Party Game by Blue Mouth Inc at the Traverse: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Blue Mouth Inc’s Dance Marathon was my highlight of Fringe 2011 (eek 6 years ago).

Party Game was not my highlight of Fringe 2017.

It’s a similar concept in that it is all about audience involvement and being part of the show except for one fatal flaw.

There is no real audience involvement.

Instead what we experience is a fairly dull, close observational piece in which all the strengths of Dance Marathon are diluted manifoldly.

The dancing is mildly embarrassing, the nudity, frankly, stupid and all just a little boring.

My friend and aI agreed it was a three star show on the night.

It was two.

 

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.

A view from the Bridge. Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh


His finest hour?  In my experience, yes.

Life is about decorum, ritual, appropriate behaviour, pleasing one’s community and peers.  Not acting instinctively, ferally, as one sees it.  Because the community one lives within; the workplace, the neighbourhood, the church sets the standards and morals.  No matter how much it might be inappropriate or even wrong it’s the rule of the crowd that defines the behaviour of the one.

When Eddie Carbone decides he’s against this collective spirit; driven by jealousy, lust and rage, the rule of the crowd in Italian Brooklyn is jettisoned and Eddie Carbone becomes a lone ranger with disastrously selfish consequences.

It’s a big theme and a big play.  Probably Miller’s greatest, certainly the most thought-provoking I’ve had the privilege to experience.  And experience is the right word to describe John Dove’s “View”.

I kid you not, this was the most compelling and jaw dropping night I have spent in a theatre in my existence.  So powerful are the performances, most notably Stanley Townsend’s which held you in his thrall every moment he uttered a word, that theatre becomes a vehicle of transportation into another world.  Other stand out performances are Richard Conlon’s Marco (restrained but ultimately very scary) and the inimitable Kath Howden.  The whole is held beautifully together ( a la Greek Chorus) by Liam Brennan.

This is no ordinary play.  The subjects it brings out; jealousy, homosexuality, incest, faith, community, life long love, hope are at the very core of one’s being and it does so in a way that is hugely provocative and actually, with a performance of this standard, really quite humbling.

This is not just a five star show; it’s five star+.

Romeo and Juliet – Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh


It’s the thing these days to reinvent Shakespeare to the point that the Shakespeare inside is barely recognisable. The Lyceum don’t do this.  Two year’s ago the Lyceum’s Macbeth was heavily criticised for this but I really enjoyed it.  This year’s Romeo and Juliet by contrast has been lauded by the critics, partly for its lack of denial.  Again I really enjoyed it.

What this production does is, for the most part, let Shakespeare’s language wash over you like a spa treatment.  Enveloping you in a warm bath of language that’s part familiar, part alien.  It’s a very compelling and quite riveting experience.

Blessed with a cast of great quality, director, Tony Cownie makes them sing from the off.  Liam Brennan stands out as a monumentally great actor and Will Featherstone is superb as Romeo.  Others I cared for to slightly lesser degrees and sadly Juliet was, for me, a bit of a disappointment – not that Kirsty Mackay didn’t put her heart and soul into the performance, she just didn’t engage me.  It’s a difficult call as act two is an endless lament on her part and so it’s very easy to overstep the mark to the point that Juliet wails once too often.

She did.

Sorry.

Aside from that, this is a truly beguiling theatrical experience.  Pjhilip Pinsky’s music was, as ever fantastic , and I thought I recognised the central motif which I’m sure was a nod to Craig Armstrong.  Like I said earlier, one feels drawn into a different world that doesn’t need a “message for today”.  And it hasn’t got a great deal to say metaphorically, politically, socially; it’s just a great piece of theatre deftly and engagingly handled.

Highly recommended.

New season at the Lyceum edinburgh


Ahhh. The grand old dame!

It was the first board meeting of the new term today and I’m immensely proud of the season we are about to put out in the next 9 months. Shakespeare opens on Saturday with Romeo and Juliet, followed by The Importance of Being Earnest (a very rare 4 act performance) and then The Snow Queen for Christmas.

There after the season opens up with a mix of classics (another Miller – the last in John Dove’s immense series) and premieres.

And to end?

The RSC come to town with Dunsinane! Bring it on!

