The Lehman Trilogy by The National Theatre, directed by Sam Mendes


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Thank you NT Live.

I’m not in London so this was never going to make it onto my ticket list and after 45 productions in the Edinburgh Festivals and Fringe last month neither my wallet nor my body could have managed a trip to the big smoke.

So it was a great and lovely surprise when I saw this show pop up as an encore screening at my local Vue Cinema in Edinburgh.  (By the time I took my seat it was sold out.)

NT Live has pro’s and cons.

On the plus side, it gets so close into the action that you can see in extreme close up the power of performance, in this case exceptionally so, by three astounding actors; Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley.

The downside of that is it does have the effect of transposing the experience to cinema rather than theatre and, on this occasion, the negative side of that is that many of Es Devlin and Luke Hall’s simply majestic set (and set pieces) were slightly lost.  I’d like to have seen them as they designed them, in panorama.

At times the monochromatic combination of wardrobe, lighting, set and video makes for some of the most stunning tableaux you will ever see in a theatre.

I’m surprised this show won no Olivier’s (particularly when you see how many the distinctly average Come From Away walked off with) but that is not to diminish this monumental theatrical achievement by Sam Mendes.

Over the course of three and a half hours we see 150 years of the Lehman Brothers’ (and hence industrialised America’s) history presented by the three brothers, their heirs and a supporting cast of dozens of minor characters, all played, largely in third person narrative, by the three actors – apart from their principal roles they cover everything from screaming infants, to coquettish muses to an ageing Rabbi.  It’s remarkable.

The evolving set, whilst intriguing is, at times a little intrusive and this becomes irritating but at other times it’s a work of genius.

The piano music is described as the fourth character and that is so true, played as if in a silent movie throughout, almost completely underscoring the play, by Candida Caldicot.

This is a tour-de-force.  A remarkable production and a must see.  Despite the flaws it comes highly recommended from me.

 

My Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2019.


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It’s been great.

It always is.

Have I seen a life-changer yet?

Not sure I have, but I’ve seen a lot of class.  (Update, since I first wrote this I have.)

I hate star ratings, but for convenience I have chosen this methodology to save time.

Those in bold are official Edinburgh Festival shows

5*****

The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company – This is the life-changer.  A mind-bogglingly beautiful contemporary dance show, weaving together the quiet innocence of Nepalese temple dance with the power and fury of Stravinky’s masterpiece.  Truly outstanding.

Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA – I’ve seen this bonkers Belgian political theatre company, from Ghent, before, doing LY£$.  They specialise in Climate Change polemics.

But this was a step up in class.  The entire play is a palindrome; as you will have spotted from the title.  This means it is performed backwards and then replayed in reverse as a film.  How they manage to speak backwards is simply brilliant.  And funny.  And thought provoking

The Patient Gloria – Traverse.  Outstanding theatre about a psychotherapy experiment from the 60’s by Abbey Theatre

Baby Reindeer – Richard Gadd’s masterpiece in the Roundabout at Summerhall.  Awe inspiring performance and story

Efterkalang – The Festival Music strand was a triumph this year.  Few household names but curated with love and real knowledge of quality.  Efterklang closed this year’s offering and they were simply terrific.

Villagers – The best live performance at Leith Theatre. Perfection

This is the Kit – (No this was).  A sublime performance both by TITK and support and beautifully lit by Grant Anderson.  Outstanding sound quality.

The Incident Room – superb story about the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry at The Pleasance

Peter Gynt – outstanding and hilarious take on mid 19th century classic at Festival Theatre

The Shark is Broken – Jaws – the back story at Assembly.  An amazing and very, very funny three-hander by actors playing Robert Shaw, Rod Steiger and Richard Dreyfuss

4****

Anna Calvi – wonderful performance at Leith Theatre

Matt Forde’s Political Podcast – Interviewing Nicola Sturgeon.  (Scotland’s First Minister.)  A delightful hour of Boris-bashing and independence speculation.

Crocodile Fever – tremendous co-pro between The Lyric Belfast and The Traverse.

Fish Bowl – Hilarious French physical comedy at The Pleasance

The Last of The Pelican Daughters – very funny Pleasance show that I had to leave after 30 minutes due to fire alarm

Oedipus – Would have been five stars but for the subtitles. The Kings

Shit – Ultra-sweary, hilarious but deeply moving Ausie show at Summerhall.  Brilliant.

Nightclubbing – Grace Jones inspired Summerhall Performance art.

Kala Kuti Republic – Tremendous dance show about Fela Kuti.  Met, and made best mates with, Bobby Gillespie at The Lyceum

Elgar’s Kingdom – Great tunes from The Halle and Edinburgh Festival Chorus.  Rubbish lyrics. At the Usher Hall

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation – outstandingly original NTS show by Tim Crouch. At Festival Theatre Studio.

