First published in The Times, Tuesday June 20 2017
JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was afflicted in later life by writer’s cramp and could only write for any length of time with his left hand. He noted that the work he produced at this point took on an eerier quality, as though his left hand was channelling darker aspects of his personality. Mary Rose, written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with its portrayal of a young life frozen in time, is strikingly similar in theme to the Kirriemuir-born author’s most enduring and iconic work, though laced through with subtle chills.
The 1956 film High Society was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. Yet the MGM musical is considered a pale imitation of The Philadelphia Story, the play and film on which it is based. Even on its original release one reviewer called it “as dated today as the idle rich”. What one remembers of the musical is the iconic staging of some of Cole Porter’s best-loved songs: Bing Crosby serenading Grace Kelly with True Love on a yacht; Bing and Frank Sinatra teaming up for a cracking rendition of Well, Did You Evah!
First published in The Times, Monday December 19 2016
One might have assumed that Pitlochry Festival Theatre had exhausted the available supply of festive-themed musicals, following productions in recent years of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street as well as a couple of outings for the company’s masterful staging of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. It was perhaps inevitable that the theatre in the hills would eventually get around to mounting this chirrupy version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, based on the 1970 film that starred Albert Finney as the titular moneylender.
First published in The Times, Tuesday November 1 2016
You can almost pinpoint a person’s age by which screen version of the Para Handy tales they most fondly recall. The wily captain of the Vital Spark, the Clyde puffer immortalised in Neil Munro’s short stories, has been portrayed on television no less than three times since the 1950s. The most recent adaptation, which starred Gregor Fisher and Rikki Fulton, aired in the mid-Nineties, so we are probably due another remake.
First published in The Times, Friday September 16 2016
Size isn’t everything. When David Edgar adapted Charles Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby for the Royal Shakespeare Company back in 1980, the production ran to eight-and-a-half hours and featured a dramatis personae of 115 speaking parts. The show, directed by Trevor Nunn, scooped major awards and transferred to Broadway, but it doesn’t take a genius to explain why Edgar’s 1000-page script has rarely been revived since.
First published in The Times, Thursday June 23 2016
A couple of years back the playwright and actor Clive Francis was charged with dusting down Ben Travers’s 1927 farce for a revival at London’s Park Theatre. “He wasn’t brilliant with endings,” said Francis. “So hopefully with Ben’s voice firmly in my ear I’ve come up with a twist which will be pleasing to a modern day audience, especially those who have never seen the play.”
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 8 2016
Someone once said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the same thing could be said of staging musical theatre. There are so many specialist talents involved, from the performers to the creative team and musicians that it is hardly surprising most companies would prefer to give shows requiring large casts and big bands a wide berth, not least in these cash-strapped times.