May 152020
 

With thanks to Alec Westwood.

A new series exploring true stories from Aberdeen’s mysterious and murky past has been launched.
Delivered as a podcast, ‘Darkside Of The Deen’ is presented by Aberdonian actor Alec Westwood.

Following on from playing Sgt Howie in the audio drama sequel to The Wickerman, Alec set up a home studio and began working remotely with writers and producers Richard Skinner (Turriff) and Cliff Hughes (Peterhead).

Known for his role Folly the Jester in cult childrens’ TV show Knightmare, Davy Reins in the BBC’s Roughnecks and portraying Robert Louis Stevenson on Radio 4’s Great Lives,  Alec also enlisted help from a number of fellow local actors and musician/Inverurie Postmaster, Rory Will to bring dark stories from Aberdeen’s past to life.

In the show Alec presents a different true story from the shadier parts of Aberdeen’s history in each new episode, from bubonic plague, to bodysnatching, all the way to more recent, intriguing, true crimes.

The first episode (available now) recounts the time in 1964 when the city was hit by the biggest typhoid outbreak in modern day history.

He investigates the causes of the outbreak, the effect it had on local individuals and the lessons learned that are relevant more than ever during the current Covid-19 crisis.

There will also be special episodes that will bring strange stories from further afield in Scotland, such as the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the remote island of Eilean Mor in the Outer Hebrides during the festive period of 1900 – an event which inspired the 2019 Gerard Butler film The Vanishing.

Alec is enthusiastic to bring interesting stories from Aberdeen’s past to a global audience via Darkside Of The Deen.

Episode one ‘The Summer of 64’ is available now on Acast, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Youtube.

Listen on Instagram
Listen on Youtube

May 122020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has agreed to investigate Aberdeen Voice’s complaint as Aberdeen City Council claims ‘it doesn’t know’ how much rent Aberdeen Journals Ltd pays for space in controversial Marischal Square.

Several parties have tried to obtain this information; and the information commissioner is investigating Suzanne Kelly’s formal complaint into the city’s recent refusal to disclose details.

According to an article published on Jan 27:

“Marischal Square.. is 75% let [after] just over two years… it is on track to achieve 100% occupancy later this year, defying critics who opposed the scheme and claimed it would become an expensive white elephant…”

Whichever Press & Journal hack wrote this piece praising Aberdeen City Council’s contentious (and ugly) Marischal Square development likely did so from the offices the paper got cheaply from…ACC.

You could be forgiven for thinking a newspaper should not take a free rent deal from a council it should be investigating (and there is plenty to look into), but the P&J and sister paper Evening Express did just that.

The £107 million Marischal project achieved the unthinkable: replacing a hideous 70s building with an even uglier office complex, while managing to immure the 16th c Provost Skene’s House inside a claustrophobic glass tomb. It ruins the setting for Marischal College across the road, as previously reported on by Piloti.

Other businesses thought to be enjoying sweetheart deals and free rent periods include multinationals with Chevron and EY set to move in. Why precisely such firms need to be subsidised is a mystery.

True to form, the city is releasing as little information as possible, however many FOI requests it receives.

It reluctantly admitted:

“Aberdeen Journals have been offered a rent-free period,”

and the current headline rent is £30 per square foot.

What dates the free rent covered, who agreed this deal and other details are ‘confidential’ according to the city. Despite public money being used to create the building and the public purse subsidising multinationals and newspapers, the city has clammed up. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office is expected to investigate.

ACC insists only management company CBRE knows how much rent each company pays, and that ACC only gets the total figure of rent CBRE collects. CBRE are saying nothing.

We do know that:

“The total rental income received via CBRE for Marischal Square to 30 September 2019 is £849,936.61.”

The start of that time period? ACC aren’t saying.

Exactly how much the building cost to build, how much in debt the cash-strapped city is, and what negative impact Marischal Square has on companies that were already desperate to rent existing office space remains a mystery for now. But, as the P&J reported in January 2020, the building is ‘an award-winning success’.

Things moved on a bit since the paper reported on what it once called a ‘controversial’ and ‘contentious’ project. Councillor Willie Young claimed it would cost millions not to proceed with the project, but the P&J reported on March 5 2015 that there was scope to cancel the plans as some protesters wanted.

What possibly could have changed the paper’s position?

Apr 212020
 

By Duncan Harley with thanks to Andy Kite.

