An Edinburgh Christmas Carol at The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh.


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Ahhhh, The Lyceum Christmas Show is upon us once again and Tony Cownie and his regular core of performers have taken the right decision of NOT descending into pantomime, because the Lyceum doesn’t do panto.  You’ll get that at The Kings.

Instead what he has cleverly done is merged the stories of Greyfriar’s Bobby with Dickens’ perennial favourite, thus giving it a life of its own and a new reason to visit a story that we can all probably recite in our sleep.

And it works a treat.

Bobby is a central character and Cownie gets round the problem of teaching dogs to act by making him (and Tiny Tim) puppets adding a further dimension to an already novel take on the novel.  It’s charming and the puppeteers invest real sympathy into Tiny Tim’s character and zest, bounce and good comedy into Bobby’s.

And because the cast includes Nicola Roy, Steve McNicoll and Grant O’Rourke (pulling off an impressive 13 roles between them and a flurry of costumes) it’s hilarious, with Nicola Roy getting the lion’s share of tasty one-liners. They often feel familiar but are mostly, in fact, new.

He knows his way around a gag does Tony Cownie.  “Aye [Scrooge], he’s so mean if he found a crutch in the street he’d go home and break his leg.”  (Which reminds me of an old favourite of mine: A man sees that dog food is half price in the supermarket, turns to his wife and says “We must buy a dog.”)

Crawford Logan takes the lead as the humbugerous Ebenezer Scrooge and carries the part off with aplomb, transforming beautifully from miser to philanthropist at the drop of a hat.

It barrels along, not allowing any particular sequence to outstay its welcome. The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence is particularly eye-catching and good for the storytelling, Eva Traynor is strong in the role in a spectacular green costume.

It’s all done and dusted by 9pm so time for a few seasonal libations.  Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

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.)

 

Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart at The Lyceum.


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It’s simply impossible not to go over the top about how wonderful this magical piece of theatre/music/storytelling is.

A standing ovation on a Saturday afternoon from the resolute “we will not give performances a standing ovation at the Lyceum” audience pretty much sums up its brilliance.

Joyce MacMillan’s 5 star review (I nearly always concur with this doyen of Scottish Theatre) supports the case.

My tears in act two (a rare thing in the theatre) closes it.

This is live performance at its very finest.  A beautiful brew of environmentalism, motherly love, medicine and football delivered through stories and song with a simply astounding soundscape and visual technology making for theatrical magic.

Polwart’s performance draws breath again and again.  I could hear sobs and sniffles all over the auditorium as the tale of life near a peat bog in Fala, in the Scottish Borders, drew in strands that connected the nearby ‘beautifull’ (I concur Karine) wind turbines, bird life and tales of birth in 1919 and 2007 with a beautiful symmetry that makes the conclusion achingly beautiful.

Whilst Polwart has published the script and invites others to perform it, it is hers.

100% hers.

Nobody has the range and skill to deliver this monumental (but understated) piece of Scottish theatre like Karine Polwart.

Bravo.

Hats off too to David Grieg for persuading Karine to turn an idea into a thing.

A thing of truly great beauty.

Cockpit. The Lyceum’s latest smash.


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Photo credit:  Production photo by Mihaela Bodlovic

In 1948 the young Bridget Boland (I know nothing of her) wrote this site specific play.  And it IS site specific even though it is presented in the Lyceum Theatre because she sets her play, about a holding centre for displaced persons in the aftermath of WWII, in 1948, in a theatre.

Actual genius.

This gives her the opportunity to introduce some great theatrical gags; most memorably the line spat out in complete contempt by the theatre’s stage manager for Front of House personnel.  A laugh out loud moment.  One of several.  Although this is no comedy.

The concept is that in this Displaced Persons’ (DP) ‘camp’, a sort of Calais ‘Jungle’ of 1948, in an unnamed German city, two British military personnel (the latter day peacekeeping force) are trying to organise the transport of 1,000 DP’s to their homelands.

