Apr 222019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Doorways in Drumorty @ Aberdeen Arts Centre

Doorways in Drumorty is loosely based on the writings of a Strichen lass by the name of Lorna Moon who made it big in Hollywood.

Alongside her one published novel Dark Star, Lorna – born Helen Nora Wilson Low – escaped her native Buchan age 24 in around 1910.

Broken relationships and abandoned offspring followed before the talented, and by now re-badged, Lorna Moon took up with the son of Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille and forged a successful career as a scriptwriter.

Her short stories, first published in Century Magazine, feature a clutch of thinly disguised Buchan folk and pull few punches. Titles such as ‘The Sinning of Jessie MacLean’ and ‘Feckless Maggie Ann’ did not endear her to the locals and, in true Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition, legend insists that her books were shunned by the local library service.

Penned by author/playwright Mike Gibb the play explores the curtain twitching mentality of small-town Buchan. Questionable morality, dubious loyalty, fractured community and tightly held family bonds inhabit the tale and through the course of a series of vignettes the reality of a century old Buchan community is revealed warts and all.

A three-hander – Estrid Barton, Fraser Sivewright and Lucy Goldie take on some dozen roles – Doorways is at points humorous, poignant and even tragic.

Neatly bookended by Lucy Goldie’s Lorna Moon in full 1920’s flapper gear the play hits hard.

A heavily pregnant and destitute Bella Tocher is banished from Drumorty to fend as best she can. A new minister unwisely accepts a dinner invitation and is labelled a thief, the local dentist elopes with the postmistress and – following the theft of a chicken – an innocent infant is subject to divine retribution.

Gossip, double-standards and rumour-mongering infest the close-knit community but of course:

“You’re only the gossip on the street until something more interesting comes along.”

Set and lighting are simple and reek of a more austere era. Fast paced, the character changes are at times difficult to follow leaving some of the audience at least lagging behind the action on stage.

However eventually, when it becomes clear that this is not a tale about Lorna Moon but is a tale based on her writings, the building blocks slide into place.
As for the title; there is speculation that alongside revelling in the name Lorna Moon – she had taken up with Walter Moon in around 1913 – Lorna was a great admirer of kailyard authors such as Ian MacLaren and J.M. Barrie.

Barrie’s ‘Window in Thrums’ and MacLaren’s ‘Drumtochty’ provide some clue as to the provenance of the ‘Doorways in Drumorty’ header.

As Lorna, an admirer of Barrie seemingly said:

“I’d rather be Barried than buried.”

This is in essence an important play and seems destined to re-awaken interest in a woman who, although ruthless in her pursuit of career, nevertheless put the likes of Strichen on the map.

Mind you, at the final curtain and despite the loud applause, it was hard to shed the notion that the long-gone folk in the Buchan graveyards were still cockin’ a lug and shakin’ their heids at the pure cheek o’ the lass.

Stars: 4/5
Produced by Andy Corelli and written by Mike Gibb, Doorways in Drumorty will tour 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April – 18 May 2019

Click here for tour dates and tickets.

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Andy Corelli

Mar 282019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ART @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Admirers of the work of Yasmina Reza will not be disappointed by this three-hander comedy.
Despite the unassuming title, ART is a masterful and at times powerful study of prejudice and tolerance among friends.

Using as a focus a completely blank canvas, purchased by Serge for a not insubstantial sum, the dialogue portrays the complex relationships between three friends as they attempt to maintain an equilibrium in the face of the imminent death of their 15-year association.

Battle lines are drawn and the dusty baggage of the past emerges to challenge each in turn to explore what binds us together.

Unequivocally proud of his purchase Serge demands approval of his expensive work of art. Feelings escalate when Marc describes the painting as ‘a piece of white shit tarted-up with a couple of white stripes’. And, when drawn into the fire, the normally compliant Yvan must take a stance. A fist-fight ensues and blood is drawn before, in a splendid scene involving a conciliatory bowl of olives plus a measure of posturing, all becomes well.

