The Signalman is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh for two nights only (Fri 29 Oct to Sat 30 Oct) plus a Saturday matinee performance, and if you are reading this review in time for either of the two Saturday shows then try and get a ticket as this one man performance show is pretty much perfect theatre.
We all seem to have some sort of instinctive need to not only tell a story, but to be told a story and this work, written by Peter Arnott, directed by Ken Alexander, and performed by Tom McGovern, is a text-book example of how good theatre really only ever needs two things – a good story and someone who knows how to hold the attention of an audience and tell that story.
In “The Signalman” Tom McGovern gives us a performance as Thomas Barclay, the signalman on duty that fateful day on Sunday 28th December 1879 when he cleared the passenger train safely onto the Tay Bridge. That train travelling from Burntisland to Dundee never reached the other side as the bridge was collapsed in the violent storm with the loss of the train and all onboard.
Still working as a signalman, “The Signalman” is in his signal box exactly 40 years on from that terrible night and unexpectedly he finds himself reflecting not only upon his life since then, but also that very night itself and the evidence that he gave at the public enquiry. These past and present events plus a look at why we always seem to have a culture of finding someone to blame for something in Scotland weave a story that completely pulls you into it and you find yourself waiting on Tom McGovern’s next word.
As our story unfolds we are drawn not only into the events of the public enquiry but somehow also feel like we are getting to know the family of the real signalman Thomas Barclay. There is also a very nice and unexpected story line that also weaves its way into our main story, but I will leave that one for anyone going to this show to find out for themselves.
With a gifted story-teller like this on stage, using only the most basic of stage props, plus some carefully selected sound and lighting effects, this hour long performance passes all too quickly and there is almost a little jolt to your system when the story ends and you are pulled back out of the world that has been created on stage by the power of a good story, and the theatre lights go on. You know that you are safe from the storm.
This show Presented by Raw Material & Perth Theatre, and originally produced by A Play, a Pie and a Pint at Òran Mór, as a co-presentation with Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh has already won many awards, and it is easy to see why from tonight’s performance.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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Scottish Opera: The Gondoliers, a co-production with D’Oyly Carte Opera is at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh for a short run (Thu 28 Oct to Sat 06 Nov), and this always popular work from Gilbert and Sullivan is the perfect production for welcoming audiences back to the start of their first full season since stages across the world were forced to fall into silence.
The above is an odd statement coming from me because I have to admit to always having some reservations about G & S works as, amongst other things, they often seem to me to take place in some fantasy world in an alternative universe, and to appreciate them fully you always have to be prepared to leave your own reality behind and enter this strange world of the imaginations of G & S. That is maybe the secret of the endurance, but still to this day the massive global success of their works – pure escapism, and the humour, lightness, and at times sheer absurdity of this story (plus of course the music and the lyrics) were obviously tonight just what many in the audience wanted as the darkness of the past 18 months has affected everyone in one way or another.
The Gondoliers would actually make perfect pantomime and this lush production is filled with humour, both lyrical and visual, almost from the moment our story opens to the backdrop of the Venice of a stage sized Canaletto painting. That humour is everywhere throughout this production, but more importantly this cast have not only the vocal abilities required to do these songs justice, but also that light performance touch that this type of light comedy requires.
There is, however, beneath the frothy surface of The Gondoliers some real questions being asked about the social issues of the day, and oddly many of these questions are still as relevant to us today as when this work was first performed in 1889 at the height of the then British Empire and what seemed the never to be ended reign of Queen Victoria. That debate on Monarchy or Republic has not gone away, that question of all being subjects in a strictly regulated order of society, or all being of equal status, is still as much at the core of our society as it was to the world of G & S. Here Gilbert himself makes no secret where his sympathies lie with “If everybody is somebody, then no one’s anybody”.
Bringing so much of this story to life of course are our republican gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri played by William Morgan and Mark Nathan, who find that one of them is truly the son of a King and destined to rule a monarchy (of course there is a plot twist here), and their attempts at a new style republican monarchy underpin so much of this story and its message, which at times mocks both institutions. Their new wives Gianetta (Ellie Laugharne) and Tessa (Sioned Gwen Davies) of course have their own views on their new and unexpected prospects in life.
Adding so much to the comedy of the Gondoliers are the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro (Richard Suart and Yvonne Howard) who seem to be perfectly cast here and could so easily have a show of their own. Adding to this trio is their daughter Casilda (Catriona Hewitson). There are some wonderful comedy visuals here, from ridiculously sized dresses to an eyepatch that constantly changes sides, and of course some wonderful music and lyrics courtesy of the razor sharp observations of G & S. Perhaps the most over the top role and performance here goes to Ben McAteer as the pure Vaudevillian villain Don Alhambra del Bolero (The Grand Inquisitor).
The actual structures of The Gondoliers as an operatic work have been analysed and debated for over 100 years, and although all of that is important, it all means little if audiences are not enjoying the work. This production of The Gondoliers is just simply escapist fun and some people were still singing or humming some of the songs on leaving the theatre, and that is when you know that something has worked really well on stage.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is at the Playhouse Edinburgh from Thu 21 Oct to Sat 27 Nov and this new re-imagining of the stage show (with Disney firmly in control) is obviously a large budget stage production and that is obvious immediately from the quality of the stage sets and costume designs. It is also obvious that a theatrical production on this scale needs the large performance stages, and The Playhouse can provide that and allow this show to look its best.
The original of this fairy tale was written by written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740, and variants of it have been told all over the world for almost 300 years. Like all old fairy tales the original has some very dark overtones, but this take on the story is not only pure “Disney” fairy tale but aligns the story firmly into the pre-existing “Beauty and the Beast” film universe. That has positives and negatives for a stage show, but what the creatives of this production have managed to do is make this tale “magical” and transport its audiences to a fantasy land where reality only has the loosest of grasps. The important message of this story is never lost though; judge a person not by their outward appearance, but by their inner heart.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is many things on stage – a lavish pantomime, which I have to admit is not always to my taste, but it is done so well that you have to just accept that as part of the story, and it does provide for some excellent performances from Gavin Lee (Lumiere), Sam Bailey (Mrs Potts), Nigel Richards (Cogsworth), Samantha Bingley (Madame) and Aimee Moore (Babette). This show is massively popular world-wide, but it is approaching 30 years old and despite this current update, there are still however some stereotypes in this pantomime ensemble, and other parts of the show that Disney do need to deal with at some stage for a 2021 and beyond audience.
The show is also, without doubt, a song and dance spectacular with a high end budget for choreography, costumes, stage sets and a live orchestra which allows our cast and dancers to take us back to the golden days of Hollywood musicals with some choreography tributes to the great Busby Berkely. To do this you of course need some great music and songs, and Alan Menken (composer), Howard Ashman (composer and lyricist) and Tim Rice (composer and lyricist) more than have the talents to do this job well.
Where this show has a weakness however is that the lead roles of Belle (Courtney Stapleton) and Beast (Alyn Hawke) are along with the role of Gaston (Tom Senior) by default reduced all too often to one dimensional characters and no one suffers this fate more that Beast as the format of this story never allows us to explore just what it must mean to feel like a “beast inside” or gives whoever is playing this role a chance to really do that much with it as it is very much a “play by the numbers” one. By comparison, Belle is rarely off stage here and has to carry so much of this show, a task which Courtney Stapleton does very well, and with some nice scenes with her father Maurice (Martin Hall) in here too. Again though, this is just not the setting to delve into the serious drama of a love-story of epic proportions slowly unfolding. Perhaps the person who gets to have the most fun on stage is Tom Senior who as the insufferable and boorish Gaston gets to give us all a totally over the top performance, and is so obviously loving every minute of doing so.
The opening narration by Angela Lansbury, who voiced the role of Mrs. Potts in the 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast, is a nice connection between stage and film, but also a reminder right from the very start that we are all entering a Disney fairy tale world where everything is sugar coated and likely to turn out well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and this production is at its core a story for children, and watching how younger (and older) members of the audience were just waiting to enter this “magical world of make-believe” told me the creative team behind this show had got everything right. There are also a few spectacular stage moments, but I have no intention of telling you about them and spoiling the surprise for anyone still planning to go and see this show.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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King King were at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight as part of their extensive 2021/22 touring schedule and, as usual, their fans old and new came out to support them after what has been far too long a time off the road for the band. The events of the last 18 months or so have affected everyone in one way or another, and the pleasure of the band being back on stage, where they belong, playing to their fans was obvious. King King were happy to be back and their audience was happy to have them back as a kilted Alan Nimmo took centre stage to the backdrop of AC/DC’s "Highway to Hell".