It’s a Tower of Babel with many languages spoken and, more importantly, many short and long term differences of opinion and prejudices.  Of course, the Jews fare worst of all because the Jews were no less persecuted by the Nazis than many other nations and creeds.  That comes across strongly.

But Latvians and Lithuanians, Yugoslavs (Bosnians, Croatians, Serbian et al), Poles and Russians, French sympathisers and resistance all harbour deep grudges and these constantly flare up in an electrifying first act until a moment of humanity transforms the situation. It would be a spoiler to reveal this so you’ll have to see the show to find out how politics can be transcended by human nature.

It’s an absolute cauldron of infighting that shows partly how ridiculous political belief and dogma is (religion gets a right kicking too) but also how complex it is.  That scene from Life of Brian about the Judean Liberation Front is a great touchpoint, although it is treated far more seriously here.

The cast is drawn from a number of European nationalities which could have led to a dreadful ‘Allo Allo’ mood overall.  But how director Wils Wilson overcomes this is one of the many directorial sleights of hand that really impressed this audience member and means we have a truly international feel, but an all English script.  I have to say Wils Wilson has a masterful touch throughout.

It opens with a full ensemble Ukranian folk song that is brilliantly performed (and composed by the inimitable Aly Macrae – you may recall him from the The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart where he is a lead character) before resolving into the show itself.  I’d have liked to have seen even more musical pieces as they are all highlights. None more so than a few moments of operatic spinetinglingness that draws the breath away (I’ll not spoil it for you by describing what, where or when, but I guarantee you will be spellbound).

An actual real life showstopper.

It’s sort of Brechtian in places I suppose.  And resonates strongly with Caucasian Chalk Circle.  If you liked the Lyceums CCC you will like this.

Universally the ensemble acting is strong – really it’s as impressive a cast as I’ve ever seen at the Lyceum – but Peter Hannah as the fresh-faced and easily overwhelmed ‘Man in Charge’, Captain Ridley, is outstanding and is ably abetted by his more experienced and world weary underling; Deka Walmsley as Sergeant Barnes.

The design is a considerable feat and splurges out into stairwells, bars and the foyer, further enhancing the site-specificnesss of the production. The sound design and musical underscoring combine to create a sense of place, an air of menace and frankly an utter joy when it erupts into full blown musical scoring.

But, really, what most enraptured me was the script.  How anyone could conjure up such a politically accurate and insightful overview of the aftermath of WWII at a time when surely obfuscation, fake news and propaganda must have been rife amazes me.  What’s even more remarkable is that its relevance today (yes I know that’s such a weary phrase) is simply dizzying.

“The trouble with the British is they just don’t understand Europe.”  I kid you not.  Bridget Boland wrote those words in 1948. (I probably paraphrased.)

I rest my case m’lud.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Earnest at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh


Mark Thomson is on fire.

His last six or so productions have not only been outstanding in my personal opinion, but also in that of the critics.

There are more stars kicking around the foyer of The Lyceum right now than in the Milky Way and that is because he, as artistic director, is mounting productions that are great.  Really great.

Earnest is no exception.  Although four acts long (usually three) it passes in the blink of an eye.  Rarely have I seen a show crack along at such a ferocious pace.  You really do need to keep your wits about you to catch all of the gags in this script.

Some commentators have chosen to point out its current day relevance (particularly centred on a gag about Unionists and Liberals) but actually I thought it was very much a period piece that captured the hilarious mannerisms and manners of upper class England in a bygone time.  Despite that, it is genuinely funny from start to finish, hilariously so in parts, and that is down to three things; Wilde’s astounding script, Thomson’s taught direction and the astonishing acting by the cast which consists of Kirsty Mackay, Will Featherstone, Cara Kelly, Steven McNicoll, Mark McDonnell, Alexandra Mathie, Ben Deery, Sean Murray, and Melody Grove.