This is a fast-paced piece of theatre performed in some twenty short sections over 90 minutes, mainly in dialogue form although at points the actors directly address an audience who very quickly realise that this is not a play about modern art.

Set and lighting are simple and effective. Delivery is crisp and flawless and who would expect anything less from Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson.

Appropriately perhaps there is no interval, after all why would anyone wish to take a break from this unrelenting piece of thought-provoking comedy to partake of an ice-cream or even a glass of the red stuff.

Written by Yasmina Reza and Directed by Ellie Jones, ART plays at His Majesty’s Aberdeen until Saturday 30th March.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5

Feb 272019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘Calendar Girls, the Musical’ at His Majesty’s  Theatre, Aberdeen.

All they ever really wanted to do was raise some cash to buy a settee for the local cancer ward but when word got out that Rylstone & District Women’s Institute were planning a Pirelli style Christmas calendar, things soon spiralled out of control.

It’s a well-worn tale. A bevy of rural friends decide to publish a fund-raiser for cancer support following a death.

John has died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and wife Angela’s pals at the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute set about creating a calendar as something for her to focus on during this most difficult time.

However, instead of the familiar Women’s Institute images of sheep infested landscapes, ecclesiastical spires and cricketed village greens, they decide to bare all.

The 1998 launch of the raunchy publication attracted widespread press coverage and very soon the print run reached into the tens of thousands. A book and a film followed along with international fame. Described as a group of ordinary ladies who achieved something extraordinary, the originators were initially awarded the dubious accolade ‘Oldie Exposure of the Year’.

In the fullness of time however, the semi-naked ladies were appearing at media-inspired events up and down the country including an appearance London Fashion Week and on a Thames TV cookery programme where they were requested to bake a dish of invitingly innuendo laden Spotted Dick.

There are few extant nipples within this musical interpretation of the tale but there is plenty of humour embedded in this take on the Yorkshire events which launch the grieving ladies of Knapely onto the international stage.

All in all, this is a commendable comedy musical classic. England’s Green and Pleasant Land does feature here and there, but the essence of this play within a musical is a powerful exploration of the various stages of grief, from denial to acceptance and moving on.

Little specks of Alan Bennet – If Jesus had maybe had kids then maybe the bible would be quite different – shine through in this Barlow and Firth creation and even Larkin’s This Be The Verse gets a look in with a resounding:

‘They fuck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to but they do.’

Songs, and there are some 20 of them, include Spring Fete, Mrs Conventional, What Age Expects and the quite poignant Kilimanjaro. Then there is Ruth’s splendidly revealing love song My Russian Friend And I.

Calendar Girls is no Full Monty.

For starters the brashness is largely absent and the bare-all scenes are all done in the best possible taste. Be sure to take along a man-size pack of tissues though. If only to soak up the inevitable tears of both laughter and sadness.

Cast on Press Night: Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sarah Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Pauline Daniels, Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Richard Anthony-Lloyd, Isobel Caswell, Danny Howker and Phil Corbitt – all good.
Stars: 4/5

Directed by Matt Ryan with Comedy Staging by Jos Houben, Calendar Girls the Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 2 March.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

Jan 242019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fiddler on the Roof @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the not-so-far-off days of the Russian Empire were quite common and reached new heights during the period 1903 to 1906 when a series of state-sponsored ‘demonstrations’ affected many settlements in the Ukraine and in Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews were reportedly killed and many more thousands displaced as a wave of violence backed up by harsh laws targeted Russian Jews.

Tsar Nicholas II was not known for his tolerance of either dissidents or minority groups and in the political turbulence of the times the Jews made for a convenient scapegoat.

Married to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria he was referred to by Trotsky as having been “more awful than all of the tyrants of ancient and modern history”. Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Magazine was more succinct when, during a state visit to Balmoral it reported that:

“When the Tsar is at home, we do not hesitate to call him a tyrant. Then in heaven’s name, why – when he visits his grandmother-in -law, should we play the hypocrite and fete he whom we at other times curse.”

