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 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

Nov 152019
 

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

This unfolding story of the demise of the Weimar Republic is seen through the eyes of young American novelist Cliff Bradshaw – played here by Charles Hagerty – and is loosely based around Christopher Isherwood’s classic 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin”. 

A central focus is the doomed love affair between English cabaret performer Sally Bowles, played here Kara Lily Hayworth, and Cliff who has come to Berlin to complete a novel but soon finds himself involved in other distractions.

Alongside his pursuit of Sally, a serial manizer, Cliff soon finds himself involved in money-laundering for the fascists and is witness to a moral decay which will ultimately destroy the easy-going morality of a city known by many at the time as the Babylon of Europe.

Much of the action takes place in the Kit Kat Club – a place where ‘Here there are no troubles … Wilkommen, Leave your troubles outside … We have no troubles here! Here, life is beautiful.’

John Partridge plays the magnificently camp Emcee at the Kit Kat. And while budding storm-troopers prowl the streets, paying customers can look forward to an evening of sleazily decadent bondage-inspired entertainment. All of the dancers, both girls and boys, he says are virgins.

‘But you can try them if you like!’

Replete with both a rich tapestry of flesh and a familiar stable of songs: ‘Wilkommen’, ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’, ‘The Money Song’, ‘Perfectly Marvellous’ and many more; the plot moves awkwardly between club, street and Fraulein Schneider’s apartment building.

The club scenes are deliciously believable. The rest, less so. It’s not as if the shocking street violence or malevolent menace of fascism is out of place. It’s just that the dialogue in places is somehow dated.

The marketing hype describes ‘Show-stopping choreography, dazzling costumes and iconic songs’ and while this is genuinely the case, the spoken lines often lack lustre and the underlying politics – the elephant in the room – is perhaps understated for an audience distanced from such events by a curtain of some 90 years.

Technically splendid – the set, songs, choreography and lederhosen are magnificent – this electrifyingly camp production sets a high bar which it fails to quite reach.

Stars: 3/5

Directed by Rufus Norris, Cabaret plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 16 November 2019

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Oct 042019
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Crucible @ HMT Aberdeen

The last Scottish witch met a fiery end at Dornoch in 1727 ending what some saw as the domination of the devil in local affairs.

Smeared with tar following a short trial, Janet Horne was burned alive in a barrel following an accusation of consorting with the forces of darkness.

In 1950’s America however, the devil-incarnate took the form of McCarthyism – perhaps best defined as the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.

Many intellectuals, artistic folk and politicians fell afoul of the new inquisition. And Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible took an allegorical stab at that modern-day witch hunt against those accused of the crime ‘Un-American activities’ using the medium of the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century.

And now, this no-holds barred portrayal of the overly-righteous paranoia that was McCarthyism is subject to fresh interpretation by Scottish Ballet.

Shocking in its intensity, this exquisite take on the witch-trial agenda dwells on the currency of falsely framed accusations, fearsome events and the power of inquisitors over life and death and morality.

Penned in the 1950’s and set in 1692, the familiar story is set among the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts. A backdrop of infidelity, a declaration that god is dead and a smidgeon of pagan ritual leads to accusations of witchcraft. And within a short timeframe events have spiralled terrifyingly out of control.

Alongside Peter Salem’s hauntingly edgy new score, American Helen Picket’s choreography shatters the myth of Puritanical purity.

Adolescents dance naked in the moonlight, farmer Proctor – Nicholas Shoesmith and servant Abigail – Constance Devernay frolic in the farmyard and voodoo makes an unwelcome appearance.

Nothing is as it seems and the fault lines of a wildly dysfunctional community are soon tested to destruction.

Simple staging accents the rawness of this tale of persecution and David Finn’s choice of gloomy lighting adds poignance throughout. This is no over-bearing stage-set.

Stark and poignant, this adaption of Miller’s play for dance sets a high bar indeed.

Choreographed by Helen Pickett and based on the play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 5 October.
Stars: 4/5

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

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