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Oct 11th

Whingeing Women at The King's Theatre, Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Suzanne Lowe

Whingeing Women is made up of a series of monologues portraying the life experiences of ordinary women.  Every topic imaginable is covered from their thoughts on men, love, life, death and sex.  Their stories had the audiences crying with laughter and also, at times, with sadness.

  Whingeing Women

Tasked with sharing these life experiences with the audience were Gail Porter, Joyce Falconer, Janette Foggo and Angela D’arcy. 

Standout performances came from Joyce Falconer (of River City fame) who had the audience roaring with laughter even before she opened her mouth to speak.  Her portrayal of a pushy mother trying to secure the lead role in “Annie” for her daughter was a highlight of the show as was her final scene which saw her trying to involve the audience in a sex therapy class!!  Very interesting.

Janette Foggo (known  for  Doctor Finlay, Rab C. Nesbitt, The Bill and Taggart  to name but a few) also shined with her very moving performances of a mother who was trying to come to terms with the fact that her son had just ‘Come out’ and the sadness at the loss of a daughter.  Perhaps her biggest triumph of the night was one which involved a mask, long coat and a change of name which highlighted the very colourful pastimes of some couples.  I couldn’t quite believe that this accomplished actress was portraying this character; but portray it she did and she had the audiences rolling around with laughter.

Angela D’Arcy (RSAMD graduate, Director, Singer) gave the audience the views of a somewhat younger woman.  Her relationship with men and her incredibly heartfelt performance of a young woman raped by her uncle resulting in a baby created a silence around the auditorium.

Gail Porter (TV Personality/Presenter) gave a well rounded performance but perhaps my only criticism would be that during the first half of the show her stories were incredibly self indulgent.  The need to include her own real life experiences into this production were, in my opinion, unnecessary.

Whingeing Women, although at times cringe worthy, is definitely a play worth seeing.  A typical “Girls Night Out” evening (although I did count at least 4 men in the audience and yes they were laughing) which should be accompanied by a glass of wine.  It will have you laughing and crying for all the right reasons and taps into what we all know and think but don’t say out loud.

Whingeing Women

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

9-11 October 2014

Tickets £16.90 - £38.90 (plus booking fee)

Sep 26th

The Full Monty, King’s Theatre, Glasgow - 23rd September – 4th October 2014

By Jon Cuthbertson

After the musical version relocated the story to Buffalo USA, Simon Beaufoy brings the Full Monty setting back to Sheffield with his stage version of his own screenplay.

 Full Monty 3.jpg

If you haven’t seen the original film, the story follows a group of jobless ex-steelworkers who in an effort to raise some much needed funds, decide to form a male strip troupe. Knowing that the local ladies have recently had “The Chippendales” performing, they need to offer something special and decide they will go “The Full Monty”. So far, so seedy, but this story has a lot more depth. Leader of the gang, cocky Gaz, is fighting for the money to pay back child support to keep getting access to his son, Foreman Gerald is keeping his job loss secret from his wife, as he thinks she’ll leave if she doesn’t continue to have her luxury lifestyle and Lomper is so depressed at having no friends he is contemplating suicide.


With a cast comprising of many household names, it is heartening to see that most have also had a lot of stage experience – and it is needed for a show like this. With a lively audience, the actors’ sense of timing is vital to ensure that no dialogue is missed, but that the show keeps moving at a decent pace. Martin Miller and Liz Carney gave a beautiful example in a touching scene between the overweight Dave and his supportive wife Jean, which on a few occasions had the exuberant audience throwing in some lines of their own – but it is a testament to these performers that the scene never lost focus and provided probably the most emotional moment of the show. Andrew Dunn as Gerald provides a great authoritative figure for the group and with an excellent Kate Wood in one of her three diverse roles as his wife Linda, make another touching story to tell. Rupert Hill and Bobby Schofield as Guy and Lomper give another emotional level to the story as they bond within the troupe.


However for me the real star of this show was the ingenious industrial set, designed by Robert Jones. The simple transformations between scenes – making use of the contents of the old steel works and the audience’s imaginations – made for seamless transitions that kept the show ticking along nicely.


The question everyone is dying to know the answer to is – did they go The Full Monty? Well, the signs outside warn of male nudity, and the lighting does go some way to spare the actors blushes – but I can confirm that they do indeed go the Full Monty. With some of the memorable moments from the film very cleverly recreated and linked with the music you are waiting to hear, if you are a fan of the film, you should not be disappointed. Although it has a hint of risqué about it, this play still seems gentle enough to be a heartwarming fun night out (if you ignore the male nudity and the choice language!).