The cruelty of the pogrom is one of the central themes of Fiddler on the Roof. Adapted from the Sholem Aleichem short stories about Tevye the Dairyman, Fiddler is set in the fictional town of Anatevka at the high-point of the early 20th century Tsarist inspired anti-Jewish demonstrations.

Alongside struggling with his shrewish wife, Tevye – played by Kevin Haggart – struggles with his deeply held belief that tradition should triumph over sentimentality. Faced with the spectre of five daughters who pretty much refuse to embrace arranged marriage and the spectre of a rising anti-Jewish normality he gradually has to adapt to the inevitable erosion of religious and cultural traditions in a changing world.

Finally, and this is no spoiler, the reality of pogrom rears its ugly head and the tight-knit villagers are forced to leave Anatevka for an uncertain future.

Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy

With a simple but effective set, and yes there is indeed a rooftop fiddler, some fifty or so players tread the boards as Kevin’s Tevye breaks open that fourth-wall to do battle with his principles and speak directly with both God and the theatre audience.

Essentially the mainstay of the whole show, Tevye has the unenviable task of marrying off his five daughters none of whom seems likely to listen to a blind word he says.

With iconic numbers such as Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man and the poignant Tevye/Golde bedroom duet Do You Love Me, Fiddler seamlessly blends sadness, joy and the sufferings of humanity into a memorable musical mix of hope and despair.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy. For starters there are immortal lines such as ‘If you want hair, you should marry a monkey’ and Ryan Bruce’s Rabbi has a humorous but irreverent take on the Tsar. For my money however the aptly-named Bottle Dancers take the high-road humour-wise.

Worthy of panto, the famous five – Tony Barron, Ian Baxter, Chris Cormack, Adam Huckle and Kaz Robertson – take bottle dancing to an entirely new and athletic level which has to be seen to believed

Cons, and there very few, include a couple of minor prop failures on first night plus maybe a need for a sterner and less apologetic policeman. Pros, and there are many, include fabulous choreography, splendid period costumes and a musical performance which might leave many professionals on the back-foot.

And of course, this Phoenix Theatre production of that ever-so-Jewish tragedy takes place during the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day (Sunday 27 January).

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Liz Milne and Clare Haggart, Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley. Images © HMT

Dec 172018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. 

The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries.

Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.

In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.

The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854.

In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.

Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Star Brendan Cole have played starring roles over the years.

As Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs comes to His Majesty’s for a five-week run, the incumbents of the leading roles are Lee Mead as Prince Harry, Jenna Innes as Snow White, Juliet Cadzow as the evil Queen Lucretia plus of course Jordan Young as Muddles and Alan McHugh as Nurse Nellie MacDuff. Yes, that’s right – Nurse Nellie MacDuff.

Both the Grimm Brothers and Walt would have been surprised at Nurse Nellie’s staring role but, it’s all in the best possible taste; well almost.

As Alan McHugh’s take on the traditional tale rattles on through endless costume changes – Nellie appears variously dressed as a billiard table, a Heinz Beans advert, a BBQ and wait for it, a fat lady in a tiny bikini; the wonder of panto is exposed to the theatre audience in more ways than one in this production

Inuendo, double entendre, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and fast paced comedy sketches flow thick and fast as the story of the princess who was far too pretty to live unfolds.

There are no glass coffins in this version of the tale and, if Alan McHugh’s take on the story is to be believed in its entirety, the magnificent seven are named as Snoozy, Fearty, Dafty, Gaffer, Cheery, Snotty and Dreichy.

As is usual in the HMT Panto various celeb’s get to take it on the chin.

Amongst this year’s targets are Donald Trump and Theresa May with the addition of a gag or two about the AWPR, Brexit and of course Holby City – erstwhile home of Lofty AKA Ben “Lofty” Chiltern.

As panto’s go this year’s APA offering certainly delivers a good few belly laughs.

The story bears at least a resemblance to the original tale and the delivery of the traditional fast-paced monologues is, as always, second to none. However, there is a certain flatness and lack of energy about the production.

