Daily Archives: November 30, 2015

The Great Train Race (Galashiels)

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE GREAT TRAIN RACE at Galashiels Station Interchange, for the Scotsman 30.11.15.
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FOR ANYONE WHO loves trains, there’s no greater thrill than to be able to write the words “Galashiels station” again, 50 years on; and no better place than the new Galashiels Interchange to watch this timely revival by the Hawick-based Firebrand Company of Robert Dawson Scott’s 2013 Play, Pie And Pint hit, a love-song to the great British railway network of the late 19th century, and to the men who made it run.

The show tells the story of the great summer-of-1895 rivalry between the North British railway company, based in Edinburgh, and the racier and more glamorous Caledonian, based in Glasgow, which culminated in a fierce competition to achieve the shortest journey time from London to Aberdeen.

The story is presented in the style of a highly informative pantomime, with friendly Cammie of the Caledonian trying to whip up popular feeling against the more establishment-minded North British, represented by Waverley station clerk Norrie; there are boos and cheers, and – in Galashiels – loud roars of approval for a few special references to the railway history of the Borders.

Just occasionally, though, the writing soars to heights that temporarily still the laughter, including a fabulous description of the sheer drama and heroism of a working life on the footplate of a great locomotive. It’s an apparently light-touch show backed by an impressive depth of history and emotion; and with Simon Donaldson and Ali Watt delivering a pair of perfectly-matched performances as Cammie and Norrie, Richard Baron’s production emerges as an hour of pure celebration and pleasure – perhaps to be revived again, around the Borders, before too long.

Run completed.

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The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE for The Scotsman, 30.11.15
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4 stars ****

WHAT A STRANGE and mystical old beast is C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, first published in 1950. Full of echoes of mighty myths and narratives – from the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale to the story of the crucifixion itself – it belongs to a postwar moment when British establishment culture was more in love with itself than at any time before or since, and more convinced of its special role as the defender of precious values, always under threat from the forces of darkness.

So when Lewis’s four child heroes – exiled to an old country house as evacuees from bombed-out London – discover the magical new land of Narnia in the back of an old wardrobe, they bring with them not only the perpetual mischief and simmering sibling rivalries to be found in any family, but also an inescapable sense of destiny. And soon, they are leading the fight for the ordinary creatures of Narnia against the all too well-drawn tyranny of the horrible White Witch, which has poor creatures bullied into the service of the regime, their homes searched and ransacked, and disobedience punished by instant petrification, or worse.

All of this is perfectly captured in Theresa Haskins’s fine adaptation and Andrew Panton’s beautiful, flowing production, which sets the story firmly in its historical context, features a powerful new recorded score by Claire Mackenzie -including a series of impressive songs beautifully sung – and fends off any hint of self-righteous prissiness with four gorgeous, down-to-earth leading performances from Claire-Marie Seddon and Charlotte Miranda Smith as Lucy and Susan, and James Rottger and Cristian Ortega as Peter and Edmund.

It is irritating – particularly given the de luxe quality of a supporting cast that includes Gail Watson, John Kielty, Lewis Howden, Ben Onwukwe and Ewan Donald, with Pauline Knowles as the White Witch – to see any Lyceum show so meticulously re-creating the old linguistic power-structure that reduces the sound of a Scottish voice to a cue for patronising laughter; and this is not a show for those in search of the kind of traditional Christmas fun that involves audience participation, rude jokes, and lusty singalongs.

What it is, though, is a fine and intriguing children’s fantasy adventure, beautifully told; and with Becky Minto’s magical design and Simon Wilkinson’s superb lighting often conspiring to take the breath away, there’s finally no resisting this exquisitely realised show, the last in what has been, for the Lyceum, a mighty 50th anniversary year.

Until 3 January.

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Cinderella (Brunton Theatre)

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on CINDERELLA at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, for The Scotsman, 30.11.15
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3 stars ***

OVER THE LAST 20 years, the Brunton Theatre has developed the delightful knack of creating unpretentious pantos, on a shoestring budget, that nonetheless often seem to do more to maintain the tradition and spirit of panto that all of the nation’s glitzier shows put together.

This year’s Cinderella, put together by regular writer-director Mark Cox and his team, is no exception. The show looks a bit rough-and-ready in ways that slightly more sensitive lighting could easily improve, the score is a pretty raucous selection of recent heart-on-sleeve hits, and the acting and singing is variable.

Yet there’s no denying the pure spirit of local panto that animates the whole show, as Cox’s script lays on the East Lothian jokes (with some very funny song lyrics), Derek McGhie makes a fine job of bonding with the audience as Buttons, and Richard Conlon and Mark McDonnell act up an absolute storm as a terrifically wicked and hideous pair of Ugly Sisters.

Like all the best pantos, this one wears mediaeval costume, but slips effortlessly through time; here, Cinderella’s domestic drudgery includes the nasty task of backing up he ugly sisters’ I-pads, and Prince Jamie’s journey around East Lothian in search of a bride is trending on Twitter (hashtag #jamieonajaunttaejoppa).

And by the time a wobbly but recognisable blow-up coach comes exploding out of the pumpkin, making a virtue of economic necessity, this jolly family show has us eating out of its hand; as the Musselburgh chorus of local schoolchildren dance their hearts out and act their socks off, from beginning to end.

Until 2 Jan

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