Listing Information



Evenings: 7.30pm                                            

Matinees: Wed & Sat at 2.30pm (booking fee)

0844 871 7647 (booking fee)

Sep 16th

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at Theatre Royal, Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe
Agatha Christie’s record breaking whodunit returns to Glasgow to keep a fresh audience guessing.
The Mousetrap 60th Anniversary Tour

The Mousetrap is famously the longest running production in British Theatre history; having been performed in London’s West End continuously since its opening in 1952.  With over 25,000 performances in its London home alone, this play is clearly doing something right!  To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the play licenced 60 productions worldwide including a tour of UK regional theatres for the first time.  With phenomenal success, the tour has been extended to give an even wider audience access to this record breaking production.
Understandably, the play is in the classic mould being based in an imposing manor house in post war Britain where 8 principal characters are cut off from the outside world by a heavy snow storm.  A murder has been committed in nearby London and during the first act we come to appreciate that among the assembled characters are two more prospective victims … and the murderer.
The styling throughout will please any Agatha Christie fan.  The standing Great Hall set is suitably grand and reassuringly solid with an imposing fireplace and panelled walls.  Costumes and furniture fit the bill beautifully and even sound is very subtly amplified to maintain an intimate and authentic feel to the performance.  Direction from Ian Watt-Smith also fits the period nicely where (particularly female) actors are called upon to deliver melodrama and knuckle-in-the-mouth stifled screams – think Grace Kelly in “Dial M For Murder”.  Helen Clapp delivered this beautifully as Mollie Ralston with excellent support from this small cast including Luke Jenkins as Sgt. Trotter.
All in all, this production delivers what you might expect from a 60 year old Agatha Christie classic which has been faithfully preserved.  Unfortunately, for me, this included a rather pedestrian plot and 8 caricature personas along with a reasonably obvious conclusion.  I think that modern audiences expect more of the unexpected from their intelligent suspense dramas these days.  However, I don’t want to detract from this production too much as it clearly achieves what it set out to achieve.
Agatha Christie fans will love it.
The Mousetrap
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
15 – 20 Sep 2014
Tickets £11.90 - £34.90 (bkg fee) 
Sep 3rd

Annie Get Your Gun, Theatre Royal Glasgow - 2nd – 6th September 2014

By Jon Cuthbertson

The Big Top of Buffalo Bill’s Sharpshooting Show hits Glasgow with an all new production, a revised script and jazzy choreography, but is it enough to update the sexual politics and implied racism to work for a modern day audience?



Setting the story of Frank Butler and Annie Oakley as a “show within a show” is a device that makes much more sense of the Irving Berlin score and allows choreographer Lizze Gee to add some energy with suitable movement to match the music. Combining this with the clever staging inside Buffalo Bill’s Big Top moves the show along at a great pace, utilising some simple boxes and clever lighting – plus a dramatic announcement of the scene change – to move swiftly from scene to scene with the minimum of fuss. This “music hall” style production is matched in costume too where the ensemble simply add a waistcoat and hat or a coat or even a feather headdress and jacket to become the other characters along the way.


So far so good, however we then meet our leading man. Unfortunately Jason Donovan seems to have lost the spark he once had as a performer – his voice sounded thin and he lacked the energy of the others in the cast. This was never more obvious than in his duets with leading lady Emma Williams. Appearing on stage with a “bang” (quite literally), Ms Williams never let a moment fail her – her energy and charm won the audience over immediately. With a great sense of comic timing and a beautiful voice too, it is worth the ticket price alone to see her lead this cast. This was never more evident than in “I Got The Sun In The Morning” where she leads the ensemble in a rousing song and dance number. Although the females get a good chance to steal this show (Kara Lane delivering a vibrant Dolly Tate), William Oxborrow manages to pull something back for the guys as Charlie – with an assured delivery and a solid voice to match.


In the story, Annie meets Frank as his competitor in a sharpshooting competition and his manager signs her up to join the show, and realising her potential they build her part in the act until she eventually takes top billing. So perhaps the show within a show became a case of art imitating life. Although Jason Donovan was the star billing (much like Frank Butler over Annie Oakley), Emma Williams has come through to shine as the star of this show.



Tuesday 2 – Saturday 6 September

Mon –Sat eves 7.30pm

Wed, Thurs & Sat mats 2.30pm

Box Office: 0844 871 7648 (bkg fee)

Website: (bkg fee)


Aug 31st

Dirty Dancing at The King's Theatre Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe
Review by Chris Lowe

Dirty Dancing the classic story on stage is here for you to enjoy at the King’s Theatre Glasgow. 

Dirty Dancing

The story of Baby Houseman (Roseanna Frascona) and Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey) and the music that accompanies their blossoming love/lust - is known across the globe. This iconic show is a welcome addition to the musical theatre line up at The Kings.
Featuring all the iconic moments from the film, Dirty Dancing does exactly what it says on the tin. It brings Johnny and Baby's unforgettable love story to life with passion and credibility to the sheer delight of everyone in the audience.
Dirty Dancing

Set at Kellerman's summer camp in the 1960s, the clean, cheesy, wholesome fun that goes on is contrasted by the hot steamy backstage drama. Where Dirty Dancing truly comes into its own is in showcasing the amazing dancing. This cast work extremely hard throughout and their incredible movement is mesmerising. 
The entire play, including its staging, oozes with cheese. Once you buy into this fact and take its approach to the film as tongue-in-cheek, the characters and their struggles (ridiculous as it may seem)  become a whole lot more enjoyable!
As the final hip-swivelling moves are made, the buzz from the audience speaks for itself. This show is an empowering, romantic tale which will stand the test of time for decades to come.
Dirty Dancing
The King's Theatre, Glasgow
Until 13 September 
Tickets £10 -  £79.90 (bkg fee) 
Aug 29th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: Party Politics

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August, the largest theater festival in the world, presents hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the third group, party politics. The parties ought to be the solution to the first two. But maybe not so much.

The plays are “The Pitiless Storm,” “Spoiling” and “Kingmaker.” The first two deal with the issue of Scottish independence from the UK which comes to a vote Sept 18th. The other, equally relevant, is about the corruption of UK Tory politics. The point made in the first two is that Scotland is progressive. Nationalist and labor members dominate the Scottish parliament. And they are almost all Scottish MPs in London. But set against the Tories, they are a minority in Westminster. So, staying in the union blocks progressive policies most Scottish voters want.

“The Pitiless Storm”

Bob Cunningham (David Hayman) is a Scottish labor leader preparing to address an audience of his comrades. He wears a gray suit and a Scottish plaid tie. A sign on the podium says “Unity (drawing of clasped hands) Strength.” But unity is sorely lacking.

He is getting an OBE – Order of the British Empire. And as he rehearses his speech, he talks to his son in the empty auditorium. In reality, this play by Chris Dolan is directed by the actor’s son, David Hayman Jr. And Hayman’s convictions are clear, illuminating his forceful performance. He is a man of the Scottish left.

Cunningham was a radical. He remembers a peace march he walked in at 20. He sings a line of a Spanish civil war song. He says, “We fought for internationalism.”

David Hayman as Bob Cunningham in

David Hayman as Bob Cunningham in “The Pitiless Storm.”

Now, the mood of the Labor Party has changed. He talks about how workers have been treated badly, thrown on the scrapheap. He lists his achievements, but acknowledges that he got workers education –but not jobs.

We see Cunningham struggling to defend his past and to come to grips with reality. He thinks of his wife. Ethel says: “Wasn’t you, Bob who destroyed more industry than Thatcher. You didn’t put a million young people on the dole. Afghanistan, Iraq, they weren’t your wars.”

He refers to the Labor Prime Minister that took the UK into the Iraq war as “Tony criminal liar fucking Blair,” responsible for “the destruction of everything we held dear.”

And on other issues. He declares that going on a peace march against a Labor government policy in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been wrong. But he mourns that Ethel, who he adored, went marching with “the ladies” – and left him.

In his memory his son reminds him of his goals: “An end to peerages, spin, cash for honours…”

His guilt overwhelms him. He thinks that he fought for miners, shipbuilders, homeless, the unemployed. And now he thinks that was just keeping alive the yoke of empire.

He thinks, “Thank you, thank you Westminster and the Great British Commonwealth…. for fucking up my life and everything I stood for and what I thought it was to be a man. An O – B – fucking E, playing the bastards at their own game.”

Now it has come to a “tacky class war against nationalism.” He says there are “plenty of dragons still to fight in the United Kingdom. But they’re up here as well as down there. Think of your Scottish ruling class. …We’ve got to stand firm on this one, friends.”

It was a passionate plea to vote yes on the Sept. 18th referendum for Scottish independence from the UK.

The Pitiless Storm.” Written by Chris Dolan; directed by David Hayman Jr.


There are piles of crumpled papers on the floor in front of a brown wood desk. Out of it pushes/rises a lady in a purple dress who is very pregnant. In “Spoiling” by John McCann, directed by Orla O’Loughlin, Fiona (the excellent Gabriel Quigley) is the Scottish foreign minister designate who is preparing to give a major speech about the newly independent Scotland and its relationship to the UK. It’s never said what ruling party she belongs to. You have to figure it’s the majority Nationalists.

The date is the future, after the September 18th vote on independence which here is established as a “Yes.”