The Lyceum Youth Theatre; Summer on Stage


For the second year running I found myself at the opening night of Summer on Stage, an extraordinary theatrical venture that gives young people a truly great experience.  As it happens I was sat next to a lovely lady from Cairn Energy who was one of the founders of the whole thing and I have to say she was as blown away as I was.

The evening consisted of two productions, one for younger children (up to about 16 I’d say) and one for older youths.  The former was a charming tale called The Musicians in which a “shite” school orchestra arrived in Russia to perform as part of a cultural exchange, only to find that their instruments had been impounded at the airport because a spliff had been found in one of the cases.  The spliff had been secreted there because the doting flautists in the orchestra had hoped to use it medicinally to calm down the highly excitable conducter played excellently by Louis Plummer.

In the end the performance was mimed to Tchiakovsky’s 4th Symphony but inspired by the supportive (eventually) intervention of two hilarious stage hands/cleaners who stole the show (Keir Aitken and Samuel Adams).

The second performance, A Vampire Story, is a highly complex meeting of 19th Century vampirism with contemporary mental health issues and is quite stunning.  Both shows shared basically the same simple but highly effective set but in this one the set was used to meld two very different eras very effectively.  Although dark in content it is also hilarious in parts; it deals with the story of a teenage girl who clearly has become delusional and is creating a fantasy world of vampires as she seeks (with the help of her sister ) to escape the grasp of the authorities by constantly moving on.  On her journey she encounters another lost soul in the form of a home taught kid who is similarly trying to escape the attentions of his eccentric parents.  I can’t tell from the programme who played what parts but all of the principles were phenomenal and a special word has to go to the dotty teacher, Mint, played by Blair Grandison.  (The Home Economics teacher, Filet, who was played by Emma Mckenna was a class character part and I recognise the girl who played the part from previous Lyceum Youth performances – a real talent).

Director Steve Mann made a considerable impression on me with this show because the content was complex, the movement difficult and the pace very important.  All were delivered perfectly in a great technical set up so that what emerged was a highly professional production that replicated the sort of conditions that professional rep actors and technicians have to (and most certainly had to) work under;   short time scales to learn and perfect the the performances.  In this case A Vampire Story was created in under three weeks and The Musicians in under two.

As a kid, I’d have loved to have had this opportunity and so hats off to The Lyceum for making this happen and also to Cairn Energy for supporting it financially.

Sweeney Todd at The Dundee Rep


Sondheim’s Sweeney is, for me, very near to perfection in terms of musical theatre.  I rate it alongside West Side Story and Ragtime for wit, quality and sheer vocal demand.  It’s more an opera than a musical in truth but Sondheim insists that operas are for opera houses and musicals are for theatres.  So, a musical it is.

This production has been lauded by the critics and I can see why.

I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way but it felt like a very high quality amateur production (with a budget) because the performances across the ensemble cast were riproaringly enthusiastic and heartfelt.  (My point is that I sometimes feel in professional theatre that some of the passion is missing.  Not here. )

This show rocks from the opening bar of Sondheim’s astounding prologue to the last bar of the shattering epilogue (both are highlights of the musical).  Act 1 in particular was spellbindingly good, partly because the material is so strong.  (I feel the same about West Side Story as it happens.)

But this is certainly no amdram performance.  It is highly polished, visually powerful (a very good set) and musically accomplished.  And what a great theatre space.  My first, but not last, visit to the Dundee Rep.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Richard Conlon in the cast, playing Pirelli terrifically. (An old FCT cast member.)

It’s difficult not to make comparisons to the Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter roles in the movie, but I won’t.  Suffice to say that in the title role David Birrell was brilliant without being OTT.  Much of the humour was reserved for Ann Louise Ross who played Mrs Lovett beautifully but particularly deviously.  You really got a feeling for her as the real driving force of the operation.  Poor old Sweeney is just consumed with anger and the need for remorse, old Mrs Lovett’s in it for what she can get.

This is the least gory version of Sweeney I think I’ve ever seen.  I’m not sure a drop of fake blood was spilled throughout and that did slightly lessen the drama in the second act killing spree.  But it didn’t spoil the overall effect.

A major shout out must go to the ‘ensemble’ who really carried the show.  Too often professional musicals (especially tourers) are let down by weak chorus work because the numbers on stage are insufficient.  Again, not here.

I absolutely loved this.  Great value for money with a 16 strong cast and an 11 piece orchestra; three hours of entertainment, and all for £18 with a standing ovation to boot.  Go on the Rep!

