Tom, A Story Of Tom Jones – The Musical

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on TOM, A STORY OF TOM JONES – THE MUSICAL at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 19.3.16
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3 stars ***

IT WAS THE AGE of The Beatles, of mop-top groups and new-born guitar pop, when London agents and bookers just weren’t interested unless you came from Merseyside, home of the beat. Yet somehow, during those same Sixties years, a singer emerged who seemed like a throwback to the 1950’s, a big balladeer who looked like an adult rather than a teenager, who moved like Elvis, and who sang everything from Ray Charles to Irving Berlin classics.

His name was Tom Jones, born Tommy Woodward in Pontypridd in 1940; and he proved to have such a voice, and such showbiz staying-power, that if you search the internet today for Theatre na nOg of Neath’s touring tribute musical about Tom’s early days – written by Mike James, directed by Geinor Styles, and first seen in Wales in 2014 – you’ll find just as many references to the big man’s current tour of Australia and New Zealand.

In a series of scenes so tightly focussed on those early years that they become slightly repetitive, the show therefore begins with a classic mining valley vista of tiny terraced houses, before leading us – via asides to the audience and lightly caricatured short scenes – through Tom’s youth as a Saturday-night pub singer, and his successful local career with a band called The Senators, to swinging London, and the year of grinding failure the band endured there before Tom,and Tom alone, finally reached the Number One slot with It’s Not Unusual, in March 1965.

And give or take a rousing final medley of Tom’s greatest hits, that’s it, for this show; Kit Orton, in the leading role, makes a fine job of capturing Tom’s voice and presence, Elin Phillips gives a star turn as his ever-supportive teenage bride Linda, and the four actor-musicians who make up The Senators play brilliantly, particularly in the rock-and-roll sequences of the first half.

And although this show inevitably attracts an audience who were there when all this happened, 50 years ago, it’s fundamentally a story about youth, in a time when being young was far tougher and more thrilling than it is now; a time when it took oceans of self-belief for a working-class kid to break through into any kind of media at all, but when the rewards of fame, when it finally arrived, were more far-reaching and spectacular than anyone can easily imagine, in these days of diffuse online communities pursuing their own musical enthusiasms, and rarely – if ever – coming together at all.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today.

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Shrapnel

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on SHRAPNEL at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 14.3.16.
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4 stars  ****

WHERE ARE WE, in the early scenes of Catrona Lexy Campbell’s bold new stage version of the 2006 novel Shrapnel, by her father Tormod Caimbeul? There’s a hospital, there are nurses, there are people speaking Gaelic, with projected surtitles flitting across the set. And there seems to be a bar, or perhaps an Italian restaurant, where an ugly Friday-night fight has taken place, resulting in the serious injury of a notorious retired police officer known as Shrapnel, and a strong police interest in our young hero, a Lewis man called McLugrin.

In fact, as we gradually work out, we are in Leith; and it’s arguable that given the linguistic and visual complexity of what Catriona Lexy Campbell and director Muireann Kelly are trying to achieve in this new show from Theatr Gu Leor – with a cast of six, and a strong creative team in sound, design and music – it might be worth making that starting-point a little clearer, before we plunge into McLurgan’s Dante-esque journey through the underbelly of late-20th urban Scotland, and out into the landscape of his chlldhood.

If Campbell’s adaptation is sometimes slightly hard to follow, though, what it achieves without question is to make a thrilling case for Tormod Caimbeul’s novel, as an astonishingly bold and surreal narrative poem, almost like Alasdair Gray’s Lanark in its ambition, about a Gaelic soul half-lost in urban Scotland, but still deeply aware not only of his heritage, but of how it connects with so many deeper strands in human culture, from the Greeks and Shakespeare to Buddhist mysticism. There’s a chilling performance from Iain Macrae as Shrapnel, a mighty bullying monster of macho violence and bigotry; and a superb one from young Gaelic actor Iain Beggs, who carries the complexity and truth of Caimbeul’s story on his broad shoulders, to its strangely peaceful and moving end.

At the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, this week (15-16 March), and on tour across northern Scotland, Barra and Lewis until 2 April.

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Mystic McMillan 2016!

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JOYCE MCMILLAN: MYSTIC MCMILLAN ON THEATRE IN SCOTLAND 2016 for Scotsman Magazine 26.12.15.
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JANUARY

The year begins in a mood of confusion, with theatre companies still scratching their heads over the Scottish governent’s enigmatic budget, which appeared to slash cultural funding by 9.4% – the biggest cut of any area of government spending – but was followed by briefings to the effect that no-one was actually being cut by much more than 3%.

