Sound Symphony @ The Studio at Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
Brian Hartley

Director and Lead Artist Ellie Griffiths

Performers/Composer Sonia Allori, Greg Sinclair, & Shiori Usui

Paying tribute to the sculpture of music, Sound Symphony has a keen interest in involving its audience in the sights, feels and environment of creating music through their own bodies, and the show accommodates a variety of senses for the whole audience.

Beyond hearing, touch has a tremendous input in what makes the production enticing. We aren’t just sat down and blasted with melody; instead the young audience can stand, wander and, vitally, get a tangible grip with the make-up of the symphony. They feel how they can make their own harmony, learning how varying textures create the show’s sounds.  

Every detail, from the accompanying visual story to the pre-show introduction, has been researched and conducted by a dedicated team who display a wealth of understanding. Ellie Griffiths should be proud of the level of work involved, something extended to the rest of the production group.

Greg Sinclair’s musical direction guides us through an assortment of instruments – slowly deconstructing a symphony into bare parts. Sinclair, Sonia Allori & Shiori Usui begin as a trio performing classical melodies. Gradually they break apart, adding a performance element as Sinclair’s snobbish attitude looks unkindly on the attempts to make tunes from paper and spoons.

Costume changes and vivid colours adding visual elements to the production alongside aural. All three musicians interact with the audience in a respectful manner, allowing the audience to determine the level of interaction. As for the score itself, the presentation is more important than the finished composition. It is designed to encourage as much as it is to enjoy. As a piece of music, it has merit, the evolving melodies bring a variety to the audience which keeps them engaged. Overall Sinclair’s composition is versatile, pleasant and accessible for the young audience.

Griffiths’ production brings a much-needed form of music to audiences who deserve it the most; the ability to freely express oneself by putting themselves on the stage – to feel the vibrations of the cello or hum of the speaker. Sound Symphony is greater than a modest orchestral experience, reassuring every sound as beautiful which should reverberate nationwide.  

Review originally published for The Skinny:

Production touring:

An Evening of Eric and Ern @ King’s Theatre

Image contribution:
Eric & Ern

Performed by Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens

There are few great double acts, and none hold quite the same place in the hearts of the nation as Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Proficient in puns, the unfortgettable maestros of timing live on and on and on in An Evening of Eric and Ern.

A veritable pick ‘n’ mix of their best-suited gags for the touring production, the show has a sketch everyone will remember. Even those who didn’t live to see the pair will have some sense of recognition twitched by either Mr Memory or the pair’s duet of Bring Me Sunshine.

Writers and performers Jonty Stephens (Eric) and Ian Ashpitel (Ernie) forgo parts of the narrative dealing with Morecambe’s passing and Wise’s subsequent stint alone for a two-hour run crammed full of humour, song and dance. For fans, there is a deep emotional link. An immense wave of nostalgia fills the theatre as the audience smirk before jokes – already knowing each punchline.

It takes a frosted heart to not be thawed by the sunshine given off by Stephens and Ashpitel. The joy, evident in the faces of the pair, shows that this isn’t so much a job for them but a tribute. The audience interaction, natural flow in delivery and acknowledgement of flubs, technical issues or rowdy fans all work towards a pleasant experience.

Rather than imitate, Ashpitel and Stephens replicate the duo in an astonishing manner; every aspect has been studied, honed and perfected, whether this is visually or vocally but most notably in comic timing and delivery. Their proficiency shines in everything from the tiny facial tics as Stephens askews Morecambe’s signature specs to Ashpitel’s song sequences.

Despite solid performances, a fine selection of routines and charming guest singer Shona White, the production suffers from losing its original narrative. So much heart is lost in the removal of Ernie’s tenure alone, the passing of Eric and the more unique interactions that the pair have. The jaunt down memory lane is enjoyable, but it falls short in offering something new.

An Evening of Eric and Ern is everything you suspect it to be – a magnificent embodiment of Morecambe and Wise’s greatest sketches presented by accomplished performers. It neglects, though, to do little more than this.

Review originally published for The Skinny:

Production Touring:

The Worst Witch @ King’s Theatre

Image contribution:
Kenny Wax entertainment et al.

Writer: Emma Reeves based on the novel by Jill Murphy

Director: Theresa Heskins

Long before the boy who lived, there was a young witch who despite great intentions would always end up face first on the floor or in more trouble than she started. The Worst Witch saw a series of delightful children’s books by writer and illustrator Jill Murphy. Conjured into a world of fantastical boarding schools the series has seen many a successful TV adaptation, so what had to follow? An exceedingly welcomed stage adaptation.

In a prime example of metatext, The Worst Witch stages itself through the often crudely implemented play within a play dynamic. An experience not shared with Emma Reeves adaption, utilising the plot device well. An older Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird) produces her experiences of that first year at Miss Cackle’s academy. Friendships remain but old rivalry’s die hard in this spellbinding interpretation.

What The Worst Witch captures sublimely is a sense of natural enchantment. Not relying on the cheap tricks many large-scale productions will resort to. It rejoices in its low-budget though high-entertainment merit.

So why doesn’t Simon Daw brew this production into a glitz and glamour technical marvel? He doesn’t need to. In fact, despite what others may say – The Worst Witch would be worse off if it had. The charm in the aesthetical design, lovingly crafted from the pages of the books, suits it’s silhouetted construct. If you require any more proof that less is more – argue with Polly Lister’s Agatha once she’s finished off ‘Tabby’

Tabby, Mildred’s cat, is one of the uniquely inventive takes on special effects and design work. Their effectiveness is established in simplicity. Which isn’t to say they are watered down or weak, quite the contrary as visual effects serve spectacles. A blend of vintage wizardry with contemporary genius. With no attempts in hiding the ropes, instead, these become part of the craft. The aerial feats are finer than any attempt at ‘flight’ with obviously (in)visible string because of this.

Sorcery is found within the score by Luke Potter, slithering neatly amidst Emma Reeves adapted script. Not marketed as a musical, The Worst Witch uses its song numbers sparingly and to tremendous effect. In particular, Polly Lister, who wholly owns the second half, nevertheless stands firm ground at the opening of act two with Witching Hour.

A trio of musically gifted wyrd teachers and student are found within Molly-Grace Cutler, Megan Leigh Mason and student Meg Forgan. For a three-piece band, the delivery is rhythmic, complementary to the action onstage and sets up the grand return of an old series nemesis…

The Witch is back. Lister’s antagonistic prowess would force any Pantomime Dame to cower in reverence. Her jabs to the audience alongside Rosie Abraham are so sharp-tongued that it’s difficult not to be on Agatha’s side. Though, if you are a fan of goodie-goods Bird’s bumbling Mildred is precisely what the books envisioned. Rachel Heaton’s Miss Hardbroom to tiptoes the line of frightful yet respectable teacher.

Boys, Girls, Ladies, Gentleman across the nation – let out your inner witch. This isn’t so much a children’s show as it is a production for everyone. One or two jokes fired at the older crowd aren’t necessary, any of them with any sense of youth or adventure are already invested. The odd moment of terror may spook the youngest of youngsters, but sometimes a fright is healthy. Surrender over to The Worst Witch to find yourself bewitched by the most unexpected fun, mayhem and charm you’ll experience this summer.

Review originally posted for reviews Hub:

Tickets still available:

Donbass @ The Filmhouse

Video right:
Sergei Loznitsa

Directed by Sergei Loznitsa

Produced with Germany France Ukraine Netherlands Romania/

Run time: 110 mins

Thriving amidst the shattered chaos of Eastern Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’snewest cinematic release continues his obsession into the social breakdown of the violent suppression. Shot as a documentary styled black-comedy, Donbass was selected open the Un Certain Regard of the 2018 Cannes film festival.

The region of Donbass exists in two states of thinking regarding the Russian supported Donetsk People’s Republic. A struggle exists in the complex reverence for the aggressive saviour from fascism during the Second World War, yet at the same time, there is a worry of pro-Russian separatists. Particularly for an audience unfamiliar with the political climate of Eastern Ukraine, Loznitsa manages to compose enough detail while maintaining audience interest in an ongoing, if underreported conflict.

Despite misconceptions as a semi-documentary, Donbass is not entirely set around political commentary. Marketed as a black comedy it leans heavier into the grim than that of levity. Comedy is found more in surrealness in how lies are truth and hatred is everyday life. It is a mesmerizing piece not only on politics or war but on the children of these two; propaganda and post-truth environment. War is a utility for violence but also an excuse for the blanket abuse of the working class. Echoing a post-truth age, we have zero effort in envisioning all but one scene as taken directly from headlines. Depending on the scenario we move from handheld to documentary filmmaking. Oleg Mutu’s cinematography is crafted, not as propaganda, but similar in techniques to highlight the issue and make it digestible for the audience.

Truth is a scarce resource. A notion Loznitsa strikes home in the opening shot, a deliberately assembled handheld shaky cam. We follow the actors through a single shot scene until reaching the news team. Donbass starts not with a crash of violence but with a make-up trailer. Actors preparing for an unknown shoot.  The arrival of armed enforcements confirms the nature of these performers. Hurried to the scene of a bombing, the now grieving neighbours perpetuate the essence of ‘fake news’ as they sell their paid story.