Perhaps this will pick up during the coming weeks. Additionally, Prince Harry – although pitch perfect in dialogue – appeared to be singing ever so slightly under par.

All in all, though, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a cracking piece of entertainment and should appeal to folk of all ages.

Plus of course, this year some seventy-four towns and villages throughout the North-east, including both Inverurie and Fochabers but somewhat surprisingly not Maggieknockater, get a special mention amongst the gags.

Now that must be something of a record.

Stars: 3.5/5

Directed by Tony Cownie and written by Alan McHugh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 6 January 2019

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Oct 302018
 

Craig Chisholm reviews True North 2018. Photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen pays tribute to the ‘Thin White Duke’  with David Bowie tribute, ‘Lady Stardust’.

True North returned once again to the heart of Aberdeen with another exciting bill that boasted an eclectic range of artists, a variety of venues, screenings of movies, informative talks and appreciative audiences over its four days.

The best new talents and hotly tipped newcomers shared stages with old pros and veteran performers – and even a ‘Game of Thrones’ star who was there to pay tribute to the late, great David Bowie.

Kicking off on the Thursday night, the Lemon Tree hosted an opening concert that boasted some of the best up and coming Scottish talent.

Opening the night, Glaswegian Zoe Graham provided a low key, intimate performance.

Aided only be an acoustic guitar and her voice this was a display of a mature and introspective talent that’s unusual and impressive for a such a young performer.

Eclecticism was the defining theme of the night as the next two acts explored different musical paths.
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Scottish rapper Solareye – backed on-stage tonight by DJ Harvey Kartel – is the frontman of the hip hop band Stanley Odd.

His socially conscious lyrical flow gave the crowd food for thought and displayed a unique and absorbing talent that deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
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Final act Man of Moon were a tour-de-force of guitar driven rock.

Their music recalls The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and a host of krautrock bands. Their droning, feedback drenched wall of noise is absorbing and overpowering, drawing you into their ocean of sound and leaving you exhausted and shell-shocked by the time it’s over.

A fitting end to a wonderful night.

The following night starts with a much more laid back and intense but no means any less absorbing acts as the Tivoli theatre hosts Tracyanne & Danny along with opening act Charles Watson.

The combination of singer songwriters Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura) and Danny Couglan (Crybaby) works well and their soul-warming, indie pop sound is appreciated by a reverential crowd.

Drawing from their highly acclaimed, self-titled debut album their set was both intimate and expansive, offering heart breaking and personal lyrics that had the crowd absorbed, rapt and appreciative.
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Opening for them was Charles Watson.

The London based singer / songwriter / producer is possibly best known as the lead singer of indie band Slow Club but he came into himself onstage and gave a great performance that would have won over new fans on the night.
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The Lemon Tree hosted the second of the nights performances.

Kicking off proceedings was Manchester based singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu.

Backed by tonight’s headliners, The Magic Numbers, she runs through an engaging support slot that displays influences of soul, rock, indie and jazzy torch songs.
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Headline act The Magic Numbers have a wealth of material to draw from.

Their late-night slot keeps the crowd on their toes and out of their beds as they pull out Top 40 hits such as ‘Forever Lost’, ‘Love’s a Game’ and their biggest hit ‘Love Me Like You’.

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If there was ever a case of opposites attracts then Saturday nights pairing of the stately, grandeur of His Majesty’s Theatre hosting the feedback heavy, post rock of Mogwai and the apocalyptic electronica of Blanck Mass was it.

Blanck Mass are not an easy listen.

It’s a punishing yet rewarding set that sole member Benjamin John Power performs whilst hidden in virtual darkness with only a screen displaying fractual, confusing and trippy images behind him.

But beneath the pulverising noises are rewarding harmonies and hints of melody – they’re not easy to find at times but are rewarding to the listener that does.

Mogwai also have beautiful and harmonic melodies but unlike Blanck Mass they’re not always as hidden. Their elegant,  engaging, compositions are counteracted by ferocious, feedback driven guitars in what must have been the loudest act to tread the boards of the HMT.

