Dreamboats & Petticoats

The Edinburgh Playhouse

May 8-13

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As I sat in the Playhouse last night, basking in the melody-driven cheeky chirpiness of Bill Kenwright’s widely-loved musical, Dreamboats & Petticoats, I had a sudden blast of foresight; that I was watching a classic being born. D&P is not an instant classic, however, but an a witty piece of historical archiving that has captured an era perfectly in its theatrical time-capsule. The epoch is 1961, when fender stratocasters were about to change the sonic highways forever, & female sexuality was about to explode in a way not seen since the Amazons burst out of the Caucasus. As the war babies hit puberty, popular music was being claimed more & more by these massed phalanxes of liberated teenagers, & in youth clubs all across England & America, future stars of the swinging sixties were performing their first gigs.

054_Dreamboats and Petticoats__Pamela Raith Photography.jpgDreambots & Petticoats is jam-packed full of brilliant songs, such as Shakin’ All Over, Da Do Ron Ron & Lets Twist Again, to name just three. These are then performed by a youthful, bouncy cast, & the whole thing felt rather like being in a luscious mountain valley, where the babble of crystal brooks all blended in an invigorating whole. What marks out this musical as special is the fact that the songs are played with extreme talent live on stage by a band who also get involved in the acting. Opera Comique at its most modern best & thrilling to watch at times. The Book is excellent; songwise it is impossible to fail when one can draw on the immeasurable brilliance of the 1960s, while the dialogue is funny in an ‘Only Fools & Horses’ meets Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday’ kinda way. Although I have seen Kenwright do better with his stagecraft; it was effective enough, with a certainly cool touch coming with a couple of dodgems being driven onto stage to represent a funfair down Southend-on-Sea.

Dreamboats & Petticoats is a nostalgic ride through an amazing period of history; it has all the right songs, all the right clobber & all the right moves. The overall picture has been painted so well that as I stated at the start of this review, D&P should at one time in the deep future be remembered as fondly as we 21st centuryites enjoy Jane Austen.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

An Interview with Heather Antonelli

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THE MUMBLE : Hello Heather, so where ya from & where ya at geographically speaking
HEATHER : I’m a primary school teacher by day and a producer and choreographer by night with both groups. I was born and bred in Prestonpans but now live in Gullane.

THE MUMBLE : So you are a co-founder of the Musical Youth Project & Encore, when did you first set these up
HEATHER : Musical Youth was set up in 1992 then Encore was begun after the parents of the youngsters wanted to join in the fun.

THE MUMBLE : What is it about Musical Theatre that makes you tick
HEATHER : Musicals make you feel good! You should come away singing or humming the tunes with a “beautiful feeling that everything’s going my way!” Musical Youth and Encore are a big family who support each other. For example, our leading man in “Oklahoma” – Kevin McConnachie – helped in Musical Youth’s recent production of “Footloose” by playing the key role of the Rev Shaw, the minister. In return, Musical Youth are helping out Encore by providing some dancers for “Oklahoma”. Also, our leading lady – Jen Harris – is a former Musical Youth member who has now performed several leading roles with Encore. We have several mums and daughters in Encore as well as husbands and wives and even a gran and grand daughter.

THE MUMBLE : What do you get personally from watching the youngsters flourish under your wing
HEATHER : Overall, it is rewarding to see the blossoming confidence of the young people who come along to Musical Youth.

THE MUMBLE : Have any of your youngsters continued in the Musicals business
HEATHER : Over the years, we have had several members of Musical Youth and Encore who have performed on the West End stage. Ashleigh Gray was a founder member of Musical Youth and she recently played the lead role of Elphaba in “Wicked” at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It was a great delight to see her talent take her to the top of the musical profession. Also, Sandy Moffat – who coincidentally played the role of Curly in Musical Youth’s production of “Oklahoma” – has performed leading roles in “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages”. Colin Carr, another founder member, and many others have taken the next step to becoming professional actors.

THE MUMBLE : You are just about to produce Oklahoma at the Brunton, why this particular piece
HEATHER : As someone who grew up watching the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is such a priviledge being able to take part in them and to share their stories and music with others.