Of the many themes shared across the film, the primary is that of us/them. This leads to the most gut-churning realisation in how accessible the film is. How clear we find it to understand the rot of a nation. A particularly uncomfortable scene is exquisitely performed as a young man attempts to reclaim his stolen car, only for his cries for help to be met with strongarm manipulation to ‘donate’ his vehicle for ‘us,’ failure to do so a sign of his siding with ‘them.’

Loznitsa continues his trait from A Gentle Creature of capturing the microscopic details of anguish in a person’s face, though this ability is lost in one sequence. In a film in which war is a central catalyst, the loudness can overblow the pathos – losing out on quieter moments to allow significance to settle.  Mutu’s cinematography allows perfectly acceptable shots to uncomfortably linger. Nowhere is this more evident than with the exertion of effort to maintain interest during a wedding. It’s the weakest portion of the film, realism stretched outside the confines of belief, something which despite the sensationalism of the movie so far hasn’t been broken.

Shot in an engrossing manner, Donbass is formed with a scatter effect of hard-hitting sequences. Of the various vignettes, only a couple fail to hit their mark. Loznitsa’s depictions of shame beatings, bomb shelters and assassinations stand as dark reminders against exaggerated comedic reality. Uniting the two concepts well, Donbass finds itself as a deeply engrossing film, where fury and despair sit alongside absurdist humour.

Review originally posted for Wee Review:

Glòir @ The Usher Hall

Led by the Massed Gaelic Choirs of Scotland

Over fifty thousand individuals reportedly speak Gaelic throughout Scotland. As an indigenous language, it’s official status is not recognised by either the UK nor European Union, though thanks to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) 2005 Act it is here, to an extent. Attempts to revitalise it’s use are ongoing, one such hero in doing so was the late Iain Macleòid (John Macleod).

Within seconds though, one cannot neglect to hear the earthly beauty from Comunn nan Còisirean Gàidhig, The Association of Gaelic Choir’s Glòir. Even for those of us who have a limited (often erroneous) understanding which extends to slàinte or the naughtier words cannot deny the importance of the status the language deserves.

Of the thirty choirs, 24 or so are gathering in Edinburgh to mark their respect for John Macleod – a champion of the language. A man who did his utmost to publicise and encourage the use, research and teaching of the Gaelic language as well as it’s scriptures and songs. In a celebration of Gaelic spiritual music, this evening is hosted by Jackie Cotter as we are treated to sublime renditions to create warm memories.

As a community, the choirs are often conducted by a variety of masters and musicians, including MacLeod’s own children Màiri and Calum. Both of whom are accomplished performers being talented vocally, instrumentally and in recitation. As one would expect from often competing performers, not one puts in a weak performance. A plethora of psalms, melodies and songs lace around each other, complimenting the previous whilst flowing into the next.

Concerning is the length in time it has taken for a revised performance from the choirs, nearly thirty years (in the same venue no less). As we wish the gathering had come together under happier circumstances, there is a sense that no finer tribute could be called upon for a man who served his language so remarkably than to unite them again.

The science of music is not found only in the voice, but through accompanying instrumentals. A three-piece movement The Quiet Man is performed by Na Clàrsirean, on the Celtic harp or Clarsach. The arrangement created by Isobel Mieras enables the musicians to produce assonance which, for some is haunting. It’s the nature of music to move us, shift feelings and stir emotion. What is accomplished is to not only offer praise to the former President of An Comunn Gàidhealach but to remind the nation of the beauty of this instrument

Recognition is at the heart of the choir, but so too do they look to the future. Which looks promising with the marvellous contributions from City of Edinburgh Music School Following the first act, the remainder of the performance provides a mix of classic with contemporary pieces, most notably Soisgeul – the Gaelic gospel choir with Gareth Fuller. Their energy is remarkable, dedication to the artistry of music as they project well into the hall. It’s a livelier, upbeat tempo serving to deliver their reverence of spirituality into the 21st century.

Perplexing is the fact that we find no confusion in attending an aria performed in a different language. Many will flock in droves to the sublime works of our neighbouring creators, but we find it less investing to look north, to the cultural splendour of the west coast of Scotland.

For those who are unable to attend, it is encouraged that you tune into BBC Nan Gàidheal in a couple of weeks to listen to the recordings of the choir. Rarely is such warmth communicated onstage, an inherently different kind of community and dedication is present. Glòir is a performance which no doubt would raise a smile for the upholder of Gaelic John Macleod; agus leig e leis gu bràth.

Review originally posted for Reviews Hub:

For more information on the various Gaelic choirs, please visit: