Goldilocks & The Three Bears – King's Theatre

Written by Allan Stewart & Alan McHugh

Directed by Ed Curtis

Musical Direction by Andy Pickering

How on earth have we arrived at Panto season again? Nary a month ago it felt as though Beauty & The Beast was playing at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, and now with tremendously happy crowds, our trio returns to the stage once more. Yes, folks, not only are Allan Stewart and Grant Stott back on the stage, accompanied once more by Gillian Parkhouse, but Andy Gray returns to immense cheers of appreciation and adoration. To put it simply, it just wasn’t the same without him.

Donning his top hat, Gray commands his usual stomping ground as Andy McReekie, loving(ish) husband to the gorgeous Dame May McReekie – who, incidentally, has a new book for purchase in the lobby, she’s just too humble to mention this. Together, this fine pair run McReekie’s Circus, who do away with performing animals and preferably offer daring stunts from The Berserk Riders, or vaudeville classic The Great Juggling Alfio.

Promising the greatest show on earth, Goldilocks and the Three Bears take a playfully loose interpretation of the charming tale of cold porridge, soft beds and broken chairs. Then again, when have we known a script from Allan Stewart or Alan McHugh to stick to the source material? People want eccentricity, ludicrous stunts, and a story where the three bears may not be the stars, but there is a substantial lack of story behind the showmanship. As far as pantomime goes, Goldilocks is a by the storybook take on the genre, its visuals may be first-class, but its story is in safe hands – too safe. Jokes don’t punch as hard as they usually would, with only off the cuff banters and risqué digs at Prince Andrew causing more than a chortle.

Well, what can we say except this; if there’s any budget left for next year, someone’s fiddling the tax books. The King’s Panto has always been a piece of spectacle, from the cheesy and tacky glitz and glam of festive cheer to a grandeur worthy of Princes and Princesses. So, this year, Ian Westbrook has royally outdone himself with 3D Creations lending a hand offering; big tops, tight ropes, flaming torches and animatronic creatures of King Kong scale. And still, with a few choice surprises we dare not ruin by fear of Baron Von Vinklebottom’s whip.

On the subject of Vinklebottom, it’s awfully kind that Stewart and Gray keep employing this young Stott fellow during the festive months. A star of radio and television (we’re told) there’s certainly some acting chops beneath that Cheshire grin. Every year Stott’s adoration from the crowd for playing the vilest baddies grows deeper. It’s neigh-on impossible not to surrender over to the sadistic glee Stott manifests, the louder we boo, the more wicked the performance. Comedically, it’s a pitched performance, but what would one expect? Jabbing at the audience, rolling with the punches, Stott is showman through and through. Tragically, McHugh’s script underutilises a primary asset in Stott, who isn’t on stage nearly as much as we would hope for.

In fact, with plenty on show this evening (and not just from Dame May Reekie) it would be ill in failing to mention Andy Pickering’s musical direction, or indeed Karen Martin’s dazzling choreography. You have two chances to take a breath – once before the show starts, and another at the interval. Otherwise, blink or breath and you’ll have missed something. With superb vocals, from Cinderella to Beauty to Goldilocks, like Stott, Gillian Parkhouse is woefully underused. Performing numbers well, Parkhouse’s choreography is tight, but lyrically the numbers aren’t memorable or have staying power beyond the chorus.

Standing onstage with three panto legends is a difficult task at the best of times, for first-timer to the King’s Panto, but by no means new to the gig, Jordan Young can cut it with the best of them. Within moments, Young’s panto prowess is clear. As the trio induct Young into the beating heart of Edinburgh’s festive season, the usual Panto tropes are played on the unsuspecting Young – who, in turn, rises to adlibs, tongue twisters and fourth wall jabs. What Aberdeen may have lost in his move to Edinburgh’s panto, is this cities gain.

Excelling in all forms, going for bigger, bolder and more extreme settings and talents every year, King’s Panto manages to whet the appetite for the following years show the moment the curtain falls. How, year after year this team delivers a production which makes this city proud is unfathomable, as is the energy the team bring. This may be the early nights of a long run, but there is little doubt each performance from Stewart, Gray and Stott is conducted as if it were their first, their last and their best.

Goldilocks & The Three Bears runs at The King’s Theatre until January 19th. Tickets are available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/goldilocks

Photo Credit: Douglas Robertson

Tosca – The Festival Theatre

Opera created by Giacomo Puccini to a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Revival Direction by Jonathan Cocker

Leader of The Orchestra of Scottish Opera – Anthony Moffat

Conducted by Stuart Stratford

Puccini’s melodramatic masterpiece Tosca has it all; corruption, lust, heartbreak and the bureaucracy of history. Shifting the timeframe into the 20th century, there is still a stringent root to Puccini’s origins in 1900. Practically flawless in execution, Tosca moves beyond a visual wonder with Stuart Stratford’s musical conduction and direction. Under the growing shadow of Benito Mussolini, Floria Tosca attempts to liberate her beloved from the clutches of fascist oppression, but as their grip tightens so too does the risk of the lives involved.

A leitmotif in composition, Puccini allows singers leeway in a way few other composers achieve which gives Tosca an edge of humour other Operas cannot obtain without embracing the genre of comedy to the full extent. It accentuates the melodramatic blood which thrusts our leads forward, embracing the grandeur of the production, while still connecting with an audience. The libretto has narrative focus, but this revival at the hands of Scottish Opera and Jonathon Cocker impacts immediately, not with its song, but with visuals.

Decadent, there’s astonishing detail in Peter Rice’s design that offers a framework of renaissance sculpture. Rarely, perhaps never, has a production been so befitting of the Festival Theatre’s stage. A trio of spectacles, which depths are plumbed to offer scale, serve a unique purpose, and is in stark contrast to Scottish Opera’s previous settings for likes of Rigoletto. Here there is no room for minimalism or symbolic structure, no, this is craftsmanship at it’s most architectural. Hallowed stones of alabaster-marble, to a looming figure atop the fortress and imposing fireplaces, Tosca has the skeleton to hold spectacle, now hopefully it packs the lungs to carry this off.

Let’s be frank. We both know the operatic skills of this evenings performers go without question. Nae, it would be insulting to suggest there are issues with vocals, as there are none. These are trained professionals in the height of their ability, not merely in scale but control, emotive connection and tonal changes. These are storytellers as much as they are singers. Even those outwith the three leads of Tosca, Cavaradossi or Scarpia provide spine-shivering evidence that despite having over a century under the belt, so long as Scottish Opera can unearth and maintain exceptional talents such as Aled Hall, Paul Carey Jones or Steven Faughey, then Tosca will survive and ignite audiences again, and again.

Puccini’s adoration for women almost exceeds that of music, evident in Tosca herself. Fiercely resilient, profound in her determination, Tosca, as one may imagine, is central to the motivations of men throughout the production. Far from a temptress or stereotype, Tosca captures the moral depravity men will slither to in pursuit of selfish ideals, yet also the redemptive capacities humanity is capable of. Natalya Romaniw’s masterful voice ebbs away at the audience, for a brief moment, we are numb to the world around us as she recites her solo aria Vissi d’arte over her love for Cavaradossi.

“Ecco un artista!” and what an actor indeed, Gwyn Hugh Jones’ role as the painter, lover and revolutionary concealer Cavaradossi goes beyond mere vocal performance. Scottish Opera has an embedded appreciation of the medium, beyond its impression of solitary arias, breathing life into their productions. While his swansong moments in Act 3 etch into the minds of the audience, it is Hugh Jones’ oratorio moments within the house of God which stands out amidst borderline cinematic scenery. It also places him in stark contrast to the antagonistic Scarpia, the sycophantic leather-clad worshipper of one Benito Mussolini.

Eagerly revelling in our jeers and boos, Hall and Roland Wood match their vile villainy not only in presence but their mastery of vocals equally. A thick, pulsing vein of corruption runs at the heart of Puccini’s opera, a political bureaucracy at the core of Europe. Sly, vindictive and repugnant in approach, Wood’s Scarpia is a monstrous reminder of Italian fascism. Yet, even beauty turns its face towards evil, as Wood’s baritone’s tremble the marble adorning his office, the flames themselves shuddering at his presence, as his rising malice is snuffed out by Tosca’s kiss, the night hushes into new daybreak.

Dawn breaks, as does a brief respite from the dramatic tension of the previous act’s climax. Here especially, soak in Cocker’s respect for the orchestra, as the aria holds itself in reverence of the musicians. As the soldiers await their duty, the atmosphere lingers with glints of cigarillo sparks. Lead by Anthony Moffat, the composition of the piece is exquisite in richness, perfectly pacing itself to a building crescendo to reflect the upcoming finale. Particularly for the string portion’s, the orchestra stands toe-toe with those of the vocals, concocting a symphony of artistry, which ties together each element of Scottish Opera’s Tosca, finishing up a comprehensive production.

Perhaps a reflective comment but there’s a concern that Tosca may not be 100% accessible for non-devotees. This is, without question, meticulously crafted with undeniable talent, there’s an air of reverence for the production that those unfamiliar with Tosca will perhaps not comprehend. Still, Scottish Opera’s Tosca is a definitive incarnation, standing the test of a centuries history, art and revivals. It is a testament to the companies merit, talent and ability and a precise way to close their 2019 season alongside Iris‘ one-off performance at City Halls, Glasgow.  

Scottish Opera’s Tosca runs until Saturday 23rd of November. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/tosca

Photo Credit – James Glossop

9 to 5 – Edinburgh Playhouse

Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton

Book by Patricia Resnick

Directed by Jeff Calhoun

Let’s just get something straight: too few of us actually enjoy our jobs. Certainly not those early mornings, hiding in the bathroom to play on our phones, avoiding awkward co-workers and superfluous bosses who seem to have obtained their status by what little they have hiding in their trousers. Well, we’ve had enough, you’ve had enough, and sensational matriarch of Country Dolly Parton, has had enough.

Adapted from the 1980 film of the same name, Patricia Resnick’s 9 to 5 sees a trio of women living out their careers under the thumb of a lazy, sexist CEO as they seem to be doing all of the real work. Divorced, widowed and misunderstood Judy, Violet and Doraleen become a force to reckon after ‘accidentally’ poisoning, hogtying and temporarily removing their boss from the picture. To the score and lyrics of Parton, this touring production seeks to revitalise all us weary workers with a dose of energy. 

A vastly capable deputy, with Louise Redknapp unwell, Laura Tyrer takes on the reigns for the confident, but vastly underappreciated Violet Newstead, who like one may suspect, is running the company in the absence of any real input from CEO and serial misogynist Franklin Hart Jnr, played by Sean Needham. Strong, but without resorting to the misconception of emotionless, Tyrer carries the role well, but it’s underwritten, with that her angle of fair pay, equal opportunities and positions for women is as relevant as it was in the eighties – a resounding cheer echoing as she has had enough.

From the Island to the big city, Amber Davies’ talent for musical theatre is put to use in her performances of Judy. Patience is a virtue, her solo number Get Out and Stay Out may not occur until the second act, but it cements Davies as a headliner with star-draw and silences any neigh sayers to the performer’s original television background. Arguably a simple role, Judy’s mousier attitude can be lost against Doralee’s personality or Violet’s strong presence, but Davies manages to hold her own with ease.

This brings us to our final leading lady, the ‘blonde bombshell’ of the trio, Doralee. An epitome of deceptive appearances, Georgina Castle’s not-so-subtle take on Parton’s cinematic counterpart is leaps above others on the stage. Her dedication to volatile comedy is inspiring, stripping off the shackles of a stereotypical character, driving a development which goes beyond what one would expect, but still stays in the realms of superfluous. Doralee’s interest lies not in her appearance, but in her sweet manner, country tones and physical comedy. Her control is without question, the most drawing on stage, indeed it’s rather criminal Castle fails to receive top billing despite being the most accomplished of the leads, and a fine tribute to Parton.

Parton’s music makes for the occasional stand-out number, striking a chord with the room, but on the whole many of the numbers feel repetitious, and dare we say, quite mundane. Vocally, there isn’t any particular issue, but the notion to tune out can strike, inducing some mindless, if cheerful, head bobs as you listen more to the composition than the lyrics.

Riding on a risqué note of hilarity of, Act two is a bitter-sweet turn. With notions of standout performances from the aforementioned Davies, it’s a star-vehicle of a second act, serving to heighten our performer’s roles, without emphasizing plot. Things are too tidy and packed a touch neatly, leading to less slapstick or oomph than the previous act.

Indeed, an admirable quality of 9to5 is the apparent lack of rigorous ageing, a film centring on sexism and female empowerment is still a relevant text, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s comedic nature has moved along with it. What stands above anything for this production is its humour, it’s quick-fire, intense assault of the funny bone – visual gags, obvious gags, satirical humour and lashing upon lashing of dumps upon Trump. It recognises that with a weaker storyline, it’s strength is reliant on cast and entertainment, and two performers extensively delivering the laughs are; Sean Needham and Lucinda Lawrence.

Needham is every sleazy man who said hello to you with his eyes, before his words. Yet, good lord is this an impressive performance in slapstick. He takes everything on the chin, or indeed, the balls. His timing, while stretching in song routines is no less precise in delivery, and while he may reject the advances of Roz, Lawrence’s performance of Heart to Heart deserves every putrid ounce of sultry praise. Carrying a number which could land flat on its face, Lawrence balances vocal range with physicality, and quick costume changes courtesy of Lisa Steven’s choreography.

Well good golly Miss Dolly, this is certainly a turn-up for the books. Perhaps the only time you will want to stay past your shift’s end, don’t bother clocking out – ignore the world out there, soak in the golden radiance of Tom Rogers design work, as 9 to 5 answers your prayers when work suddenly becomes rather nifty.

9 to 5 runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until November 16th: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/9-to-5-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/

Photo credit – Craig Sugden