THE MUMBLE : What does Heather Antonelli like to do when she’s not putting on musicals
I love singing and dancing so my spare time (!?!) is filled with more of that including pilates and ball room dancing. This year I have been asked to be a professional dancer in East Lothian’s charity Strictly Come Dancing evening where local celebrities are taught to dance. This year’s charity is Leuchie House near North Berwick which is a place both groups visit every year in conjunction with Longniddry Rotary. Personally, I find the most rewarding aspect of performing is when we visit places like Leuchie House or other care homes and you can see the power of music stimulate memories and it makes people smile and join in. In the world that we’re living in, that is a great gift to give!

Sister Act 

Edinburgh Playhouse

3-15 April 2017

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Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, this revamped version of Sister Act opens with Doloris Van Cartier (played by the impressive Alexandra Burke) in the middle of an audition, in funky purple boots, flanked by backing singers in glorious shiny silver. The medley of songs gives us an immediate taste of Alan Menken’s wonderful score. A Tony and 8-time Oscar winner from the world of Disney and musical theatre, Menken impresses again as his lively disco-funk numbers plunge us straight into the Philadelphia Soul scene of 1977, and keep the packed-out theatre rocking for the next couple of hours. Burke makes a perfect Doloris, with her thrilling voice well known to us from X Factor and the Bodyguard, but adds perfect comic timing and sensitive acting to the mix. She stakes her claim to the character, with a persona sexier than Whoopi Goldberg’s 1992 film version. It contrasts perfectly with the solemn celibacy of the convent that serves as her refuge after she witnesses her no-good boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) committing murder. Doloris, however, certainly meets her match in the staid and stern matriarch of Mother Superior, played solidly by Karen Mann, determined not to let her bring the corrupting influences of the outside world into the convent, not dreaming for a minute that she will transform not just the nuns’ fortunes but their entire lives.

All of the nuns’ characters are strongly defined with great acting. Sister Mary Robert (Sarah Goggin) is the shy, timorous one, who amazes us with her rebellious transformation. Sister Mary Lazarus (Liz Kitchen) makes us laugh, and you can’t help but love Sister Mary Patrick (Susannah Van Den Berg) the jolly, excitable one. Doloris works her magic on each individual in the horribly discordant ‘cat’s choir’ as she expertly encourages them to shed their inhibitions and ‘raise your voice up to heaven’ like a Black gospel choir would. They learn fast, as their traditional hymns quickly transform into a funky jazzy numbers and emerge as full-on disco nuns in sequinned habits with some serious swag.

Seeing as Craig Revel Horwood is also a Strictly Come Ballroom judge, you would expect the dance numbers to be more prominent, but to be fair, we are dealing with comic gangsters and nuns holding instruments. Dance numbers didn’t really kick in until the second act, and partly due to the unusual amount of live instrumentation woven into the play by the actors/musicians themselves. Nuns with washboards, priests with saxophones and gangsters with guitars; ambitious and different but certainly impressive. Some dance numbers were bold and flashy, like Burke’s ‘I’m gonna be a star’; pure disco diva gloriousness surrounded by ‘boys’ in pink jumpsuits, and some were comedy gold. The imagined seduction of the nuns by the gangsters with their cheesy creepy, classically 70’s moves made me laugh out loud. Watching the nuns bend over as they encourage them to ‘Drop that Bible just a bit’, baby, well, Lord have mercy!

Curtis and his ridiculous band of cronies in their leather and flares added to the thin plotline and brought some laughs along the way. Lambert began to impress as he sang, managing a tricky combination of sinister, comic, cheesy and funky as the strength of his voice starts to come out. Sweaty Eddy (sounds better in an American accent) the policeman besotted with Deloris, is strong and multifaceted. Played by Joe Vetch, his awkward character belies a rich, golden voice. He does a touching guitar solo about being dorky and overlooked, preparing us for the unleashing of his own inner disco star. He does a great number in the bar, surrounded by drunks, his lovely notes soaring over the sound of a man vomiting behind him.

The set was excellent; managing to triple up beautifully as church, club and jail with a couple of change of props and some clever, colourful lighting. The symbols in the visuals work really well, with nuns behind a disco ball and a neon red light around a traditional cross  Seeing as half the cast were in identical habits, everyone else’s costumes fully milked the era to treat us to the full range of seventies’ nasty flares and leather jackets to gloriously glittering, over-the-top outfits. Burke managed to still look beautiful with a nun’s habit framing her exquisite features.

It is a dazzling, funny, feel-good show which despite its ludicrous plot, throws us not just drama and the expected romance, but some important messages of togetherness and understanding. As Burke descends the stairs in a stunning white sequinned gown, under a neon cross with kitschy angel wings, belting out another powerful number, you cannot say for a minute you don’t get your money’s worth. Backed up by a strong, talented cast, Burke really has it all, and as she gave her all to us, fully deserved her standing ovation.

Reviewer: Lisa Michel Williams

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An Interview with Craig Revel Horwood

 Sister Act The Musical will be hitting the Edinburgh Playhouse next week

The Mumble caught up with director & choreographer Craig Revel Horwood

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With a CV boasting creative credits of some sort in just about every popular show going and a high-profile place on one of UK TV’s biggest shows, you would think Craig Revel Horwood had ticked off everything on his career wish-list. But there is one show that had evaded his creative input until now and that is Sister Act. As the show prepares to visit Edinburgh, he tells John Bultitude why working on the show is his dream come true, unlocking Alexandra Burke’s comedy potential and who his dream Strictly contestants would be.

All good things come to those who wait. That is very much the motto of Craig Revel Horwood when it comes to his ambition to be part of the Sister Act phenomenon. The feel-good story of Deloris Van Cartier’s journey has delighted millions. First portrayed on the big screen by Whoopi Goldberg, Deloris is the sassy soul singer who witnesses a shooting and ends up in protective custody in a convent where she (and her ‘Sisters’ in every sense of the word) learn some life lessons.

Sister Act was one of the most financially successful films of the Nineties worldwide before becoming a smash-hit stage show which has enchanted audiences across the globe. The love for the show is shared by Craig and it is why it appealed to him so much. He was initially asked to do some work on the West End production but that did not work out for him. When plans for the current tour came up, he jumped at it. Craig recalled: “I was absolutely delighted because it gives me the chance to fulfil a nine-year ambition. The story is really, really good. That is the number one thing for me. The songs are great, the music is great, the lyrics are great and the plot has this wonderful, wonderful heart which is what I love about it.”

Heading the cast is Alexandra Burke, the incredibly successful singer who shot to fame on The X Factor becoming a top recording star. This is paralleled by incredible stage success following a recently critically acclaimed tour in The Bodyguard. Her vocal prowess speaks for itself but Craig, as director and choreographer of this production, has succeeded in releasing another of her talents. He explained: “Alexandra is a natural comedian and people have never seen that side of her. It is really wonderful for her to get stuck into some comedy and it really suits her down to the ground”.

“Of course, this show has fantastic vocals as you can imagine. It is so lovely that Alexandra was available and wanted to do this show. She is also a brilliant mover and dancer and fits into the company brilliantly well. We are doing it as an ensemble piece. Everyone plays different characters. They are actors/musicians so they sing, they act, they dance but they also provide the music because they play instruments. I do have to say though that it is quite an alarming sight watching a nun with a saxophone,” chuckled Craig.

Also in the show is the much-loved and hugely experienced stage star Rosemary Ashe whose West End credits include hits like The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, Oliver!, The Witches of Eastwick and Mary Poppins.

A high-energy show like this also requires some pin-sharp choreography which is also Craig’s forte although it is not without his challenges. As he says: “The problem is that a lot of the cast are in habits. As well as choreography, you need to do lots of arm-ography too and there is a lot that nuns cannot do so you have to be quite inventive with it all which I am really enjoying.”

This mix of emotions within Sister Act also makes it a real joy for Craig with the great music and the show’s rich seam of storytelling running through it. He said: “We are getting into the world of gospel music which is uplifting and will give you a big smile on your face. The show does have a dark side too and it is quite intense in places with gun warfare, murder, and of course love. It is a really good story and it covers every human emotion.”

So top of Craig’s priority list is getting every single aspect of this show exactly right and ensuring audiences also leave each performance with a big grin. But with this and no doubt other stage projects on the go as well as his TV commitments, how on earth does he fit everything in? Craig laughed: “I have a good PA and my diary is very well organised. I am genuinely booked up three years in advance so I generally fit in everything around all of that. I love it. I love directing and choreography. It is my passion and joy. That is what I will do until the day I die. It is something I can still do while I still have a brain and the assistance of my body.”

And he seems to have his working year sorted out with stage commitments from the spring, Strictly Come Dancing starting in the autumn and then the show’s live tour early in the New Year before a very important 6-week holiday to recharge the batteries and catch up with family and friends in Australia before the whole showbiz cycle begins again. Craig also really enjoys working with the general public teaching the rudiments of dance on a special P & O Cruise before they compete with each other for a title which lets him share his talent and expertise as well as enjoying some time at sea.

