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 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

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

  • 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 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

Dec 282019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Primal Scream at The Music Hall, Aberdeen.

The latest Primal Scream singles compilation is entitled ‘Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

It’s also the words emblazoned on the backdrop behind them on stage. It’s a simple statement.

A statement of intent. A call to arms.

But it’s a reductive statement that doesn’t quite do them justice – sure, the rock n’ roll is to the max, but so is the acid house, the blues, jazz, gospel, krautrock, soul, indie and almost every music genre you can think of.

In their career, spanning over three decades, this is a band that’s not been afraid to spread their sonic wings, to push themselves musically and, famously, lead the fabled rock n’ roll lifestyle.

Being a tour in support of a compilation album means that the set list is simple, direct and has something to please all the audience. There’s no b-sides, no long-forgotten album tracks – each and every song performed was a cherished 7” single, a download or a stream – they are fan favourites that brings back sentimental memories and remind you exactly why you’re here to see them tonight.

The chirping intro to ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ heralds the band on stage.

Longstanding guitarist Andrew Innes, keyboard player Martin Duff, drummer Darrin Mooney and the glamorous bassist Simone Butler are the musical backbone of the band.

But singer Bobby Gillespie is, as always, the star of the show dressed in an eye-catching pink suit as he is tonight.

The acid hazed opening track soon gives way to a eclectic mix of tracks from throughout the years – from the adrenalised industrial thrash of ‘Swastika Eyes’, to the throbbing electro of ‘Miss Lucifer’, the laconic blues of ‘(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind’, the C86 defining indie shuffle of ‘Velocity Girl’, the euphoric rave of ‘Loaded’. ‘Movin’ On Up’ and ‘Jailbird’ provide rock n’ roll kicks, whilst ‘Country Girl’ takes a diversion into Americana and ‘Burning Wheel’ is a fried psychedelic trip into inner space.

The ethos of Primal Scream and their musical mission is buried away in the sample of a radio DJ in the uplifting organ intro to Loaded:

“You will hear gospel; And rhythm and blues and jazz; All those are just labels; We know that music is music”.

Primal Scream may be maximum rock ‘n’ roll but they are so much more instead.

Primal Scream Set List:

Don’t Fight It, Feel It
Swastika Eyes
Miss Lucifer
Can’t Go Back
Accelerator
Kill All Hippies
(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind
I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have
Velocity Girl
Dolls (Sweet Rock and Roll)
Burning Wheel
100% or Nothing
Loaded
Movin’ On Up
Country Girl

Encore:

Come Together
Jailbird
Rocks

Dec 192019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Adam Ant / Glam Skanks at The Music Hall, Aberdeen.

Today’s popstars are boring and dull.
Look at some of the biggest names in the biz just now – Ed Sheeran, looking like he’s just finished a shift at McDonalds before going busking; Coldplay – bed wetting stadium rock that your parents would approve of; Adele – a less dangerous version of Amy Winehouse that even your Granny likes.

Now look back to the 80s – David Bowie ushering in the decade singing ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and looking like a coke addled death-clown in the video; Boy George – almost guaranteed to give your bigoted uncle a heart attack and causing debates in the school playground as to whether they were a man or a woman.

And, top of the pile, Top of the Pops? The Dandy Highwayman himself, the preening peacock with all the number one hits – Adam Ant.

And here he is tonight, in cold, dark Aberdeen in the middle of November bringing some technicolour glam on a Friday night to the masses.

Looking fit and healthy and much too sprightly for his 65 years on Earth he never stands still on the Music Hall stage as he blasts through a near 2 hour set that boasts 29 songs. The makeup may be toned down somewhat, but the glamour hasn’t and he is still a bona fide rock star on stage – spinning, shuffling and dancing constantly.

There’s an unashamed nostalgia to the massive UK tour he’s undertaking as it celebrates his 1982 album ‘Friend or Foe’.

He starts the set by playing said album from start to finish – 12 tracks that include the hits ‘Goody Two Shoes’, ‘Desperate Not Serious’ and the title track of the album itself which opens the set.

What follows is a greatest hits set that includes some real pop classics in there – ‘Prince Charming’, ‘Dog Eat Dog’, ‘Ant Music’, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ and ‘Stand and Deliver’.

Each song is as familiar as the last and sang word for word by the appreciative audience.

The two hours pass in the blink of an eye – Adam saying his goodbyes as the band, including twin drummers, grind out the coda of ‘Physical (You’re So)’.

As the band finish up, he is gone – a fleeting memory, a half-seen ghost, enigmatic till the end.

LA quartet Glam Skanks, that support Adam tonight, are indebted to him in their glamourous look, all teased hair and trashy glamour.
They blast through a 45 minute set that also recalls T Rex, Hanoi Rocks and glitter punk bands galore. The girls stage presence is cocky and assured, giving it their all with confidence and attitude.

But the night belongs to Adam Ant, still showing he has the charm, wit and star appeal over 3 decades later.

Adam Ant Set List:

Friend or Foe
Something Girls
Place in the Country
Desperate But Not Serious
Here Comes the Grump
Hello, I Love You (The Doors cover)
Goody Two Shoes
Crackpot History and the Right to Lie
Made of Money
Cajun Twisters
Try This for Sighs
Man Called Marco
Dog Eat Dog
Kick!
Vive le Rock
Antmusic
Zerox
Cartrouble
Ants Invasion
Prince Charming
Puss ‘n Boots
Lady
Fall-In
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Beat My Guest
Stand and Deliver

Encore:

Press Darlings
Red Scab
Physical (You’re So)

Dec 112019
 

Craig Chisholm reviews Airbourne plus support at The Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen, 18th Nov.

Lugs were left ringing after the historic Beach Ballroom was shook to its foundations with a night of ass kickin’, high voltage rock n’ roll.
Headliners Airbourne took their latest tour to Aberdeen with support from Tenessee rockers Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown and up-and-coming Sheffield band Cellar Door Moon Crow.

Cellar Door Moon Crow are the musical anomaly on the night.

They play a rock / rap hybrid that’s reminiscent of the Beastie Boys around the period of ‘Licensed to Ill’ where monster riffs from bands such as AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were sampled and rapped over to create a template that has endured to this day.

Indeed, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin snippets and samples can be heard throughout Cellar Door Moon Crow’s set along with nods to Neil Young, Frank Sinatra and Steppenwolf. The duo – hirsute brothers Phil and Tom Goodwin – get the crowd going with their eclectic set and seem to win over quite a few of the uninitiated.

Their debut album ‘You Got This’ is available now if you want to check them out.

Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown are a more straight ahead proposition that look to have a few fans in the audience already, judging by the reaction they receive.

The play a boogie-infused style of rock n’ roll that is hard edged and blues based. It’s heavy on incredibly talented guitar theatrics that will appeal to musicians and anyone that appreciates good musicianship.
A couple of the tracks tone down the histrionics and are more subtle, swampy and bluesy. These are the most interesting in my opinion. But the four piece band – including Graham Whitford, son of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, on guitar – go down an absolute storm with the audience with whatever style they play.

By the end of the set the drummer is on the barrier, leaning into the crowd, bashing out a rhythm on a drum and the place is going wild.

If the venue is at boiling point by the end of Tyler Bryant’s set then it is overflowing when Airbourne take the stage.

The Australian band are the latest in a long line of hard rockin’, hard drinkin’ bands to emerge from the Antipodes over the years. Their lineage can be traced back through bands such as Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel and, of course, the mighty AC/DC.

Audience interaction is key to their set – four songs in and lead singer Joel O’Keefe is already in the middle of the crowd, astride a roadies shoulder whilst playing guitar and spraying beer over the adoring throng.

They are a party band and despite it being a Monday night, despite you having work tomorrow you are expected to party with them. Beers are shared with the crowd – albeit thrown to fans on their companion’s shoulders – and the floor of the venue is reduced to a sticky mess as sweat and alcohol drip everywhere.

Airbourne are an entertaining live act – it’s not serious, there are no pretentions and the fans are treated with a friendliness that draws them into the band’s world.

Airbourne Set List: 

Raise the Flag
Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast
Burnout the Nitro
Girls in Black
Backseat Boogie
Bottom of the Well
Breakin’ Outta Hell
It’s All for Rock ‘n’ Roll
Boneshaker
Live It Up
Stand Up for Rock ‘n’ Roll

Encore:

Ready to Rock
Runnin’ Wild

Dec 062019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Cinderella at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Comic Christmas capers in Aberdeen wouldn’t be quite the same without the annual HMT panto and this years rags to riches take on Cinderella stars soprano Rachel Flynn as Cinders with doors opening this month for a five-week run.

Naturally, wicked step-sisters are to the fore and the cast list for 2019 includes Call the Midwife star Laura Main who delivers a sterling performance as the Fairy Godmother, River City funny man Paul-James Corrigan who shines as Buttons, Two Doors Down Joy McAvoy plus River City Sally Howitt as the Stepsisters and Prince Charming is played by Emmerdale Paul Luebke.

Dancer/choreographer Louie Spence plays a delightfully camp Dandini with Alan McHugh leading the action as the outlandishly-costumed Baroness Heifer McHardup.

Outwitting step-sisters involves both humour and determination and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud slap-stick moments along the way alongside a multitude of double-entendres and slick comedy routines.

Lavish special effects and merciless lampoons litter the plot.

Sound and set are sublime and the Trump gets an obligatory bashing as does the city of Dundee. And there is a quite splendidly tongue-twisting comedy-Sushi routine which is to die for.

Last years disappointing dwarfs have thankfully been supplanted for 2019 by an ultra-slick troupe of tap-dancing pumpkins.

Astaire would be impressed. And there are pyrotechnics galore.

But it’s all in the best possible taste as the classic Dandini line ‘Now, this of course is where Prince Charming holds his balls and dances’ clearly illustrates.

Buzzing with energy from very beginning to royal wedding, Cinderella @ HMT sparkles. Go see.

Stars: 4.5/5

Directed and written by Alan McHugh, Cinderella plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 5 January 2020

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT and © Qdos Entertainment