Rumours circulate that for reasons unknown, the government wishes to appear to be tough on arts funding, while in fact not being all that tough; and they begin to spread like wildfire after the opening night at the Lyceum of Conor McPherson’s pensive modern ghost tale The Weir, when a man in a heavy winter coat, bearing a strange resemblance to finance minister John Swinney, is seen at the stage door handing wads of grubby fivers to the cash-strapped theatre’s executive director, while muttering “Don’t tell them I gave you this.”

FEBRUARY

In the first week of February, Rona Munro’s huge trilogy of James Plays returns to the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, at the start of a global tour . At the after-show party, NTS boss Laurie Sansom and artistic director designate of the Lyceum, David Greig, call for the Scottish theatre community to be inventive about generating new income, in the wake of the govermment cuts, and to remember that government can also provide the arts with help in kind; a senior civil servant in the crowd is inspired to announce that in future, all such Scottish theatre gatherings will be provided with a supply of government-issue sausage rolls, freshly delivered from Victoria Quay.

MARCH

In March, the Citizens’ Theatre presents a new version of Get Carter by Northern Stage, and puts out an innovative call for funding from those in the city who know exactly how it feels to be a local gangster returning to former haunts; the response is muted. At the end of the month, the entire Scottish theatre community boards a fleet of buses to Cardross, west of Dumbarton, where Angus Farquhar’s NVA organisation is staging an event called Hinterland, as part of its restoration project at the old St. Peter’s Seminary, Kilmahew, an outstanding neglected masterpiece of Scottish modernist architecture. Asked how he finally managed to raise the money for this long-cherished project, Farquhar replies that it was simple: he just stopped using the word “theatre”, and the cash started to pour in.

APRIL

In April, Edinburgh theatre is almost all about nostalgia and escapism, as screaming crowds of middle-aged women besiege the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh for performances of Jackie The Musical – about the famous girls’ magazine of the 1960’s and 70’s – and queues form at the Festival Theatre for the spectacular stage version of Mary Poppins. Meanwhile legendary director Michael Boyd – former boss of the Tron and the Royal Shakespeare Company – returns to the Traverse with his production of eerie Quebec ghost story Right Now. Asked how Scottish theatre can generate more income, Boyd suggests that companies try doing some Shakespeare, since 2016 is the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death; but apart from a one-day celebration at the Citizens’ on 23 April, no Shakespeare productions are forthcoming.

MAY

On 5 May – Holyrood election day – David Greig holds his last Two Minute Manifesto session at the Traverse before taking over as boss of the Lyceum, and the SNP wins another impressive overall majority in the Scottish Parliament; the John-Swinney-like figure immediately appears at the Citizens’ Theatre with an entire suitcase of Royal Bank of Scotland notes, which he says is an anonymous contribution to the theatre’s current building project. Meanwhile, Liz Lochhead’s new play Thon Man Moliere, about the life of the great 17th century French playwright, opens at the Lyceum. In a pre-show talk, an audience member suggests that since Moliere’s main source of funding was Philippe Duke Of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV, a bit of royal patronage for Scottish theatre might not come amiss; but despite attempts to follow up this inspired suggestion, the palace remains silent.

JUNE

In June, the National Theatre of Scotland tours revivals of two briliantly successful recent shows, Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour – about a group of riotous Oban schoolgirls travelling to Edinburgh for a choir competition – and The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart, David Greig’s post-modern Border ballad, best performed in a pub. In an effort to provide Scottish theatre with help in kind, the Scottish government offers to buy a pub where the NTS can stage Prudencia Hart in perpetuity, like Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap; NTS boss Laurie Sansom politely declines.

JULY

In July, as is traditional, nothing happens in Scottish theatre at all; apart, of course, from the Pitlochry summer season, which does not rely much on public subsidy. Asked what Scottish theatre should do to enhance its income, artistic director John Durnin says, ”Get yourself a gorgeous Highland location and a big restaurant, and you’ll find your problems melt away like snow off Ben Vrackie.”

AUGUST

The Edinburgh Festival takes place amid cries of astonishment, as culture secretary Fiona Hyslop leaves politics to become the new Chief Exedutive of the Edinburgh Fringe. “Well, I’ve leanred a lot about it over the years,” says Ms Hyslop, “and I thought it looked like more fun than being in goverment.” Meanwhile, the Scottish Government buys up the Royal High School in Edinburgh – still the subject of bitter disputes about its future – and offers it to Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan as help in kind, and a perfect future location for his spectacular start-of-festival outdoor events; to everyone’s amazement, Linehan accepts.