And so to Strictly, the Saturday small-screen juggernaut that gets the nation talking and lets us judge whether the celebrity contestants are dynamic divas and dashing devils of the dancefloor, or more of a dad-dancer. While many have competed for the highly-sought-after Glitterball, there are still a few big names that Craig would like to see in action. He said: “I would love to see Simon Cowell on there as it would make great television. Sharon Osbourne would be great too as she is so mouthy. The Royals would be good. Prince Harry? Yes please.”

But what about if they answer back? Everyone knows Simon does not stand on ceremony and gives as good as he gets, and Prince Harry could have Craig sent to the Tower. With a belly-laugh, he retorts: “I like feisty. Why not?” And there lies the bond between the hit show Sister Act and the creative force of Craig Revel Horwood. They are both outwardly a mix of emotions blending humour and drama but boasting an inner kind and strong heart which everyone envies and appreciates.

An Interview with Holly Marsden

This week the EUSOG will be bringing H.M.S. Pinafore coming to Assembly Roxy. The Mumble managed to catch up with its director for a quick interview;

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THE MUMBLE : Hello Holly, so where ya from & where ya at,geographically speaking
HOLLY : I am from a village in Cambridgeshire and currently attend the University of Edinburgh, studying History of Art.

THE MUMBLE : You’ve had quite a busy time in your three years in Edinburgh : performing, directing and producing scores of productions. What is it about the theatre that you love
HOLLY : I have always been involved in theatre – I guess it’s my form of personal expression. Performing and watching theatre is escapism, during which the trials of life can be forgotten about. It is the whole process that I love though: collaborating with like-minded people to create something organic and original that reflects not only what you are performing, whether it is a musical, devised or whatever, but the relationships that have developed over the short period of rehearsal time. You have such a short and fleeting time to build friendships that everybody is instantly open and willing to show their whole selves. I feel I can be myself. I also love how theatrical works stand as a reflection of that historical period, how people felt at that time, and how relatable they are even in the modern context; Pinafore stands as a perfect example of this!

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THE MUMBLE : Can you tell us how Spring Awakening went at last year’s Fringe
HOLLY : Spring Awakening was such a whirlwind. Containing such deep and emotional themes as the show does, the rehearsal and performance period was intense and emotionally challenging. I couldn’t quite believe how much of a success it was; we sold out every night and received many standing ovations. I knew it was a good show because of how it felt, and how talented the director Emily Aboud is, but selling so well was brilliantly shocking. The reviews topped it off as one of the best performance experiences I have had. I credit it to the talent and dedication of Emily and the rest of the production team as well as my fab fellow cast members.

THE MUMBLE : What does Holly Marsden like to do when she’s not immersing herself in the theatrical arts
HOLLY : When not being a drama kid, I work with children with additional needs at playscheme and at a nursery. I also work at a modern art gallery in New Town and as a student ambassador for Edinburgh College of Art. I have a passion for historical documentaries, pub quizzes, glitter and I love having obscure experiences (or exploring Edinburgh’s vegan eats) and laughing with pals. I also like finding excuses to travel as much as possible and pretend to study.

THE MUMBLE : You’re just about to put on H.M.S Pinafore along with the rest of the EUSOG. Why this choice
HOLLY : I have been a member of EUSOG since 2015 and am on the committee as a Fundraising Manager, so am aware of how they run as a society and I guess this meant I felt comfortable enough to propose my vision. EUSOG also has a great and well-established reputation that has been building since its establishment in 1961. Applying to direct a Gilbert and Sullivan, being so well known, felt right as this is my first musical directing experience.

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THE MUMBLE : How will you be presenting HMS Pinafore aesthetically
HOLLY : Aesthetically, this version of HMS Pinafore is set on board a present-day cruise ship so we are going for lots of fun colours and patterns. There are recognisably modern features – expect lots of inflatables, leis and sunglasses.

THE MUMBLE : How is Musical Director Sam Coade handling the band & the music
HOLLY : Sam Coade is wonderful, not only is he extremely talented but he makes me laugh constantly. I think it’s important to have a good relationship with your prod team to ensure things run smoothly. We have worked together to decide on the sound we want to create in order to fit the vision, and Sam has been great in arranging the music to align with this. We have just had the sitzprobe and the band sound amazing! It is going to be a very musically-pleasing show indeed.

THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Holly Marsden
HOLLY : Looking forward, I am taking a break from the high table and auditioning for Fringe shows (fingers crossed). I hope to visit friends abroad over summer and complete an internship. As for my final university year, I will hopefully be on a committee and start a pottery society and/or Louis Theroux society with my flatmates. But no set plans so I will just see what comes my way!

 

 

The Commitments

Edinburgh Playhouse

Feb 27th-March 4th

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The new Commitments musical comes with high praise from the West End, so like myself and the gentleman to my right, & just about everyone else in the audience, we were all expecting big things! This show is not just a musical, for it stays very true to the film and a lot of the first act is more of a play telling the story of the movie, with a few musical numbers thrown in for good measure. By being true to the film one has to remember the cast were not very good at the start, and have to go on a musical journey to reach their destination. Or as my friend to the right put it “it was alright but they were a bit shite”. I was lucky enough to be accompanied for the evening by two of my very favourite ladies (my Auntie and my 82 year old Nana), who had made the trip through on the bus from Glasgow to see the show. We all loved it and had had a positively splendid night, we thought, sitting with a couple of whiskys later that evening while comparing notes on the show. My auntie said it “just didn’t get going” in the first half. I agreed, and ruminsaed they could have done more, but I understood the reason why there were holding it back. For me, there was a glimmer of hope, as three very bright stars in the form of the ‘Girls’ (played by Leah Penston – Imelda, Christina Tedders -Bernie, Amy Penston – Natalie) bounced on to the stage and quickly went from “shite” to songbirds.

The set changes are slick, and focus on small areas of the stage, which has the effect of drawing you in as the story unfolds as it is narrated by Jimmy, played by Andrew Linnie. As the curtain fell on the first act I politely asked a very kind lady who was sitting on the other side of the steps from me if she would be so kind as to swap seats so that my Nana & Auntie could join me at the front left of the circle.  Now these were good seats and you felt as if “you were right there in the middle of at all,” to quote my Nana, and I would have to agree our position was brilliant.

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Like the title of the band and the movie, you have got to stay committed, and feel the faith that there is a lot more to come. Now I had my two ‘Soul sisters’ beside me, & after a our interval drinks we were all set. Ads the show progressed, although I never saw anyone standing up in the isles and dancing, I think there were a few people dying too! I have been told off from my Nana over the years, but as she told me to “stop moving about, you are shaking the life out of me,” I did have a wee laugh to myself and started a more serene hand-tapping. The 2nd act was a riot, nonstop frolics from start to finish. Everyone stepped up to the plate, and Declan – played brilliantly by Brian Gillian – was on fine form as he belted out all the favorites. I wasn’t sure if he would big enough to fill Declan’s boots when I saw and heard him in the first half, but he absolutely nails it in the second. It is a roller-coaster of a ride with lots of thrills, tons of soul and bags of laughs. We had a brilliant night and thoroughly enjoyed the full thing.

Get yourself on the weekend, relax ,have a few drinks and don’t be afraid to let it all out! You will have a brilliant night!!

Reviewer : Mark Parker

five-stars

Evita

Edinburgh Playhouse

Feb 7-11

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Truly wonderful! Came home and sang “don’t cry for me…” thankfully only my wee dug had to put up with my dulcet tones! The truth is Emma Hatton as Evita will never leave me! I was absolutely blow away by the show and was on the edge of my seat almost all of the way through the performance. I knew a little bit about the story of Evita but I had never read any of the books and had actually fell asleep during the movie. So I wouldn’t dare comment on the historical accuracy of Bill Kenwright’s production of the emotive masterpiece by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice – Evita.

The story was told in a wonderful way which was moving and gripping from the start. I have to also admit that Evita popped my cherry at the playhouse so I really did not know what a treat I was in for. The theatre was very grand and very red I thought as I took my seat. I was expecting some brilliant acoustics from the orchestra and actors and I was not disappointed! I also thought the sets where amazing with a mix of grandeur and scale which depicted classic palace halls and chapels to boutique cafés and endless balconies which where all speedily and seamlessly changed as the drama unfolded.

