The Snow Queen – Festival Theatre

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen

Choreography by Christopher Hampson

Design by Lez Brotherston

Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Reworking the timeless tale by Hans Christian Anderson, no doubt borrowing from Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story, Scottish Ballet continues into the closure of its 50th anniversary with The Snow Queen. In this version, the deviating story merges aspects of the seven shorter parables into one another, with the Summer Princess taking on aspects of the little robber girl, and Gerda and Kai growing in age and becoming lovers, rather than friends/siblings.

Thawing, there isn’t quite the bitter pang of emotion which ought to be present. Compiling a trio of narratives, that of a travelling circus, a fortune teller and The Snow Queen’s narrative itself, the dance seems to fall into a secondary stance in pursuit of a story which is never fully realised. Rather than telling the story of an all-powerful Queen, with an enchanted mirror which shatters, casting a tiny fragment into a young boy’s eye and freezing his heart, becomes an irregular mingle of relationships, which attempts to focus on too many connections, straining each one.

Absent from the original, the Summer Princess, who goes by Lexi is a noted inclusion, and at first, the sisterly relationship of the production offers inspiration, but the character feels flat. Nothing at fault of Grace Paulley, who conveys a lightness which captures her role well, rather Lexi’s motivation, when given a glimpse of a potential future with Kai, seems hollow. At first, we seem unsure of who to support, Gerda the lover of Kai, who seems frosty, or Lexi, a Princess who seeks a life outside of her sister’s cold embrace, when really, it should be Lexi and her sister’s relationship we focus on.

Ferocious, Constance Devernay has a conviction as the Snow Queen, transitioning from rationale, cold and methodical in movement, to a more flirtatious, open posture with icicle-like precision in where her footwork. Devernay is a marvel when given the opportunity, but again, The Snow Queen herself has fleeting moments where the character feels out of place in her narrative. She is neither victim nor villain, hinderance or redeemer. Yet, her place at Anderson’s subversive narrative of sexual repression and risqué judgements, Devernay’s ‘awakening’ of Kai all hints as a profounder ballet. In the final moments however, clumsily grasping at her sister’s embrace/assault (we’re not sure which), The Snow Queen ends, not with glacial purity, but with a thawing frost.

Framing The Snow Queen with a jagged effect, it’s a creative concept which fails in one significant regard. As the Snow Queen and Summer Princess quarrel and peek into the human world, this splintering at the base of the stage obstructs their feet. Perhaps a personal qualm, an inability to see our principal’s footwork is an obscure choice in staging. Otherwise, Lez Brotherston’s design work for the production is sumptuous, conveying a frozen sense of time and framing the productions most exquisite scenes.

Picturesque, this band of performers, many who have previously played circus workers in the first act, get a firmer root in the gypsy clan. Scottish Ballet melds a contemporary feel, with hints of eastern European folk, combining crowd numbers and earthier movements than one would associate with Ballet. Fortune Teller Roseanna Leney has a firmer command with her brief time of stage than sadly some of our principal dancers can manifest. Her character’s richness, strutting Infront of the naked branches of winter, with the regal purple sky hanging above – it’s an entirely perfect scene which echoes what could have been a flawless production.

Between the blossoming romances, the sibling squabbles and the spectacle of the circus, Scottish Ballet attempt a blizzard of emotions, but sadly the forecast ends with a flurry of confusion. Motivations cloud character interactions, and we’re never fully understanding of any. Offering brief snippets of genius, hidden in the flurry of snowflakes, Paulley’s ‘thief girl’ is mingled effortlessly into the choreography as she pirouettes around her victims. Hampson compliments the lightness of a thief, with the pointe of a dancer.

With staggering costumes, particularly make-up effects conjuring Frost Sprites, Wolves and Jack Frost’s into being, The Snow Queen does achieve a sense of wonder. In no small part due to Richard Honner’s arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s original score. As always the orchestra stands firmly level with the quality of the troupe, but this time, it outshines the movement on stage as the music, the imagery and colours steal attention away from the dancers.

As a storytelling vehicle, The Snow Queen leaves those with folklore in their blood with confusion. In trying to capture the imaginations of many, the ice is spread thinly across the board. Christopher Hampson’s choreography fails to reach the lofty heights anticipated but does still showcase the immense skill of Scottish Ballet. In seeking to position the stories of three leading ladies, The Snow Queen is unsure of how to balance these women and sadly, all three find themselves on thin ice.

The Snow Queen runs until December 29th, tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen

Photo Credit -Andy Ross

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

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