Confessions of a justified sinner at the Royal Lyceum theatre, edinburgh


A rather amusing “no animals were killed in the making of this smoke” type announcement preludes the opening of this play and then the curtain rises to reveal a dark, brooding, half-lit miasma that remains throughout.

And yes, it’s smoky.

twin-towers1

The darkness is entirely appropriate as this is a tale from the early 18th century when dark deeds were done, folk lived in smogs of half truth, rumour and mountains of religious guilt.  And we’re not even talking Catholisism here.  No, welcome to the dank, scary world of Calvinism.

YE WILL NOT HAVE FUN.  YE WILL NOT FORNICATE.  YE WILL NOT SMILE.  YE WILL NOT DAE ANYTHING THAT THE LORD WOULD FROWN UPON.

Because the Lord, back then, was all seeing, all telling, all rule making.

This was a land of ignorance and powerful religious figures.  The meenister was all.

Sound familiar?

Yep, it’s a fascinating allegory (or is it a metaphor) for our times today where religious extremism, east and west, is a licence for abhorrent and inexplicable sinning.

The early days Obama (Mc)Bin Laden of James Hogg’s novel is played at just the right side of lampoon by the truly terrifying Kern Falconer and he is the axis of evil that the play revolves around.  It’s into his house that the naive Robert Wringhim is brought, with his mother, to “enjoy” a life of strict religious instruction.  And enjoy it he does, to a point, until the Meenister sets out on a campaign to “justify” his pupil.  To make him immune to sin on earth and guarantee him a place in heaven, no matter what.  In time, the Damascan moment arrives and Wringhim is indeed (apparently) granted that place in heaven.

His ticket safely tucked away in his inside pocket the charming young Wringham is now granted the right to exact retribution on all wrongdoers that cross his path; and there are plenty of them.

The central premise of the play then unfolds around this – that if a place in the afterlife is guaranteed, rather than has to be earned, where does one draw the line?

If one can sin and not be called to task then surely sinning will follow.  And if this sinning is not actually considered a sin then the atrocities that might result are presumably acceptable.  Is this not exactly the point that appears to be brainwashed into suicide bombers the world over (because Wringham is essentially Calvinism’s suicide bomber).

Is he mad?  Is Gil-Martin his voice of conscience – or the devil?  There’s certainly a thin line between schitzophrenia and devotion in this play.

The “11th man” of this astonishing performance is the set. It rocks.  Built on a rotating platform the oblique monoliths that seemingly stretch to the sky are variously abstract tables, beds, tombstones and pulpits, but mainly they are dark foreboding skyscrapers of the future.  They are the metaphoric twin towers that I believe this play alludes to.

Ryan Fletcher is stunning.  He does not overplay his quite considerable hand.  Iain Robertson as Gil-Martin nails it.  Lewis Howden is a scream. and John Kielty plays his parts with restraint.  This is a blokes play.  Sure Rae Hendrie carries her part beautifully as the Mother but all the lines belong to the men.

Mark Thomson has to be lauded for both the writing and the direction of this very superior night of theatre.  And I’m certain he will be.

It’s brilliant.  It’s funny.  It’s electric.  It’s dark.  It is an absolute must see.

And so the time time has come and now i face the primal curtain…


20090318-fly

The day has arrived.

We took ownership, however briefly, of the Church Hill Theatre tonight and had our first run, in the studio theatre.  Tomorrow we do our technical run at 10.30.  Dress at 2.30 and open at 7.30.  We’re ready.  The rehearsals on Sunday, last night and tonight have all built on each other and started from a good place.  It’s getting pretty tight all round I have to say.  (Although one of my numbers – Get me to the Church on Time from My Fair Lady happily calls for rumbustuousness and a lack of overall discipline!)

The show with the exception of the Sat Mat is, to all intent and purpose, sold out.  As I predicted. And the Saturday matinee is half sold and will no doubt fill up quickly now as the latecomers realise that when we said we thought the nights would sell out it wasn’t just us making it up.

If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket (and believe me you will count yourself lucky) you are in for a spellbinding evening’s entertainment.