SEPTEMBER

The National Theatre of Scotland moves to its new shed-like home at Rockvilla in Port Dundas, billed to become a base for all NTS backroom activities and educational projects. Within weeks, though, NTS boss Laurie Sansom shocks the Scottish government, Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow Licensing Board by announcing that following the sad demise of the Arches in May 2015, he has decided to launch Rockvilla as a late-night club and music venue, and to use the commercial proceeds to support the NTS’s work with young artists. Crowds flock to the Rockvilla club nights, and for the time being the GLB fails to think of a reason not to give it a licence.

OCTOBER

Excitement is intense, as the acclaimed new touring version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – produced by former Festival Theatre boss John Stalker, and directed by former Dundee Rep artistic director James Brining – arrives at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. A Scottish government representative turns up with a bag of Clydesdale Bank tenners, but is politely turned away; this is one show, he’s told, that can wash its own face, and fly its own magic car out over the audience, too.

NOVEMBER

Wind, rain, panto rehearsals. Nothing happens.

DECEMBER

A mood of festive cheer sweeps over Scotland’s theatres, as the Scottish government offers in-kind support to Jack And the Beanstalk at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh in the shape of a giant beanstalk specially cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens’ outpost in Galloway; sadly, it collapses under the combined weight of panto stars Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott, and is never seen again. “It was an unfortunate incident,” says diplomatic Duncan Hendry, boss of the Festival and King’s Theatres, “but we still very much appreciate any support the Scottish government can give us. And of course, like everyone else in Scottish theatre, we’re still searching for the magic beans that will bring us fame and fortune, in 2017.”

All shows featured in this column will take place at the places and times mentioned, as will the NTS’s move to its new headquarters. Everything else, of course, is pure fiction!

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At Christmas Time, Let’s Remember That All The Major Problems We Face Need International Solutions; And That A Purely National Politics Has Become The Refuge Of Those Who Would Deliberately Obscure Reality – Column 24.12.15.

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JOYCE MCMILLAN for The Scotsman 24.12.15
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TWO LEADING London newspapers are spread across my desk, on the day before Christmas Eve. One one front page, there’s an image of a British soldier sheltering his face from a dust-storm in Helmand province; it accompanies the news that a year after our final departure from Afghanistan, British boots are back on the ground near Sangin, the Afghan town now once again in danger of falling to the Taliban.

And the other newspaper carries an image – the image of the year, many might say – of another boatload of refugees making landfall on the Greek island of Lesbos. They are blonde, dark, mostly youngish men, with a few young women and chldren; and soon, they will be making their way north and west, to Germany, Sweden, Britain. Some of these refugees – or their cousins from camps on the Syrian border – may eventually make their homes here in Scotland, or will join the steady flow into the south-east of England, changing UK domestic politics for both good and ill.

For this has been the year when – to paraphrase Trotsky – you may not have been interested in world affairs, but world affairs began to seem ever more interested in you. Even when we were not watching images of war in Afghanistan or Syria, or of refugees risking their lives to reach Europe, it was a year when we felt our global connections and responsibilities tug at us every more keenly and painfully, from the twin Paris tragedies of the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the 13 November attacks, to the great climate-change conference, also in Paris, that ended the year; ask a shop-owner in Cumbria, flooded out for the third time in a month, whether he or she has any interest in the climate talks, and you may get a very different answer from what you might have expected a decade ago.

Yet if the sheer scale of these crises is beginning to change our news agenda, it often still seems barely to impinge on our politics. Last month, when Britain made its decision to join in anti-IS bombing raids in Syria, Britain’s political class discussed the matter almost entirely in terms of what the debate revealed about the depth of the current split in the Labour Party.

And although our leading politicians now spend a huge proportion of their time in international meetings, negotiating joint responses to these various crises, it stiil seems that for many – both politicians and voters – the first reaction to any global trouble is to suggest that we can sling up a political and psychological drawbridge, “bring power back home”, “get control of our borders”, and keep a troubled world at arms’ length. Anti-immigrant parties do well in elections across Europe – although not so well as some eagerly predict; some countries in south-eastern Europe, notably Hungary, have even shamed themselves by rebuilding the kinds of physical walls and fences from which our continent, after 1989, was supposed to be free at last. And even in Scotland, despite a widespread understanding that any form of nationalism is best combined with a robust internationalism, we still tend to look inward in our daily politics; as if the austerity budget just delivered by John Swinney was some mere domestic problem that could be solved by independence, or by a more robust use of devolved powers, rather than a symptom of a Europe-wide malaise.