In March 2020 Aberdeen Performing Arts switched off the lights in its three iconic venues: His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Music Hall and the Lemon Tree amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shows were cancelled and staff put on furlough. Lockdown had struck and, like it or not, the theatre doors slammed shut on 17th March ironically on the very eve of a week long run of ‘A Monster Calls’.

You really couldn’t make it up.

Cancellations of Buddy Holly, Once and Something About Jamie swiftly followed and a planned May run of The Gondoliers described in glowing terms as ‘Sunny, funny and with more ‘tra la la las’ per square inch than any other opera in the canon’ is as they say, dead in the water.

But, as they say, the show must go on and today Aberdeen Performing Arts has announced a set of stay-at-home projects and initiatives designed to keep the North-east connected and engaged in arts and culture during the pandemic lockdown.

Titled ‘We’re Here For You’, the initiative spans a range of activities for all ages, from re-creating favourite album covers, to online piano recitals, all with the aim of encouraging contact and creativity in the North-east while under lockdown.

Aberdeen Performing Arts Chief Executive, Jane Spiers, says:

“There’s never been a time when we need to be more connected and here for each other. Here for You is about celebrating the amazing creativity we all have within us and across the North East.

“We’ve been so impressed with the entries we’ve had for our ‘Build Your Own HMT’ project, and we can’t wait to see what our ‘When Life Gives You Lemons’ project brings, re-creating your own album cover!

“Our Here for You activities are also a small thing we can do to say thank you to our audiences who have been so supportive and raised £50,000 to date to keep our charity alive when we rely so heavily on ticket sales.”

An early project, ‘Keep The Lights On At HMT’, seemingly resulted in a flood of home built model versions of His Majesty’s Theatre and a new initiative, ‘Armchair Audiences’, gives theatre goers a chance to sit back, relax and join a weekly theatre discussion each Tuesday at 6pm (bring your own ice cream).

The first event in the Armchair Audiences series is a collaboration with The National Theatre and features a free streamed performance of Jane Eyre.

More @: https://www.aberdeenperformingarts.com/

Mar 212020
 

Three former Torry community councillors have lodged a complaint against Depute Lord Provost Jennifer Stewart with The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life. By Suzanne Kelly (one of the three).

The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life received a complaint from Bee Kerr, Renee Slater and Suzanne Kelly against Councillor Jennifer Stewart.
They have asked the Commission to investigate, and if appropriate, censure or suspend Jennifer Stewart on account of her behaviour following Councillor Alan Donnelly’s sexual assault of a person at a civic function.

Councillor Donnelly, who has represented Torry and Ferryhill in the past, was placed on the sex offenders register by the Aberdeen Sheriff Court. The court found him guilty of sexually assaulting a waiter.

The offence occurred while Donnelly was at a civic function in his capacity as councillor.

Donnelly tried to deny events; the court said he should be ashamed. He refused to step down despite his criminal act being a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for councillors.

Renee Slater launched a petition demanding Donnelly resign, which was signed by over 700 people.

The Standards Commissioner’s office announced his suspension one day after he voted on a crucial budget during a stormy council session, to the benefit of the council’s majority group. If he doesn’t resign, he will face a public trial.

Prior to this vote, Cllr Stewart took to radio and commented that the sexual assault didn’t sound serious.

She said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing, but sentence has been passed.”

Her remarks infuriated many including councillors, residents and people connected to victim support groups.

The signatories to the complaint and experts they spoke to feel it is hard enough to cope as a victim of an assault; it is harder still to report it.  Getting to trial is stressful, and many trials end with no conviction.

It is arguably harder for a man to be a victim of sexual assault given some societal attitudes. Elected officials should not use their office to question the judgment of the courts and to add to the burden of the victim, who has had to endure the harmful insult by way of the Depute Lord Provost suggesting the assault was not serious.

It is quite probable, the complainers feel, that future sex assault victims who are aware of Stewart’s widely-reported remarks may be reluctant to come forward fearing she may weigh in to judge them too.

Undoubtedly, her comments on the assault would not have been published had she not been the Depute Lord Provost. She has not responded to a request for comment.

In press coverage almost immediately following her remarks, she accused both the SNP and Liberal Democrats of contributing to her confessed mental health problems through bullying and intimidation.

She named no names; the Liberal Democrats denied any such wrongdoing, and the SNP wished her recovery.

