Forget Me Not – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Piano & Conduction by Barrie Kosky

Performed by Komische Oper Berlin 

When it comes to Yiddish culture, it’s true what they say – they made Hollywood. They built Broadway. There is not a composer or lyricist creating today in Western culture who was not, indirectly or otherwise, influenced in some way by Yiddish musicians, singers and composers. A team of three from the Komische Oper Berlin bring the reverence of their entire orchestra to Scotland to pay tribute to Yiddish language and the creators before them.

For a mere 4,000 years, Jewish culture has stood as the oldest monotheistic religion. With this, the Yiddish language is around 1000 years old, though speakers are now significantly lower due to the events of the Second World War. But Forget Me Not – sung in Yiddish with English subtitles – is not about sympathy, nor tear-shedding. Featuring the works of genre-defining composers Abraham EllsteinJoseph Rumshinsky and the lyricist Molly Picon, it is a celebration of the language from Warsaw, to Broadway, and then back again.

Pianist Barrie Kosky kicks off the show with a tone which pervades the evening. His approach generates a familial atmosphere; this is just one extensive gathering of your relatives, friends, and those uncles you never liked. It’s warming, his humour effortless, and the decision to avoid scripted junctions between songs brings a natural rapport with the audience.

Performing arias and occasionally sharing the stage are Alma Sadé and Komische legend Helene Schneiderman. Though both primarily sopranos, Schneiderman teeters into the edges of mezzo-soprano when the occasion calls. Vocally exceptional, the way they perform stands them apart from their peers. Together they take us back to the misery and sarcasm of Yiddish Operetta, spanning film and stage productions from the 1880s to the 1930s.

Scriptures, poems and songs bare the scars of history. Imploring us to keep our mindsets away from 1933, encouragement is still needed to liberate the forgotten music of the Holocaust. Abraham Goldfaden’s Rozhinkes mit mandl’n, or Raisins & Almonds, is a lullaby mothers, sisters and friends would sing to the children in the concentration camps. To describe the beauty this number summons, primarily through the soprano tones of Sadé and Schneiderman, feels inherently wrong, yet this haunting, instilling performance is breathtaking in its gravitas.

It isn’t all tears, however, as a goal of changing the mindset over Jewish history is up for discussion. The Holocaust, always to hold as an example of how far from the path humanity can stray, does not define a people. With this, an appropriate amount of melodramatic comedy is thrust into the audience, swaying the emotional pendulum in the opposite direction. It’s all or nothing this evening. Schneiderman lifts any doldrum slithering into the mindset of the audience from the poignant pieces mentioned. Her louder than life attitude, unequivocally controlling her vocals, reminds us of the celebration aspect in the evening, bringing Yiddish culture to life on stage.

Opera has a grand image of bold, belting numbers. Forget Me Not is of a different calibre, balancing prestige and a sense of humour. Sadé and Schneiderman’s ability to carry the vocals without resulting in bombastic shrieks is testament to their marvellous skill.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/forget-me-not/

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 Tyler 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, Tyler 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

The King – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written by David Michôd and Joel Edgerton

Directed by David Michôd

David Michôd‘s Henriad drama, The King, comprises three works of the bard, taking Shakespeare’s Henry IV (parts 1 and 2and Henry V and forming them into a composite piece of historical drama. The drunkard, layabout son of King Henry IV, Hal finds himself under the pressure of ascending the throne, progressing from being his father’s last resort to the only available choice. Young, unproven and on the downward path towards a bloody venture, Hal surrounds himself with advisors who, in typical Shakespearean fashion, are of Machiavellian intention.

Political drama is at the forefront of Joel Edgerton‘s and Michôd’s interpretation of the trio of texts, in keeping with Shakespeare’s writings, but they seek to reinforce an authenticity in their characters. Complimentary to the audience, perhaps to a fault, the script is subtle. With the gift of a ball to the juvenile king and other matters which go unspoken, it’s refreshing to see exposition or symbolism left for audiences to unearth; at the same time, this does fail to encourage a heightened response in key moments.

It would seem the people’s newest champion of cinema, Timothée Chalamet, continues his rise in a breakthrough career in his interpretation of Hal. A round-shouldered, inverting individual who grows to stand tall, he becomes a beacon for the people of England following countless wars and battles. More so than other performers, Chalamet treats The King as a reflection of the three plays, showcasing a richer characterisation and physical evolution than his co-stars.

A buffoonish pursuer of vice, Falstaff is perhaps Shakespeare’s most significant creation outside of a titular role, a character who transcends a variety of mediums. Edgerton’s judgement of the performance rivals Chalamet’s dedication to the film, which is understandable given his primary writing role. An enabler, the character dips into the mystical advisor of cinematic tropes, but it allows Edgerton to captivate, holding our attention with ease. That’s especially true since his balance of humour never exceeds mild sarcasm nor jolly defiance to Hal, or in scenes where a playful rivalry blooms with Robert Pattinson’s Dauphin.

Taking a Shakespearean interpretation, the Dauphin would be well at home in the Globe Theatre. Pattinson’s exaggerated mannerisms are menacing, but in doing so he stretches into an over-reaching antagonist. A peculiar choice in direction, Michôd here creates a divide in the film’s tone, pushing more nuanced performances against that of excess. It makes for an entertaining opponent, but one suspects there are always a few seconds cut before a cackle or curling of the fingers would infect Pattinson’s performance.

While the comfort of the living room appeals to streaming releases, a cinematic scale of the action demonstrates Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography. Going beyond the battles or open-air scenes, there’s a profound intimacy in the dimensions of The King. Arkapaw captures the claustrophobic pressure of the courts, the bedrooms and inner sanctums. It’s not only a visual but an aural sensation which captivates the atmosphere of the film. Nicholas Britell’s score accentuates the sublime imagery, never pervading a scene or interrupting tension, seeking solely to act alongside the visual design of a scene, whether this grows in grandeur or slithers back into silence to allow impact.

The King is an engrossing update which lifts Shakespeare’s characters into a piece of classical cinematic filmmaking. It does sometimes falter, though, in failing to fit together the sum of its parts into a tight, comprehensive package. The pieces lie there, each a component of something which would generate buzz, but there are gaps where parts fail to align. Its blade has little sharpness, and although it’s a well-crafted piece of film, there’s no edge to Michôd’s The King outside of its visuals and solid performances. Those are selling features in their own right, but not enough to quite carry it to the lofty expectations it seeks.

Review originally published for WeeReview: https://theweereview.com/review/the-king/

The King is available for streaming and in cinema’s from November