Gabriel Quigley as Scottish foreign minister designate and Richard Clements as party worker in

Gabriel Quigley as Scottish foreign minister designate and Richard Clements as party worker in “Spoiling,” photo Jeremy Abrahams.

She has been promoted by the party, because what she said about the referendum galvanized the public.

But now the party wants to counter the vote for independence. She fears that the Scots voted for independence, but “we are indentured,” and the party leaders will finesse the vote. She doesn’t like the speech that she’s been given to present. It uses words like “integration.” .

The party is worried that she won’t stay in line, on message. They send to her office a young party hack, Mark (Richard Clements), one of those interchangeable bland-faced young men in a suit who transmits the worries of his bosses that she won’t stick to their script. They emphasize that “we can’t embarrass our guests,” the English. She is angry that the schedule has the Brits speaking first, as if they were welcoming everyone on to “their house.”

The crumpled papers out of which she rises are her speech. Mark picks up a paper and she reads it: “The people of Scotland did not fall for a project…” She talks about what the English did to the Scots. In passing, Mark asks who presented her with child. Turns out she was “screwed” by a Brit. [My word, but you get the idea.]

Smart and clever, it’s what Scottish intellectuals think of the September 18th independence vote. Stay tuned.

Spoiling.” Written by John McCann; directed by Orla O’Loughlin. At the Traverse Theatre.


A slick Tory MP, Max Newman (the superb Alan Cox), is plotting the moves that will make him a British prime minister. You get an idea of the corruption awaiting the Scots if they don’t get their own country.

The chief character in this engrossing play by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, directed by Hannah Eidinow, is a not very disguised Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London, who has greater aspirations.

The dialogue reminds one of Johnson and other politicians – especially Labor prime minister Tony Blair – who are famous for public relations manipulations. One description of their ilk in the play is of “a teddy bear crossed with a serial killer.”

Now Max is in a contest for the Tory leadership, which could move him toward his quest. He’s got some dark things in his past, affairs, he jokes “embezzlement, and I don’t go to church.” But he quips, “The public just don’t care.” That’s because he looks like the rest of them, funny flawed like the rest of them, and therefore electable.

Alan Cox as Max Newman in

Alan Cox as Max Newman in “Kingmaker,” photo Jeremy Abrahams.

Unfortunately for Max, blocking his way is Eleanor Hopkirk (the very good Joanna Bending), an ambitious Tory MP, whose brother 20 years ago was a suicide, she says, after bullying by Max at one of England’s prestigious universities. Is this blackmail?

She has brought along Dan Regan (Laurence Dobiesz), a meek young MP who will be part of the deal.

But Max, a former newspaper editor, is more agile than she is. Max the bully is not one to be finessed. With wide brush strokes, talk reminiscent of a gangster, he begins a pincer movement. He accuses her of seeking power through the young guy. He suggests allegations of her drinking and promiscuity. And suddenly there’s the great PR device, a mea culpa. “This guy is our next PM, because he knows what it is to suffer.”

Yes, such manipulators are who the Brits have gotten as the PMs in both parties. Takes you back to the first plays, about why many Scots want to get out of Westminster.

Kingmaker.” Written by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky. Directed by Hannah Eidinow.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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Aug 29th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: War

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August, the largest theater festival in the world, presents hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the second group, about war. “The Bunker Trilogy” and “Private Peaceful” about World War I and “The Collector” about more organized cruelty in Abu Graib.

“The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana”

Written by Jamie Wilkes, directed and designed by Jethro Compton, this is one of three plays that look at war – World War I in this 100th anniversary — through iconic western stories. This uses the Arthurian legend, the others Agamemnon and Macbeth. It is eerily superb.

You enter into a small dark space, benches on three sides, but you can hardly see them. Then your eyes get accustomed to the dim. There are dark wood planks that hold up canvas walls, a tin roof, a dirt floor. You glimpse sandbags piled up at an opening.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Inside are three British soldiers in a bunker in No Man’s Land between British and German lines. The play is about the ordinary and the horrible.

The characters from the story of King Arthur are Arthur (Hayden Wood), Lancelot (Sam Donnelly), Gwain (James Marlow) and Morgana le Fey (Bebe Sanders). They remind one that the glorification of war described in that story, and other legends, is a fraud. All the actors are fine in this ensemble performance, but I found Wood especially good

With horror outside the bunker, a bit of ordinary life goes on. The older soldiers tease the younger Gwain, who lacks experience with women. They talk about a German girl; could she have been the fat girl they saw on No Man’s Land?

It’s Christmas. Lance says, ‘When we liberate German women, it would be disappointing if they were porky.” So they are typical sexist males of the era. They do male jokes, male fantasies.

As they talk about venturing into the danger zones, Gwain argues, “This isn’t about bravery, it’s about principles.”

