Amadeus & The Bard – National Museum of Scotland

Director & Creator – Mary McCluskey

Musical Director – Karen MacIver

Based on the works of Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Two champions of their time, etching a significant mark on history few can claim, Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived hundreds of miles apart, but an intense connection in their works ripple throughout culture. Paying homage to the pair, Scottish Opera shares a love of storytelling with these masters, bonding the pair’s verse, composition and passion with their creators and performers.

Where finer to set such a re-telling of these men’s lives than somewhere they both had a great deal of adoration for? The pub. Drinking aside, the infamous Poosie Nansie, this den of revelry, a place of familiarity to fans of Tam O’ Shanter is an excellent setting to present the works of both Wolfie and Rabbie. Taking in a few swallies, this band of merry misfits comprise a selection of Scottish Opera’s youth company, inviting you to jig, sing and join them on this journey. 

Full of vim and vigour, this zestful cast bring the likes of Don Giovanni, Jean Armour and of course, a spirit of two, to fruition with a notable Scots flair. Cementing the production with a stamp of Scottish Opera’s standards, baritone Arthur Bruce and Stephanie Stanway’s soprano role lend immense vocal prowess. Full of character, in control of their tone and range – the projection, even for a small venue, is admirable.

It isn’t as easy as one would imagine, aligning the works of these two artists. Both have notable works, singularly they spark cultural revolutions – so how can blending them maintain their original force? Luckily, thematically the pair share a great deal: in particular matters of the heart, of women and the supernatural. Never would one suspect that Rabbie’s ‘A Man’s a Man For a’ That’ work so sublimely with Mozart’s Queen of the Night? An aria which would define a genre works as a stellar foundation– it’s a pleasant thought what Karen MacIver’s musical direction could turn towards next.

The storytelling elements lacing around a freshly packed Tam O’ Shanter, its recitation to the tones of Mozart, lift the tone of the piece tremendously. Andy Clark’s storyteller may not carry the vocals of some performers, but he is paramount in the production’s success as the purveyor of tales. With an invitation to extend our imagination, Clark fuels a passionate fire for both the Bard and the composer, urging us to go into the word with a ballad, with a tune and a thirst for more.

Sitting there, accordion on her lap, fingers on the ivories and mind racing with direction – MacIver is the heart, beating beneath the chest of Amadeus and The Bard. Alongside exceptional violinist Shannon Stevenson, they are the lifeblood of the show. Together with Mary McCluskey’s vision, the pair breathe life into the memories of Robert Burns and Amadeus Mozart. McCluskey’s conception is profoundly evocative of Scottish humour, showcasing of the future of Scottish Opera in a manner which delights the people – just what Rabbie and Wolfie would have wanted.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Tickets available for Paisley Friday 4th October & Scottish Opera Production Studios 11th – 12th October: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/amadeus-the-bard/

Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition – Festival Theatre

Choreography by Richard Alston

Associate choreography and restaging by Martin Lawrence

With a repertoire spanning back into the early nineties, Richard Alston Dance Company has taken the medium to tremendously respectable heights. In the face of divided funding, Alston’s company delivers one final performance in Edinburgh. We can only begin to thank the company for their time, talent and dedication to their craft – wishing nothing but hope for future endeavours.

Opening, James Muller offers a guest spot to revisit the past – while highlighting the future of dance through these young performers. With a distinctly complex piece, chosen of course by Alston, Prokofiev’s Toccata serves as a backdrop to Curtain Raiser: Evolution Dance. Testing the merits of these dancers, it is a methodically merciless piece in a quick pace, akin to the whip cracks of an old western from the Golden age of Hollywood. Big, bold and synchronised with precision, it echoes a prevalence of dance as spectacle, and while enhanced with music, lighting and costume, there is no gimmickry to hide behind.

From Stravinsky to Chopin, Electric Gypsyland to Joplin – no movement piece is complete without accomplished musical direction and composition. Luckily, Alston is privy to the exceptional talents of Johannes Brahms and pianist Jason Ridgway. Equally as gifted as any dancer, Ridgway is given pride of place on stage to further this evenings enjoyment. Bathing in the design of lighting set by Zeynep Kepeki, Charles Balfour or Lawrence, both Ridgway and dancers are cast in shades reminiscent of their respective dances tone.

Distinctly rooted in Ashkenazi tradition, Johannes Brahms’ musical composition, in arrangement with Alston’s choreography lifts the structure of Brahms Hungarian. With heavy gypsy influences, there are intense emotional shifts, notable in both composer and choreographers style, as bursts of acceleration suddenly halt. It’s a sublime piece with mischievous pacing, accentuated through Fotini Dimou’s costume, a quartet of almost seasonal gowns, floral, light but with splashes of colour to contrast the male dancers muted pinstripes.

