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.