Laurence O’Keefe. My new favourite Musical theatre writer.


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In the past fortnight I have had the pleasure of being in the audience for two Larry O’Keefe Shows.  Batboy: The Musical and Heathers: The Musical.

He is best known for Legally Blonde.

I have yet to see Legally Blonde, but the two lesser shows in his income stream are both outrageous, hilarious, original and compelling from start to finish.

Both productions were university musical theatre society shows (Batboy: Glasgow Uni Cecilians and Heathers: Dundee Uni Operatic Society) and both were triumphs.

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His style is, shall we say, unorthodox and treads in the same furrow as Avenue Q, Jerry Springer The Opera and, I imagine not having seen it, Book of Mormon.

Irreverent, rude, taboo challenging.

If you’ve seen Avenue Q you’ll love ‘Everyone’s a little bit racist’ and that’s a good reference point as in these O’Keefe shows we get zero racism BUT we DO get insights into incest, homophobia, mental health issues, gang rape, mouth sword fencing and a smattering of other ‘uncomfortable’ observations.

Foul language, extreme sexual references and semi-nudity pepper both shows.  They are a delight and I will forever be looking for Fringe and amateur productions in the years to come.

Thank you Larry.  You’ve made me very happy.

 

 

Maxine Peake: Hamlet


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It’s not so uncommon to see ‘tour de force’ performances on screen because cinema and TV affords the actor the physical space and respite to tear the arse out of a performance.  It’s a one off and retakes allow them to experiment and finesse the part and to build in nuances.

But of course the stage has many ‘tour de force’s’ to reference, Olivier springs to mind in the Shakespearian silo, but they are fewer in number and elitist in observation.

Nevertheless, in the digital cinema world, to that august canon must be added Maxine Peake’s Hamlet.

Let’s ignore the gender issue here.  It’s a red herring.  The fact is that Peake is, by anyone’s measure, slight.

And yet the sheer energy she exudes performance after performance is ant like in its ability to punch above its physical weight.

Her skill is to mesmerisingly tic and twitch her way through a descent into moral madness.  It’s very compelling indeed.

And yet her slightness brings with it a vulnerability that really draws you in.  Captured on the big screen it only serves to emphasise the greatness of this performance at the Royal Exchange Theatre during last year’s Manchester International Festival.

If you get a chance to see one of these ‘live’ theatre screening jump at the opportunity.  You will thank me.

Whatever gets you through the night?


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What gets you through that odd time between midnight and 4am (the most common time for people to die in their sleep – and known as the hour of souls)?

That’s what Cora Bissett explores in this part hilarious, part melancholic exploration of life in Glasgow, although it could be any city in the world really.

It came to the Edinburgh Fringe on the back of rave reviews and awards and I can tell you they are justified.

There was no programme handed out so I can’t be sure who was performing but they ranged from a babe in arms to a bunch of thirty/forty somethings.

This band of troubadors included actors, singers, musicians, dancers and gymnasts and feels like a modern day Chaucer’s tales.  It’s all supported by a, sometimes beautiful, video backdrop that blends effortlessly into the action

I counted 22 performers at the curtain call (to  a standing ovation) including the aforementioned Cora Bissett (Roadkill).

This is more of a polemic on life in Scotland and a curation of Scottish culture than a story as such.

And the result is a thing of great beauty.

“Chips and Cheese” a late night drinking song had me rolling in the aisles but the closing number that spelled the end of the night, and indeed life itself, was hauntingly beautiful.

The great and the good of Scottish music were involved in creating the show; Withered Hand, Emma Pollock, Ricky Ross, Rachel Sermani, Errors, Swimmer One, RM Hubbard to name but a few  and it’s nothing if not eclectic.  You might have thought that would make for a hotch potch of styles but it all knits together beautifully.

There are two moments of aerial acrobatics (in very different styles) that are simply breathtaking and in the second case deeply poignant.