I count myself blessed and privileged beyond belief to be part of this.  Felix McLaughlin who just came up from Cardiff on Sunday to join the final rehearsals was dumbstruck by the depth and quality of talent on show.  I’m not talking about me and my generation here I’m talking about the current and just ‘graduated’ cast who have talent in extreme.  And the directing team, choreographer and musical direction team have to be seen to be believed.

The impact this show has had on me will never be repeated in my life.  I feel sure of that because it is truly a one off, truly a labour of extraordinary love.

My father would not only have got ‘the tingles’ as he called it.  He would have been swept away in a tidal wave of emotion which is exactly what will happen to our audiences because, on the whole, their lives have been so positively influencd by the wonderful work of FCT and this is, after all, the best of FCT.

I keep coming back to the greatest thing of all;  membership is a mere £3 – for the year – which includes the opportunity of being in a 10 night run on the Fringe PLUS a show like this and we’ve never had even so much as a penny of public sector funding.

FCT is immense and this  joyous photo from the rehearsals sums it all up for me.

This is FCT!

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The Mystery of Irma Vep by the Lyceum Theatre Company and Horsecross


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Mark Thomson, The Lyceum’s Artistic Director, often talks before his shows of the need for theatre, and The Lyceum in particular, to entertain.

Now, entertainment comes in many forms.  I’d list The Shining, Apocalypse Now and Hunger among my favourite and most entertaining movies but they are not everyone’s cup of tea; nor are they uplifting.  My wife wouldn’t have described Hunger as entertaining, that’s for sure.  So the notion of entertainment is open to considerable interpretation.

But let’s get this straight from the off; Irma Vep is PURE entertainment.

I laughed until I broke out into a sweat.

I cried and howled with laughter.

I gasped with laughter.

This show is utter class from the first, and I mean the first, moment the curtain rises and we see Andy Gray as he walks onto stage sporting a fake wooden leg and the limitations that places on straightforward movement.  John Cleese would have applauded loudly.

This sets the scene for farce of epic proportions.  Not Pythonesque though.  It’s more in the tradition of Scots Panto.  There are many nods in the direction of Russel Hunter, Walter Carr, John Grieve (is he related to the director I wonder, indeed assume) Francie and Josie and, king of them all, Stanley Baxter.  Which is to heap a great deal of praise on the heads of the quite astonishing performances (in terms of characterisation, timing, energy and wit) of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll.

Honestly, they will have you rolling in the aisles.

As I said, Panto, and slapstick, is the predominant genre here, although the show’s story is actually a pastiche of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with a bunch of Hammer House of Horror thrown in for good measure.

I cannot imagine what the script must have read like because it is SO Scottish, so ‘of the people’ and so personal to Gray and McNicoll that you wonder what was on the page.

Each of them plays about four parts but they interchange through very quick changes from scene to scene all night and at times it is breathless and, as a consequence, even more hilarious.

McNicoll’s Jane Twisden is possibly the dominant role (the evil maid in Rebecca) played like the tea lady in Father Ted at maximum volume throughout.  It’s so beautifully crafted and voiced that it leaves you gasping again and again.

Gray’s best moments are in his Lady Enid Hillcrest character which moulds Stanley Baxter and Mark Walliams into an unholy combination.

But seriously, there is not a single moment of weakness in any of the characters they play.

The direction by Ian Grieve is faultless and the wonderful set is a key part of the show with its myriad of doorways from where every character appearance and disappearance heralding yet another belly laugh each time they appear.  It’s ingenious.

I cannot praise this show highly enough.

OK it’s got an odd name but don’t let that put you off.  (It’s an anagram of I’m a Perv by the way!)

Go.  Go now.  No, now.  Don’t think about it.  Just go. No, do.   Do it. Do it now.   Go do it.  Go on.  Go on, go on, go on.  Now.  That’s it.  Get down there.  Now. Yes, now.  Go on now.

My next appearance…


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I will be performing on Saturday night at 7.30 in the Forth Adults Theatre Christmas fundraising show which promises to be a right good Christmas heart warmer.  It’s at Holy Cross Church Hall in Bangholm Loan, but if you want tickets best make contact before the night as it will sell out.

My fellow uber-talents will be singing a range of Christmas crackers, but singing solo scares me too much so, perhaps appropriately I’ve decided to scare the audience in a different way. So I shall be debuting a freaky ghost story that is a real chiller.

I’m shitting myself just thinking about it.