To be truthful though there was a few stars shining brightly that night; Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che who helped narrate Evita’s journey from the lower calsses of Argentine society to the palincial palace was very funny and vocally outstanding. I really took to Che and thought that he portrayed the character very well and that he tried to express both the love for Evita and understanding that many Agentine people must surely have. Oscar Balmaseda played Magaldi (Eva’s first rouge!) brilliantly and when he sang ‘On this night of a thousand starts’ it was delivered perfectly with the right balance of humour and talent (just as the rest of his performance).

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There were certainly no doubt a few rouges back in 1940’s Argentina, and the fact that the country has someone who will always be remembered is perhaps a legacy that most of the Argentine people will be proud to have. I am sure like most of the great one’s Eva’s discretions will be long forgot before she is! One of the other outstanding solo performances I thought was Sarah O Conner who played Peron’s mistress who was abruptly evicted by Evita. Sarah’s rendition of Another Suitcase in another hall was absolutely stunning! Juan Domino Peron was played by Kevin Stephen-Jones who gave the character a touch of presidential elegance throughout the show and showed genuine heart felt love for Evita. If I was wanting to be picky I would say there was a couple of wobbles from the supporting cast where I couldn’t quite catch the words on one or two of the songs song’s, but never from Eva who was played perfectly by the Lead.

Thankfully I can report there was no chance of me falling asleep for the show! I was enthralled from the moment the first light appeared from behind the curtain! Evita was perfectly performed by a group of very talented and beautiful people. There was no shortage of talent on the stage Emma Hatton was phenomenal and when she delivered the shows signature song ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina it was absolutely beautiful, it really was a showstopper! However thankfully there was more to come as this was only the first song in the second act. We were then treated to an array of further musical numbers and songs as the inevitable end drew near of my poor wee Evita and the wonderful show!

Reviewer : Mark Parker

five-stars

 

An Interview With Maddie Flint

Nicola+.jpgThe Mumble : Hi Maddie, so where are you from & how did you end up in Edinburgh

Maddie : I grew up in a small town in Yorkshire. Whilst it doesn’t strike people as the hub of theatrical activity I owe a great deal to many of its inhabitants for curbing my love of the theatre. Edinburgh was in the end the only real option for me on deciding I should get a ‘real degree’ due to the huge array of opportunity in this city and the university for those with a love of the arts. Looks like I made the right choice!

The Mumble : When did you take an interest in the Footlights tradition, & how did you end up in a senior position

Maddie :  I was aware of Footlights throughout my first year of University. They are renowned for creating impressive theatre of a professional standard and of course I wanted to be a part of that. Urinetown and me were the perfect fit considering my previous experience directing satire and sheer love of musicals. I like to think it was my creative vision that convinced them to choose me but it equally could have been the pee-puns in my application.

The Mumble :  Can you tell me about this year’s production, Urinetown?
Maddie :  Urinetown is set in a town that is desperately suffering a water shortage following a 20 year drought. The notorious Urine Good Company (UGC) controls the regulation of water and public toilets, exploiting the poor and threatening to banish them to Urinetown if taxes aren’t paid, whilst they enjoy their luxurious lifestyle. Meanwhile the unlikely hero, Bobby Strong, starts a revolution against the UGC and finds out what Urinetown has meant all along.

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The Mumble :  Footlights have been working with choreographer Sarah Lamb again – what does she bring to the table?
Sarah Lamb : In The Heights was my first major choreography project in Edinburgh and it’s great to be working with Footlights again. In the break in between I’ve done a lot of work in physical theatre and dance theatre, so I hope what I bring to the table is a mix of glitzy Broadway choreography juxtaposed with character infused movement. I love how the show is completely self conscious of its genre, as it allows for to have leaps and pirouettes for absolutely no reason at all other than ‘because it’s a musical’. At the same time however I’m able to dive into the kind of movement direction and choreography that’s focused on emotional intention or character portrayal and that demands an organic process. It’s the mix of commercial dance with theatrical movement that I really hope I’ve been able to create comedy and life with in the show.
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The Mumble : The Edinburgh Footlights has been going on for almost three decades – what are the chief traditions of the group
Maddie : The chief professional tradition is to produce the largest scale amateur production on the Edinburgh University calendar. Our personal fun loving traditions which make Footlights the family it is, is at the end of each production we present awards to one another on paper plates. The production team, on the opening night of the show, give out star stickers for each member of the cast to put on one of their shoes to “light up their feet” (footlights)! These awards usually include quotes from the show. Other fun traditions include socials the week of the show- movie nights, dinner and of course, partying, as if we don’t spend enough time together during show week!