But he is contradicted, “We think of ourselves as knights.” Lancelot declares, “For King and country.” Killing for humanity.

Morgana provokes the youth’s memory of Cornwell. And the song sounds, “Keep the home fires burning.” All fantasies for the World War I killing fields.

The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana.” Written by Jamie Wilkes. Directed and designed by Jethro Compton.

“Private Peaceful”

Taking the British soldiers as individuals, “Private Peaceful” was adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the narrative by Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the story on which “War Horse” was based. It tells the story of Private Tommo Peaceful (vividly portrayed by Andy Daniel), a naïve First World War volunteer who grew up in rural Devon, fell in love with a young woman who married his brother, and then enlisted at 16, below the legal age. Daniel bounds across the stage to create scenes and years.

Too much of the story is about his early life, showing he’s a regular guy, but when it gets to wartime it is riveting.

There’s propaganda fed to the young corn-fed guys: “If we don’t beat them in France, the Germans will come through burning your village.”

And, “Your king needs you, your country needs you. It’s every man’s duty.” Tommo is goaded by an old lady who calls him a coward. Then we see the brutality visited on sweet innocent boys afflicted by foolish “patriotism.”

Andy Daniel as 'Private Peaceful,' photo Jonathan Keenan.

Andy Daniel as ‘Private Peaceful,’ photo Jonathan Keenan.

Tommo and his brother join and army and go to France. He is gassed, and a German lets him go. His brother is wounded, and Tommo refuses to leave him to follow an order for a suicidal attack that would doubtless kill everyone on the mission. It is 1916. He will be brought up on death-penalty charges for cowardice. Never mind the stupidity of the commanding officers.

Morpurgo’s inspiration for the play came from a visit to Ypres where he discovered how many young soldiers were court-martialed and shot for cowardice during the First World War. No problem for those giving suicidal orders. An important play on this 100th anniversary of the national conflicts that politics turns to war.

Private Peaceful.” Adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the story by Michael Morpurgo.

“The Collector”

The horrors of the First World War appear mild compared to the suffering described in “The Collector,” which occurs less than a century later. It’s inspired, of course, by the American prison at Abu Graib. But it’s not just about American brutality against Muslim prisoners. It’s about America’s flouting of its moral commitment to people who believed its stated values and risked their lives to help the American project.

The play – unnerving and memorable — is written and directed by Henry Naylor, a British TV and radio writer. The characters are three U.S. officers – a southern reservist, a female interrogator and a nasty officer, and two Iraqis, a woman and her boyfriend, a great fan of America and its culture. It’s 2003. We see only Captain Kasprowicz, the reservist (William Reay), Sergeant Foster the chief interrogator (Lesley Harcourt) and Zoya, the narrator (Ritu Arya), fiancée of an Iraqi interpreter. The play is three interwoven monologues. The actors are excellent, with Arya especially moving.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

In an unsettling literary contradiction, Zoya’s opening sets the horror as poetry:

“Here is the land of magic and genies and flying carpets.
Of tyrants and despots and murderous Ba’athists.
A land of sweetmeats and Turkish delights,
Of Sinbad and Saddam and Arabian Nights.
It’s a magical nation of fable and mystery
A place with a long and ancient history
Boasting a rich and combustible soil,
Fertilized with blood and soaked in oil.
Writing began here and even drawing,
And beating with hoses and waterboarding.
Ours is the story of all mankind
Of the triumphs and failings of the human mind.
So if you’re with us, or against us, pull up your chairs
And share with us these Arabian nightmares.”

Colonel ‘Kasper’ Kasprowicz is a tough, charismatic American reservist in his mid-40s. He runs Mazrat prison, a former Saddam jail turned into an American lockup. Reay makes him realistic and sympathetic.

Young Nassir, who we never see, works in a warehouse and plays western pop music, particularly Eminem. He does gigs, he collects and sells CDs. He’s collecting American pop culture. He learns English from his hip-hop collection. From there, the ironic title. He loves America and signs on as an interpreter in the U.S. detention center.

The story tells how American brutality turns Nassir from a friend to a victim to a deadly enemy. It’s a powerful metaphor for the U.S. in Iraq. How America destroyed Iraq and its own values. It shows that man’s greatest enemy is his own brutality.

Sgt. Foster is the good cop, but she can’t compete against the loudmouth Vallay, the prototypical American abuser. He puts prisoners in a dress, asserting, “If you humiliate them they’re more ready to talk.” Harcourt is good as the kind of interrogator you wish the Americans had. We don’t see Vallay.

After an explosion, the U.S. picks up everyone in the area, 300 to 400 people, many innocents. Faisal, a leading Saddamist, escapes. Fearful, Nassir asks for protection, for asylum for him and Zoya. He doesn’t get it. He’s told “There are procedures.” He starts wearing a balaclava to hide his face.

