Tuesday, 11 August 2015


The Globe Theatre’s tour of Romeo and Juliet brings Shakespeare’s tragedy back to basics in a wonderfully authentic way.

The production begins with the ‘travelling players’ walking through the audience before the performance starts with a song and a dance that would have been the signal that the play was about to begin in Shakespeare’s day. Andrew D Edwards’ set adheres to the Elizabethan touring model with a traditional booth stage that Globe Theatre Director, Dominic Dromgoole, said was ‘inspired by Elizabethan paintings and etchings.’ The lights were kept on to replicate the outdoor venues of the sixteenth century.

With this kind of production, it is easier to appreciate the skill of the cast because the success of the play depends on how well they engage with the audience in the absence of any change of scenery. This performance does it well, from the second the opening dance begins to Juliet’s death. The cast consists of eight actors who play all the roles and the text has been adapted so that some roles can be played almost simultaneously. Some of the more rapid transitions came from Tom Kanji, who morphed from Friar Laurence to Benvolio in a split second shrug of his shrawl- and did the same trick in reverse with a cough and a climb of a ladder. Steffan Donnelly gave a memorable performance as Mercutio, snaking around the stage in a lithe fashion and hissing out his lines. Steven Elder was an excellent Capulet, especially when exploding with rage at Juliet when she refuses to marry Paris in the second act.

Differing to some of the heavier Shakespearian tragedies, Romeo and Juliet benefits from some lighter, humorous moments in the early acts. Sarah Higgins, who made her professional debut in the National Theatre of Scotland’s The James Plays, is lively and engaging as the no-nonsense Scottish nurse, despite being somewhat hard to follow at times.

The use of music to bookend the action worked particularly well considering the traditional staging, and showcased the diverse talents of the cast. Kevin McCurdy deserves credit for choreographing some impressive fight scenes and Martin McKellan’s voice and dialect choices enhanced the show, with character accents from Yorkshire, Scotland and the North East.

Cassie Layton gave a fine performance as the distressed Juliet and Samuel Valentine excelled as her youthful, red-haired Romeo even though, at times, their relationship felt more playful than passionate. Possibly one of the few stories that doesn’t need a ‘spoiler alert’ before one divulges the plot, knowing the ending did not lessen the impact the performance had on the audience. The show closed with an unexpected but entertaining Flamenco dance.

Small criticisms aside, directors Dominic Drumgoole and Tim Hoare have created a passionate and well-paced show, punctuated by musical interludes, that spins out delicately and invitingly from the opening song, and rounds itself off in the same vein.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Matthew Bourne has established a reputation as a master of modern dance choreography who can give an old tale a modern twist. But even by his elevated standards, Edward Scissorhands is something extraordinary.

It is difficult to forget just how unique Bourne’s approach is. His previous productions include a Swan Lake in which he burned the rule book and the traditional tutus and let the prince fall in love with a male swan. We last saw Bourne at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal in a revival of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, with a company of 24 novice dancers at its core. Bourne works best with Gothic tales though, which was first seen in his dark version of Sleeping Beauty. This time he brings an exhilaratingly good adaption of Tim Burton’s 1990 Gothic fairy-tale which is as frighteningly insightful as ever. 

Edward Scissorhands is the creation of a grief-stricken inventor whose own son Edward dies when he is electrocuted playing with scissors. Bourne’s silent prologue sets the scene neatly with Edward’s father reanimating his stitched-together body, leaving him with giant wallpaper-slicing scissors in place of fingers. As is common with Bourne, it is not entirely faithful to the original story: he reworks some areas of Burton’s film, and even creates some new elements. Every part of Burton’s narrative is honoured yet utterly changed in dance that makes the audience both remember the film in all its vivid detail and see it in an entirely new light. 

Working with set designer, Lez Brotherson, Bourne has reset the action to Hope Springs, a pastel-coloured 1950s suburb. At first, it feels as if there is too many characters and that the audience will never be able to tell them apart. However, Bourne reduces the six families presented into manageable stereotypes: the poor ones, the political campaigners, the sporty ones, the religious enthusiasts, the unfaithful wife and the ‘all Americans.’ Edward is launched into this seemingly perfect world as a catalyst for change. This affects no one more than Kim Boggs (Ashley Shaw), the all-American girl who is clean-cut but guilty of following the popular crowd. Her beautiful duet with Edward defies all stereotypes, and is the emotional peak of the production, despite Edward’s hands being a metaphor for not being able to connect.