It looks, in other words, as if patriotism – long recognised as the last refuge of a scoundrel – has now become something worse: the deliberately deceptive politics of those who wish to obscure the reality of the world we live in, and to offer the false prospect of a nation somehow protected from global change. Almost all mainstream parties, in all nations, are guilty of peddling this illusion to some extent. And because they are made up of representatives from these same parties and governments, our international institutions – the bodies which should be powerful enough to take on and solve the global problems we face – are both weaker than they should be, and perilously short of the kind of scrutiny that might be provided by a genuine international grassroots politics, with media to match.

None of these ideas are new, of course; my father and many of his generation returned from the Second World War convinced that “world government” was the only real answer to the huge issues of justice and freedom they had glimpsed in that global conflict. And although there have been so many bitter and catastrophic failures since then, it’s perhaps worth remembering two things, at Christmas, about the global institutions – still relatively new, in the long view of history – that were founded in the aftermath of that war, including the United Nations.

The first is that for all their flaws, these institutions do also have their successes; it’s simply that when when they succeed, we hear nothing of the absence of war and catastrophe that is their greatest achievement. And although agreements like the COP21 climate deal reached in Paris are deeply flawed, they represent a level of international recognition of a shared problem, and an intention to deal with it, that surely signals progress, however dangerously slow.

And the second is that a global politics will only really emerge when there are millions upon millions of global citizens actively demanding it, and increasingly rejecting the brittle and strident old lies about national power and self-sufficiency that still so distort our politics. The truth is that there is not a single problem mentioned in this column that can be solved entirely at national level. If they are solved at all, it wil be by vigorous coalitions of the local and the global, supported by regional and national governments that use their powers well, to put themselves on the right side of history. And as we look, this Christmas, into the faces of those arriving refugees who could – but for the grace of God – be ourselves, or our loved ones, we should know this: that human kind is a family, however vast and fractious; and that sooner or later, we must sit together around the same table to solve our problems, lighting our traditional candles of meeting, celebration and talk, against all the forces of the dark.

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Peter Pan (Eden Court), When The Winter Wind Blows

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on PETER PAN and WHEN THE WINTER WIND BLOWS at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, for The Scotsman, 21.12.15
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Peter Pan 4 stars ****
When The Winter Wind Blows 3 stars ***

DO YOU BELIEVE IN fairies? Traditionally, at panto time, almost all of us do, except some naughty boys in the stalls. When it comes to Peter Pan, though – and the famous moment when we all have to clap and cheer to save Tinkerbell from death – it’s easier to conjure up that mood of magic when you’re dealing not with Alan McHugh’s current short, heavily-edited and brutally comic pantomime version on show in Aberdeen and at the SECC), but with Will Brenton’s much more leisurely adaptation, favoured by the Coventry panto producers Imagine Theatre, and, this year, by Eden Court in Inverness.

The downside of Brenton’s approach is that once all the classic panto elements have been added – the comedy cook Nanny McSmee, two increasingly rare kitchen slapstick sequences, an excellent ghost scene, and plenty of song, dance and fight-sequences featuring teams of young cast members from Inverness and the Highlands – it makes for a long evening of almost three hours; some of the comedy sequences, centring on Ian Wotherspoon’s rather ladylike Nanny McSmee, seem a little laboured.

Everything else about this pantomime Peter Pan goes with a swing, though. A fine Smee (Ross Allan) and a truly world-class Captain Hook (Greg Powrie) lead us through the booing, hissing, and hiya-pals audience participation with terrific skill; the sets are pretty, and in this version, the story is allowed a hint of resolution, as the scene returns to the children’s bedroom, and Pan promises to visit, at least sometimes. It hasn’t, and never will have, the same feelgood effect as a traditional panto ending, complete with wedding bells; but it’s tremendous fun, all the same, generous, spectacular, and impressively true to the spirit of Barrie’s original tale.

Upstairs in the Jim Love studio, meanwhile, lucky children under five – and this year, sometimes as young as just one – are being drawn gently into the world of theatre by a gorgous 40-minute show called When The Winter Wind Blows, put togther by Eden Court’s own in-house creative team, which runs the theatre’s vast Highland-wide programme of classes and activities. Devised by the team and directed by the theatre’s Creative Manager Katyana Kozikowska, the show is set in a snowy Arctic wonderland complete with a little igloo that opens up to show the domestic world inside, and features a girl called Kaya, beautifully played by Lorraine Hemmings, who gets the chance, on her birthday, to tell six wishes to the winds that rush round her home, represented in big swirling dance movments by Louise Marshall and Laura Johnston.