The story is a thriller, about what happens to Nassir and how he reacts. Arya gives unsettling poetic voice to Zoya:

“… our richest crop is political crisis
And our latest harvest is that of Isis.
But they aren’t our real foe – nor Al-Qaeda, nor Saddam,
The real foe is deep in the heart of man,
For the history of Iraq shows a chilling reality
That man’s greatest enemy is our own brutality.”

The play is vivid, mesmerizing and, inevitably, chilling.

“The Collector.” Written and directed by Henry Naylor.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

- Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Aug 28th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: Repression

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August is the largest theater festival in the world, with hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the first group, about repression.

These riveting plays dealt with periods centuries apart. They are “The Players Advice to Shakespeare” set in the 1600s, and two mirror plays of the 20th century, “Animal Farm” in Stalinist Russia and “Chaplin” in McCarthyite 1950s America. In each case, the playwrights and actors bring out the psychology of repression and rebellion.

“The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare”

David Warburton is The Player in 'The Player's Advice to Shakespeare,' photo Andrew Alexander.

David Warburton is The Player in ‘The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,’ photo Andrew Alexander.

After seeing “The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,” I will never look at Shakespeare’s plays in the same way again. In this stunning work by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen, The Player (a powerful David Warburton), an actor in Shakespeare’s company, challenges the morality of the playwright’s choice of subjects for his plays.

It’s 1607, the period of the enclosures of tenants’ farmlands by nobles who want the communal property for sheep pastures. Sir Richard has forced his tenants off the land they worked. Now they are “vagabonds,” not a mild determination. Vagabonds are illegals. They can be brutalized, even mutilated by agents of the law.

The actor is in his 40s with straight gray hair to neck, breeches and a doublet and shirt with billowing sleeves. He begins hearing about a rising in the Midlands. Untidy characters are talking to crowds. People are breaking the hedges planted to enclose the land. He meets a challenger. “Why aren’t you there with them?”

He wonders if he can get Will Shakespeare involved in the issue. “Think of justice, Will. Think of where we came from.”

He doesn’t, and instead takes the road north out of London. There he meets two men who’d lost everything. One had an ear and hand cut off by a judge. He says, “As an actor, I ridiculed people like you on stage.” It makes you think about Shakespeare’s characters, how he dealt with the working class. Working class figures were clowns, never heroes!

In the Midlands, the actor sees entire sections of fence collapsing. Men pull plows through the enclosed pastures. Crowds roar. Then come soldiers with pikes and swords. Lines of soldiers mass on a hill. As the protestors appear unsure what to do, the actor uses his stentorian Shakespearean voice to direct them to save themselves: “To the trees!”

The return to London is dark. He thinks back, “I had to talk to Will about this. We had worked on the plays together. Will talks about acting holding a mirror to nature, not the nature I saw. I had to tell him to write a play that speaks about something real.”

Alas, the actor declaims that though the theater is the greatest sword of justice the world has known, Will, despite his origins has cast his lot with these “bastards.”

So, here’s quite another way to look at Shakespeare. Lots of kings and queens in the Bard’s plays, but where are the worker or peasant heroes? This enthralling production makes you think about that.

The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare.” Written by by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen. Produced by the New Theatre of Ottowa.

“Animal Farm”

A moving poetic theatrical version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel is performed by actors from Tiblisi, Georgia, the former Soviet state and the birthplace of Stalin. The language is Georgian, with supertitles, but it hardly matters, because the physical production directed by adapter-director George Masterson is so brilliant.

Workers and peasants on a farm seek to get rid of Farmer Jones, the man who oppresses them. The pig leaders say, “We are brothers; all animals are equals.” Jones should be overthrown and the fruits of the land be shared by the animals “Animalism,” says the pig leader, “is the way, comrades, to rebel against man.” They wear the same work clothes.

Some object, “Mr. Jones feeds us. If he didn’t, wouldn’t we starve?”

“Lies, comrades,” they are told.

Dogs threaten the farm animals in

Dogs threaten the farm animals in “Animal Farm.”

It is physical theater, dance theater. The characters — horse, goat, chicken, pig, cow, dog – walk and sound like animals with their grunts, snorts, screeches, scraping of hooves.

The pigs announce the enemies, “Four legs or wings, friend; two legs, enemy. No animal can wear clothes.” One pig is comrade Napoleon. Another is the Squealer.

But a few animals raise questions. A goat inquires, “What will happen to the milk?” The pigs take it. Their dominance is supported by thuggish snorting black dogs.

When Snowball proposes building a windmill that will benefit all, he is banished, though later the idea is adopted as if it came from the insiders.

