Friday, 23 February 2018

"Top Hat", Glasgow King's Theatre, 21/2/18

In the world of musicals it can honestly be said that many a show is kept alive by the efforts of the amateur company who often perform musicals rarely produced by professional producers and who further the audience and potential fandom of these shows in doing so. It will probably be the case with "Top Hat" which enjoyed a successful, if curtailed, West End run (winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical) and a following UK tour but which has since all but dropped off the map.

Based on the classic 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers comedy movie with songs by Irving Berlin the plot follows dancer Jerry Travers who falls in love with Dale Tremont after his tap dancing disturbs her sleep in the hotel room below his. Tremont incorrectly assumes Travers is the stage producer Horace Hardwick who has brought Travers over to London to open a new show. Hardwick's wife is Tremont's friend and so Dale is disgusted when the man she assumes to be married proposes to her. Screwball comedy ensues.
Of course, the plot is rather weak, as to be expected, but is still none-the-less charming especially when delivered with such aplomb as Paisley Musical and Operatic Society bring to it. It is the Irving Berlin songs that really make the show and with such classics as "Cheek To Cheek", "Puttin' On The Ritz" and "Let's Face The Music And Dance" it's hard to go wrong. 

Berlin's music is handled beautifully by musical director Sean Stirling who treats the score with assurance. There is an element of the ol' Hollywood Glamour that is brought out which succinctly suits the production. 
"Top Hat" is famous as a dance production and PMOS had a difficult challenge before them but their efforts pay off with the elegant choreography of Marion Baird delivered well and confidently by the cast; so much so that I believe the company could have handled even more complex material. 
Alasdair Hawthorn directs another assured production, bringing out the humour and the effervescence of the material with ease. The lighting could be more focused and varied but, in reality, this is a small niggle and, sure, there are moments that require tightening - especially in the transitions - but I've no doubt they'll be rectified as the run continues. There are, indeed, some clever location reveals in the first act which I only wish had continued into the second and it is such small details as these that I enjoy and that Hawthorn often delivers. 

The production has double-cast its leads and, on this occasion, I saw Greg Robertson and Claire Logue as "Jerry" and "Dale" respectively who both lead the company amiably and with confidence. Robertson has a natural charm and easy voice whilst Logue is a sweet and funny performer and they play well opposite each other. They are supported by a company who make the most of the humour and the staging. Alastair McCall as "Horace Hardwick", Iain G. Condie as his manservant "Bates" and Ross Nicol as the flamboyant "Alberto Beddini" all have plenty of opportunity to shine and do so with hilarity. Lindsey Ross also shines as "Madge Hardwick", prowling the stage with a commanding presence and brilliant comedic traits. The ensemble are also ebullient and there are a number who stand out in the odd scene including Robin Cameron's "Florist" and Jenny Carty's "Receptionist". The utilisation of the ensemble is another strength in Hawthorn's direction and there is plenty of business within the company to occupy the audience member.

"Top Hat" is a few hours of joyous, buoyant entertainment filled with cracking musical numbers and numerous laughs delivered by a vibrant, vivacious company who continue to push themselves and each other for the sake of their audiences' enjoyment.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

"Rita, Sue & Bob Too", Glasgow Citizen's Theatre, 13/2/17

Written for Backstage Pass:

Schoolgirl baby-sitters Rita and Sue long to leave their dull world and so take their charges' father, Bob, up on an offer which develops into a three-way affair. Never mind that Bob is married to Michelle; to the girls he represents excitement, adventure and a brighter future away from their unhappy home lives. But, of course, life is never so simple.

Andrea Dunbar's play, written whilst still a teenager, re-emerges in a timely revival within a world all-too-similar to the one in which Dunbar birthed it; social divisions and mobility, redundant aspirations and the sexual politics between men and women are as pertinent now as they were in the Thatcher era when "Rita, Sue and Bob Too" first premiered.

This co-production between Out Of Joint, Octagon Theatre Bolton and The Royal Court Theatre is an elaboration of Dunbar's world that is reflected in her non-judgmental, frank yet witty writing. That it is not too far removed from current issues is a boon and the play also essays the positives of resilience, reconciliation and the fragile bonds of friendship in unconventional circumstances. In reality fairy-tale happy endings are absurdly rare and Dunbar is unafraid to ponder this fact in her story.
Director Kate Wasserberg's lithe, uncluttered staging allows a forthright presentation, furthered by Tim Shortall's design, where the humour and pathos of the text (newly edited by John Hollingworth) is brought to vivid life in splendid performances from a cast led by Taj AtwalGemma Dobson and James Atherton as the titular characters. Samantha RobinsonSally Bankes and David Walker make up the remainder of a company who each venture delicately balanced interpretations whilst avoiding sentiment and pity. Without exception the cast excel and all are eminently watchable. 

Played without an interval (and running less than 90 minutes) "Rita, Sue and Bob Too" is a stark yet amusing enterprise presenting a life scarcely seen - and oft ignored - that speaks eloquently - even in its crudeness - to a contemporary society with all-too-familiar issues. Happy endings are relative and Dunbar reminds us of that.

Friday, 2 February 2018

People Watching - A Web Series

Upon a friend's recommendation I viewed the online series "People Watching"; a series of animated shorts based around subjects we in the western world may ponder over at one time or another.
Each episode lasts between approximately 5 - 11 minutes which enables the series to be watched as and when required without the need to invest a huge chunk of one's time unless you so choose - as I did. With episode titles such as "The One Self Help Group We'd Actually Join" and "Why Non Religious Confessionals Should Be A Thing" there is a subject to attract most adults.

The series is written, directed and illustrated by Winston Rowntree whose insight is acute, witty and occasionally moving. The writing is sharp and well constructed with a colourful, energised animation style even while purposefully basic with a boldness that extends to the occasional background joke. 
An adroit voice cast performs Rowntree's diatribes and wit and create individual persons in tandem with the unique visual character designs.

"People Watching" is an entertaining and thought-provoking series which could be used as an opening to some serious discussions amongst folk.
Be aware that the series does have some adult language when taking into account who may wish to view it.

Series One consists of 10 episodes and you can Watch Here. Hopefully a second series will emerge.