No one will ever forgive us, by The National Theatre of Scotland at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


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Well.

Here’s a one.

I have to declare two interests from the outset.

I am a Catholic.

My cousin (Susan Vidler) is in this play.

So I’m biased.

Paul Higgins, may be the most remarkable new stage-writing talent since Gregory Burke.  It really is written brilliantly, flowing along at 100 miles an hour packed with hilarious one liners, and I believe it’s autobiographical. (Actually it’s very unfair of me to heap this comparative praise on Paul Higgins given my lack of comparative insight; but if he isn’t the best then Scottish Theatre is absolutely booming.)

I urge you to see this play before it is too late. (It was pretty much sold out on a dreich Tuesday in late November.)

It’s a fantastic smorgasbord of Scottishness. As the nation of doom we like to dwell on the dark side and this does it magnificently. I honestly have never encountered a script, in film or on stage, that leaps like Bambi on steroids, between bleak nihilism and outrageous humour, line by line, quite as well as this.

It is remarkable.

The main theme centres on belief 9or lack of it). I suppose the key character in the five person cast is the youngest son who has opted out of the seminary (or is that safe haven?) that he has studied at for seven years because he has become atheistic. Is there a God? Is there a Catholic God (OMG)? Is there a point? Why should I coexist with you? Have I a future?

But, at the gleaming, glowing, pulsating, dangerous centre of it all is the horrific patriarch, Gary Lewis. What a performance. The drunk, child-beating, wife-hating (but actually not particularly misogynistic) husband engulfs the stage with his presence.

It is massive.

The audience howled with tears and laughter and, for me, it was another triumphant National Theatre of Scotland performance. I’ve seen three this year in three different theatres.

They all demonstrated our brilliance.

“The tingles”


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For those of you that know my father you will know that he used this expression a lot when describing events and moments that hit the spot and created a real emotional resonance. Today I had “the tingles” as we completed our second rehearsal for the FCT 30th Anniversary Show.

We’d learned the words and melody of “With This Life of Mine” from the Matchgirls on Friday night and today we blocked and rehearsed the movement (really exciting stuff from Jill) and brought the whole thing together.

It was really quite superb, particularly with singing coach, Joyce’s, interpretation and rigour, and her addition of harmonies

Then a new dimension was introduced.

Liam Sinclair, one of the directors, made us think about the point of it and where it fitted into FCT’s huge canon of work. The 20 minutes he took at the end of the rehearsal turned something that was great into something that is, and will be, utterly compelling, truly moving and peerless.

The way he did it left me breathless.

Be warned. There will be tears. (Especially from my sister Jane.).

Thespianism


Well, 20 plus years later, I’m back on the stage with FCT for their thirtieth anniversary show next April. First rehearsal tonight and I was given a pretty safe solo part. There are some astounding talents in the show. Some of the male leads have incredible voices. Just as well as this is the first song I have to learn. It’s going to be a major challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

We’ve all agreed that I should seek sponsorship from Imodium.

You’re having a laugh


Please note this image has been retouched to protect the innocent behind me...

Please note this image has been retouched to protect the innocent behind me...

Today I did something I haven’t done for over 20 years.

I auditioned for a show. With FCT (Forth Children’s Theatre) to be precise.

I was in the first ever cast as a 16 year old, 30 years ago, and the show that FCT is putting on next spring (Easter 2009) is ostensibly a “Now that’s what I call FCT” pick of the last 30 years.

So, all current and past cast and crew were called to Leith Academy at 9.30 this morning where we played a game of zip, zap, boing as a warm up, engaged in some improvisation and then learned a dance, correction, the other 50 learned a dance.

I crashed and bashed about like a fool.

I was surrounded by kids from aged 10 through their teens and a bunch of adults who’d come back for this show and every single one of them picked the dance up more or less effortlessly, so that made my abjectness all the more awful and apparent. And the worst thing was that none of them knew me well enough to jeer, send me home packing or make videos and post it to their friends.

For those of you that had to endure this dreadful experience I unreservedly apologise. (It might have scarred some of them for life.)

To say I had seven left feet would be a huge and unneccessary compliment. I know I was rank. Nevertheless, the dancing was part of the audition. Thereafter we learned a song from The Matchgirls – an FCT classic as the Director, Vic called it – and we then had to both dance and perform the song in small groups of 8 to an X Factor type auditions panel.

