First published in The Times, Thursday July 15 2021
Could there be a more superlative setting for a production of The Wind in the Willows than the banks of the Tummel? There have of course been numerous stage adaptations of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, but few can boast an actual riverbank as the backdrop to the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad.
Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s production, from a new script by Mark Powell, stays faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the original, sustaining a good balance between action and hi-jinks with some quieter, more reflective scenes. Powell makes a few tweaks to the story, adding extra dimensions to the conflict between the four chums and the Wild-Wooders and in the process touching upon land use and ecology, creating a timely edge to the piece.
First published in The Times, Wednesday February 26 2020
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel was only a minor success when it was first published in 1911, but its reputation has since eclipsed that of her other books for children. The young protagonists are gratifyingly complex, there is a gothic edge to the atmosphere and there is something timeless in the story’s themes of healing and rejuvenation.
The power of three is pervasive in fairytales. Whoever heard of two magic wishes, or a beginning and middle with no end? It is no accident that the Wicked Queen makes a trio of attempts to kill Snow White or that the miller’s daughter tries three times to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name.
First published in The Times, Thursday May 16 2019
The wonders of the title may be small in size, but the themes underpinning Punchdrunk’s show are hardly insignificant. Memory and the imagination, old age and loss are the heavyweight subjects explored in the one-hour promenade piece, albeit engagingly pitched at children of primary school age (and their grown-ups).
First published in The Times, Monday December 10 2018
The Snow Queen is no stranger to Dundee Rep. The most recent production of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, in 2012, starred the aptly named Emily Winter in the role of the icy monarch, negotiating a pine forest on stilts.
As one of the longer-serving members of the Rep ensemble, Winter also appears in this latest incarnation, though this time in the role of the Summer Princess, ruler of a balmy, fruit pastille-coloured region the heroine Gerda (Chiara Sparkes) has to pass through on her way to the frozen north.
First published in The Times, Tuesday October 30 2018
The world premiere of this play from Sylvian Productions is far from the first time that the subject of compulsive hoarding has been addressed in theatre. Only a few months ago, Su Pollard, the comedian, appeared in a one-woman show, Harpy, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe playing a character whose chronic inability to give up her possessions had provoked the wrath of her neighbours.
First published in The Times, Saturday May 12 2018
Eddie and the Slumber Sisters: Three Stars
Baba Yaga: Four Stars
Catherine Wheels, the leading purveyors of children’s theatre in Scotland, are drawn to subjects other companies would flinch from tackling. Their acclaimed show, The Voice Thief, drew on horror and sci-fi tropes in its depiction of patriarchal tyranny and suppression, while HUFF, created with Shona Reppe and Andy Manley, presented the Three Little Pigs’ house as a crime scene.
First published in The Times, Wednesday December 20 2017
It would be fair to say that stage musicals inspired by animated films have something of a chequered history. The experimental director and designer Julie Taymor gave Disney’s screen-to-stage version of The Lion King a truly theatrical treatment that still stands up 18 years on from its premiere. Other shows from the same stable, including lavish productions of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid, failed to exert the same grip on the public imagination.
First published in The Times, Tuesday December 12 2017
There was drama on and offstage at the opening performance of Perth’s pantomime. Ten minutes before the finale, a few too many puffs of smoke triggered the newly refurbishment theatre’s fire alarm system, dispatching cast, crew and audience onto the High Street for an impromptu second interval. Everyone involved took the disruption in good grace. The fire fighters were even called onstage to take a bow when the action resumes.
First published in The Times, Tuesday December 5 2017
In true Wonderland style, the sign above the bar at Northern Stage reads: “We’re all mad here!” Yet the young audience members who have gone to the trouble of dressing up in spotless pinafores and Alice bands look out of step with what’s happening onstage. This festive show may share its title with the enduring classic but its raucous tone is a world away from Lewis Carroll.