When the pigs announce an increase in production quotas for the hens, which will not benefit the hens, one chicken wants to promote rebellion. She is killed.

Meetings are banned, except to sing an anthem and provide workers with assignments. “Surely we don’t want Jones back,” say the pigs. As their privileges grow, they have their “Comrade Squealer” keep watch on the others.

In a stylized dance, the animals struggle in toil, working harder than they ever did, dragging heavy bags of stones for construction.

The pigs hurl accusations. In a replay of the Stalin trials, one animal confesses he collaborated with Snowball to destroy the windmill. He is attacked and torn to pieces by the dogs. The pigs seem rather like the oppressive men with their rifles and whips they organized to oppose.

Their ideology, written on a huge canvas, changes as time passes. By the end, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This is a mesmerizing production of great artistry.

“Animal Farm,’ adapted and directed by Guy Masterson, Theatre Tours International, (follow the link to fine analysis of the play.) Featuring the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre, Georgia.


It might seem odd to put a play about Charlie Chaplin in this group, but the seeds of repression are clear in the treatment of the film comedian whose renown could not protect him from sleazy FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his minions on the House Un-American (what a dystopian name!) Activities Committee.

A fine flashback play by Christoffer Mellgren and John Storgard, starring Christopher Page as the young Chaplin and James Bryce as the old man, takes us through the actor’s beginnings in London slums, where his mother was institutionalized – you get the feeling her mental breakdown was related to their poverty. The famous film bit with the arms of “The Kid” outstretched calls up his recurring dream, with the cry, “Mother!” (The mother is finely portrayed by Sarah McCardie.)

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in “Chaplin.”

In the story directed by Sven Sid, we see his development into a world famous comic actor. He gets into acting via his brother Sidney, given an excellent turn by John Scougall, and finds great success in Hollywood. But the part that’s most interesting is when at 40 he makes “The Great Dictator,” a comedy about Hitler. He plays a barber who dresses as Hitler and gives an anti-fascist speech. I’d have liked more detail, more video, of that speech.

Chaplin speaks at a rally of the Association of Russian Friendship urging America to enter the war. He’s advised to stop such speeches, because people would say he was a communist. He argues, “You urged me to make a talking picture. Now you want me to be quiet. Hoover attacks him, with the public following as an obedient mob. The press turns against him, with right-wing Hedda Hopper (McCardie) leading the pack as she parrots FBI feeds. He is called before HUAC.

Forced out of the country, Chaplin spends the next decades in Switzerland with his wife Oona (Michelle Edwards), the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. They don’t return for a visit till 1972, when a change of political atmosphere leads the Hollywood bigwigs who had blacklisted him to welcome him back to a glitzy “we now love you” party. They even return his name to a famous sidewalk where it had been plastered over in 1958.

So the repression was short-lived. Or was it? Are you following the news? Stay tuned.

My chief criticism of “Chaplin” is the too-spare set (by Hanne Horte), just two tables and two chairs at opposite ends of the stage. It’s probably due to the limited budget of most fringe productions. But lighting or scenic projections (by Mia Erlin) could have compensated. And the Chaplin videos could have been spread through the story to show how he used real life to inspire his films, rather than have most of them shown at once.

Still, it’s an absorbing well-acted tale that needs to be told. To remind people that current U.S. thought police politics have a history.

Chaplin.” Written by Christoffer Mellgren and Johan Storgård, translated from Finnish by Julian Garner. Directed by Sven Sid.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Takes place every August.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Aug 14th

Singin' In The Rain - Theatre Royal Glasgow - 12th-23rd August 2014

By Jon Cuthbertson

Heavy precipitation in Glasgow never usually raises any smiles – but this fantastic touring production of Singin’ In The Rain encouraged more than smiles – it generated a well deserved standing ovation.


This Chichester Festival Theatre production sets out its stall early – the overture begins and the cast burst into life. Andrew Wright’s inspired choreography utilises every piece of furniture and costume to full advantage – with wardrobe rails being used for flips, hats flying across the stage and even telephone wires creating interesting movement. The casting of James Leece in the leading role confirms where this restaging of the movie sees its strength – dancing. As a performer known primarily for his work with Matthew Bourne as a ballet dancer, it was no surprise to see the style and flair in his dancing, but it was a surprise to hear the warm velvet tones in his voice that had been hidden for so long. In contrast to that “warm velvet voice” we had Vicky Binns’ whining, discordant Lina Lamont. Now, if you have seen the film or the show, you will know that this is a compliment to the hysterical performance that Ms Binns gives in the role of the gorgeous diva of the silent movies, who doesn’t have the voice to match. I think this is a testament to Anne Marie Speed’s vocal coaching and to Ms Binns herself that they have found a voice that the actor can maintain, but still grates so well!