The Autumn season used virtually the same casts in Romeo and Juliet and this show.  Did it work as a double header?  I’m not sure that I really saw the link but what I did see was two great shows.  And the stand out over the piece had to be Will Featherstone as Romeo and Algernon – his performance as Algernon was utterly hilarious.

Lady Bracknell, played to perfection by Alexandra Mathie, was probably the show stealer on the night but really it’s an ensemble performance with not a single weak link.

It still has over a week to run and there are tickets available so get along.  Trust me.  You’ll thank me.

Lyceum Youth Theatre – success by Nick Drake


No, not that Nick Drake, the contemporary playwright.

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I took Ria to see the opening night of LYT’s contribution to The National Theatre’s New Connections festival of new youth drama.  And damned fine it was too.

A cast of 19 on a tiny Trav 2 stage put on a fine performance in a space that was frankly too small given their energy.  It’s a highly choreographed show drawing on pretty much every theatrical trick in the book and it works very well.

It’s not quite an ensemble piece because three principals stand out;  Nick (the devil?) played with aplomb by Steve McMahon to the point you would happily punch his city spiv character (how appropriate in these times) hard in the face and the two romantic leads Tom (an outstanding and likeable Hector Brown) and Lucy (the lovely Kim Donohoe).

The theme is about the pursuit of money ending in tears and is a morality tale for our times with real resonance.  Money indeed cannot buy you love it seems in Drake’s eyes.  It would have been easy for the script to cross the line into cliche and clunkiness but it avoids this at all turns and the performances of the ‘chorus’ hold the show together crisply and engagingly.

It’s the first LYT show I’ve seen and just goes to show that FCT (biased as I am) do not have a monopoly on brilliant young people’s theatre in Edinburgh.  Joking aside these are very different companies and LYT’s take is very much more adult in theme and tone.

You’ll be lucky to get a ticket, but if you can.  Do.

That was 2008, that was. (the year of Barack Obama)


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As I head off to enjoy the Hogmanay celebrations it’s time to bring the 2008 blog to an end.

Looking back on the year it was a good one overall. No-one got hurt. Nobody died. We had several achievements as a family. I continued to pay the bills. Barrack Obama got into power.

My blog has hit 340,000 views in the year. Considering I only had 31,000 in 2007 that represents reasonable progress. I hope you enjoy it. And those of you who read but never comment, come on, open up a bit in 2009.

The Hibees were a joke in 2008. Very dissapointing in many ways, in fact Scottish football, full stop, came crashing back to earth after the heady highs of season 2007/8. Our clubs in Europe were pitiful and they became unrequired viewing the more the season progressed. Celtic are unbelievably bad and yet they are easily the best team in this country. God help us.

As The Hibees set off in pusuit of the Scottish cup for the 106th time since we last succeeded we face Hearts in Round 3. That could be a momentous occassion and who’s to say we won’t do it, after all we only EVER play good football when we are up against it. Last week against Kilmarnock totally summed Hibs’ season up… 2 – 2 at half time at home against only 10 men and we lose 4 – 2. That’s unprofessional.

Work was very rewarding and I enjoyed helping out Pete and Iain at 60 Watt in particular, in tough times it has to be said. I also won fabulous projects from PoppyScotland and The Black Watch. My work with the SMA was challenging but I’m pleased with the way it has developed. I suppose the event I led at Parliament in March has to be a professional highlight, but working on behalf on the industry can be soul destroying when people back off. I also did a lot of work with Golley Slater for which I am very grateful and ended the year with a hatrick of new commissions for stv, Ampersand (a stable of Advocates – yes indeed) and Whitespace. During the year I also enjoyed projects with Corporation Pop, as a mentoring programme for nmp, and have been asked to do more work with them in 2009. Story, Spider Online and Graphic Partners also gave me work in 2008 for which I am extremely grateful

I was delighted to be made a board director of The Lyceum in September and have taken on a fundraising role for FCT as well as taking part in the FAT Christmas show and rehearsing the 2009 Easter Show which is a ‘Best of FCT’ over their first 30 years. It promises to be simply stunning. I’m also chair of the Ferry Fringe but it is proving difficult to really get this rolling for 2009 despite the commitment of a small core of volunteers. Watch this space.

