An Evening with Elaine C. Smith – Festival Theatre

Warm-up Act by Johnny Mac

There are a few things which capture the richness of Scottish culture, art and theatre quite like actress, comedian, and all-around character that is Elaine C. Smith. Scotland’s auntie, there’s no better way to spend an evening than in the company of an entertainer who is just that – family. From The Steamie right through to Two Doors Down, Smith has been keeping Scottish smiles going through it all, and she has no intentions of stopping.

Warming us up, the home-grown talents of Johnny Mac offer a comforting jovialness to the evening, but while his passion may lie in ‘silly’ jokes, there’s a silver tongue lashing around. There’s a timeless quality to Mac’s set, striving not to rely on easily punchable targets in politics or fame, instead, he continues a familial feel. These are the sort of gags you share with your cousins or granny when she’d clout you round the ear if you swore. His work with Smith in the panto makes him a fitting warm-up act, drawing fire at the various regions of Scotland with pantomime mirth.

The glittering main event, naturally gifted, Smith is quite at home on the stage, treating it like the front room, stopping for a chat, regaling us the odd anecdote of her career – wedging them around honest humour which provides more than simple laughter. A cosy evening, a chance not only for Smith to entertain the audience, but to express her thanks for their continuing support.

In this age of comedy, it takes a great deal for a comedian to carry off jokes which centre around the archaic notions of ‘men and women’, and yet, Smith is capable of keeping these alive. Not only this, current with insight on the changing dynamics of gender, Smith touches on her championing attitudes for woman across Scotland. Complete with a stirring rally cry for those of us in an industry where, things are never easy, especially for women, and that the illusion of being handed fame on a platter may seem tempting, but soon the meal grows cold.

Never forget – Smith has pipes. It’s no secret, star of the Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream, Smith has taken to the roles of Miss Hannigan, Betty in Fat Friends and a staple of Glasgow and Aberdeen’s pantomime history. This evening, however, any ideas of a comedic singer, with vaudeville roots are displaced as Smith delivers a tingling rendition of I Will Survive, alongside a special guest. Marvellous control, it takes a tremendous restraint to equalise tempo with an operatic performer – without straining to override the performance, Smith blends the harmonies.

Not only here for the comedy, we’re also after a right good gab. It wouldn’t be an evening with if we didn’t have a few insights into the woman behind the performances. Regrettably, rather than taking live questions from the audience, Smith is instead prompted with a selection of social media questions. The answers we receive are enlightening, enjoyable, but have an air of rehearsal. With such a wit, it’s a shame Smith isn’t able to cut loose and fire back into the crowd who no doubt have a few hidden gems among them.

Kindly, Elaine offers translations for the awfy posh folk of Edinburgh, the mark of a true Lady. It’s the smallest of punches like these, that offer a sense of playful welcoming. Smith is a Scottish woman through and through. West coast born, as one of the few Glaswegians who loves Edinburgh, Smith is a representative of Scotland. All of Scotland. No matter if you’re a Dundonian, Teuchter, Buddie, Fifer or an unfortunate Aberdonian, Elaine C. Smith is a treasure we all share.

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith was performed at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.

The Crucible – Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Glasgow

Based on the play of Arthur Miller

Choreographed by Helen Pickett

Artistic Collaboration by James Bonas

Composition by Peter Salem

A prescient message of our time, the relevance of texts to a modern audience seems to change very little – only in so far as who finds themselves the target of today’s witch-hunt. Claustrophobic, illustrating the darkness lurking beneath a community turning in on itself, Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible is an evocative ballet which has expectations to live up to following the Edinburgh International Festival.

Few companies can encapsulate the source material, while still offering a reason to adapt, quite like Scottish Ballet. What happens with Arthur Miller’s iconic play, known to drama students, writers, academics and fans across the nation is nothing short of mesmeric sorcery. The suggestion that there was witchcraft at work here is applicable, but regrettably, we’re all too aware of those repercussions. 

It is, as in any production of The Crucible, the seductive entwining of Abigail and John Proctor which foreshadows the prospect of a production’s success. To find a measure of sexual passion, only just outweighing a genuine sense of romance, delivering a pas de deux of devastating betrayal against Proctor’s wife Elizabeth. Yet, there is no sight more painful than a ballerina attempting to engage without reciprocation. No matter how hurt, how Claire Souet laces her form against Barnaby Rook-Bishop, he remains in character, a husband realising his mistakes, even as she caresses, attempting to connect.

The proverbial marriage made in heaven – choreographer Helen Picket, together with theatre director/artistic collaborator James Bonas, concoct a profound connection with facial expression, storytelling and a heart of theatre with a soul of dance. Echoing a sense of community, capturing the dread of ‘fake news’, anxiety and the ease of truth distortion, it’s a production which reminds we haven’t come as far as would desire.