Well, the judging panel must have thought someone had cross-bred John Cleese with Mr Magoo and thrown in a bit of Dumbo for good measure. I was utterly rank. I was as graceful as a Hippo giving birth, having just been dropped on a trampoline from the top of a tower block.

I truly underachieved.

But, you know what, I think it went quite well, considering.

My singing was OK, although it felt like I had ingested three packets of Imodium 30 seconds before I was due to sing. I had forgotten quite how stomach-churningly terrifying auditions can be, but hey, it’s the same for everyone I suppose.

Anyway they called me back for a second audition tomorrow.

I think there’s a part for a clown going.

Mary Rose by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company


OK, I have to start by declaring an interest here. I have recently been appointed as a Director of The Lyceum, which is a huge honour for me and something that I suspect would have found favour with the old man. With this comes the privelege of attending all of the press nights which means a couple of tickets, a glass or three of wine and the best seats in the house. Row A of the Grand Circle to be precise.

It does also, of course, run the risk of watching shows that I don’t actually enjoy.

However, that was certainly not the case tonight; or at either Macbeth or Something Wicked This way Comes, as all three have been outstanding in different ways.

Mary Rose is a ghost story, set over a twenty five year period between the wars and written by Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie. It’s rumoured to be Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite play and one can certainly see why in that it plays with suspense in much the way Hitch did. Hitch claimed that his secret was in winding an audience up through suspense for 15 minutes at a time reasoning that this was more effective than short sharp shocks and this production unquestionably achieves that. For a ghost story there are precious few shocks in it but it’s psychologically chilling (in the same way as The Others – one of my favourite ever horror movies.)

It’s very rarely performed, but did hit London in 1972 with Mia Farrow in the lead and eponymous role. Kim Gerard had the job to do tonight, heading up a very strong cast with stand out performances by Michael Mackenzie, Perri Snowdon and John Ramage.

It’s very much a period piece with the language very evocative of a bygone, highly mannered, era, but it cracks along with no shortage of humour which certainly had the audience tittering.

At its heart it’s a really spooky tale, not unlike Peter Pan in that it deals with the process of ageing in a quite unique way. (Funnily enough, so did Something Wicked…). It deals principally with loss, love and change.

The production is superbly eerie with great use of sound design, set flying and lighting and Tony Cownie’s brilliant direction succeeds in creating a mood of unearthliness. As several of the audience commented to me at the interval, the good thing about this play is that nobody knows it and you simply do not know what’s going to happen next, or how the tale will unravel, so I’ll not say too much for fear of spoiling it for you.

Overall, this is what theatre is all about; involving, engrossing, funny and, unusually, spooky. I’d strongly recommend it.

My biggest surprise of the night was Una McLean’s delightful cameo role as the Caretaker. Una won’t remember me but I worked with her at The MacRobert Centre in 1983 (or so) on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. She was great fun and one of my fondest memories of the theatre was the night we mooned each other in the wings.

Lordy, lordy. Good old Una.

Something wicked this way comes by The national Theatre of Scotland and Catherine Wheels Theatre Company


I took my 14 year old daughter Ria to see this production at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh tonight and was hugely impressed.

It’s a highly complex story that lends itself more easily to celluloid than the stage but director Gill Robertson and designer Karen Tennent have done a quite remarkable job of staging the (possibly) unstageable.

The show involves incredible feats of lighting and video art (by Jonathan Charles – who I think I know as an ex FCT kid), great and atmospheric music, creepily accompanied by a pianist/accordionist – played in a most unusual manner – and Cellist (Robin Mason and David Paul Jones) and the highly unusual Aerial design as the dust witch flies across the stage .

The tale is interestingly morally and the performances are convincing across the boards; from a hard working and only eight strong cast. Although I have to say in a perfect world I’d much rather Will and Jim had actually been 14. Andrew Clark, as Mr Dark, steals the show as this typically grotesque type of role can, and often does.

Ray Bradbury’s story is quite affecting and deals with issues such as vanity, good versus evil and how we all deal with the ageing process.

The mostly young audience gasped, screamed, heckled and laughed.

Is that not what makes great theatre.

My daughter loved it. Result.

RJ- a rock musical


We went to see this on Friday night,  It was the Scottish debut of a new version of Romeo and Juliet, written by Joy Ardy and A W Milburn and it was performed by the Lothian Youth Arts and Musicals Company.