Without ever reverting to kitsch or kailyard or tradition of any sort this performance brews up an homage to Scottish culture that is right on the money for the 21st century.  It’s the sort of thing that, on a good day, National Theatre of Scotland embraces so well and this is right up there with the very best of what NToS does.

I eagerly await my trip to Dundee to see Bissett’s very different, and even more lauded, Roadkill in September.

An interesting start to the week…


I’m off to the Lyceum for the first read through of the script for “of Mice and men:”.  John Steinbeck’s classic.

Very excited.

It comes to the theatre in mid- February and here is the synopsis as posted by The Lyceum…

Armed with nothing but hope, and the dream of one day living and working on their own land, George and his childishly innocent companion Lennie start work on a ranch.

New friendships are made and at first life looks good, until gentle Lennie, unaware of his own immense strength, unwittingly shatters their dreams in one disturbingly tragic act.

This is theatre at its most powerful.

Cast:

George…………………William Ash
Lennie………………….Steve Jackson
Candy………………….Peter Kelly
The Boss/Whit………Greg Powrie
Curley………………….Garry Collins
Curley’s Wife………..Melody Grove
Slim……………………..Liam Brennan
Carlson………………..Mark McDonnell
Crooks…………………John Macaulay

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Lyceum Youth Theatre. Summer on Stage


Summer on stage. Love it.

Oh how I love this concept and this theatre group.

OK.  As you know, I have a vested interest but Summer on Stage is a wonderful initiative that must create lifetime memories for the young people involved.

And once again two diametrically different shows spellbound its audience tonight.

CURTAINS UP

The older group (14 to 18 ish) performed Lorca’s Blood Wedding.

Now; this is no light undertaking.  It is not for the fainthearted.

This is a mammoth theatrical event and for a cast of youth to take it on relies on production and direction of utter commitment so John Glancy should take a bow for having the chutzpah to go for it.

It’s epic.

It’s supremely challenging and the cast pulled it off to great effect thanks in large part to the astonishing direction by Steve Mann.  Really his input cannot be underestimated.  Visually, it’s stunning, the movement enthralling and the chorus work electrifying.

The principal parts, and there are several, were all carried off with great skill.

Hanni Shinton (as the grieving mother) in particular has a stage presence beyond her years; but so too Isla Cowan as the Bride.

This really is a show that is dominated by the woman as they grieve, plot and react to situations running out of control as the menfolk brutalise one another for their shared love of the same women.

A special note of praise has to go to Rebecca McCoach as the Beggar Woman as her disturbingly dressed “thing” creeped us all out.  Hanging around the stage like a bad smell and representing death her presence was foreboding and distasteful.  Perfect.

Of course, taking three weeks to stage an epic does not come without its faults.  For me the end became pretty intense and I’d like the volume to have dropped a little but that’s a pretty churlish point about a show that must make each and every contributor immensely proud.

INTERVAL

Part two introduced us to the younger members of LYT (10 – 13) in a show called ‘It Snows’ which was redolent, to me, of Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire movie that is essentially about young, and innocent, love.

This is a charming piece of theatre that was brought to life vigorously, hilariously and touchingly by director Christie O’carroll who was responsible for LYT’s recent production of Bassett which I was fortunate enough to see twice.  Christie is a treasure.  the lightness of touch of her direction of this superb script was a real triumph.

There are moments of laugh out loud comedy (particularly when the chorus play out stereotypical mother and father skats).  But it’s sad and touching too.

The show tackles the trials of growing up with the subplot of a poor, lonely little girl, ostracized from her community, maybe disabled, maybe abused watching on, detached from her upper floor room (it was this plot devise that reminded me so strongly of Let The Right One In), meanwhile Cameron and Caitlin attempt to “get it on” awkwardly, whilst each is the subject of peer abuse (especially Cameron).  Like two peas in a pod they gradually overcome their shyness and this leads to a delightful romance.