 Each moment is clearly charted with the help of Danny Elfman’s original atmospheric film score. Dominic North succeeds in the role of Edward, despite having to live up to the part that was made so iconic by Johnny Depp. From the moment Edward emerges with giant blades glinting in Howard Harrison’s abstract lighting, his tousled long hair and his patched leather body, we can see why North gained such praise for the role when he first appeared in the production in 2005. The Frankenstein comparisons are accurate: there is something so oddly human in this alien creature who intrudes into a world of front and façade that one cannot help but be drawn to, and empathise with him

Lez Brotherston's marvellous set and costume designs, including the alien-like bio-mechanical design of Edward, beautifully captures the juxtaposition between the Gothic sets of Edward’s home and the life and colour of Hope Springs which, at times, appropriately echoes design elements of Burton’s film. The entire cast is exceptional but stand out roles include Savanne Curtin as Joyce Monroe, the unfaithful wife in pursuit of Edward who is effectively seductive, contrasting with the naivety and innocence of Ashley Shaw’s Kim. Dominic North excels at portraying Edward as a guileless, lonesome character on the outskirts of society, never fully accepted as an equal by others, but is desperate to join in, which Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton made so moving.

 Like the majority of Bourne’s productions, if judged within in the realms of a classical ballet, it is a disappointment- without a tutu or a pointe shoe in sight, ballet is in short supply (excluding a few moments of modern ballet). It does, however, leave the audience completely gripped by the power and emotion of storytelling. Its success probably lies in the fact that Bourne is a natural storyteller who never leaves his audience behind. 

There’s only so many superlatives that we can throw Matthew Bourne’s way without getting bogged down in his brilliance.  The multi-award winning director has built a formidable reputation in ballet by creating breath-taking productions which boldly abandon tradition by challenging the expectations of what dance can be. Edward Scissorhands, a Gothic horror turned suburban drama, is no exception.

Sunday, 12 October 2014


Dominic Hill has gained a reputation for giving classic texts a fresh perspective and his latest production, Hamlet, which headlined the Citizens Theatre Autumn 2014 season, was no different.

Returning home from university, Hamlet is devastated when he realises that his father’s funeral wake has swiftly resulted in a celebration of his mother’s remarriage to her brother-in-law. This results in a savage and enthralling tragedy of a family’s destruction at the hands of suspicion, murder, infidelity and grief.

Brian Ferguson plays a bespectacled, nervous-looking Hamlet who opens the seminal role by literally hiding under the table, distressed and terrified of his father’s ghost. His grief eventually becomes measured, psychopathic revenge against his deceitful mother and controlling uncle. Interestingly, Ferguson also brings a number of lighter elements to the titular role. There are moments of strange adolescent exuberance as Hamlet lounges around in his underwear, munching cereal and abandoning personal hygiene.

Set in the cold-war era of the 1960s/early 1970s, Hill exposes Shakespeare’s play as more of a dysfunctional family drama- setting many of its scenes in an improvised palace living room. Hill spoke of how “Hamlet’s grief, loss of trust, the complexity of his family relationships and how he negotiates the abrupt changes to his world around him are challenges that contemporary audiences can relate to.” From Hamlet’s desire to avenge his uncle to Polonius’ (Cliff Burnett) horribly violent tyranny over Ophelia (Meghan Taylor), this updated version of the original tragedy is no longer a tale of a renaissance avenger and the fate of his country, but an exploration of abusive relationships and love and hatred.

Playing on Tom Piper’s eerie, stripped-back set (which resembles an abandoned warehouse), the characters inhibit a precarious world in which everyone-not just Hamlet and Ophelia- balances on the edge of psychological despair. Roberta Taylor, for instance, takes on the role of Gertrude, a passive-aggressive alcoholic. Joining her on stage is her real-life husband, Peter Guinness as the menacing Claudius. Meghan Tyler’s damaged Ophelia excels in the second half with her descent into madness being the emotional heart of the performance as she reclines in a bath, calmly blowing bubbles and reaching out to touch them. Differing from the original production, she hands out alcohol as opposed to flowers and later watches people dig her own grave with amusement.

Collaborating with Nikola Kodjabashia, Hill uses live music at moments of tension.  There are rock-esque musical interludes as the cast pick up guitars, percussion, violin and keyboards (which are dotted around the set) and manipulate pre-recorded tapes. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design is innovative and artistic- sudden light or darkness mark scene changes (since there are no curtains on the open-plan stage) and move the play along at an increasing pace.

The production’s enormous success probably stems from the fact that it is so accessible. In a recent interview, Taylor spoke of how “Shakespeare can be an everyday story and nothing to be afraid of.” In doing this, it still manages to cleverly avoid the potential Shakespearean fault of losing the timeless beauty of the language in favour of complicated staging.

With its eerie, sinister aesthetic and its unnerving sense of brutality, Hill’s Hamlet respects the original script but simultaneously gives new insights- reinforcing Hill’s reputation as a bold and imaginative director.


Scottish Ballet brought its autumn season to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal last month, combining the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s The Crucible with the UK premiere of Christopher Bruce’s Ten Poems.

The production featured two uniquely contrasting performances. As a tribute to the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, the show began with the dancers performing to a recording of ten of his poems, read by Welsh actor Richard Burton. Christopher Bruce, one of Britain’s most prolific choreographers, came across a CD of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas in his local music shop. It seems to have been a lucky find as he created Ten Poems as a result, first performed in 2009 for the German company Ballet Kiel.

With the absence of musical accompaniment (a first for Scottish ballet), the dancers seamlessly drifted from poem to poem and the lack of music was unnoticeable within minutes. In a recent interview, Bruce spoke of how adding music would have been unnecessary, he said “what hit me first before the meaning of the poetry was the musicality, the phrasing, the rhythm of it.” Thomas has been described as ‘a Welsh rock God of lyric poetry’ and the iconic poems chosen- including Fern Hill, In My Craft and Sullen Art and I See the Boys of Summer- did not disappoint. Even though Thomas’ poems are not the most action-packed, his accurate and often dark descriptions of life, lost innocence, nostalgia for childhood and death gives a compelling combination of wistful storytelling and poignant emotion.

Continuing the theme of literary adaptations, an edited version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible made up the second half. Can you condense a four act drama which usually takes three hours to perform into a forty minute ballet? You can but it will never reach its full dramatic potential. If the production was two hours long it would have been wonderful. But Miller’s 1953 play of the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, is too complex with too many families for Pickett to do justice to in such a short space of time.

While the limited time frame did put a strain on the production, the story is spun out against a backdrop of innovative staging, lighting and a film score soundtrack- including Bernard Hermann’s music from Psycho and The Devil and Daniel Webster- which creates the haunting tone of a horror film. As you would expect from Scottish Ballet, the dancers were exceptional. Principal dancer Sophie Martin plays Abigail, a maid who seduces her employer, John Proctor. She is soon discovered by his wife Elizabeth, played by the equally captivating Principal Eve Mutso. The production also features talented rising dancers, Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Lewis Landini.

 Scottish Ballet should be commended for at least attempting to be innovative in an industry with choreographers like Matthew Bourne who are revolutionising the world of ballet. It achieved what it wanted- to shift audience expectations. As artistic director Christopher Hampson notes, it’s “a really meaty, thought provoking experience. It’s a really bold double bill.”

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Dirty Dancing, the 1987 coming-of-age film has found a new rhythm in a spin-off musical which came to Glasgow this month- accompanied by the infectious beat of the summer of 1963 and Johnny and Baby’s classic love story. From the opening lines “that was the summer we went to Kellerman’s”, the audience were hooked.

The hit stage show follows 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman who wishes to save the world, one starving Southeast Asian country at a time. While at a summer camp with her family, she falls for Johnny Castle, the resort’s resident dancer. When Baby decides to help out one of Johnny’s friends, she is forced to hide the budding romance from her father and the resort owner.

The story also contains elements of class struggle and preconceived gender notions, as well as subtle nods to the generational divide and civil rights movement still to come. As Baby reveals in her opening monologue, the story occurs “before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps and I thought I’d never meet a guy as great as my dad.”

Roseanna Frascona is wonderful as Baby- not only because she displays an uncanny resemblance to Jennifer Grey- but because she achieves the right balance of innocence and stubbornness. Dirty Dancing made Patrick Swayze a star and his charisma is difficult to translate to the stage. However, Gareth Bailey brings a sensitivity to the role of Johnny Castle that the audience instantly falls for. 

Fans of the film will be pleased that the stage version sticks relatively close to the original plot with the addition of a few added scenes to move the plot along. The water scene where the couple practice that famous lift, for instance, is done in an exaggerated fake way. Baby and Johnny stand behind a projected image of a lake but this works surprisingly well and injects a bit of humour into the production.

Where this version of Dirty Dancing truly excels is in presenting the exquisite dancing which compliments the sing along hits that this musical is full of, including ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘She’s Like the Wind’ and ‘Do You Love Me.’ Johnny’s dance partner, Penny (Claire Rogers) makes the intricate choreography look effortless.

 It is a feel-good ride from beginning to end, with the audience joining in and even shouting out lines sometimes. In the lead up to the unforgettable finale, Bailey runs through the stalls, much to the audience’s delight, to deliver his immortal line to his would-be father in law, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” This proves that the story of Dirty Dancing possibly works better on stage in front of a live audience.

It is unsurprising that the musical has been seen by more than six million people since opening in London in 2006. From the opening beats of ‘Be My Baby’ to the much anticipated finale with ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’- Dirty Dancing has the audience captivated.