Theatre review: Wings Around Dundee – Dundee Rep

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First published in The Times, Friday September 10 2021

THREE STARS

As Andrew Panton, the artistic director, reminds us in his opening address, the auditorium at Dundee Rep has been empty since March 2020. It is fitting somehow that the company’s first in-person show in 18 months should be a play set in Dundee in the midst of the pandemic that also touches upon aspects of the city’s heritage. John McCann’s script is rich in references to local landmarks such as Balgay Hill, the old music school and the McManus, which the audience laps up enthusiastically. There is even a cameo appearance from the museum’s most famous resident, the Tay Whale.

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Review: The Metamorphosis – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Tuesday March 17 2020

Five Stars

Vanishing Point, the Glasgow-based theatre company led by Matthew Lenton, tends to develop much of its acclaimed, highly distinctive work in rehearsal, often creating radical versions of plays such as Maurice Maeterlinck’s Interiors and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. However, the company’s stunning take on Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis (in collaboration with the Tron and Italy’s Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione) is remarkably faithful to its source, and it marks a culmination of Lenton’s concerns and signature style.

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Review: Maim – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Thursday March 12 2020

Four Stars

There is so much going in this collaboration between Theatre Gu Leòr and the band Whyte that it comes as something of a surprise to realise that the show’s running time is a tight 75 minutes. Maim blends movement, story vignettes and multimedia with the band’s characteristic fusion of electronica and Gaelic song to explore life in Scotland’s far-flung communities, notably the fragile status of the Gaelic language and culture. The result is a unique hybrid that works its spell slowly, exerting a powerful pull.

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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest – Perth Theatre

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First published in The Times, Monday March 9 2020

Four Stars

Creating a truly original production of Oscar Wilde’s great comedy is no easy task. Its very familiarity is a major part of its popularity. Much of the dialogue is so axiomatic that you can almost hear the audience pre-empting the actors.

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Review: Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday March 5 2020

Two Stars

On paper this gender-swapped version of Bertolt Brecht’s 1940 comedy looks intriguing. The novelist Denise Mina adapts, with the redoubtable Elaine C Smith in the lead and the award-winning Turkish director Murat Daltaban at the helm. Yet while the production features some fine flourishes, there is no escaping the overall sense of a messy and incoherent assemblage.

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Review: The Secret Garden – Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock

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First published in The Times, Wednesday February 26 2020

Four Stars

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.

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Review: Quality Street – Viaduct Theatre, Halifax

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First published in The Times, Monday February 24 2020

Three Stars

Halifax, the home of Northern Broadsides, is a fitting place from which to launch a revival of JM Barrie’s 1901 romantic comedy. The Quality Street factory, where the Purely Purple Ones and Strawberry Delights continue to be made, is a landmark in the town, and a poignant reminder that this now neglected play was once so popular that it inspired a line of chocolates.

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Review: Smile – Dundee Rep

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First published in The Times, Monday February 24 2020

Three Stars

It is said that all political careers end in failure; the same observation could be made about most football managers. Jim McLean’s final match in charge of Dundee United ended in a 4-1 loss to Aberdeen. Nonetheless, the fans insisted on their club’s longest-serving manager taking a lap of honour.

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Review: The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff – Northern Stage, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Thursday February 13 2020

Four Stars

There is enough material in the biography of this show’s real-life protagonist to fill several evenings of theatre. Johnny Longstaff hailed from Stockton-on-Tees, arrived in London as part of the hunger marches of the Great Depression, fought Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street and took up arms against fascists in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.

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Review: Ask Me Anything – Live Theatre, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Thursday February 6 2019

Three Stars

Back in the pre-internet age it was de rigueur for teenagers seeking advice on everything from medical matters to sex and relationships to write letters to the agony pages of magazines such as Just Seventeen. If this process sounds quaint and unwieldy, it at least raised the prospect of a single, authoritative reply rather than the myriad provided by any Google search.

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