Anything Goes – King’s Theatre

Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter

New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman

It’s that time of year again folks, time to round up the family, the friends and the dogs, cause this time we’re going on a cruise. Southern Light Opera (SLO) return to their home in the King’s Theatre with a revival of eighties classic Anything Goes!. Hijinks on the high seas; romance, gangsters and more tap-shoes than should be legally acceptable collide in an energetic explosion of community talent and assuring entertainment. No life jackets are necessary, because once again SLO does more than float above water, they’re cruising right into smooth skies.

Anything Goes! is largely an ensemble piece of multiple love triangles, farcical comedy and stringent dance work with club singer Reno Sweeney the star. Unafraid of a challenge, SLO rise expectantly to match the classic narrative, with the odd tweak here and there. Infatuated with Crocker, club singer Reno Sweeney drops numerous hints to state her intentions, only to find herself rebuked for a mysterious other woman. Finding themselves on the same cruise, Crocker stows-away as he tracks down Hope Harcourt, his blonde bobbed love. 

So, before we go any further, let’s get that vile word out of the way, shall we? A term which has its place in theatrical circles, but often gets tossed around as an insult, or as an excuse to explain why a production isn’t working, that word being ‘amateur’. Though priding themselves as the oldest, and arguably accomplished amateur cast in the city, there’s very little, if anything, which Southern Light Opera do which conducts them in an amateurish light. From construct to outstanding dedication, talent to mirthful enthusiasm, there is nothing but solid professionalism by all on stage.

As such, it would be remised not to point out that there are a few stand-out performances from Anything Goes! which are sorely crying to be snapped up by producers across the nation. This time around, that honour belongs to the vivaciously De-Lovely Toni MacFarlane, tackling the notoriously persuasive and confident club singer Reno Sweeney. Exuberant, charismatic and with an enviable charge, Macfarlane propels the SS American along the high seas. Solo, or in duet, her vocal range has clarity, and vitally the harmonising belt required for the role, nailing every song, but especially winning crowds with I Get A Kick Out Of You and Friendship. In group numbers, a traditional occurrence for SLO, MacFarlane heads tropes into Louise Williamson’s always superb choreography. Tight, meticulous and authoritative, there’s a precision to this evening’s movements which, on occasion, can excel – particular the infamous tap scenes. 

Going beyond the comedic, MacFarlane and fellow SLO rising star Rebekah Lansley capture the essence of Anything Goes! emotion. With a bit more meat to chew on her role, MacFarlane conveys the cracks in Reno Sweeney’s bravado, unafraid of revealing the heart beneath the sequins. As a product of the time, Anything Goes!’ romance is definatly… thirties, yet, MacFarlane and Lansley take what could easily be awkward, dated relationships and channel a sense of genuine care for these women. We feel MacFarlane’s pining, transforming into a sense of self-reliance and acceptance, just as much as Lansley gives off conviction to a role which is notably waifish against the fast-talking charm of love interest Billy Crocker. 

Crossing from coy smug into grating arrogance, Matt McDonagh’s Billy Crocker is vocally exceptional, though the character’s intention or attitude hasn’t aged well. No-fault of McDonagh’s, this is one of the cases where the revived production’s age begins to eek through the modern cracks, not everything looks perfect in a nostalgic vignette. Perhaps a touch more comedy in direction, or an easing into the sarcastic stylings of the character, would have placed this role on par with Peter Tomassi’s Moonface Martin and Kerr-Alexander Syme’s Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Two characters who couldn’t be further apart if you tried, the FBI’s 13th most wanted, and an adorable Lord of the manor fight over the audience’s favourite for the comedic crown.

Then again, as these two men bicker, flex their comedic timings and dedication to delectable bouts of giggling, Tanya Williamson’s Erma flaunts her talents, bats her lashes and reminds the boys that this is a woman’s game. Erma is an example of a character who, with clever direction and strong performance, feels fresh, in control and escapes the production’s aged features. Largely down to Williamson’s slick delivery, her rendition of Buddie, Beware, a temperature soaring piece, makes fine work of Scenic Projects set piece. 

Song, dance and comedy. The three-pointed hat trick for musical theatre. These are fundamental tools which Southern Light have mastered over their centuries worth of experience and the dedication from those at the helm. Working within a community, helped along by some of the countries fastest rising stars, the company continue to put their distinct brand of charm onto even the most well-known production like Anything Goes!

