Lauder – Festival Theatre Studio

Original Script by Jimmy Logan

Adapted by Jamie MacDougall & Kally Lloyd-Jones

Directed by Kally Lloyd-Jones

At one moment in history, Harry Lauder was the highest earning entertainer across the globe. He was the first British artist to amass the sale of over one million records. Following the loss of his son in the First World War, he also went on to raise vast sums for returning soldiers. For this, and much more, a knighthood was bestowed to (now) Sir Lauder in 1919, the first one for a performer of music halls.

The story of one of Scotland’s most successful singer-comedian, or as he would prefer minstrel, is a rich one to compact. With such a notable history, Jamie MacDougall tackles the role in a way that would without a doubt make the man himself proud.

MacDougall and director Kally Lloyd-Jones have adapted the original script by Jimmy Logan. Harry Lauder finds himself rehearsing backstage while a single solitary member of the press sits in the audience, offering questions. From this simple jumping point, we cover most of Lauder’s fascinating, star-studded life through dance, melody and nostalgia goggles.

True to the name of a minstrel, Lauder comprises itself around his music, with interjections of historical facts, gags and snippets of crowd japery. From his first pantomime performance of “I Love A Lassie” to the crowd-pleasing behemoth that is “Romain’ in the Gloamin”, a wealth of numbers are performed. Renowned for his voice, MacDougall’s vocals are without question impressive. Perhaps most remarkable is that the sheer force behind his voice is under tremendous control inside the smaller space of the Festival Theatre Studio. He tempers the intensity; we feel how much power is in MacDougall’s voice, and yet he exhibits a playfulness with the lyrics to fit with the tone.

While MacDougall’s vocals add his own touch to Lauder’s own distinct timbres, his characterisation is spot on; from facial expression to shifting his entire body to push for authenticity. It’s intimate theatre with a strong sense of an almost one on one conversation taking place before us. With the piano, along with his costume pieces on stage, MacDougall and Lloyd-Jones production benefits from the updating of Logan’s script. The video projections – chiefly of war-time documentary footage – are a pleasant touch but could have been utilised on a broader scale. Its use is sporadic, and its lost potential is evident during the costume changes.

Perhaps though, it may simply be desiring more of a good thing. The same is valid for the anecdotes MacDougall shares with us, which are just as sought after as the music. They’re infrequent to begin with, becoming more prevalent as Lauder reaches his semi-retirement. They make for the human insight to the man behind the sporran, MacDougall carrying them well. The news of his son’s passing, revealed in a telegram on New Year’s Eve is the poignant moment. One not used to milk emotion, instead, Lauder’s brief recollection leadings into the dedications and memories of Lauder’s son.

There are two groups of people who will sit with honest smiles, devoid of pretence. The first is children, experiencing something magical for the first time. The second, a crowd who are re-living that magic which would conjure happiness and see them through sorrowful times. Lauder is a wee smasher of a treat: big in performance, large in heart and enormous in character. So, before you depart – have a “Wee Deoch An’ Doris”for Sir Harry Lauder and this excellent portrayal courtesy of MacDougall.

Review originally published for Wee Review:

25 Live: The Big Birthday Show – The Festival Theatre

Image contribution: Greg Macvean

Directed by Cat Sheridan

For 25 Live: The Big Birthday Show, this isn’t about the comings and goings of glitzy statement productions, this is about community. The community which has been with the Theatre, and its predecessor the Empire Theatre for 25 years and more. For as much as this may be a Birthday celebration for the Festival Theatre, it’s also a celebration about us.

Ranging from across the capital, they are serving not only a delightful evening of comedy, dance, song and cinema but a stroll into the theatre’s current workshops and programmes. Including a heart-warming performance from members of the monthly dementia friendly tea parties, something right at the heart of the Festival Theatre. Stretching beyond we also have local schools, choirs and partnerships with Scottish Opera and Dance Ihayami. 

Who on earth could host such an event? Well, Jamie MacDougall and Saskia Ashdown seem superb choices. Ashdown, previously a member of the Attic Collective, part of the accessible theatre programme, is a representation of the theatre’s impact. A fan favourite, MacDougall is on top form for the audience, at home on the stage as usual. His signature vocals glimpsed very briefly in the show opener No Business Like Showbusiness.

As Scotland’s premier stage for opera and dance, it’s only fitting that a birthday party includes a few boogies. From ballroom dances of elegance to the Rosie Kay Dance Company. Breaking Ranks, a developmental piece following the recently staged 10 Soldiers is perhaps the most technically accomplished of the evening.

A pleasant touch, right from within the workings of the theatre is the challenge set forth to those unsung heroes: the front of house staff. Invited to reflect they cobble together an exceptionally inventive piece which replicates, lampoons and in one case improves upon previous productions performed on this famous stage.

It isn’t all a stage event though, with the screen taking its chance to represent the community too. Here, we are treated to a series of monumentally personal videos created for the event. From silent movies to a touching tribute for the marvellous 96 and still tapping Marie Duthie. Two videos in particular though resonate for their representation, skill and talent. All Among The Pines, an original stop-motion animation made with Braidburn School is a charming piece featuring bright animation, craftsmanship and editing. Our Voices was co-created as a response to the consultation over the Gender Recognition Act, a proud inclusion on Scotland’s largest stage.

So as we thank the creative talents, hosts and producers, so to we offer gratitude to the theatre itself. The celebration ends reciting the doctrine that; ‘Everyone is an artist. Everyone is an expert of their own experiences’. The Festival Theatre helps evolve homegrown artists alongside the theatre itself. Encouraging nurture and support for the local communities while providing world-class entertainment for the masses. We thank you.  

See what delights are coming to both The Festival and The King’s Theatres in the coming months:

And If I Were Me – The Studio, Festival Theatre

Video rights: Act2

Created by Catherine Dreyfus

How do you visualise an emotion? Utilising the medium of movement, French choreographer Catherine Dreyfus’ production of And If I Were Me puts forward this question. 

Initially concealed within a box, a plethora of wonders are revealed to the audience. Arnaud Poumarat‘s set is a cube featuring sliding panels that gradually reveal a projection screen, among other surprises. The spectacular design allows the dancers to convey vivid movements and reality-defying tricks, as only sections of thier bodies are exposed – much to the delight of the audience. The resulting show is a child-like delight that communicates the true joy of creative expression.

Significantly physical, the performance is more of a movement piece than a dance production. As the audience are taken on an evolutionary journey, the performers react to one another with a spontaneous-seeming ease that is often funny, especially when they farcically shuffle around as post-cellular life forms. 

Dreyfus’ choreography channels various emotions, perhaps to relay to children the power of dance to express feelings. The concepts of confusion, aggression and stress are communicated through rapidly shifting leaps, balanced out by the playfulness towards the climax of the show that embodies joy. The pacing slows slightly when two performers are attempting to ‘awaken’ Dreyfus from her sleepy state, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall rhythm.

The show’s only flaw is its sound design, which relies too heavily on gags. During the show’s more conceptual moments, such as when we hear the squelching of early-life organisms in primordial mud, its effective. But these sound effects are overused, and they feel like a crude inclusion once the toilet humour kicks in.

Art2 Company brings a passionate show to kick off Edinburgh’s International Children’s Festival. Overall, And If I Were Me is a charismatically constructed piece of movement, and an engaging show for children who may be grappling with their own identities and emotions.

Review originally published for The Skinny: