Review: Chick Whittington – Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

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First published in The Times, Tuesday November 28 2017

Three Stars

As 2017 is an odd-numbered year, Johnny McKnight is not only writing the pantomime at the Macrobert but also directing and pouring himself in and out of a ludicrous selection of wigs and frocks in his role as dame. The artistic director of Random Accomplice switches between the Stirling arts centre and Glasgow’s Tron at this most wonderful time of the year.

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Review: A Streetcar Named Desire – Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

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First published in The Times, Friday September 15 2017

Two Stars

The Scottish company Rapture Theatre, which specialises in revivals of classic plays, has mainly focused in the past couple of years on the great works of the American stage. After a production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and a triumphant imagining of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? it was inevitable that the company, led by artistic director Michael Emans, would get around to staging Tennessee Williams’s most celebrated drama.

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Review: Out of This World – Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

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First published in The Times, Wednesday April 26 2017

Two Stars

Mark Murphy, the choreographer and director of V-Tol Dance Company, is known for large-scale theatrical events, including the closing ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, as well as intimate, text-based plays, such as his two-hander Night Shift. His latest work, co-commissioned by the Macrobert and Sadler’s Wells, combines spectacle and storytelling to explore the chaotic inner workings of a woman in a medically-induced coma.

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Review: Fisk – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Tuesday January 31 2017

Three Stars

The Edinburgh-based visual theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell is nothing if not versatile. Its award-winning 2013 fringe show, Feral, invited audiences to cram into a small venue to watch an entire town built from tiny paper models come to life before our eyes. The company’s latest work, presented in association with the Macrobert Arts Centre and Denmark’s Teater Katapult, is a different prospect entirely. All the action of this main stage production takes place on or around a solitary life-sized boat, tossed on a vast, undulating sea.

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Review: Weans in the Wood – Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling

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First published in The Times, Monday November 28 2016

Four Stars

If Johnny McKnight, the playwright, performer and artistic director of Random Accomplice, could split himself into multiple clones, he would probably be called upon to write, helm and play the dame in half a dozen pantomimes across Scotland every festive season. As the ability to be in several places at once isn’t yet de rigueur, theatres must take it in turns for the full McKnight Christmas package of script, direction and virtuosic improvised banter.

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Review: Denton and Me – Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 9 2016

Four Stars

The English pastoral writer Denton Welch was only 33 years old at the time of his death in 1948, and while his work is not as well known as some of his contemporaries (he counted Edith Sitwell and EM Forster among his friends) his influence continues to be felt. Alan Bennett is a fan. The playwright Robert Holman’s drama Making Noise Quietly includes a character based on Welch.

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Review: International Waters – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Saturday March 26 2016

Three Stars

At first glance, the new play from David Leddy looks not at all the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from the most audacious of Scotland’s contemporary theatre-makers. We open on a luxurious function room, into which tumbles a quartet of upper crust characters in white tie and cocktail dresses. There’s a trophy wife (Claire Dargo), a self-important crooner (Robin Laing), a celebrated photojournalist (Lesley Hart) and a senior bureaucrat (Selina Boyack).

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Reviews: The Little Mermaid – Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday November 30 2015

The Little Mermaid: Four Stars

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Three Stars

 

With its red-haired heroine, shimmering backcloth and bold, primary-coloured costumes, this year’s Christmas show at the Macrobert owes as much of a debt of influence to Walt Disney as it does to Hans Christian Andersen. The witty, up-to-date script and irreverent atmosphere are very much in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from the Stirling panto, however. We’ve barely taken our seats before Drop Dead Gorgeous Daz (played by Robert Jack in the same fright wig he wore last year as Wishee Washee) lets off the show’s first fart gag, and this pretty much sets the tone for the next two hours.

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Never a dull moment for young audience – The Pine Tree, Poggle and Me at Platform, Easterhouse

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Published in The Times, Friday February 6 2015

Four Stars

You know you’re getting old when the people sitting next to you in the theatre start looking younger and younger. This lively piece of dance theatre from Barrowland Ballet and Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre is aimed at children under the age of four, a tough demographic at the best of times, with a nerve-shredding propensity to vote with its feet (not to mention its lungs). The fact that this show manages to hold the attentions of its young audience for a full 40 minutes is testament to just how tuned in director/choreographer Natasha Gilmore and her creative team are to what fascinates young children.

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The story takes the form of a voyage of discovery, in which the audience are invited to participate at regular intervals. Vince Virr is delightfully wide-eyed as the young boy who, despite his distaste for mud and fear of climbing trees, ventures into a pine forest in search of honey for his toast. He is joined on his quest by Poggle (Jade Adamson), a wood nymph with butterflies in her hair and a frock that seems a patchwork of scraps from every corner of the forest.

It’s a simple enough tale, but it is the multi-sensory nature of Gilmore’s show that makes it such a winner. The protagonists forge their own means of communication through slapping their bare bellies, stamping and clapping, which in turn leads to some joyous arm waving and bottom-waggling dance routines. Sequences in which the two friends explore the pleasures of splashing through the mud and chasing bees are made all the more infectious by Daniel’s Padden’s offbeat musical compositions (played live and recorded).

What’s also admirable about the production is that it is genuinely and fearlessly interactive, with audience members invited onstage to cover the sleeping Poggle with branches and a mid-show game of hide and seek that spills out into the auditorium. Meanwhile, the setting is evoked in Fred Pommerehn’s ingenious set design: a jigsaw puzzle composed of building blocks, each of which contains flora and fauna from the forest floor.

The performers (Virr in particular) enjoy an effortless rapport with their young audience. If some gentle, patient coaxing is required to encourage the first child onto the stage, it only requires one intrepid youngster to plunge in before the rest enthusiastically follow suit, so that, by the end, pretty much the entire audience is wandering around, exploring Poggle’s leafy habitat.

 

Touring to Feb 13. For further details see barrowlandballet.co.uk