Using almost no English words – just “wish” and “wind” – the story leads us through the essential elements of a vast-vanishing Inuit way of life: the bird, seal, husky dogs, owl and reindeer that Kaya wishes to meet, along with a beloved lost grandma, and the simple household tasks – sweeping, fishing, sledge-pulling, drying the fish for the winter – she has to carry out in between wishes. And at every point, the children get a chance to help; in a magical encounter with the far north that might just fire their imaginations for a lifetime, made just for them, at Eden Court.

Peter Pan Until 10 January, When The Winter Wind Blows untio until 31 December.

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Review Of The Year, 2015

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2015, for Scotsman Magazine, 19.12.15
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ANY YEAR IN Scottish theatre tends to offer a strong sense of contradiction, and of suddenly shifting moods; perhaps it’s the old Caledonian antisyzygy in action, playing itself out across our stages. Yet I doubt if there has ever been a theatre year so beset as this one by contrasts between rich achievement and celebration on one hand, and – on the other – a mounting feeling of apprehension and loss, as Scotland’s theatres look to a future which seems set to be dominated by ever deeper cuts in public funding.

In Scotland, at national level, those cuts have hardly happened yet, as culture minister Fiona Hyslop continues the fight to avoid the reductions in arts spending that have already swept England. Yet the pressure on local authority spending is already visible everywhere, not least in a capital city besieged by developers, and struggling to maintain its global festival city status. And the mood of gloom found its most visible outward expression in the sudden closure in May, after the highly debatable withdrawal of its late-night club licence, of the Arches theatre, gallery, music and club venue in Glasgow, for 25 years an outstanding symbol of Glasgow’s cultural gains from its year as European City of Culture in 1990, a pioneer of a new model of arts funding, and a city-centre hotbed of rehearsal, development and performance for generations of young Glasgow artists.

If the Arches closure embodied the dark side of 2015, though, then the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh was the place that most brilliantly reflected the year’s stark contrasts, with one of the most brilliant programmes of work in the history of the Lyceum Company – founded under Tom Fleming’s direction 50 years ago this autumn – shadowed by the announcement that from April 2015, Creative Scotland would be slashing the theatre’s annual grant by a stinging 17%.

On stage, though, the litany of achievement was magnificent, as the year opened with a heart-stopping John Dove production of Faith Healer by Brian Friel (the mighty Irish playwright who died this year, aged 86), continued through a breathtakingly timely and brilliant staging of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by artistic directort Mark Thomson, and culminated in a 50th anniversary autumn season that featured Thomson’s world-class production of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, with great Scottish stage and screen stars Brian Cox and Bill Paterson.

Following the negative funding news, Mark Thomson announced in the spring that he would leave the Lyceum next summer, after 13 years in the job; and in September, in a strikingly bold move greeted with huge excitement, the Board announced that the next artistic director would be Scotland’s leading playwright David Greig, the first playwright to take on the solo role of running one of Scotland’s major building-based companies since James Bridie at the Citizens’ 70 years ago.

The Citizens’ itself celebrated its 70th anniversary in the Gorbals with a remarkable year of west-of-Scotland-based work, ranging from a revival of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys in February, to new musical The Choir in October and November. The highlight of the Citizens’ year, though, was David Greig and Graham Eatough’s mighty stage version of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, co-produced by the Citizens’ and the Edinburgh International Festival, and designed to introduce a new generation to one of Scotland’s defining novels of the last 35 years. And there were other anniversaries this year, too. The Citizens’ celebrated the 50th birthday of its famous, shortlived studio theatre, The Close – destroyed by fire in 1973 – with a memorable autumn season of studio productions; and Lung Ha’s, the ground-breaking Edinburgh-based company working with adults with learning difficulties, marked its 30th anniversary with fine productions of Morna Pearson’s take on Jekyll & Hyde, and Linda McLean’s new play about ageing and dementia, Thingummy Bob.