The Mumble :  What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Maddie Flint
Maddie : In short, who knows what 2017 holds but it’s definitely started well. Fringe of course is beckoning and I’m always looking for new projects. I would love to remain apart of this wonderful society in some shape or form whilst continuing to abandon my degree in favour of the theatre.

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The Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh,
7 – 11 February 2017
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Wonderland

Edinburgh Playhouse
20-28 January 2017

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The Edinburgh Playhouse is Wonderland‘s first stop in its long, 30-venue UK tour. I doubt there were many, if any in the audience who weren’t familiar with Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s original children’s tale of magic and mayhem and his well-loved characters. With this production however, American writers, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, had put a new spin on the old story by making Alice a 40-year old dispirited single mum, a few years’ out of a emotionally abusive marriage, needing to find herself again. Adapted by Robert Hudson to give it a British makeover, it still retains its sunny, American ‘believe in yourself’ empowerment message. The opening scene presents downtrodden Alice (powerfully played by Kerry Ellis in the Edinburgh show) and her dutiful daughter Ellie (the talented Naomi Morris) in front of a grim, grey tower block in London. Without any trace of a stage school ‘Mockney’ from either, their sensitive acting made their ‘reversed’ mother and daughter relationship immediately engaging and recognisable, as Ellie valiantly tries to nudge her mother into moving on with life. The chorus, leaned in and out together in their grey and blue office wear, their angular movements suitably expressing the emptiness of modern corporate life in the opening number, “Worst Day of my Life”. A ‘bad’ day for Alice indeed, as her ex gets remarried and she gets fired from her job for being late, not imagining, of course, that as doors close, much better ones are about to open. But she has to get out of her own way. We wait for the rabbit to appear.

“I don’t care about the real world!” is Alice’s weary battle cry, to the chagrin of her frustrated but ever patient daughter. The White Rabbit’s appearance, of course, is about to change everything. This one, played by Dave Willetts, is a kindly, affable rabbit, a curious ‘elder statesman’ with a spring in his step. As he takes her and her shy, lovestruck neighbour Jack (played by Stephen Webb) down in the psychedelic lift down to Wonderland, we are plunged immediately into the chaotic underworld that looks like a cross between the land of Oz and a mental hospital. The crowd of characters reflecting, I suppose, Alice’s full variety of repressed adult problems and abandoned dreams. Welcome to ‘Wonderland’..they sing, with a touch of early 80s British ska.

Jack’s persona as the shy, ignored neighbour doesn’t last too long, as he eagerly jumps first through the mirror of transformation. As his alter ego emerges, we’re amused by this new, confident, slick star, channeling a little Robbie Williams in his leather jacket and cocky attitude. However, he retains some vulnerability and kindness behind the new cockiness, which keeps us rooting for him as Alice’s ardent suitor. The boy band, with its nods to 1980’s blue eyed soul, Motown and every known boy band from New Kids on the Block to One Direction. ‘Show me one night’, Jack sings, as part of ‘One Knight’ and Alice loves it. Jack is a brand new character for us to meet of course, but the well-known and well-loved ones were reassuringly all there. The lime green Caterpillar was, simply, great fun. Played by Kayi Ushe; a day-glo Curtis Mayfield with huge lime-green legs, surrounded by bespectacled secretaries straight out of a 1950s cartoon, ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’ was a ridiculous trippy-kitsch soul number, and one of my favourites. The female quartet were eye-catching with their undulating movements as his legs, not just here but also the quintet that were the small chorus for the Queen of Hearts.

So far, so good. Powerful voices, catchy songs, defined characters and overall, great acting. But as the plot began to lose its rudder, we got a little restless. The songs were a great distraction, almost, from the weak plot and dialogue. The Mad Hatter was female (played by Natalie McQueen) and, like the other female leads, had powerful stage presence. Some attempts at political commentary and digs were being made at our accepted power hierarchies as her ‘madness’ morphs from mild eccentricity to full megalomania in the quest to take over Wonderland from the despotic Queen of Hearts, but this part of the plot loses its way and makes it hard to follow. They had many opportunities to make the most of comic moments; the annoying mirror for example, but the laughs were a little on the thin side. The relationship between Alice and Ellie continued to carry the show as it began to limp along. Ellie’s ‘stereotypical moody teen’ made the audience laugh the most. The mother and daughter duet, after Alice frees her from the Mad Hatter, is particularly touching. However, relying on their acting and the power of the big show tunes to carry the energy of the show only highlighted the weakness in the overall structure even further.

Many of the costumes, for something so iconic and rich as Alice in Wonderland characters were a little disappointing in parts. The Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts costumes, relying on tartan and nipped in waists, worked well, Perhaps the minimalism in parts was deliberate, but many of the animal costumes veered towards ‘low budget, school play, grab a pair of ears and go’ look, almost leaving us to imagine them into the roles of March Hare and Cheshire Cat. Again, for a dream world setting, they could have really gone to town with the set, but it was sparse and uninspiring on the whole. However, the lighting was fantastic, especially to create the psychedic, dimension roaming effect they wanted.

We do enjoy Alice’s dramatic psychological change, which is just as well, as it’s what the whole plot hinges on, after all. Just like in real life, it seems subtle after she comes out the transforming mirror, but then her real personality begins to shine as she is tested to do what she has to do, which is rescue her daughter and rescue herself in the process. We enjoy watching her use her fair but firm school teacher authority to set clear boundaries, command respect and get the right thing done. Middle-aged divorced mums will appreciate the message, of course, about finding yourself after an oppressive marriage, but I wondered about everyone else. Particularly what the few young children in the audience made of it, as there didn’t seem to be much particularly in it for them.

The talented cast certainly made the best of it with both their acting and singing. The Queen of Hearts (played by Wendi Peters) embodied the role perfectly, from the beginning of her explosive entrance, bustling on like a scarlet cross between Queen Victoria and Bubbles Rothermere. Her operatic voice delighted the audience with the length of her notes, and she filled the role with proper pantomime capriciousness. The musical score was great; a good mixture of jazz, swing, rock, pure pop; all the expected big belters from Frank Wildhorn, who wrote a no 1 power ballad for Whitney Houston herself, and we we were lucky to witness singers who can carry the full power of the songs. Kerry Ellis, indeed, carries the whole show right until the feel good ending, as she gains clarity about what has happened to her and who she really is. We’re happy for her, and glad to know that ‘hearts can unbreak’. With the Wonderland chorus contained in the shadows behind the veil, but just still visible, her voice packs a truly powerful punch at the end with her own Whitney style number, ‘Finding Wonderland’. Her acting and voice deserved the standing ovation that happened, probably, mainly for her. However, on leaving, it’s like having woken up from a pleasant but puzzling dream. Left with wispy fragments of plot that don’t create a cohesive whole, but the catchy tunes and feel-good factor stay with you.

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Reviewed by Lisa Williams

An Interview With Kerry Ellis

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THE MUMBLE : Hi Kerry, so you’re just about to take Wonderland on tour around Britain, how are rehearsals going and are you looking forward to opening night?

KERRY : Its always a little crazy with a new show because we are all discovering the show for the first time. The music is really incredible and sounds magical, I think people will go home singing a tune !

THE MUMBLE : How are you finding producer Neil Eckersley’s take on this classic
story.

KERRY : Its the first time I have worked with Neil and Im so grateful to have been cast to create the role of Alice in a brand new show.

THE MUMBLE :  Which are your favorite musical numbers from the show?

KERRY : There are so many!! Though I do have a moment with Dave Willetts who sings a very inspirational song which is very special… we worked together on a show many years ago when I was 19 so its nice to share a moment on stage.

THE MUMBLE :  What are the audience members to expect from this particular adaption.

KERRY : They will be bopping along for sure and hopefully leave with a smile, its a great family fun show.

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THE MUMBLE :  You will be touring two thirds of year – are you ready for this & will
you be getting any time off?

KERRY :  I am only doing part of the tour as I have other commitments, I have a new album that’s coming out in March with Brian May, but I am looking forward to touring this show and taking it to lots of great venues, the cast are all fantastic and have so much energy and talent its a joy.

THE MUMBLE :  & finally, do you have any Edinburgh related activities on teh agenda
while you are in town

KERRY : I have been to Edinburgh many times and love it very much, I love walking around the city and just looking at the sights,, I might take a trip up the castle and hope to see a few fireworks on Burns Night.

You can catch Wonderland at the Edinburgh Playhouse, 20th-28th January