It was magic.

I’m close to youth theatre as a result of my FCT connections and we ‘youth theatrists’ have a snooty way of dismissing others, especially those in our back yard – but I honestly thought this was a great piece of theatre.

The Script/score/libretto is excellent merging, as it does, modern rock/pop with digestible tracts of Wm Shakespeare’s original dialogue.

The music is particularly excellent, which is saying something if you see a musical ‘cold’.

The group were outstanding too.  It’s the first time I’ve seen a Lothian Youth show and the first big impact was the size of the cast.  Huge.  72 I reckon.  But the large stage of Edinburgh’s Churchill Theatre just about coped.

The performances of all the principals were excellent but a few points need made.

Firstly, their age (many were 21) made the performances more mature and I think it was important that they could get their heads round the heavily skewed Shakespearian content.

Secondly, Mercutio and Benvolio were HILARIOUS.  I honestly never thought I’d say that about anything Shakespearaen, but they really nailed the humour of the parts and the directors must take some credit for that.

Lastly, both Romeo ( Craig Young) and Juliet ( Alison Corbett) were outstanding.  In particular Craig Young who is a major talent.

One negative point.  I didn’t like the costumes.  Uninspiring and random.

I will certainly attend future Lothian Youth productions as it was a great night out.

365 by the national Theatre of Scotland


I was privileged to be among the audience at the opening night of The National Theatre of Scotland’s Festival production of 365 -a new play by David Harrower (appropriate name) and directed by Vicky Featherstone, at The Playhouse in Edinburgh last night.

The show was sold out and for good reason.

It’s a polemic piece about the plight of young people entering society after life in care. The show explores, through a cast of about 16, mostly in their teens, what the reality of life is in such a friendless, hostile and downright scary environment.

It’s performed by an ensemble, so no one particular actor stood out. But the technical achievements were noteworthy. Set, sound design, lighting and choreography were all outstanding. Paul Buchanan’s specially commissioned song that forms a central part of the denouement is spine tingling.

The acting is universally good and at times excellent.

But the greatness of the play is all about the writing.

This is very modern theatre and, as such, doesn’t follow a plotline or typical narrative structure and although it’s fairly bleak it’s by no means humourless. Fundamentally though it touches on the very darkest side of society – misogyny, neglect, class, prejudice, sexual orientation, fear and lack of confidence. Essentially it is about loneliness because most of the relationships we witness are a veneer.

Life as a kid with no familial network is not a good place to be and David Harrower brings this into sharp relief quickly and consistently.

I think it could do with a touch of editing but overall this is an important, thought-provoking and engaging piece of work.

I notice it’s playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 9 – 29 September. Not knowing the theatre I suspect it will be rather less spectacular than in The Playhouse which, as a stage, offers wide open spaces (and which contributed to the theme of isolation by its very brooding presence).

It’s distinctly Scottish, but the points it makes are universal and you lot in Englandshire shouldn’t struggle too much with the dialect. (You might not like the language though. My god, the National Theatre of Scotland like a fucking swearword do they not?)

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It’s been a crazy day.

Golf, driving lessons (more later) and at the end of it the latest FCT festival Show. Their 29th and the first with no hand of my dad involved.

The Director, Claire Stewart, speculated in her programme notes that parts of it would have given him ‘the tingles’ and there can be no doubt that she called that one right.

This show is actually so impressive that it makes you step back and re-evaluate this theatre company. But please don’t expect what follows to be unchallenging.

FCT has staged 58 productions and it’s fair to say they’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly with a very strong leaning to the former. But, folks, The Lords of Creation? Everyone screws up sometime.

This show though? This was FCT on steroids.

A Cockerney setting.

FCT loves Cockerney – great excuse to do ‘accents’

However, it had a bleakness that was, unusually for FCT, not offset by a few gags and a singalonga happy chappy come on it’s not all that bad, number. (Doin’ the Lambeth Walk and all that.)

No, this was tragi-comedy without the laughs.

This was bleak.

But, hey, was Robbie LS looking for laughs?

No.

He wrote a very focussed morality tale about good v evil in which (of course) good wins – well, the Victorians were a bit predictable.

