My Country (Traverse: 11 – 13 May ’17)

Penny Layden (Britannia) & Christian Patterson (Cymru).
Photo: Sarah Lee, NT

“A cocktail of feelings: a little sweet and pleasantly bubbly, with just the right amount of bitterness.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

Public opinion is a funny thing. A dramatic shift occurs in our society and suddenly everyone has something to say about it. Which is wonderful, of course. The more of us who care about what happens in our country, the better. But one of the questions that people always seem to ask in times like this is; “Do you remember where you were?” Do you remember where you were when the Twin Towers were attacked? …When you heard Michael Jackson had died? …When Trump was elected President?

Now, do you remember where you were on the morning of 24th June 2016? Brexit Day. GB hands the European Union ‘our’ divorce papers. From that day, the word spread around the country like a hectic rash, spouting from the voice of every radio station, newspaper and neighbour. It was unstoppable, all-consuming and tense, yet it seemed to arouse a willingness in the people to debate and engage with the current events of our nation.

So what if the voices of these ordinary people from across our great lands were trumpeted aloud for all to hear? A creative way of bringing about social change, perhaps? Or a spark that will encourage us to listen, and prevent the fire of the debate extinguishing? The National Theatre seemed to think so. And when the NT starts to roll with an idea, it tends to pay off. Headed up by the company’s own Artistic Director, Rufus Norris, My Country came to the Traverse Theatre last week as part of its UK tour, bringing with it the voices of these people for us to hear.

We are immediately welcomed to a boardroom by Britannia, played by Penny Layden. Olivier-award-winning Katrina Lindsay’s simple yet effective set is businesslike and blue, complete with water cooler and official-looking desks, as well as a row of ballot boxes to remind us why we are there. In come the regions: Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, Northern Ireland, North East, and South West, with Britannia as our Westminster. A strong set of seven, each actor representing the heart and soul of their respective parts of a still United Kingdom. And so the debate ensues.

While the cast are solid overall, there are a few standout performance among them. Chris Patterson as the booming voices of Cymru gives a performance that is both buoyant and vulnerable, shifting from brash old pub-dweller to the touching voice of a thirteen year old who only wishes to see the good in others. Equally captivating is Laura Elphinstone as the voices of the North East. Warm, honest and heartbreaking in her moments, she is fantastic to watch. But the glue holding the regions together is Penny Layden’s Britannia. Representing the heart of our government, Layden’s portrayal of Westminster’s politicians is spot on, generating both laughs and anger.

There is, at times, a slight risk of these performances dancing on the borderline of caricature, but the actors never cross it; these are real people with real stories to tell, and their words are treated with respect. Throughout the performance, Britannia constantly urges us to simply “listen”, despite our own opinions. And we do.

A verbatim piece could quite easily turn boring. In Edinburgh, where 74% of voters chose to remain, an audience could have been so opposed to the opinions of  ‘Leavers’ that they shut down completely. Yet that night in the Traverse Theatre, the opposite seemed to happen. We wanted to listen, and this is one of those special productions that generates a cocktail of feelings: a little sweet and pleasantly bubbly, with just the right amount of bitterness. It makes you angry and sad and happy all at the same time, and you’re not sure whether you should laugh, scoff or just let go and cry. Sadly only in Edinburgh for three nights, the company continue to move around the UK until its final performance on, appropriately, the 24th June 2017. Jump on a plane, train or bus and go and see this show. The question I would ask you in ten years is: do you remember where you were when you saw My Country? Don’t be one of the people whose answer is no.




Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 12 May)

Go to My Country, National Theatre on tour

Visit the Edinburgh49‘s Traverse archive.

Preview of The Pirates of Penzance (Pleasance: 15 – 19 March ’16)

Pirates 1

The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group are back on the Pleasance stage doing what they do best this week, with a swashbuckling performance of that most loved of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, The Pirates of Penzance. And unlike the society’s past few forays into the genre, which have steered clear of good old G & S traditions, it looks as though this one will be harking back to the original setting that Gilbert intended.

At the helm of the ship is newcomer to the society, Charlie Ralph. Having never directed a musical before, let alone tackled the intricate works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Ralph appears cooly confident ahead of opening night as he excitedly shares a glimpse of what audiences can expect when the show opens on Tuesday.

“We are aiming for a very classic vibe. Performance-wise we’re steering away from interpretations that lean towards the pantomime, and there won’t be any modern references. It’s been important to us to keep the show true to the original universe of the story.”

Pirates 2

An exciting prospect, which hints that this production team aim to swiftly quash any opinions that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are an art form of the past. The plot itself oozes that nonsensical comic melodrama that is so much a part of the G&S institution, and Ralph has taken no prisoners when it has come to teasing this comedy out of his cast members. The operetta centers around Frederic, played by Tom Whiston, who wishes to be released from his apprenticeship with a band of pirates, all while pursuing the love of the beautiful Mabel, played by EUSOG favourite Caoilainn Mcgarry. Chaos ensues, with more than a hint of comedy and heart, something that Ralph is certain will ring true in the performances of his cast.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s all about getting them to enjoy what they’re doing and embrace the fact that G&S is ridiculous, silly and doesn’t really make sense.

Once the actors understand that and get to know their characters and how stupid they are, they can then feel free to have fun within those roles. It doesn’t actually take much direction. It’s all about them having the confidence to act up and make each other laugh and then they can bring that energy to the stage.”

Pirates 3

But Ralph is only too keen to emphasise the fact that he certainly has not been alone in leading this project for the past three months. After her stint as Gianetta last year’s EUSOG production of The Gondoliers, familiar face on the student theatre circuit Eleanor Crowe has moved behind the scenes this time as producer, while choreography is created by Meera Pandya.

Straight out of his stint as the piano rep for EUSOG’s November success that was The Addams Family Musical, first year university student Will Briant has stepped up to the position of Musical Director for Pirates and by the sounds of things, the cast are in safe hands.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve done shows before, but conducting a large cast and full orchestra has been an amazing experience. I’ve especially enjoyed aspects such as the Sitzprobe, putting it all together for the first time and hearing how it sounds. And I’m so excited by how it sounds.”

And we’re certainly excited to hear it, Will. If the mounting success of the society over the past few years is anything to go by, Pirates of Penzance is sure to be no exception. 

Go to EUSOG at the Pleasance.

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)

Visit the King’s Theatre archive.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Lyceum: 28 Nov.’15 – 3 Jan.’16)

l.tor: Charlotte Miranda Smith as Susan, Ben Onwukwe as Aslan, and Claire-Marie Sneddon as Lucy. Photos. Royal Lyceum Theatre.

l.tor: Charlotte Miranda Smith as Susan, Ben Onwukwe as Aslan, and Claire-Marie Sneddon as Lucy.
Photos. Royal Lyceum Theatre.

“Fantastical adventure and heart”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Allegory or not, “It’s [still] a magic wardrobe. There’s a wood inside it, and it’s snowing, and there’s a faun and a witch and it’s called Narnia. Come and see.”

And enchanting it certainly is. This 2009 adaptation follows the adventures of four WWII evacuees as they travel through the wardrobe and discover the mysterious, wintry world of Narnia, encountering everything from witches to talking lions, to Father Christmas. C S Lewis’ wondrous story is expertly captured on the Lyceum stage by director Andrew Panton, and is an absolute triumph of a Christmas show.

The one thing that is immediately evident is how polished a production this is. Each scene change is almost like an smooth apparition; as if in some transitory dream, the audience move from one moment to the next without really knowing how they got there, and it’s wonderful. As the oak-panelled set opens out to reveal Narnia for the first time, one cannot help but gasp – with the younger audience – at the intricate display on stage: snow falls and coats the floor in a sparkling white blanket; tall icy trees seem to go on forever and that iconic lamp post glows in the shadows, waiting patiently for Mr Tumnus to appear. The impressive set is further complimented by sumptuous costume design, particularly in that of the animals. Mr and Mrs Beaver and Aslan the Lion are brought to life not only through their physicality but also through that wardrobe, but literally this time.

Stunning set and faithful costume aside, it is the strength of the cast that bring the real magic to this production. Special commendation must go to James Rottger, Charlotte Miranda Smith, Christian Ortega and Claire-Marie Sneddon, playing children Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy, respectively. As an audience member, there is often an underlying fear when watching adult actors in child roles as, if poorly performed, it can often remove you from the story. Yet this troupe executes their performances with such a warm and honest vulnerability that it is impossible not to be drawn into their adventure.

This childlike wondering proves all the more effective through the addition of song to the narrative. While some numbers do feel unnecessary, they do give the show another dimension of fantastical adventure and heart. After defeating the Witch, and the cast start singing the words, “You can’t know, but you can believe”, the spellworking in the theatre is almost palpable, and it is hard to suppress the urge to wave back at Aslan and the faun as they bid their farewell to their audience.

As stage magic goes, cutting the mustard might be up there as tricky; and evil White Witch (Pauline Knowles) has trouble living the part that is forever Tilda Swinton’s. A chilling performance works for her at times but it is often ambushed by pantomime warmth and is limited by the reach and power of the virtuous characters.

However, this is holy Advent time and this is a lovely production of a miraculous story that will delight the expectations of the children and grown-ups who come to see it.




Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 4 December)

Go to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Lyceum.

Visit the The Lyceum archive.

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)

Go to All My Sons at the King’s here

Visit the King’s Theatre archive.