The complainants know the Ethics Commissioner will look into her remarks, which, as they stand, smear the entire opposition with serious accusations of breaking the Code of Conduct – accusations they cannot counter as they are not levelled at any one person or persons.

The Evening Express have been asked to explain how they verified her later claims of mental health problems caused by the SNP and Liberal Democrats; 5 days on, we still await their response

Anyone who wishes to add their name to the complaint or lodge a complaint against a councillor can contact the Commission here: info@ethicalstandards.org.uk

Mar 122020
 

Duncan Harley reviews On Your Feet – The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Despite the expansive title, this is really a biopic of Gloria.

Thin character development leaves husband/manager Emilio, played here by George Ioannides, lagging.

Portrayed as caring, charming and occasionally comedic, that’s about all you get of the essence of the man.

Gloria, a splendid Philippa Stefani, and her mum and her gran hold the plot strings and the show is really about the Estefan brand.

Plot-wise, an attempt is made to set the bands rise against a mid-20th century geo-socio-political scene in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. Havana born Gloria’s family flee to Miami following Castro’s takeover.

Dad Jose – Elia Lo Tauro, participates in the disastrous Bay of Pigs CIA inspired invasion of Cuba and is later exposed to a toxic chemical defoliant whilst serving in Vietnam. He gets ill and dies.

A later traffic accident leaves Gloria wheel-chair bound. She miraculously recovers. The band face determined music industry hostility. They overcome this.

In short, the link-story is all about triumph in the face of adversity. But it’s still paper-thin in places and perhaps over-reliant on tear-jerkers.

There are better musicals in the biopic juke-box pack, think Jersey Boys and Beautiful. But of course, none have a back catalogue which crosses over so many musical genres.

Ballad, disco, pop, samba all feature and in both Spanish and English.

Combined with the shows drop dead gorgeous dance numbers and, as a piece of uplifting entertainment, it works. Staging, and lighting and sound – superb. Ensemble/swing/band all good.

In all there are some twenty-one stunningly performed musical numbers. But please can I have some more plot sir?

Entertainment: 3/5
Stars: 3/5

On Your Feet is @ HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 14 March.

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © Aberdeen Performing Arts

Mar 022020
 

Will a convicted sex offender hold the key vote on Aberdeen City budget cuts? Suzanne Kelly writes.

Disgraced Alan Donnelly was found guilty, in an Aberdeen Sheriff court, of sexually assaulting a waiter at a civic function.
Despite this completely contravening the Councillors Code of Conduct, he’s staying in power and may hold a key vote on swinging budget cuts at the council’s meeting Tuesday 3 March: and some councillors are happy with him staying put.

The council’s ‘Urgent Action’ Committee have removed him from committees he was on, and reported him to the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (they had to really – so many people have done so, the Commission won’t take more complaints).

However, it does not appear they asked the Commissioner to exercise the power and suspend Donnelly. Instead, some councillors have been making statements in their official capacity to support Donnelly. Many believe this is because his vote is needed.

Repercussions.

While publications such as Private Eye (Eye 1516) cover this scandal and, as the Commissioner confirms, it is investigating Donnelly’s breaking of the code, Donnelly is still being allowed to attend civic functions and represent the city – and vote.

If he hangs on, he will be the subject of a public hearing by the Commission.

The Commission may be asked to look into what the council did to protect people from Donnelly, not least as there are reports Donnelly, who once was attached to ACC social services, bought alcohol for a sex offender in violation of protocol.

Did the city really do all it could to prevent this sexual assault? Were councillors’ remarks and actions appropriate? The commission’s remit is apparently widening by the day.

A petition started by Renee Slater, a former Torry Community Councillor (Donnelly’s ward) has over 770 signatures asking for Donnelly’s swift departure from office.

Reaction: Survivors UK say ‘he should step down or be removed’

“I agree wholeheartedly that he should step down or be removed from being a Councillor,” said Alex Feis-Bryce, Chief Executive Officer of SURVIVORS UK.

SURVIVORS UK helps sexually abused men as well as their friends and family, no matter when the abuse happened, and challenge the silence and attitudes.

Mr Feis-Bryce added:

“I say this as a survivor, the CEO of an organisation supporting thousands of survivors and a former Councillor.” 

According to the group, an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted.

Which witch hunt? What Jennifer Stewart did next.