At the National Theatre of Scotland, this seemed a relatively muted year, as the company planned its 2016 move to a new production centre at Rockvilla in Glasgow’s Port Dundas basin, and learned that two of its leading figures, Executive Producer Neil Murray and associate director Graham McLaren, would move on in 2016 to become joint directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. And the same was true at the Traverse, also facing a serious Creative Scotland funding cut, although the company continued to develop its strong working relationship with the lunchtime new-short-play powerhouse of A Play, A Pie And A Pint at Oran Mor, and scored a significant Festival hit with artistic director Orla O’Loughlin’s impeccable production of Stef Smith’s Swallow, a powerful piece about women in the 21st century city by one of Scotland’s most gifted young playwrights.

The Traverse and the NTS came together, though, in one of the most explosively successful first nights of the year, when the Traverse hosted the Edinburgh Fringe opening of Vicky Featherstone’s brilliant NTS touring production of Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, an adaptation by Lee Hall of Alan Warner’s fine 1998 novel The Sopranos. In a year when Scottish theatre often seemed to be drawing new inspiration from the nation’s recent theatrical and literary history – and mourned the death of 7:84 co-founder Elizabeth MacLennan – Dundee Rep scored a massive hit with Joe Douglas’s revival of John McGrath’s mighty 1972 agitprop classic The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil, a production greeted with acclaim by most of those who saw it, and by complaint from those who didn’t, and who felt it should be touring the Highlands & Islands, as the original 7:84 production did 43 years ago. In fact, many shows toured extensively in 2015, from Rapture Theatre’s Arthur Miller season of All My Sons and The Last Yankee, to Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour itself; but the impression persisted that Scottish touring theatre now lacks the impact and coherence that it had, in the days when there was more ideological heft and radical theory behind the whole concept.

And here in the capital – well, despite funding threats, the grasroots theatre scene continued to thrive on the slimmest of shoestrings, from the Village Pub Theatre in Fort Street to Discover 21 at Jock’s Lodge. In the summer, Leith-based Vision Mechanics staged an exquisite seaside installation-with-soundtrack called Drift, on glorious beaches from Fife to Shetland; throughout the year, the King’s and Festival Theatres continued to offer a memorably rich diet of visiting theatre, from Regent Park’s wonderful To Kill A Mockingbird back in February, to Kneehigh of Cornwall’s fabulously inventive version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, in the autumn.

And the Edinburgh International Festival, the first under the direction of Fergus Linehan, began a dynamic new phase by not only realigning its dates with the Edinburgh Fringe, but also opening up a brand new relationship with Scottish theatre, offering an international platform both to large-scale new work like Lanark, and to existing Scottish shows that deserve a wider audience. 2015 was not a smooth or easy year for Scottish theatre, in other words, and it had its deep shadows. But there was a creative annus mirabilis at the Lyceum, a promising new era at the Edinburgh Festival, a determined effort by other theatres – notably the Tron – to pick up the suddenly-severed loose ends of the Arches’ creative effort; and a pattern of sudden, unpredictable bursts of briliance everywhere, in a year that drew strength and inspiration from the past, but also offered a glimpse of a troubled, energetic, and hugely productive future.

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Peter Pan (SECC)

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on PETER PAN at the Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 19.12.15
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3 stars ***

FROM BAYWATCH to the Broomielaw, the SECC panto’s new celebrity star, David Hasselhof, makes his journey into the strange world of Scottish pantomime with a certain wounded elegance that pretty well fits his character, Captain Hook. He looks superb, cheerfully sends himself up, and delivers a touching version of My Way as he’s finally swung over the side of the Jolly Roger into the jaws of the ticking crocodile; and if he isn’t exactly John Barrowman – the all-singing, all-dancing small-screen hero he replaces – well, let’s face it, not many people are.

The truth about Hasselhof’s Glasgow panto debut, though, is that it still looks like a showbiz experiment that hasn’t quite settled in yet. With the Krankies and Michelle McManus also on stage – as the Smee brothers and Mimi the Magic Mermaid respectively – this Qdos panto features almost exactly the same Alan McHugh script, and spectacular special effects, as this year’s offering in Aberdeen. Apart from one fairly mind-blowing visual gag featuring Jeanette Krankie as a surfing Pamela Anderson, there’s a surprising lack of good Baywatch jokes; and the slight nervy stiffness of Hasselhof’s performance tends to slow the pace.

There’s still plenty of fun and glitz around, though; Michelle McManus emerges as a real all-round panto star, making a fine job of her traditional “whit fur” comic routine with the Krankies. And with director Jonathan Kiley and musical director Anthony England orchestrating a 20-strong team of singing, dancing Lost Boys and Pan’s People, the show delivers a fine night out – a little hesitant in places, but never short of visual sparkle, and sheer entertainment value.

Until 3 January.

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