Stephane Anelli’s energetic and charismatic Cosmo was thoroughly entertaining. His rendition of Make ‘Em Laugh finished with the audience applauding for nearly a whole minute. From there the numbers came thick and fast with a high paced tap routine in Moses Supposes alongside James Leece as Don. Both were then joined by the delightful Amy Ellen Richardson, as the ingénue Kathy Selden, in my highlight of the show – Good Morning. Although in a completely different setting from the film, all the touches were there in a nod to the original but with such a fresh approach that the whole number was a delight to watch. We’re not even at the end of act 1 – how can they top this? By bringing on the rain of course and leaving Mr Leece on stage to do exactly what he has trained to do – dance! The rain itself is amazing – the stage is flooded almost instantly – but the dancing is exceptional. With some light up paving stones, we see just how accurate and precise a dancer Mr Leece is, while still looking so improvised and free.


With Act 2 bringing even more energy, Jonathan Church’s direction has been pitched perfectly with Simon Higlett’s design. Jenny Legg’s outstanding “Cyd Charisse”-esque turn in the Broadway Ballet brought another style of dance to the show and the whole number highlighted the high level of talent in the cast and ensemble.


Turning the rain back on for the finale was exactly what the audience wanted (except perhaps for the first few rows of the stalls who had their umbrellas up for the splash zone – I’m not kidding – be prepared to get wet!) – other than to maybe get the chance to sit through the whole wonderful romp all over again.


Listing Information


TUES 12 – SAT 23 AUGUST                 

Evenings: 7.30pm                                            

Matinees: Wed & Sat at 2.30pm (booking fee)

0844 871 7647 (booking fee)



Aug 6th

Rock of Ages at Glasgow's Kings Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
Rock of Ages rolled into Glasgow this week and blew the roof off of the King's Theatre.
Rock of Ages

The jukebox musical has been a staple of live entertainment for decades. Elvis made movies in this format back in the 50s and live audiences have enjoyed fresh presentations of their favourite hits since Buddy and Return to the Forbidden Planet mastered the genre 25 years ago. But never in the history of the jukebox musical have a cast, writer and audience had so much FUN! 
The story is broadly predictable while the presentation and dialogue will have you rolling in the aisles! Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth) is a small town girl who travels to LA for fame and fortune. Drew (Noel Sullivan) is a city boy trying to turn his bar job at the Bourbon Club on the Strip into a rock career. There is instant chemistry but Drew gets caught in the "friend zone". Meanwhile, corporate big wigs (other wigs feature heavily in this 80s themed storyline) with German accents have dastardly plans to turn LA's famous Strip into a shopping mall. The club recruits rock god, Stacee Jaxx (Ben Richards), to perform and save the Strip. But Stacee is a famous womaniser and (you guessed it) Sherrie catches his ever roaming eye ...
The setting provides the perfect excuse to cram in more 80s rock classics than you could shake a Stratocaster at! Classic hits from Foreigner, Starship, Bon Jovi, Journey, Europe, Whitesnake and more are rocked out and mashed up at a rate of knots! The 80s provides a rich vein of musical gold to be mined and this production digs up every last nugget.  But it is the comedic approach to the entire show which really lifts this musical way above the plethora of competion. The dialogue from Chris D'Arienzo has the tongue so firmly in the cheek that what might have been cheezy becomes hilarious. Direction from Kristin Hanggi gives the cast plenty of freedom to have as much risqué fun as they dare! The choreography is outstanding. Physicality from the talented cast is delightfully OTT. If there was an Olivier for Comedy Choreography it would certainly be awarded to Kelly Devine.
The plaudits continue when it comes to performances from this outstanding cast. Noel Sullivan proved that his rock voice still tops theatrical charts following his successful tour of We Will Rock You. Amazing! Cordelia Farnworth was a talented lead with a voice which ranged from powerful rock chick to soulful ballad mistress. But these two great performances had to compete with some OUTLANDISH characters for the affections of the audience; and this show has those by the bucket-load! Ben Richards was perfect as Stacee Jaxx - self centred, narcisistic and wonderfully loathable. Supporting characters from Daniel Fletcher, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Jack Lord, Rachel McFarlane, Jessie May and Cameron Sharp were given ample opportunity to shine  ... and they took it!
This is a fantastic show. Funny, nostalgic, naughty and melt your face rockin' in equal measure! Miss it at your peril.
Mon 4 – Sat 9 August
Mon - Sat eves 7.30pm
Wed & Sat mats 2.30pm
Tickets: £12.90 - £50.90
Box Office: 0870 060 6648 (bkg fee)   (bkg fee)