Again the chorus adds vibrant colour to the overall piece (a play written ostensibly for 7 parts but which effortlessly carries 30).

My only criticism would be that the dance routines slightly stopped the flow of the play and were slightly too long.

Other than that; Louis Plummer, Beth Moran and your 28 colleagues take a well deserved bow.

EPILOGUE

One last point.  Technically the shows were a triumph.  The set stunning, great lighting and we could hear every word.  No mean feat.

Educating Agnes by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company


People often associate theatre as a home for serious intellectual exercise.  A place to be challenged politically, ideologically and linguistically.   But that is to miss the point. Because Mark Thomson constantly espouses his theory that when all is said and done theatre is about entertainment.  Sure big ideas can be shared (take Copenhagen from two years ago for instance) but let’s not forget that for £20 spent on a night out people want to enjoy themselves, not just have a brain training workout.

Few congregating places achieve all of these things so effectively.

In cinema one is limited by its lack of engagement physically.  Cinema, although for many the centre of their art world, is distant, even unattainable.  Art Galleries, although more involving, lack dimension; in most cases the work is done and dusted and we, the audience, come along to wonder at its craft or thinking.  We do not take part.  The church is too often the home for hectoring and instruction rather than involvement.

So that leaves theatre.  Theatre is visceral, real and involving.  In this play there are moments of soliloque and sheers pantoesque interaction that acknowledge the involvement of the audience.  Then of course there’s the collective laughter, cheering and applause.

Educating Agnes is pure entertainment and sits alongside a number of recent balls-out, have a bloody good laugh evenings  in Grindlay Street:  Irma Vep, Earnest and The Beauty Queen of Leenane stand out in this respect.  But none of them had me quite as out of control as this absolute raucous beast of a comedy.  I was literally sweating with laughter.

“Shut up” my wife hissed on three or four occasions, digging me sharply in the ribs,  as I exploded, yet again, with laughter at this script and performance that fit together symbiotically.

It’s part slapstick; and for that to work as well as it does we have to invite Scotland’s finest stage comedy actor, Steven McNicoll, to stand forward.

He only has to enter stage left to have me grinning from ear to ear.  This man is a legend I tell you.  Like a huge Norman Wisdom or a latter day Rikkie Fulton he lives and breathes comedy. Just the way he stands, the way he walks, or the way, in this show, that he uses gaping, inordinately long pauses

to

deliver

a

killer line makes him a diamond.

I don’t know if Liz Lochhead wrote the part with him in mind but if she didn’t there was some divine intervention and certainly the hand of Tony Cownie at play.

To pair him with Kathryn Howden was another stroke of casting genius.  The pair are bawdy and gut bustingly funny from start to finish.  The scene where they attack Arnolphe with a salmon and a string of sausages will live long in my memory.  And, OMG, when the slapstick scene erupts with pantomime door effects I swear I was going to actually micturate.

Now, did you see what I did there?  I mixed OMG with an olde worlde term like micturate, and that is the secret of Liz Lochhead’s success.  She’s our Makar you know, and a Makar is described thus in Wikipedia;

It especially highlights the role of the poet as someone skilled in the crafting or making of controlled, formal poetry with intricate or involved diction and effects.

That description aptly summarises this show.  It’s an epic poem with more wordplays than a session in coalition.  The way Liz Lochhead can drop out of a Scot’s rhyming couplet drawn from 17th Century French and retort with a cool “Whatever.”  The way a heartfelt monolgue on love, loyalty and obedience can be met with a solitary middle finger pointing to the roof rafters is jaw dropping.  It’s also excruciatingly funny.  This is writing like nobody else does and it’s something to very greatly treasure.