However, on a sad note, the demise of 1576, the company I co-founded, in February was a real shock and a truly sad moment. I’m glad to report that all who sailed in her appear to be in gainful employment and moving on; including both David and Adrian.

I’ve already crowed about my golf in 2008 which was my best ever and I really enjoyed it. I threw far fewer clubs about but still had my moments.

Amy’s Highers Grade results were very good and she was unlucky to miss out on her English which is focussing her mind as we go into 2009. We’re all desperately hoping she’ll get into Duncan of Jordanstone to study Art and she’s taking a Portfolio Course at Telford to help in that ambition. Here’s hoping.

Tom’s golf continued to improve and his handicap overtook mine during the year as he went from 21 to 15. He also got a hole in one in August, something I’ve never done, and won quite a few medals – but none of Ratho’s ‘majors’. I’m hoping that when he gets to 14, as he surely will, he will play against me in the men’s medals at Dundas Park. That’ll be really exciting

If he is not an Olympic Champion at X Box 360 by now he ought to be as he has put in unstinting effort. Shame we can’t say the same about his homework.

Ria continued to improve in her gymnastics but the elusive merit continued to evade her, still, she did master the bridge kick over at last and she was brilliant in Perth in November when her first vault was amazing (we’ll overlook the second one shall we?) She works really hard does Ria and that is showing up in really great results and a huge bunch of really nice friends. She deserves them because she is such a genuine young person.

Jeana won yet another award for South Queensferry in the Summer’s Britain in bloom competition with a Highly Recommended award. The village continues to progress under the Greenferry team’s amazing dedication. She also started her own blog which you can find here and whooped with joy about two weeks ago when she got her first ever comment. She’s not far short of her 1,000th view so get reading.

I had a sloppy evening at Cath’s 80th that constituted the Bad Hair Day of the year.

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In books Cormac McCarthy’s The Road simply blew me away and was my favourite read.

In music it had to be Dig Lazarus Dig by Nick Cave but I am growing increasingly interested in African Music and Amadou and Mariam’s new album, Welcome to Mali, is lovely. But check out Je Pense a Toi and Dimanche A Bamacko too (the latter is stunning and their best to date).

And my movie of the year? Not my busiest ever year at the movies so it’s hard to choose a best but I guess it was going to be No Country For Old Men (also based on a Cormac McCarthy book) until Hunger (by Steve McQueen) came along. A really outstanding and breathtaking movie.

TV show of the year? I loved Gavin and Stacey, but my most anticipated show each week was Later with Jools Holland which seemed to find a much more interesting mix this year than of late.

Best theatrical experience, amongst many, was my cousin Susan’s show at The Traverse; Nobody Will ever Forgive Us, which was a stunner.

My gadget of the year was unquestionably the sublime Canon G9, what a wonderful wee camera this is. I also got myself a much more muscular beast – a Canon EOS 400D which is fab too and this has been reflected in my continued devotion to Flickr. I love Flickr. Undoubtedly my find of the year on Flickr was Snailbooty. I mean, look what he just posted today. How good is that?

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My man of 2008, was unquestionably Barrack Obama.

Best day out was Alton Towers in the pissing rain in July. It rocked.

Result of the year? Terry got the all clear from his cancer and joined me at the School BBQ in June.

Wife of the year? Jeana Gorman. Again.

Put it this way. I couldn’t live with me. Still.

And so to 2009.

My hopes?

Hibees win the Scottish Cup. (LOL. That is so stupid.)

Tom gets down to a 10 handicap.

Tiger Woods comes back and kicks ass. It wasn’t the same without him.

I win something, anything, at Dundas Park

Amy gets into D of J. (And enjoys it.)

I am healthy throughout.

The FCT 30th Anniversary show is as good as I hope it will be.

The credit crunch doesn’t ruin everything for everyone.