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.
Live theatre in Scotland in a time of Covid has come full circle. Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s exuberant production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Parkwas the last show to open north of the border before the national lockdown, its run at the Perthshire theatre coming to an abrupt end after a brace of performances.
Sixteen months on, the theatre is bouncing back with a wide-ranging programme of outdoor shows, promenade performances, monologues and musical recitals. While borne out of necessity, this 70th anniversary season’s alfresco flavour is apposite for a company that began life in a tent by the Tummel.
First published in The Times, Friday December 6 2019
You can’t move at this time of year for stage versions of Dickens’s great tale of regret and redemption. Pitlochry’s festive outing is especially intriguing as Isobel McArthur, who scored a hit with her irreverent, karaoke-fuelled reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has written the new adaptation.
First published in The Times, Thursday October 24 2019
First performed in 1979, Brian Friel’s Faith Healer is a play with a formidable reputation. Yet Elizabeth Newman’s production for Pitlochry Festival Theatre is notable for its restraint and transporting intimacy. The staging is sparse and steadfast. The play’s three characters deliver four monologues with the ease of old friends sharing confidences across a café table. As the house lights stay lit throughout we feel almost as though we are part of the action.
First published in The Times, Saturday September 7 2019
It is easy to see why Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 social novel should resonate in an age of Remain versus Leave. The book is structured around a series of binary oppositions. As well as the contrasting of the pastoral south of England, where the heroine Margaret Hale comes of age, with the industrialised north, to which the Hale family moves, Gaskell explores tensions between received wisdom and dissent, authority and a restless workforce, class and conflicting approaches to matters of the heart.
One of the pleasures of taking in several performances in one stretch at Pitlochry lies in the sheer variety of the summer season repertoire. This year, that sense of variety seems turbocharged, with everything from the musical revival of Summer Holiday to the amiable froth of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit and the heavyweight allegory of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in the mix.
“The action takes place in the Condomines’ house in Kent” runs the succinct programme note for Gemma Fairlie’s revival of Noël Coward’s “improbable farce”. The period setting is less instantly apparent. As designed by Adrian Rees, the interior of the Condomines’ home is clinical and sparse, with doors, drawers and drinks concealed in the gleaming walls. Until the moment when Eddie (David Rankine), the bumbling servant, searches for music on a MacBook, there are few visual clues as to when the devil we are meant to be.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 5 2019
When the stage version of Summer Holiday premiered at the Blackpool Opera House in 1996, the big talking point was the double-decker London bus that trundled across the stage, with a lustrous Darren Day at the wheel.
First published in The Times, Tuesday September 18 2018
When Rona Munro’s The Last Witch debuted at the Royal Lyceum as part of the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival, the play, inspired by the true story of the last woman to be burned for heresy in Scotland, got lost in an over-the-top staging that included elaborate multimedia, sound and special effects.
First published in The Times, Thursday July 26 2018
There is something discomfiting, even perversely fascinating, about watching Rodney Ackland’s 1949 play in the very week that warnings about food shortages and rationing in the event of a hard Brexit have dominated the news agenda. The backdrop to Ackland’s adaptation of a short story by W Somerset Maugham is a Britain caught in the painful aftershocks of the war where almost every conversation contains references to cost and availability.