Anything Goes runs until Saturday March 7th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/anything-goes

For more information on the work and history of Southern Light, please visit: https://southernlight.co/

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

Edinburgh Gang Show – King’s Theatre

Directed by Andy Johnston

Musical Direction by Andrew Thomson

Dance Direction by Louise Williamson

Once a year, chaos, music, dance, fabulous costumes, and those young at heart or young in years descend upon The King’s Theatre to light up the frosted evenings of the capital – and the Panto doesn’t even start until next month. No, this time we’re talking about one of Edinburgh’s illustrious performance groups which stands along with The Bohemians or Southern Light as the peak of amateur theatre – The Edinburgh Gang Show. For over sixty shows now, the gang has been an integral part of the cities theatrical heritage, with no signs of slowing in this slew of vibrant majesty. 

At first, the array of performers on stage have their difficulties working with such volume in numbers, but overcome these issues remarkably, having a reliable understanding of the stage. Andy Johnston has always had an uncanny ability to bring together a wealth of Scouts and Girl Guides, drawing together gang shows of past, present and even glimmers of the future. This 60th show contains all of the gags, nudges and football jabs you may expect, but there have to be a few surprises lurking beneath all those jazz hands and gooey gowns.

Continuing to capitalise on Louise Williamson’s choreography, the gang pay tribute to the dames and dappers of Hollywood’s past, with a spectacular movement piece to the classics of musical theatre. There isn’t exactly structure to the production, more a showcase of talent which bleeds into the next – sometimes with no explanation, other times with an acknowledging gag to the lack of coherent connection. An honest admission, it still causes a few bumps and grinds to the flow which, yes, can be overlooked, but needn’t necessarily have been issues to begin.

So what you might expect is dancing, there may even be a few songs, but variety is a core element of The Gang Show. So yes, these jokes are meant to be bad, the puns are the height of dad humour – and we adore every second of it. It must be said though, that whilst the humour takes a back seat to the other talents, especially some exceptional dance routines, we get the occasional bout of originality, and a few choice celebrity guests from William Wallace to The First Minister and a certain chart-topping Scot whose love for crisps might rival his adoration for number 1 spots. Singing Someone You Loved, Mackenzie Woolard captures the tone of the song marvellously in a number to be proud of, characterising Lewis Capaldi rather well. Nowhere though, does the seamless blending of gags and vocals merge quite so well than a trip to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-renowned feline musical.

Alisa Maclean’s rendition of Memory, a pinnacle of musical theatre’s illustrious history, is given a fantastically inventive twist which we daren’t spoil. Not only are the vocals rather sublime, but the goings-on, decisions and timing are exceptional. Offering a break in the tumultuous number of routines, this brief snippet showcases the vaudeville stylings of the gang marvellously, with the ‘stage-hands’ causing as much mischief as they find physically achieve. Indeed, along with the likes of Tatiana Honeywell’s subdued, spellbindingly impressive performance of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which showcases the team’s most elegant choreography, this evening is very much in the hands of the ladies.

Shaking things up a bit from the straight routines and belting it out for the women in the audience, Kelsey Main strikes out with Speechless, meanwhile Jessica Lyall who too performs during the Medieval Mayhem segment, who has so far been dominating the stage with fluid footwork, turns towards a vocal performance as she and Main show the ‘lads’ of the round table just how it’s done. This said, the male dancers, a few of whom have been paying attention to their toe-points such as Andrew Brown, have the makings of terrific dancers, particularly for comedy routines as they treat us to a little unexpected Spamalot leading up to the show’s climax.

What a finale, a solo performance from young Matthew Knowles whose performance of I’ll Always Remember You This Way gives a brief chill of a future career in the arts. Marvellous control, which sets up the farewell to a few members who, like Brown, will be leaving the gang this year, but in their place, they leave behind a legacy of achievements, memories and hope that the future performers will match their dedication and canny. 

And as a 60th year closes for The Edinburgh Gang Show, bright prospects for Scottish theatre remain. A wealth of talent, across all moulds of the stage, there’s a rich community making a stamp on Edinburgh’s history, and evidently, it’s future. From the smallest soprano to the older twinkle-toes, mirthful in enthusiasm, this 60th show serves as it does every other year, to showcase the capital’s talent, spirit and community.

The Edinburgh Gang Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday 23rd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/gangshow

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

Catch – 22 – The Biscuit Factory

Written by Joseph Heller

Directed by Hannah Bradley

Insidiously paradoxical, Captain Yossarian (Yo-Yo) finds himself confined by the titular catch of the airforce: those who are compos mentis enough to recognise the dangers of flying are sane enough to pass the medical. Which unfortunately means playing insane isn’t an option, as only the loons would put themselves forward to fly. Joseph Heller’s satirical war-drama Catch-22 surrounds itself in miscommunications and the improbable, so who better to tackle this than Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group?