Inspirational, the richness in characterisation present onstage is impressive. All too often ballet companies find themselves at the mercy of silent performers – not Scottish Ballet. How, then, does one communicate a character as stoically earthy, immovable, as Danforth or the court? With staccato manoeuvres, the trio of danseurs – particularly Rimbaud Patron, communicate such weight, despite their featherfoot movements. Their presence in Salem is clear, their motives sharp, decisive and imposing. 

Stiflingly hypnotic, the en-pointe synchronisation for such minute movements is awe-inspiring – particularly for Abigail and troupe as they feign their naivety towards Danforth. Their feet become needles, stitching the fates of those they besmirch – weaving a soft foot across a blanket of lies. Delivering a superb solo, Katlyn Addison’s Tituba counters Souet’s characterisation of the manipulative Abigail. Fragile, fluid and open – Addison is engrossing to watch, drawing grief as we come to realise her fate, her swansong elevated through Peter Salem’s score.

Rarely is it this important for the composition to maintain pace with the movement on stage, Salem has outdone previous works with the construction of The Crucible’s score. The nuances in tone, rising in waves to balance the performance is down to a fine art, with astute, shrieking rasps of the string to emulate blinding panic, to a boundless, soft-sounding sense of love, struck with lashings of regret.

Jean-Claude Picard’s conduction this evening is effective in control. Crossing a variety of genres, in an intense ménage of an almost urban tribal mash-up of ballet and street-dance. Encircling, taunting one another further – shedding their gowns as their morality, compassion escapes them, Soeut leads a dance troupe as the dancers grow in fever-pitch which is rightfully as bombastic as the score. With a graceful transition of the woodland serving as a backdrop, it stands as a stand-out of the production.

These backdrops – a combination of designers Emma Kingsbury and David Finn brilliance, range in their visage as unforgiving stone walls to the unrelating hypocritic ‘comfort’ of the church’s light. Flynn’s toying with shadow, the puppet wolves Souet and crew fantasise descending on the Proctor house are a stark, entrancing reminder of the callousness behind Abigail’s smile. Equally as inventive, Kingsbury’s costume is period-appropriate, offering significant authenticity, emphasising aspects such as Danforth’s shoulders, the restrictiveness of Reverend Hales top-piece or the flowing, effortlessly shed gowns of the girls.  

So, it is a providence the thing is out – Scottish Ballet’s the Crucible is everything you may have read, but everything more. This is a pinnacle of the companies’ 50-year celebration, a clear illustration of the talent, dedication and genius which are repaid thrice fold in appreciation, enjoyment and respect. However you seek a ticket, even if you have to dance with the devil, chances are you’ll be forgiven.

Runs at Theatre Royal Glasgow until September 28th – then touring Scotland – tickets available from Scottish Ballet: https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/crucible

Photo Credit – Jane Hobson

Bible John – Pleasance Courtyard

Written by Caitlin McEwan

Directed by Lizzie Manwaring

A recipient of Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve 2019, Poor Michelle offer their interpretation on a killer who was never caught, and the culture surrounding him – Bible John.

Gaze around this festival and one prevalent feature will leap at you: serial killers. Musicals, theatre and comedies centring around murder, death and killers litter Edinburgh. It’s by no means a new fascination, we’ve been obsessing over those who would cause grievous harm for centuries, holding them in reverence, canonizing them in history through obsession.

An unsuspecting office finds four women, who know each other only in passing, share one key love, podcasts. Specifically, podcasts surrounding serial killers and unsolved murders. When Bible John becomes the new ‘hot topic’, the girls become enthralled by the case. They turn their passion into an obsession, seeking answers for the lives he would take and for the safety of women across the world.

McEwan’s script blends a gruesome sense of humour, perfectly capturing the natural conversations we have around true crime. For the most part, a delicate balance occurs of characterisation, dramatic tension and even the odd music interlude.

The minimal setting, they make use of every aspect they can, without placing dependence on anything. Video projections are present but never overstay a welcome, sparingly used. No, the delivery from these four performers is what drives Bible John. The sincerity in their ambition to figure out the killer’s identity is entirely believable – one can imagine that sleuthing was already what these four are doing in their spare time. Lizzie Manwaring’s direction offers a comfortable environment, given the subject matter, knowing precisely what to draw from each performer, that is until the ending.

There is, we must mention, a disconnection with Poor Michelle’s production. Towards the finale, a shift in aesthetics occurs, which if taken a different way, may have been a tremendous, movement inspired ending. As it stands, the revisit of the Barrowlands removes much of the tension previously built over the show.

We find a sickening joy in watching the likes of The Staircase, Making a Murderer or listening to Serial and Monster, but for some, they offer more than fascination. They’re warning signs, things to store in the backs of our minds for if this ever happens to us. Bible John has such passion, and so many details it wants to convey that as it works itself into a frenzy, the ending loses what made the production appealing. Otherwise, with a hint of dark humour, Bible John is a look into one of Scotland’s darkest murders, placing gender, violence and fascinations front and centre.

Tickets available from: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/bible-john/performances

Poster courtesy of: Katie Edwards