Once on This Island – Forth Children’s Theatre. My own company’s show.  A truly beautiful musical with a fabulous ensemble and several great performances .

Tartuffe,  Assemble Rooms – a great Scottish cast performing an abridged version of Liz Lochhead’s classic Moliere adaptation.  Very funny.  Great work from all four in the case (including Grant O’Rourke and Nicola Roy)

3***

The Burning – great performances but treacle-like script, at The Pleasance

Cométe – nice festival opener – pub band that may have gone to 4**** with a bigger audience

Who Cares – polemical Summerhall stuff about the care system but no narrative to properly engage with

The Crucible – too hard a story to tell through dance at The Playhouse

Best of the Fest – mixed bag, not the best of the Fest or it would have been 5*****

Ed Gamble – Work in Progress gig. Great warm up chat but the ACTUAL material was…meh.

Trips and Falls –  The spirit of the Fringe alive in this interesting but poorly cast and largely poorly performed Glasgow Uni production.  The Chief of police and the Granny were good though.

Square go – Started great but fell away, Scottish playground romp at the amazing Roundabout, at Summerhall.

If You’re Feeling Sinister by Avalon and BBC Arts in association with Tron Theatre at The Gilded Balloon.  Thios was always going to be tough to deliver a play about an album by Belle and Sebastiane, but by and large the two hander cast pulled it off .

2**

Teenage Fanclub – Boring.  At Leith Theatre – left after 45 mins.

Twin Peaks – Show about breast cancer billed as a comedy but not funny.

1*

Dynamite – it wasn’t – utter student improvisational crud by Bristol Uni Improv Soc.  Felt sorry for the excellent small girl with a pony tail (Katie) – not enough to save her blushes.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of The Patient Gloria by Gina Moxley and Abbey Theatre in association with Pan Pan Theatre at The Traverse; Edinburgh Fringe.


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I’ve seen some cracking stuff this year already; The Incident Room, Shit, Baby Reindeer, Nightclubbing and Peter Gynt (EIF) are all there or there about the 5 star mark, and I expect all to win prizes this year.  There are at least two Fringe Firsts in that bunch.  Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer Summerhall, in particular, left me speechless.

But tonight we went super A-list with the classic Abbey Theatre of Dublin in a co-pro with Pan Pan Theatre Co and Gina Moxley.

It’s a three woman piece written by and starring the diminutive Gina Moxley who is a dab hand at playing male psychotherapists.  She shares the stage and the story with the titular Gloria; a 1964 divorcee aged 30 with a still high sex drive and a nine year old inquisitive daughter in tow.

In an experimental film in 1965 the real life Gloria was a guinea pig in three psychotherapy experiments that were filmed to observe different approaches to understanding Gloria’s motivations and drives.

The play brings these sessions to life against a rich tapestry of theatrical techniques and outrageously brilliant acting from both Moxley and Liv O’Donoghue (the beautiful Gloria).

The two make an odd couple, not least because of the notable difference in height.

They are wonderfully supported by Jane Deasy as the one-woman bass-playing Greek Chorus.

I can’t begin to describe how many moments come together to make this piece of theatre so magical; obviously the script, story and acting are the foundations but the direction by John McIlduff is like a master class.  The set design and costumes are stunning and the sound design an important contribution too.

It’s gripping, thrilling, ballsy feminism at its extreme best.  I’m a feminist so I wasn’t in the least uncomfortable: but bring an ounce of misogyny into The Traverse and you’ll be going home with your ball sack shrivelled inside you.

Catholisisim gets a good kicking (or at least its Irish educational sub divisional torture chamber).

It’s brilliant, inventive, hilarious, thought provoking, visually and aurally stunning theatre at its very, very best.

 

 

 

 

Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

Come From Away; West End Musical Review.


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This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why.  It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.

Maybe there is no hiding from the truth.  It’s just nice.

Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.

The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).

The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.

But it’s all a bit hokey for me.  The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.

It’s storytelling on steroids.  $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End.  But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much.  There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock.  No light and shade (or very little anyway).

Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s  fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry.  It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.

The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.

But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.

One last thing.  The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today.  Horrendously uncomfortable.

A ferocious, brutal and hilarious piece of theatre that will take your breath away. Ulster American at The Traverse Theatre from 20 Feb.


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I saw this at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  It was the best show in The Traverse’s best Fringe for years.  Gobsmackingly brilliant and it’s back with the same cast.  A bigger venue, but what could possibly go wrong?

At the time I described it as the bastard child of Aaron Sorkin, Frankie Boyle (maybe Jerry Sadowitz) and Martin McDonagh.

I can’t recommend it enough.

But it’s sweary, violent, sexist, outrageous, scary, rude, bawdy.  If you don’t like any of those things you’ll just have to fuck off and watch Strictly.  (You twat.)