But this is not just a Liz Lochhead beast.  She could never have brought this to bear without the utterly brilliant direction of Tony Cownie.  Every line has a nuance and an opportunity to wring an extra laugh out of it by some frm of physical theatre; a look, a posture, a harumph here or there.  It’s these that bring it so explosively to life and was what made Liz Lochhead giggle throughout at her own  creation (I sat behind her last night so saw how much she was enjoying Cownie’s interpretation.  In particular I think she appreciated (as my wife did) the careferee and niaive abandon with which Mark Prendergast literally threw himself into the role of Horace.)

I liked his performance a lot, as I did McNicoll, Howden and Nicola Roy as the eponymous heroine.

But I’m saving the best for last.

Peter Forbes as Arnolphe performed as commandingly as anyone I’ve seen on this stage in recent years.  He stands alongside Stanley Townsend, in A view From The Bridge (for me at least), in this respect.

On stage for almost the duration and with at least 50% of the dialogue he never put a foot wrong.  But much more than this, the interpretation he put into poor old Arnolphe’s twisted character, the labyrinthine logic that he applied to the morals and ethics of creating a concubine out of Agnes and the despair that ensues as it all goes horribly wrong is expressed through shrieks, hollers, quasimodo-like grimaces and bodily twists and turns that make you squirm in your seat.

He is epic.

This show is epic.

This show is stone wall, nailed on five star quality.

If you miss it, and you’ve read this, then frankly I despair.

Aye, away and  boil yer head,  innit?





Marilyn at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


Fame will go by and, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experience, but that’s not where I live.
Marilyn Monroe

I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.
Marilyn Monroe

I have feelings too. I am still human. All I want is to be loved, for myself and for my talent.
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe. Not just a dumb blonde.

Marilyn Monroe, is perhaps the most famous woman in the world, ever!

OK,  she may have been beaten to it by Mary, the mother of Christ, just as her son pipped John Lennon to the male crown.

Fame haunted Monroe all through her life and her complex personality, as demonstrated by the quotes above, confused not just the public and her biographers, but the lady herself.  Just how dumb was she?  It was hard totell at times.  And the drugs didn’t help.

Her background as an abandoned orphan was a great driver but also a disturbing nightmare that she used rink and drugs to escape.

This lack of grounding no doubt contributed to her demons and dreadful lack of self worth.

So, put her in a hotel wing with Europe’s dazzling blonde intellectual arthouse love, Simone Signoret; the brainy blonde,  on a trip to the US in March 1960 where she was about to win best actress Oscar for her role in Room at The Top, (the successful blonde) and what could possibly happen?

That’s the premise of this very interesting triple header directed by Philip Howard as a co production with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

But Signoret wasn’t there just to pick up her Oscar.  She was accompanying her husband (the lucky blonde), Yves Montand (unseen) who was performing as male leade alongside Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love. (Not a career high, despite Cukor’s direction).

Meanwhile Monroe’s third Husband, Arthur Millar, types furiously away off stage as their marraige disintegrates (they divorced 10 months later).

Of course, Monroe gets the hots for Montand, which hardly helps matters as Signoret is deeply in love with Montand and remained married to him until her death in 1985.

Circling the cage is Monroe’s one real friend (it would seem, certainly in this context) her hairdresser and colourist Patti (played by Paulie Knowles).  She acts as a compere of sorts in a similar way that Alfieri did in Millar’s View from the Bridge earlier this season.

The show is a mix of mirth (“The Communists ; they’re the poor people aren’t they” quips Monroe) and misery as Monroe’s grip on reality gradually unravels, thanks mainly to her terrible insomnia fuelled by endless bubbly and a cocktail of prescription drugs.

It’s sad to see, but subtly realised.

And realisation is the real strength of this show which is built around a startling performance by Frances Thorburn in the title role and ably abetted by French actress Dominique Hollier.

A knowledge of the period is useful for one’s enjoyment as the McCarthy Witch Trials provide subtle, but important, background noise to the events on stage.

The wardrobe of authentic period couture that Marilyn parades through several costume changes is a particular delight too.

Four stars. Boo boo bee doo.