Notoriously difficult, Heller’s Catch-22 claims the dignity of various adaptations which fail to grasp the nuances of balancing pathos which lacerating satire. A starkly timeless narrative, with nightmarish complexities surrounding bureaucracy, it primarily lampoons military narcissism and economics. In truth, it’s a text which reads far more impressively than it is often performed, then again, have EGTG ever been ones to shy from a challenge?

Evidently, director Hannah Bradley, along with Assistant director Hannah Fitzpatrick, has a firm grip on the structure of the production, and a deep care for the original novel. Honing in on the ironic elements, knowing this can instil a wider range of investment within a limited timescale, Bradley encourages performers to capitalise on people remembering humorous or big characters clearer than subtle performances.

And what a plethora to remember, without neglecting others, huge praise needs to be spoken for Gordon Houston, Richard Godden and Joshua McDiarmid’s performances, with extra kudos on offer to Bethany Cunningham who takes the smaller nursing role and makes it entirely her own. Bradley’s decision to have a larger representative production works beyond mere diversity, the chorus of female performers add to the flavour of scenes, Erini Stamkou pushing the psychotic extremes of American G.I’s fears over ‘others’ to the extreme.

Carrying a lengthy production, Houston achieves a precise level of defiance against the system, yet is also broken by its repetitious assaults to his body, psyche and spirit. He has a balance of over-zealous exasperation, channelling sensationally British comedy stars. He’s enthralling, drawing out the best of others, and matching wits with the more experienced performers of EGTG. The inevitability of death, a fascination of Heller’s, Yossarian is cast in a shadow of his follower, regardless of where he may venture.

One such wit, that of Godden, whose multiple performances build to a side-splitting rendition of a physiatrist in need of examination is a short, but paramount scene to the success of the production. Not all about the gallows humour, Cunningham and Dimitri Woods’ Chaplain crash the violent realities of war onto the stage. Woods’ performance grows in time, at first, it seems delicate, but an iron core is drawn out, with some soft-hearted humour cladding the character and representing the text’s loss of religious faith rather beautifully. Bolstering his part by the fact his primary role, like Houston, is one which never alters into secondary or tertiary parts, which is sadly where some performances flounce.

This becomes particularly evident with time shifts, especially when performers take on two-separate roles within minutes of each other. There needs to be a distinctly apparent change, which needs to stretch beyond a physical switch for some performers. This can be seen with the epitome of capitalist thrift, Milo Minderbinder. A fascinating character, but Siebken’s other, much smaller parts, can’t measure to the same quality. Free to exaggerate characters, the cast can become too large, too reliant on simple physical characteristics, losing an intimacy or recognition with the audience.

It’s an intrinsic issue with the text, valiant as their attempt is, a cast of fourteen, regardless of talent, will find a struggle in representing such a high volume of characters. It makes for messy moments, which tangle themselves up in what has been a wonderfully weaved web of understanding. Untangling one issue, that of how to stage a piece like this has been methodically thought through.

The Biscuit Factory, a sensational venue which deserves greater recognition, is the prime setting for Bradley’s decision to assail us into the action. Thrust staging creates awkward situations, but a testament to the thought process behind Catch-22, there is little question that a seat anywhere would offer a clear viewing. What’s more, going beyond simple seating, Bradley’s concept of placing us within the confines of the famous B-25windows captures ensnaring claustrophobia, brilliantly designed by Chris Allan and Michael Mulligan.

Aiding immensely in this transition, particularly to separate scenes, or the passing of time is Gordon Hughe’s seamless lighting design. Few of the transitions are pronounced, rather they reinforce the emotion of a scene without detracting from performers, complimentary in execution. Whether this is bathing the cold, unfeeling concrete of The Biscuit Factory in the lurid verdure of madness, or a stark rose of passion, it’s impressive world-building.

The impotence of language laces through the production, from the obvious censorships of Washington Irving to how language can circumvent logic, it’s clear how much of a grasp on Catch 22 Bradley and EGTG have. This alone is a testament to the theatre companies ability with fathomable shows, which they stage in ways others would turn from, in venues many wouldn’t consider. Catch-22 is by no means an easy watch, though, by no fault of the team, its errors lie within Heller’s engorgement of the character roster and his overlapping motifs and words. What Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group are performing at this moment is one of the closest adaptations, while being so inherently different, that there is no doubt Heller would be proud of its creative impossibility and is an absolute must-watch.

Catch – 22 runs at The Biscuit Factory until Saturday November 16th. Tickets are available from: https://theegtg.com/2019/08/30/catch-22/