The band may not have been touring for a while, but they have been far from idle, and this tour gives the band the opportunity to play live for the first time songs from their latest album “Maverick” which was released in November 2020. There are some fine songs on this new album and we were given a few of them in tonight’s set list, among them “Never Give In” and “Whatever It Takes To Survive”, and both are destined to become classic King King must-have songs on future tours. For me though, one of the stand out songs from tonight was the reflective “When My Winter Comes” from this new album.
King King have already achieved more than many bands ever do, multiple awards testify to that fact, but always the band keep striving not for more awards, but simply to grow and develop as a band and see where that takes them, and listening to some of their earlier songs such as “A Long History of Love”, “Coming Home (Rest Your Eyes)” and “Waking Up” it is obvious why the band have achieved so much. Fine songs and a very tight band performing on stage are just part of the picture though, something else is happening with King King when you go to one of their shows, and that is their connectivity with their audience and the good natured humour that is shared throughout the whole evening. The ability to create that atmosphere at a show is always for me what makes any King King performance a little special.
As every King King fan knows, the band have seen a few line-up changes over the last few years, but rest assured, this current one of Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar), Zander Greenshields (bass), Stevie Nimmo (guitar), Andrew Scott (drums) and Jonny Dyke (organ/piano) is more than ready for the next step upwards in the band’s success story.
Opening this show was When Rivers Meet, a blues/rock duo comprised of Grace and Aaron Bond. This duo have been attracting a lot of attention recently, and from their 30 minute performance slot here, it is obvious to see why as there is an obvious chemistry and energy between the two here that for some reason reminds me of watching early Ike and Tina Turner performances.
WRM have some solid songs like their previous two singles, “Battleground” and “Did I Break The Law”, and material from their debut album “We Fly Free”, which is one I need to add to my buy list now. Where the future will take WRM is going to be interesting as Aaron not only has a very identifiable style on guitar but Grace (who also plays guitar) has one of the most interesting rock/blues voices that I have heard in a long time.
For the moment though, some paths are clear for the duo; their second album “Saving Grace” is due to be released on November 19th and the band are headlining their own tour in 2022. Whatever the future holds for Grace and Aaron Bond, I am sure that it will be following their dreams of not conforming to expected stereotypes and taking their music wherever people want to listen to it.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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Have you ever wondered what your street/area looked like maybe 50, or even 100 years ago? Well, if you live in Leith, this new book, Leith Reflections by Jack Gillon and Fraser Parkinson (available now) might just have the answers to some of your questions.
The format of this book over its 96 pages is a simple one, put two photos with some basic historical information (usually only a few lines) onto nearly every page of the book to provide a past and present historical record of the area. The interesting twist here is that the old and the new photographs have been split into two halves and merged, and the end result is a left and right hand side of the street viewed through the “old and the new”.
In theory, this as an idea is intriguing, but sadly the end result is often less than satisfactory. There are several reasons for this, and perhaps the most obvious one is that this type of photographic merging works best where you have a street, or scene that has changed little (if any) over the years, and to be fair, there are times when this image merging approach does work far better than others times. The real visual problems come when you have somewhere like Leith where modern re-development (well within the past 60 years or more) has simply obliterated so much of what once stood there in the name of “progress”. All too often in Leith, there is simply very little, and at times nothing, left of whole streets and areas, and it is here that this type of photographic image splicing and merging simply does not work well at all. For some reason, the print quality of many of these old and new images seems to be very dark, making many individual details of the photographs all too often difficult to see clearly. I do not know if this was intentional, or a print production issue that should have been resolved prior to publication.
The concept behind “Leith Reflections” is an intriguing one that offers many possibilities to both the casual reader and those more interested in historical details and facts. To reach its potential though, this book required a lot more pre-production into the manipulation and merging of the photographic source materials old and new.
Having said all of the above, I am sure that this book will still please many as it is an easy read and easy reference to old and new Leith.
Review by Lisa Sibbald (c) 2021
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