“What I see is that there is a bit of a witch hunt to get him (Donnelly) out.”
– Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Jennifer Stewart

As Survivors UK’s web page says:

“we know male sexual abuse has profound effects on those who experience it and can deeply affect their mental health and relationships.”

Most people understand sexual assault does not have to be a penetrative rape or involve being beaten. Not Cllr Stewart.

Jennifer Stewart, now in Donnelly’s former role as Depute Lord Provost went to the press in her official capacity and said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing but sentence has been passed.”

In other words, the Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen went to the press to call into question the robustness of an Aberdeen Sheriff court decision and to denigrate the sexual assault victim.

She said that those seeking to get Donnelly out were on a ‘witch hunt’.

Was she trying to conflate a hysterical persecution of the innocent (witch hunt) with trying to protect people from a sex offender, protect the council’s reputation, and ensuring the code was adhered to by councillors? Surely she knows the definition of the phrase ‘witch hunt?’

The barrage of justified criticism of her words was swift. Stewart immediately took to the press again and released a story, again in her official capacity, claiming she suffered mental health problems. These, she said, were so bad she was scared to walk down certain council corridors.

Stewart said:

“The level of pressure that was brought on me by the SNP and Liberal Democrats caused me significant mental health issues and anxiety, something I have never suffered from before.

“I have been ostracised, shunned and prevented from walking down certain corridors.

“Other councillors have no right to go on a witch-hunt to try and get rid of someone.”

In her next press outing, she was praised for her work to help female victims of domestic abuse in a new initiative with the police and a charity.

(NB – The most recent figures (Scottish Government 2012a) show that in 2011/12 there were 9,569 reports to the police of a domestic abuse incident where the ‘victim’ was male and the perpetrator female and 659 reports where there was a male ‘victim’ of a male perpetrator (where the sex of the parties were recorded).

A day or two later she was portrayed in the press again sympathetically, talking about the death of a friend.

Ms Stewart was asked to comment but has not replied. If it is true, she has mental health issues which she is willing to talk to the press about while accusing political opponents of causing these problems, then the Standards Commission should be asked to investigate these as a matter of urgency.

However, if she suffers mental health problems because of bullying, perhaps she should not go around contradicting the sheriff court’s finding a man was a victim of sexual assault, and in her official role telling the press ‘an attack is a physical (it was) and aggressive (it was) thing’.

If, however she has cynically made a false claim of mental health problems caused by political opponents (who strenuously deny such claims – and Stewart named no names) as a means of garnering sympathy and to deflect attention from her contentious remarks over Donnelly’s victim, this must be investigated.

For a woman who uses the term ‘witch hunt’ about those wanting Donnelly out, she has herself started a genuine witch hunt with her claim unnamed people gave her mental health problems.

She has tarnished her every opponent and by not naming anyone has made the public wonder who is harming her mental health, thereby causing people to mistrust those who would do such a thing: with absolutely no evidence for her claims.

It is understood Ms Stewart’s conduct will be reported to the Standards Commission shortly too.

Reaction.

At least some members of ACC recognize the crime of sexual assault is serious. Councillor Alex Nicoll and Steve Delaney want Donnelly out now.

The calls came not long after Donnelly was seen at a Town House event to celebrate the success of local food bank (the ‘oil capitol of Europe’ should not need food banks, by the way).

Lord Provost Barney Crockett told the BBC the city must:

“ensure everybody is treated appropriately, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

How he is treating Donnelly’s victim appropriately remains to be seen.
Mr Nicoll demanded Crockett must:

“clarify why he feels the sex offender should be treated the same as everyone else.”

Responsibility.

Mr Nicoll added:

“It is utterly disgraceful that Councillor Donnelly continues to attend events, by invitation, as if nothing has happened.

“I would urge the Lord Provost to ban him from civic events if he is serious about protecting the public and ensuring Aberdeen City Council is not a laughing stock.”

When asked where the responsibility for protecting the public from a further Donnelly attack lies, a spokesman for Aberdeen Sheriff Court said

“This would be a matter for Aberdeen District Council.”

Risible.

As things stand, Donnelly is on the council, attending events, drinking alcohol, enjoying himself, laughing with other councillors.

He is poised to vote, and may be key to getting a controversial budget passed. Depending on what ACC do over this vote, it looks as if the Standards Commission is going to be very busy with investigations indeed.

