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: https://theweereview.com/review/lauder/

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner

Shine @ Traverse Theatre

Video Rights:
Live Theatre

Writer: Kema Sikazwe

Director: Graeme Thompson

What defines you? Is it your past, your family? Perhaps more realistically it’s the societal labels attached from unwelcomed comments; immigrant, black, poor or untalented which ‘brand’ us. I, Daniel Blake actor Kema Sikazwe’s Shine gives an account of his own difficulties in finding his ability to not be a product of the system.

With growing resistance to theatres’ promoted history of the stories of the white middle classes, Sikazwe’s Shine requires a unique edge to stride out. It accomplishes this through its lyrical prowess – making its music the core element. It’s a pleasant reference to the narrative, that Kema’s late mother told him the power music holds and that his abilities make him shine out in the darkness of reality.

So, who are we? For Kema, he was a young boy being brought over to the council estates of Newcastle. While it wasn’t the mansion many in the Commonwealth had expected, it was still to be their home. Tragedy, racism and bullying followed – the depraved nature of uninformed people who couldn’t figure out who they were, let alone Kema. On the wrong path, music offered freedom of expression as well as therapy.

Where Shine is at its most impressive is as its music is constructed around us, Sikazwe as its maestro. As he discusses the impact music has had not only on his life but the lives of others, there’s a sense he isn’t acting. This feels real, selling his intentions even more. From the comedic turns to the serious. We are treated to renditions of dance beats, building and growing in crescendo – tunes we are all familiar with at the back of the bus.

At the risk of trivialising, Shine isn’t pushing a narrative entirely unheard of. Its importance is just as paramount though, Sikazwe’s actual accounts of bullying due to immigration or class is a relatable concept deserving to be at the forefront of theatre. What this production benefits considerably from is its musical interludes with rap styled delivery. The score is the standout aspect of the production, crafted in a manner to both entertain as well as inform.

Inspired by his ability at school to rap, the lyrical composition of these numbers is excellent. Furthering the inner turmoil of emotion, without having to spout exposition. Utilising the sound design one distinct number about firearm violence in Zimbabwe is met with chills at the sudden outbursts, Sikazwe physically conveying the anguish throughout.

Emphasising the storytelling element of the production, a keenly designed lighting from Emma Bailey has been incorporated into the set. Strip illumination adorns the walls that contain Sikazwe’s emanating moods, which ebb with the musical score. It’s quite a simple set piece, with the three flats acting to bathe Sikazew in warm light – yet at a moment’s notice confine him.

Hoping to shine bright enough to cast away shadows some audience members struggle with,Shine is an emerging voice amidst a sea of previously ignored narratives. Its individual nature should be respected, but it’s coming of age narrative doesn’t communicate anything revolutionary. That said, with issues surrounding racism, prejudice and violence ever present; perhaps a booming collective voice is required to hammer the point home. Nevertheless, Sikazwe’s performance is heartfelt, his delivery through song as well as spoken word, makes for an engaging piece.

Review originally published for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/shine-traverse-theatre-edinburgh

Live Theatre: https://www.live.org.uk/whats-on/shine