Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard

Book, Music & Lyrics: Shonagh Murray

Featuring works by Robert Burns

Girls sent away from their Fathers, widows sitting in the shadows of their husbands and a mistress hiding her adoration, knowing to reveal her history would ruin her – there is little wonder women fashion themselves an armour. Rabbie Burns, epitome of lyrical writing, was known to enjoy the odd lady or two. How much do you know of him outside of your school days? Better still, how much do you know about his wife Jean, and the time she sat with his Mistress Nancy for tea.

Taken from the account of Robert Burn’s granddaughter Sarah, Armour sheds light on the effects of his life after his passing. Shonagh Murray’s script captures a tremendously warming essence of Scottish history. The script adds an air of distinguished elegance to the piece while the musical numbers are poetic and memorable. There are no cop-outs with pastiche tunes, each one is originally engaging, capturing the tone of the production strikingly.

Placing trust in their sentimentality, without reliance in pander, the all-female production craft a beautifully poetic musical, underscoring a staunch feminist message. The impact of these women, crucial characters in the lives of talented men, is a story seldom told. The story of Jean Armour, the bards wife, a woman he would return to no matter the affairs, liaisons and letters to others, does not disappoint.

These roses, as delicate as their period dress may convey, are thorny in temperament. All of the cast carry their multiple parts to fruition, in particular Burn’s wife. Armour bares their flesh, opening up the soft, quivering underbelly of uncertainty and struggles of the times.

Instead of; behind every man, there is a great woman”, perhaps “behind every man, are a few tremendous women”. If that be the case, this production is a cauldron of potential, ringing of cultural splendour and hearth. Slip on your soft, dancing shoes and bask in the glory of these women, who loved, respected and tolerated ‘the bastard’ Burns.

The Adventures of Curious Ganz – Assembly Roxy

Directed by Sarah Wright

Words by Anna Maria Murphy

Puppetry offers a form to the imagination that few other mediums can capture. Benefiting from a physical dimension, it takes an edge over animation, cinema and lighting effects. It makes our dreams, our hopes, and even our nightmares, significantly tangible. The Adventures of Curious Ganz told with miniatures, string and rod puppets is an enchanting piece which delves into history, alchemy and the stars.

Curiosity is, like its sibling necessity, a catalyst of science, imagination and adventure. Glossing over the colonial aspects of exploration, Curious Ganz tells the tale of a small, nosy man who is never without his trusty magnifying glass. Setting out on the open ocean, or the deepest mines of Peru in search of something, anything, Ganz encounters a familiar royal who herself finds interest in the world beyond the River Thames.

From Queen Lizzy the First to the Duffers, and even a disgustingly adorable caterpillar, Sarah Wright’s lead set and puppet design from a team consisting of Lyndie Wright, Liz Walker, Alice King, Mae Voogd, Katie Williams & Luke Wood are exceptional. Basing their production on the life of copper smelter Joachim Gans, the ability to shift us from the universe’s beginning to the stench of old London seamlessly is a testament of their profession. Liz Walker, Avye Leventis/Nix Wood and Ailsa Dalling’s conduct a wealth of tales from their fingertips, straying from drama to comedy and into touching moments with ease.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be children’s theatre without some countermanding fear to balance the sickeningly charming characters. In his bid to stifle science and maintain his authority in the Queen’s court, the Prime Minister may have a small role but it showcases the inventiveness of the Little Angel Theatre. Defiant that the world is flat, the puppet of the Prime Minister looms over model earth, with a tiny boat heading towards the edge. As he warns of sea monsters, leviathans and beasts, enormous puppet creatures sway back and forth around him. Sharply crafting him, his features strike imposing shadows on the cold stone of the Assembly theatre.That’s the thing about ‘kid’s shows, in an audience with one child -there are many more adults- it’s evidence of our appetite for shows such as Curious Ganz.

Unfortunately, there is some incoherence with the narrative, which causes the imagination to come off the reigns. It leads to the climax feeling rushed, bombastically throwing a great deal at the audience, and when contrasted with the slow, simple opener as the universe evolves, seems heavy on visuals, and light on reserved storytelling.

Understandably, this eruption of creativity comes from a place of enthusiasm. Which is what you’ll find heaping’s off throughout Curious Ganz, passionate storytelling which stumbles on its coattails to showcase as much delightful puppetry as possible in the fifty-minute runtime. Offering a revised insight into historical discovery, with delightful puppets of all shapes and sizes, Little Angel Theatre and Silent Ride are alchemists of storytelling, spinning wood, plastic and string into gold.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-adventures-of-curious-ganz/

Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah – The Studio

Directed by Tash Hyman

Written by Isla Van Tricht’s 

A child of Abraham, but all the same a sister queen, actor and drag queen Guy Woolf/Electra Cute and writer Isla Van Tricht’s production not only examines what it means to be open with yourself in the current world, but also explores the impact of religion, family and culture on one’s existence. Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah offers a compelling, humorous storytelling experience exploring a young queer woman’s journey through life, with just a few songs along the way.

Rabbis to the left of her, queer friends to the right, Electra finds herself struggling with the reconciliation of her identity. As well as fretting over explaining to her Jewish family, friends and neighbours her attraction to other women, Electra also worries about her gay friends discovering her cultural heritage and middle-class upbringing. It’s a precarious situation, in an era of supposed acceptance, where scrutiny still lies with attitudes towards anti-Semitic behaviour on a growing scale. Unafraid of fragility, Electra opens herself up to the audience. With her, we move from her days studying the Tanakh with friends to loft-room poetry readings, leading up to one big ol’ Queer Mitzvah celebration, with plenty of surprises.

Becoming Electra combines Woolf’s natural performance ability with Tash Hyman’s direction, which makes for an outgoing piece with a minimalist approach. Relying on ability, rather than spectacle, it allows the intended message to come across clearly without glam or interference. As such, the narrative journey Electra takes is relatable as she shifts around social groups, slowly accepting herself while finding discomfort in leaving behind her past. It’s a refreshing look at the incorporation of God into gender and sexuality, rather than a flat-out rejection of a higher being. 

As you may suspect, comedy plays a substantial part in Van Tricht’s script. Woolf’s drag prowess allows Electra to control a crowd with relative ease. Still, we gain a semblance of the person behind the performance. Woolf is awkwardly charming in his mannerisms as Electra, with extravagant facial expressions as her story culminates with a drunken mother, the free the nipple campaign and a touching connection with her grandfather. You also don’t have to be one of the faith to understand Woolf’s humour. Indeed, even those outside of London can understand the references made by Woof, including mentions to suburbs or shopping centres known for their Jewish communities.

Part of what makes Becoming Electra such a success is Van Tricht and Woolf’s dedication to not merely re-hash covers of songs from or about Jewish musicians, but instead adapt the lyrics and composition to create uniquely entertaining musical interludes. Excluding a sensational climax, which showcases Woolf’s vocals in a way which has been noticeably lacking in projection thus far, a take on the ever classic ‘Reviewing The Situation’ from Oliver! takes the song beyond stereotyping, turning it in on itself. Woolf’s voice here is a soothing affair; enticing, yet natural and refraining from showboating.

L’Chaim! all around for Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah, which captures the party atmosphere but still allows an intimate look into a cross-section of cultures many will only partially connect with or previously know existed. Wholly personal, Woolf communicates with a broad spectrum of people, which works tremendously in the production’s favour. A one-woman drag show, Woolf’s role as Electra offers a glimmer of light in the endless, bleak darkness of hopelessness. It is a sobering, wonderfully warm show.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/becoming-electra-queer-mitzvah/