Our finale brings an ethereal presence in closing out the company’s run. Comprising 10 individual movements set to the music of Monteverdi, how better to demonstrate versatility than with creations from a man who gave existence to a new art form? Holding their own, Joshua Harriette, Ellen Yilma and Nahum McLean take tremendous steps in ensuring this performance remain a fixture in fans of the company for years to come. Whether solo or group piece, their form is exquisite – drawing the eye with ease.

Tenderness to the final dance, Damigella Tutta Bella, the earliest piece of music Alston can remember. Embracing a circle, it’s a marvellous ending to behold, closing with something which sparked an origin.

A bitter-sweet idea to accept, all the grace, talent and wonder onstage before us is being seen for the final time in Edinburgh, or at least in its current incarnation. Alston’s close relationship with the Festival Theatre, a theatre dear to the hearts of many, aligns itself with the ideals of dance, theatre and arts for all.

In a utopian world, Richard Alston Dance Company would remain a fixture for years to come, as it is, their Final Edition is a closing act which pays tribute to movement’s evolution and a reminder that even though the Company may cease – Alston himself has little intentions of going anywhere, news we relish.

Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition continues to tour the UK: https://www.richardalstondance.com/

Night Hunter – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed & Written by David Raymond

USA/ 2018/ 98 mins

See if this sounds familiar; disillusioned with the state of the world, a weathered police officer finds an unlikely ally in a vigilante killer – joined in their mutual goal of stopping a murderer, suffering from psychological issues, pursuing young women. Had any of those guesses been correct, we would have been watching a better film.

With a gusto-line up, Night Hunter’s cast plays their roles to a passable level, but few seem to realise they’re in the same narrative. Henry Cavill’s Lieutenant Marshall is, even for a film focusing on sexual abuse, relentlessly brooding, over-the-top serious, while Ben Kingsley’s Cooper is a caricature of Alan Moore’s comic book anti-heroes. An unlikely pairing, the two spend little time together – instead, our attention deviates from Cavill’s story alongside Rachel, a police officer who tries to get into the killer’s head, and Kingsley’s castration of unpunished abusers.

Almost buddy-cop level moments of writing litter Kingsley and Eliana Jones as the two entrap victims. Humour is a peculiar crutch the film employs, poorly at that, relying on it to shunt in a chuckle or two – immediately following intense suggestions of mutilation or assault. Rather than laughter, it raises eyebrows in just what the overall direction is. David Raymond wants to take Night Hunter seriously, a knuckle wrapping, gritty thriller – but attaches these scenes as an afterthought.

Writing may be the weakest aspect of the film, but performance follows close. That isn’t to say there aren’t decent moments – Alexandra Daddario and Brendan Fletcher being the only members of the cast actively attempting to improve this piece. Both bring a fire which, as desperate as they are to ignite, is awash with phoned in deliveries from Cavill, Kingsley and Stanley Tucci. Three usually reliable performers in their field but are receiving next to no real direction or character motivation.

SplitSe7enFargo and Silence of the Lambs: Night Hunter finds itself an unimpressive chimaera of superior narratives, attempting to cherry-pick concepts and glue them onto its shell. Advancing on a concept is commonplace, it’s a way cinema evolves; perfecting an already established idea. But in drawing vast references, Night Hunter merely succeeds in reminding us how inadequate it is in comparison.

Then it happens – a single concept in an otherwise string of predictability, which snaps attention for five minutes. In these five minutes, we get a glimpse of what this could have been. It took a chance, a dark chance, and while copping out in the end, this scene almost makes the film worth it – emphasis on almost. Here, Raymond captures a movie we want, Mpho Kohao’s performance a shockingly emotive one – no doubt given a boost by being the first insight to the real drama we’ve been craving. It’s a turning point, where Fletcher ramps up the antagonistic factor – let down by an expected shoehorn twist.

More wasteful is Michael Barrett’s cinematography, casting an interesting pastiche of the aforementioned films from which Night Hunter borrows. The colour palette choices are notable, changing upon location, rather than aiming for an overarching style, though misjudged editing makes for dodgy, head tilting cuts. 

Hideously misaligning its intentions, Night Hunter forces pieces together from a series of jigsaws into one cobbled, unimpressive mess which hangs onto our attention with a few choice scenes and performances which attempt to reclaim a possibly insightful production, which falters and simply makes you wish you’d rather have stuck on Manhunter.

Night Hunter is in cinemas and VoD services from September 13th

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/night-hunter/