Technically this was the most accomplished show in FCT history (perhaps Oh, What a Lovely War had more technical innovation but the lighting, sound and set in this show were awesome.) I sat in the back row and heard every word.

The choreography, I don’t know if you’d call it that, movement might be a better word, (see previous reference to lack of Lambeth Walks) was so considered and impactful as to punch you.

Aggressive, in your face.

Magic.

Low, moody eyelines prevailed and worked fantastically . At one stage the chorus lined the auditorium, turning and looking pointedly and uneasing the audience. I loved that.

The costumes were probably the best I’d ever seen, so themed, by colour especially and such high quality. They contributed greatly to the sense of time.

The band? How insulting to call them a band. This was an orchestra. Their role in this performance was fundamental and flawless. At times I thought it must be a CD playing, it was so flawless. And boy, you guys owe a debt of gratitude to your sound man for mixing it all so brilliantly!

So, turning to the show itself. I’ll caveat the rest of my views with a question, a challenge I suppose, and one that I wasn’t alone in asking!

Was this show ‘on-brand’ for FCT?

At the interval I thought not. Even after it, and despite how good it was, I’m still asking myself that.

As Thom Dibdin said in his review in The Edinburgh Evening News the material causes problems for a Youth production, and I agree with him.

In the first act, at least, it seemed to me that it had been a little too unremitting in its gloom and too heavy on reliance upon the principals’ performances. The second act (nearly) changed my mind. Mainly because the highlight of the show ‘Murder Murder” opened the act, drew your breathe away and established the chorus as a vital part of the energy of the show. And the chorus is fundamentally what FCT has always been about. I’d be sad to see that go.

FCT need never consider a festival production of Waiting for Godot. (musical or otherwise.)

It was a small cast by FCT standards – only 33 – and I wondered, for a while, if less was really more, but the second act reassured me.

All of this sounds a bit negative, but the experience was far from negative. Because, cutting to the chase, this was singularly the most impressive FCT performance I have ever seen.

I’ll have to revert to superlatives now. Hannah Scott was awesome, just collosal in her performance as the hooker with a heart, Lucy, she very nearly stole the show.

But let’s be honest, how could she? She was supporting Matthew Smith who played both Jeckyll and Hyde with a maturity that has to defy his age. (I have little doubt that he will fulfill his ambition of singing on the West End because he is a major talent.) It so happens I also saw him in lighter mode at the Holy Cross Players Panto and he was a hoot.

Every single principal was on the nail, but ultimately it comes down to direction and I have to say Claire Stewart has once again performed a PB.

Whatever your views of the script/libretto (and in our group they were mixed) what Claire Stewart drew out of this group was simply brilliant. “Murder Murder” was one of the finest moments I have ever experienced in a theatre.

As a whole I feel the show is flawed. It’s a bit too bleak, and lacks light and shade during a lot of the, quite long, first half storytelling stage but every opportunity to squeeze a bit of interest out of it Claire Stewart took.

Overall verdict? Outstanding

The power of amatuer theatre


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The family went to the theatre last night. As we have many, many times before, given my dad’s extensive involvement in am dram.

This particular venture was to see my sister, Jane as Queen Evira, in Holy Cross Players’ production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It was a local church production so, in all honesty, our expectations were not sky high, we were anticipating a lot of endevour, some in jokes and a quick getaway. How far from the truth could we possibly have been?

What a magnificent production it was. Jane was awesome and my Dad would have been so proud of her. She had the audience in the palm of her hands, threatening a shortened interval and reduced chance for that cheeky wee glass of wine we so look forward to if we booed and hissed once more. Cackling demonically and losing the plot with her hapless henchman Igora, played by Denise Simpson.

The script was hilarious, having been adapted to suit the fictional lands of Ferry Roadia and West Erhailes by the director Tony, Philip Lewis and Lou Milligan.  Each and every member of the cast looked like they were having the time of their life.  Snow White was perfectly cast, the stooges were hilarious and the two big set pieces; an echoing well and a Monty Pythonesque skit based on an exchange something like this…

“What?”

“Pardon?”

“No I said what!”

“Don’t you mean pardon?”

“What?”

“No, pardon!”

It was a hoot.

Every single principle could sing. That’s a rarity!

The whole show was life-affirming.

Congratulations to the director, one of my Dad’s many Proteges, Tony Delicata and all his production team.

Highlight of the week, by far..