Effortlessly one of the greatest and original talents to emerge from Scotland in the last two decades their revelatory live performances deserve to be seen at least any music fan at least once.

Their ear-splitting volume is balanced beautifully with moments of solace and breath-taking beauty – it’s an amazing performance by the Glaswegian band.

After those pulverising and draining performances it might have been preferable for some to have headed home for a lie down in a dark room to recover, but the Lemon Tree still had something to offer for those with still functioning ear drums.

Singer Colin McIntyre has performed as Mull Historical Society since the turn of the 21st Century and his music is still as fresh and heart-warming now as it was then.

The multi-talented McIntyre – singer, songwriter, playwriter, author – gives a wonderful show that draws heavily from his latest album ‘Wakelines’ as well as early hits such as ‘The Final Arrears’, ‘Animal Cannabus’ and ‘I Tried’.

It’s a great performance and he’ll be back at The Lemon Tree next year with a band that will feature none other than former Suede guitarist in its ranks. Don’t miss him.

Opening for Mull Historical Society is up and coming artist Emme Woods. Her mix of blues, rock, grunge and good old fashioned strong song writing displays a depth of talent that is inspiring to see in someone aged only 23 years.

She may be one of few acts – if not the only – that has a family pet on stage. Nestled on a fur coat to Woods’ left is her dog, Bubbles, who is comfortable enough with the performance to enjoy a snooze during the set.

Hopefully no one else in the crowd had a sleep as they’d have missed a strong performance by someone who is sure to go on to bigger things.

The fourth and final night of the festival still has a couple of big shows to go.

The Lemon Tree provides the late-night setting for Glaswegian indie stars Glasvegas.

The band power through a set that revisits their classic debut album from start to finish that gives the crowd a nostalgic but entertaining finale to the weekend.
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The big, star-studded show of the weekend happens earlier in the evening, however, at His Majesty’s Theatre.

‘Lady Stardust – Camille O’Sullivan and friends present the Music of David Bowie’ is a majestic and life affirming show that draws in a crowd of all ages and backgrounds, proving how timeless and all-encompassing the Thin White Duke’s music was.

Irish torch singer O’Sullivan is an inspired host for the evening.

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Her performance is chameleon-like and theatrical and she takes on the role with gusto, really getting into the spirit of the performance and taking on Bowie’s ability to get into a role and bring the audience with him.

Her choice of friends and peers to accompany her on this journey are eclectic and diverse.

From Paul Noonan, singer with Bell XI, performing ‘Ashes to Ashes’ to folk singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams performing ‘Kooks’ and with performances by ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’ star Aiden Gillen, pianist Duke Special and Cathal Coughlan from The Fatima Mansions, it’s an evening of sheer joy for Bowie fans old and young alike.

And special mention must go to comedian and writer Christopher Green.

The towering, flamboyant performer gives a show stopping performance that captures the spirit of Bowie.

His performance is revelatory – camp; serious, touching and funny in the space of a 3-minute pop song. A credit to himself and a credit to Bowie, whose spirit he truly captures.

The spirit of the evening truly reflects the nature of True North – an eclectic, interesting, diverse mix of music that crosses all boundaries and showcases a wide-ranging display of talent.

Oct 182018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Evita @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Margaret Thatcher once said that “If a woman like Eva Peron with no ideals, can get that far, think how far I can get” and she had a point.
The Iron Lady however took several decades to claw her way to the top; Eva took just the one.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita first took to the stage in 1979.

A film version followed in 1996 starring Madonna as Evita and Antonio Banderas as Che. With the stage version now pushing forty, the storyline remains controversial. Portrayed as a working-class girl who whored her way out of the slums and exploited the poor, her legacy remains subject to debate.

Hard to ignore however is her undoubted political prowess. Assuming control of the Argentinian Ministry of Labour in 1946, she generously handed out wage increases and promoted women’s suffrage whilst privately embracing a lifestyle lavishly populated with couture clothing and expensive jewellery.