But, alas for Cllr Nicoll, Aberdeen is now a laughing stock throughout the UK and is on record as being an institution callous to sexual assault victims.

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Feb 212020
 

Duncan Harley reviews Dial M for Murder at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The unfaithful Margot – a splendid Sally Bretton, kills the hitman hired by tennis-pro husband Tony and heads to death row. Enter Inspector Hubbard who, assisted by Margot’s lover Max, solves the crime and cheats the hangman.

Well, truth is Hubbard got it wrong first time around but he eventually gets his bearings.

Case solved, end of story, all live happily ever after. Well not quite.

Dial M is one of those classic thrillers where we, the audience, are in on the perfect-murder plot from the start. But, and all power to them, it takes ages for the police to catch on. If only they had asked us at the start.

But that’s not how these things work.

This is a four-hander which means you won’t ever see hitman Captain Lesgate and DCI Hubbard on stage at the same time since both are ably played by Christopher Harper. Of the two, Hubbard is the most believable and has the unenviable task of sorting out who did what to whom and how.

Lesgate just has to do and die and frankly he deserves the latter. An unlovable rogue, he joins Tom Chambers’ Tony in the over-egged dialogue stakes.

In truth though, the Inspector really is neither one thing nor another.

Although things pick up in the second act, the DCI Hubbard character bumbles early on between watered-down Taggart and smartened up Columbo.

The sharp suits certainly fit the era but a sometimes-thin script detracts and the police assault on Max – played by Michael Salami, seems without context.

The convoluted plot is eventually unravelled. But it’s still laboured at times.

Perhaps the period setting is partly to blame. Originally a 1950s piece, Dial M has been re-imagined within the 1960s for this production.

2020 might have been better. Beset by references to the likes of ‘press button A’, kerb appeal might have been enhanced by the addition of a mobile phone or two.

All in all, though, this is a decent stab at the perfect crime thriller. And there’s nothing more entertaining than a good murder.

Entertainment value: 4/5

Stars: 3/5

Dial M for Murder is showing @ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until 22 February

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

  • Aberdeen Voice does not accept payments for advertising or publishing, we rely on our volunteers and donations from the public. Donations can be made via paypal to donations@aberdeenvoice.com
Feb 122020
 

Duncan Harley reviews We Will Rock You at His Majesty’s Theatre,  Aberdeen.

Mad Max meets Star Wars in this hilariously camp re-run of the Queen back catalogue. We Will Rock You (WWRU) is of course a jukebox musical and the Ben Elton inspired story is at best weak at the knees.

But it doesn’t really matter. Few come to this show to dwell on the plot.

It’s all about the Queen numbers. And the show features a shed load of them.

Set 300 years into the future, WWRU is set in a world dominated by Globalsoft, an outrageously oppressive corporate giant run by the Killer Queen, which dominates society to the point where free thought and creativity have been all but obliterated. Enter hero Galileo Figaro – a splendidly cast Ian McIntosh.

A bohemian and a dreamer by nature, Galileo – following various adventures including an Arthurian guitar hunt ending in Wembley Stadium – re-invents rock, defeats the Killer Queen and gets the girl.

So that’s all right then. But, as I said, the plot is simply a modest vehicle for the music and the entertainment value is where it’s at.

Truth is, with a 25 strong Queen song list including the likes of Radio Ga Ga, Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Are The Champions and Fat Bottomed Girls it would be hard to fail.

Add in a roller-coaster of panto-inspired innuendo, lots – and I mean lots – of fast and furious choreography and of course a Bohemian Rhapsody finale and the whole thing works brilliantly.

Stars? Amy Di Bartolomeo’s Oz for one. Her solo No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) is to die for. Adam Strong’s Commander Khashoggi – delightfully camp. Michael McKell’s Buddy – suitably stoned. Swing/Ensemble – simply brilliant! Technically stunning throughout.

Go see. And don’t forget to pack your air guitar.

Entertainment value: 4/5

@ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until 15 February
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

  • Aberdeen Voice does not accept payments for advertising or publishing, we rely on our volunteers and donations from the public. Donations can be made via paypal to donations@aberdeenvoice.com
Feb 072020
 

Duncan Harley Reviews Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The task of re-animating dead flesh is not for the faint hearted but, at some two hundred years distance from publication of the original novel, Mary Shelley’s tale of a latter-day Prometheus continues to fascinate.

During the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley along with Lord Byron and Mary’s future husband – the poet Percy Shelley holidayed near Geneva.

Freakish weather curtailed their plans and a ghost story competition ensued. Mary famously triumphed and in 1818 – aged twenty, she published the Gothic horror novel we now know as Frankenstein.

She was later to record:

How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”

Multiple takes on the story have emerged during the subsequent years and the nightmarish tale of science versus god has spawned a plethora of sensationally bonkers Hollywood films and theatre adaptations.

Thankfully, this new but ambitious theatrical take by Rona Munro steers clear of the bolt-necked cadaver approach. The familiar story is acted out by a cast of seven who perhaps struggle to inhabit some dozen roles.

Greg Powrie for example plays three distinct characters. But there is little apart from minor costume/accent changes to clearly differentiate the individual roles. He is not alone in this.

The central role is that of Mary Shelley herself – played by Eilidh Loan. As she pens her debut novel, she also directs the action on stage.

At first, and all power to Eilidh, this approach is intriguing and shows promise. She is after all the real monster albeit in creative guise.

These are her words and she gets to decide who lives and dies.

Thoughts are expressed, written down and the plot is duly acted out. Then more thoughts are expressed written down and duly acted out. Actors rush around delivering frantically shouted lines between her constant interjections and the stage takes on the chaotic energy of an inner-city road junction.

At first this appears fresh and promising. But as the performance progresses the approach takes on a slightly repetitive quality which eventually sours the narrative. Neither one thing nor another, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cries out for urgent reappraisal.

Michael Moreland’s portrayal of the monster is more than adequate.

Lighting, sound and set do full justice to the story. But there is perhaps a need to re-think the urgency of the plot and maybe lessen Mary Shelley’s iron grip.

This really should have been a completely decent bit of theatre. Prepare to be horrified.

Stars: 3/5

Directed by Patricia Beneckie, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plays @ HMT Aberdeen until 8 February.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

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    Donations can be made via paypal to donations@aberdeenvoice.com

 

Feb 022020
 

Duncan Harley Reviews ‘Beautiful – The Carol King Musical’ at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen.

As jukebox musicals go Beautiful hits the sweet spot. Familiar songs, slick choreography and simple staging litter the production.

Add Daisy Wood-Davis to the mix, sprinkle in a measure of 60’s pop culture fold-in some sugary bio and cook slowly.
Result? Mouth-watering!

OK, perhaps the bio is a little bit hazy in places. The story dwells on Carol’s first marriage and kinda glosses out the other three.

And maybe music insiders would express surprise at the portrayal of a sugar-sweet music industry bereft of draconian contracts and stingy executives.

But this is entertainment at its best, and not by any means a social history class. So, if the audience comes out smiling, all is well in nostalgia-land.

Alongside the familiar Carol King solos, and there are quite a few, the show makes great play of the fact that the early King was in essence a prolific maker of hits. But for other people.

She later found her own voice, but her early career saw her sweating as a jobbing-songwriter in Broadway’s Brill Building churning out production line hits for rising stars. Bryan Ferry, James Taylor, The Carpenters, Roberta Flack, Neil Sedaka and The Drifters all sequestrated her talent to good advantage.

Finally, she divorced from song-writing partner/would-be playwright Gerry Goffin – played here by a splendidly manic-depressive Adam Gillian.

The post-split storyline involves her own solo hits with albums such as Tapestry and Rhymes and Reasons taking the international charts by storm.

Directed by Marc Bruni and based on the book by Douglas McGrath, this musical version of the Carol King story is more than just a Jersey Boys take on the familiar hits however.

The musical reeks of empowerment through adversity and the plot moves steadily but relentlessly through the highs and lows until, at the very end – but no spoilers here, the narrative culminates in a poignant but triumphant conclusion.

Along the way the plot threads a path through sit-com and drama with some twenty-five familiar songs spread along the way.

Favourites? Daisy Wood-Davis shines as Carol with Laura Baldwin’s up-beat Cynthia a close second. Song highlights? Be-Bop-a-Lula, You’ve Got a Friend and of course Beautiful.

This musical drama is stuffed with familiar hits and features ‘guest appearances’ by the likes of Neil Sedaka, The Drifters and The Righteous Brothers at every turn – honest injuns. What’s not to like?

Stars: 4.5/5

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT