst recording it. So in truth, it’s rather a shame when the third act rolls up and we focus more on the priests who come to exorcise this beast. At this stage, it focuses quite a bit on the more “shocking” effects and any subtlety that was there before has gone clean out the window! Plus, although Father Karras (Ben Caplan) and Father Merrin (Paul Nicholas) are being pushed to their very limits, I never really bought it that they were truly terrified and also very brave from either actor. But I suppose that is a difficult balance to get and director Sean Mathias should have really paid more attention to that.

So considering the good and ill of this experience, if you do still feel up for a bit of a scare and the odd jump, I would recommend this play. Mainly thanks to its wonderful atmospherics and their effective bumps in the night!

Markus Helbig

Prism King’s Theatre

Shedding light on a cinematographer at the King’s

A play that brings light to the life of cinematographer Jack Cardiff has come to the King’s, but was I enveloped in incandescent awe or did I find the whole experience rather dull?

Jack Cardiff (Robert Lindsay) was kind of a force of nature of his time. I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with his name but that I had experienced some of his films. His career certainly thrived during the 40s and 50s. As I recall “The Red Shoes” with his use of light and colour, certainly gives ‘The Wizard of Oz” a run for its money in vividness alone.

But although he had a great taste for art and bringing this brilliance out through the big screen, he wasn’t just able to make people fall in love with what his camera was offering. And that charisma was also very much at work with some of the leading ladies of the time too.

And so this play creates an intimate portrayal of this man’s life, with his flaws being magnified and all. We are mainly looking through a window at the latter end of his life, where the light of his mind is being affected by the dimming nature of Alzheimer’s.

This play is a wonderfully moving production. Even if you know next to nothing about this man’s life, it is carefully shone into this world with an arresting script thanks to Terry Johnson. Clearly, its true expression is shown thanks to the absolutely magnificent lighting techniques of Ben Ormerod. He seems to be able to weave the light as if it were so many strands of different coloured thread to create this brilliant tapestry before our very eyes.

Most of the acting is top-notch in this intimate four-person cast, with only Oliver Hembrough emanating a faint radiance. He tries his best, but it does come across as if he’s trying too hard. Tara Fitzgerald and Victoria Blunt truly dazzle with their main roles as long-suffering wife Nicola and carer Lucy. But at times you almost think you’re seeing the true stars as they perform as Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe respectively. They make you hang on every lilt and tone that they utter. But it’s truly Mr Lindsay who is resplendent on this stage as he delivers the performance of a lifetime.

Johnson is also on directing duties, and he truly takes the very essence of this artist, which when combined with the elements I’ve just mentioned makes this play transcend from this stage and shine like a beacon into the hearts and minds of the audience. All of which makes this as powerful and luminous piece of theatre as one is ever likely to witness.

Markus Helbig