Greats such as Elaine Page and Madalena Alberta have taken on the mantle of the lead over the years and in popular culture, parody has celebrated the role with the likes of Lisa Simpson’s Evita blasting out Don’t Cry for Me, Kids of Springfield to an international audience in the 2003 episode “The President Wore Pearls”.

Latest incumbent in the leading role of Eva Peron is Lucy O’Byrne and if last nights performance at His Majesty’s Aberdeen is anything to go by, she has thrown her heart into the part.

A Dubliner, blessed with astronomically high notes, she was recently quoted as saying that:

“Whatever people say about Eva Peron – that she was selfish, that she was a gold-digger – I am playing her in her story, and I have to make you like her.”

And, this is exactly what she does. As the backstreet girl hustles her way to the top it’s clear that O’Byrne is more than fit for the part.

The role of the new-world Madonna with the golden touch is not an easy one. Expectations are naturally high and its almost a case of the star is dead, long live the star.

But, apart from a few glitches with the sound envelope O’Byrne’s delivery of those huge songs makes muster.

A splendid counterpoint to the, often malevolent influence of Mike Sterling’s President Peron, Glenn Carter’s Che provides comic relief to what is otherwise a fairly dark tale of political intrigue and extra-judicial murder.

Che is slang in Spanish for friend or pal and dressed to the boots in Guevara style combat gear Glen’s Che represents the voice of the adoring masses and gets beaten-up by Peron’s secret police for his efforts.

All the familiar songs are there including of course Oh What A Circus, On This Night Of A Thousand Stars and of course Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. The Evita/Peron duets Dice Are Rolling and I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You are particularly poignant.

As Broadway Director Harold Prince once said, “Any opera that begins with a funeral and ends with a funeral can’t be that bad” and this touring version of Evita would meet with Prince’s wholehearted approval.

Stars: 4/5
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, Evita plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 20th October 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Oct 052018
 

Duncan Harley Reviews The Band at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

LtoR AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri in The Band.

Gary Barlow reckons that Take That was Britain’s very first successful manufactured boy-band and he is probably quite correct. I mean he, of all people, should know having composed pretty much most of their early hits.
When the band went their separate ways in 1996, the angst amongst the fanbase was so great that helplines were set up to help with the grief.

Gary went off on a solo career as did Robbie Williams, the youngest band member, and although the post Take That years have been tumultuous to say the least, the music and the songs from the boy-band years at the top feature in play-lists across the land.

Now, courtesy of Tim Firth, the legacy of Take That forms the backdrop to what in essence is a celebration of the power of an enduring friendship shared by a group of friends from the day.

This is not by any means the story of the boy-band nor is it a simple juke-box musical intent on squeezing dry the hit-playlist of the glory days.

Yes, the boys are there in almost every scene. And yes, the familiar hits – there are around eighteen of them – abound. But, the band in general serenade the action and set the mood rather than inhabit front of stage. All the big numbers are there including Relight My Fire and the classic Get Ready For It.

The fans, all five of them are the stars of the show and even when Debbie – Rachelle Diedericks – is tragically killed following a Manchester gig she continues to inhabit the action right till the very end.

In a nod to the likes of Shirley Valentine, the surviving four eventually re-connect twenty-five years later to heal the trauma of the past and move on confidently into the present. The script is variously hilarious, often poignant and sometimes emotionally raw.

Comedic highlights include a trip to a Prague Police Station following the snapping of a penis from a local sculpture and that completely splendid airport scene. Safe-to-say you’ll never look at a flight safety demo in quite the same way ever again. There’s even a wee bit of wing-walking.

Lighting and scenery excelled and as the musical numbers stomped-on, it was hard to resist a bit of audience participation.
Indeed, by the end of the night, and with the encouragement of the MC, strongly played by Every Dave – Andy Williams, the theatre audience were on their feet participating in the action.

While generally this is a well thought out production it did seem as if Act 2 was slightly undersized.

Following some nicely balanced early action the dialogue sped towards a conclusive wedding scene implying perhaps that the plot had slightly run out of steam. Additionally, the use of blindingly-bright stadium style lighting during the gig scenes probably could be toned down a tad.

