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/

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof @ The Studio, Festival Theatre

Image Contribution:
Marion Donohoe

Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Mike Paton

Just shy of 75 years ago Leitheatre would emerge in humble beginnings, finding its namesake in the early seventies. A group banded together with two key concepts to their community – to adore dramatics and reflect on their roots in Leith. After covering a variety of authors and playwrights, the dramatic group have taken perhaps Tennessee Williams’ beloved, if at least most well-known, production on for their 2019 repertoire. Join Leitheatre in the humid plantains in America’s South for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There are two things we dread more than others, death and the truth. How fortunate that both reside in the core elements of Williams’ play. Communicating the opposition to facing these aspects of life is difficult, easy to trivialise but Leitheatre have managed to maintain a desirable dignity.

Tangled amidst their own strands of deceit, the Pollitt family seem to struggle to be honest with one another. Celebrating the landmark 65th birthday of Big Daddy, the family conceal his health struggles from the patriarch and his wife, Big Mamma. The William’s play looks at a plethora of life’s difficulties regarding sexual desires, mendacity and repression.

None so repressed than that of fierce Maggie, wife to Brick and daughter-in-law to Big Daddy. She’s striking, physically engaging (and knows it) but can’t seem to regain the lost intimacy with her husband. Nicole Nadler has perhaps the troublesome task this evening, with Maggie receiving a heft of the productions lines. She performs well, her feline curls and fluid motions represent the character but lack the punch when Maggie is pushed too far.

Big Daddy Pollitt, a character whose reverence is recognised in theatre. His offstage presence is felt through the first third of the play – requiring an imposing performance to match expectations. Rising to these measures is Hamish Hunter, who from the moment his cigar-chomping Big Daddy strides into the room – there is no question to who controls the plantation.

Through no fault of Leitheatre, ensure a bathroom stop before the second half. Ideally bring a snack for the rest of Williams’ play, which is a trek. It tackles a vast array of family disputes, unearthing as it solves. We receive answers to questions, some minor resolutions and at the centre a poignant interaction from Brick and Big Daddy.

Here, Kevin Rowe is able to show his performance capabilities, working off one another to draw out the best in each other. Teetering on a subtle edge regarding Brick’s relationship with male companion Skipper, Rowe handles the exchange with tact, respect and a needed connection with the audience. The tenderness communicated by Hunter offers the attachment to Big Daddy the audience requires; it pushes the character from potential explosive antagonist to understandably (if crass) human.

A commendable effort is put into the visual nature of this production, not solely relying on the performance aspect. Giving dimension to the piece is Stephen Kajducki’s sound and lighting design. Fireworks, unexpected but welcomed bring the minor touches which lift the amateur group above others in its field.

Capturing a chunk of pathos, Leitheatre does a remarkable job in bringing one of Williams toughest plays onto the stage. In a fully commendable effort, they breathe life into rich characters, some with higher effect than others. Move quicker than a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, get yourself round to bask in the proud satisfaction of local talent.

Tickets availble from Capital Theatres:
https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof

For more information on Leitheatre, please visit:
https://www.leitheatre.com/

Sound Symphony @ The Studio at Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
Brian Hartley

Director and Lead Artist Ellie Griffiths

Performers/Composer Sonia Allori, Greg Sinclair, & Shiori Usui

Paying tribute to the sculpture of music, Sound Symphony has a keen interest in involving its audience in the sights, feels and environment of creating music through their own bodies, and the show accommodates a variety of senses for the whole audience.

Beyond hearing, touch has a tremendous input in what makes the production enticing. We aren’t just sat down and blasted with melody; instead the young audience can stand, wander and, vitally, get a tangible grip with the make-up of the symphony. They feel how they can make their own harmony, learning how varying textures create the show’s sounds.  

Every detail, from the accompanying visual story to the pre-show introduction, has been researched and conducted by a dedicated team who display a wealth of understanding. Ellie Griffiths should be proud of the level of work involved, something extended to the rest of the production group.

Greg Sinclair’s musical direction guides us through an assortment of instruments – slowly deconstructing a symphony into bare parts. Sinclair, Sonia Allori & Shiori Usui begin as a trio performing classical melodies. Gradually they break apart, adding a performance element as Sinclair’s snobbish attitude looks unkindly on the attempts to make tunes from paper and spoons.

Costume changes and vivid colours adding visual elements to the production alongside aural. All three musicians interact with the audience in a respectful manner, allowing the audience to determine the level of interaction. As for the score itself, the presentation is more important than the finished composition. It is designed to encourage as much as it is to enjoy. As a piece of music, it has merit, the evolving melodies bring a variety to the audience which keeps them engaged. Overall Sinclair’s composition is versatile, pleasant and accessible for the young audience.

Griffiths’ production brings a much-needed form of music to audiences who deserve it the most; the ability to freely express oneself by putting themselves on the stage – to feel the vibrations of the cello or hum of the speaker. Sound Symphony is greater than a modest orchestral experience, reassuring every sound as beautiful which should reverberate nationwide.  

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/sound-symphony-the-studio-at-festival-theatre-edinburgh

Production touring:
http://www.soundsymphony.co.uk/