But, all in all The Band is a splendid foil to the standard jukebox style offering and delivers a decent storyline alongside the familiar song-list.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, The Band plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 13th October 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Sep 192018
 

By Duncan Harley.

The four-star Maryculter House Hotel was today the venue for the Scottish Samurai Awards.  Scotland and Japan have long enjoyed both trade and cultural links – well for just around 150 years in truth.

Japan sent many students to the UK between the late Edo period (1603-1867) and the early Meiji period (1868-1912) in order to explore and import Western technology.

The various international trade exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th Century provided useful platforms for the sharing of both scientific and aesthetic ideas. 

Cities such as Glasgow and Aberdeen provided ripe-pickings for the aspiring technologists and alongside acquisition of new skill-sets the two nations exchanged cultural and artistic aesthetics which continue to create broad-ripples to this day.

Japan, of course, had participated in the second Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901.

The Japan Pavilion was located near the main exhibition hall at Kelvingrove and there is a likelihood that Rennie Mackintosh and many other influential Scottish designers of the day would have visited and been influenced by what they saw there.

Some 11.5 million visits were recorded during the eight-month span of the exhibition and surely Mackintosh would have been one of those tempted to return again and again to absorb the sights.

Contemporaries of Mackintosh certainly visited Japan at about this time and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum hold a collection of so-called ‘Industrial Art’ collected by Glasgow born designer Christopher Dresser who visited Japan in 1876 or thereabouts.

Aberdeenshire, of course, has a splendid claim to the forging of the Scottish-Japanese relationship and one man in particular played a pivotal role. Variously known as the Scottish Samurai or The Scot who shaped Japan,

Thomas Blake Glover was probably born in Fraserburgh in 1838.  His father worked as a coastguard officer and the family lived at various locations along the Aberdeenshire coastline including Sandend, Collieston and at Bridge of Don.

On leaving school, Glover began work with the trading company Jardine, Matheson & Co and quickly progressed to the Shanghai office before taking up a post in Japan. 

His role in Shanghai has often been glossed over in order to present a popular image of Glover as an enlightened trader intent on hauling an impoverished Japan into the industrial age. In truth however, Jardine Matheson & Co were happy to trade in everything from silks and tea to guns and opium.

Glover excelled in his role as trader and alongside making vast amounts of profit for his employer he soon started taking a substantial cut for himself.

His move to Japan, in 1859 age 21, came at a time when various rival clans were warring for control of the country. For more than 200 years, foreign trade with Japan had been permitted to the Dutch and Chinese exclusively.

However, following an episode of gunboat diplomacy in 1853, the US Government had persuaded the Japanese to open trade up with the West. 

Glover arrived in good time to use his proven skills to exploit the situation.

Soon he was supplying both sides in the civil war with guns and munitions. Before long he was taking orders for the building of warships, to be built in Scotland, to arm a fledgling Japanese Navy. The market for weaponry however soon became saturated and he turned to mining to maintain his by now dwindling fortune.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan.

Demand for coal had surged as steamships began to proliferate in Japanese waters. Glover, in partnership with a Japanese clan, invested in developing the Takashima coal mine on an island near Nagasaki in 1868. 

The mine was the first in the country to employ Western methods. Mitsubishi acquired the Takashima mine in 1881 in the organization’s first main diversification beyond shipping.

Glover is often credited with importing the first steam engine into Japan and being instrumental in the formation of the Mitsubishi conglomerate. Japan also lacked modern facilities for repairing ships. So, Glover imported the necessary equipment for a dry dock in Nagasaki in 1868.

He later sold his share to the government, which leased the dock to Mitsubishi as part of the shipyard in 1884. By 1905 Japan had, according to many accounts, become the 3rd largest naval power in the world.

There are many enduring myths surrounding the life and career of Thomas Blake Glover.

One involves the notion that his Japanese wife Tsuru was somehow the inspiration for Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”.

There appears to be little substance to this idea. A booklet produced by Aberdeen City Council to publicise the areas links with Glover asserts that:

“the association of Glover Garden in Nagasaki and Madame Butterfly no doubt relates to the fact that American soldiers after the Second World War dubbed the house Madame Butterfly House.” 

Thomas Glover eventually became famous in Japan and was the first non-Japanese to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun.

today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients

When he died in Tokyo in 1911 age 73, his ashes were interred in Nagasaki’s Sakamoto International Cemetery. Fraserburgh Heritage Centre host a permanent exhibition celebrating his North-east links and his former house in Nagasaki attracts two million visitors each year.

Founded and overseen by Aberdonian and OBE Ronnie Watt, the Order of the Scottish Samurai is an award inspired by Blake Glover and those admitted to the Order are encouraged to use the letters OSS after their name.

While Ronnie actively heads the Order, he is supported by patrons, members and recipients – many of whom, such as Lord Bruce and Joanna Lumley take an active interest in the progression of the historic relationship between the two nations.

Opened by Ms Masami Fujimoto, Deputy Consul General at Consulate-General of Japan in Edinburgh, today’s event saw some 23 or so Samurai and Shogun awards made to a broad range of recipients.

Two previous Lord Provosts, Margaret Smith and Margaret Farquhar received Shogun awards for services to Aberdeen while Duncan McPherson and Robert Boyd received Legendary Samurai Awards for services to the Japanese Martial Arts.

Terry Boyle and Tyrone Smith were awarded OSS Shogun and Becca Hobart – alongside delivering a splendid display of Highland Sword Dance – collected up a well-earned OSS Hatamoto for services to the Order of the Scottish Samurai.

Previous recipients of the various Scottish Samurai Awards have included Ian Wood, Alex Salmond, Charlie Abel, Len Ironside (for services to wrestling) and film producer Compton Ross. So it looks likely that Becca Hobart is in fairly good company.

Words and images © Duncan Harley – Inverurie September 16th 2018.

  • Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire- due out in March 2019
Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Cilla The Musical at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Cilla the Musical is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s 2014 ITV series and tells the story of Black’s meteoric rise from ambitious Cavern cloakroom girl to chart-topping mega-star.
Her sometimes turbulent relationships with Bobby Willis and the troubled Brian Epstein feature strongly alongside a no-holds-barred peek into Black’s less-savoury aspects.

At a not-too-long two hours and fifty minutes, including interval, the show celebrates the triumphs and the tribulations of one of Epstein’s many stars and covers the greats from the Cilla back catalogue along with tribute numbers from the bands from the heady days of the Black magic.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Mamas & the Papas and of course the Fab Four feature alongside a stream of biopics of the men behind the labels. Burt Bacharach, Ed Sullivan and Andrew Lancel’s splendidly vulnerable Brian Epstein feature alongside Alexander Patmore’s study of the dependably stoic Bobby Willis.

Scottie Road Songbird, Liverpudlian Diva, Mersey Beat Gracie Field, girl next door – call her what you will, she never diluted her accent and, although the early critics were sniffy, Epstein’s eye for a shed-load of talent launched her firmly into the hall of fame despite the crowded teeth.

She loved Rolls Royce’s and celebrated her poverty-stricken childhood in endless promotional interviews.

Kara Lily Hayworth’s Cilla is the undisputed star of the show. Picked from some 2,000 hopefuls she has, in the words of a fellow reviewer ‘Got it nailed!’.

From start to finish, Kara’s distinctive Liverpudlian tones – she is actually from Watford – and Cilla-like mannerisms capture the essence of the Black magic.

As she belts out one hit after the other it becomes obvious that she inhabits the role 100%. You’re My World, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Something Tells Me, Dancing In The Street, Alfie – they’re all there alongside some totally splendid tribute-band numbers from the early Beatles catalogue.

Both the singers and the songs are fab and Cilla The Musical is a good night out with the big plus that, alongside the bucketloads of nostalgia, the production delves deeply into the backstory which transformed a wee lass from a Liverpool backstreet into a national treasure.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT