The Winter’s Tale isAlexandra Rego's favourite Shakespeare play, whereas Elliot Douglas only knew of "Exit, pursued by a bear" before Mermaids’ production of the notorious ‘problem-play’.Our Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief, respectively, offer their perspectives in this unprecedented double review.Alexandra RegoTo be frank, I’m not sure if I’m the most equipped person to review The Winter’s Tale; it’s been my favourite play by Shakespeare for quite some time and I was a bit shocked to hear (via a friend) that it’s the “hipster move” to prefer it. So in true “indie” “hipster” form, I was a little sceptical that a production so late in the semester would do such an intricate play justice. I was delightfully proven wrong. Under the studied direction of Caitlin Morris, The Winter’s Tale offered several strong performances and successfully conveyed the play’s complexities. The Winter’s Tale is ultimately a play concerning the contrasts between sanity and insanity, art and artifice, drama and comedy, and two neighbouring kingdoms, Bohemia and Sicilia. The first act is something of a psychological drama in which Leontes, King of Sicilia, accuses his pregnant wife, Hermione (yes, this play potentially inspired Hermione Granger’s name…), of infidelity. The second act takes place some sixteen years later, in Bohemia, and sees the main characters reunited under very different circumstances. The role of Leontes is offers some of the most difficult character work in (I think) all of Shakespeare; a successful performance requires the actor to shift almost immediately between fondness and jealousy, sanity and insanity. Daniel Jonusas took on the challenge with aplomb, and his unstable character was all the more believable for his work, particularly in silent moments between Jonusas and another actor. Of the actors onstage, his performance was the most developed and consistent. Other standouts were Georgia Luckhurst as the much-put-upon Camillo (poor Camillo…), and Annabel Steele as the equally put-upon (but far less pliant) Paulina. Morris staged The Winter’s Tale in the round: the set comprised of white blocks used interchangeably as pedestals and chairs, and a few hanging gauze curtains that seemed more appropriate in the first act than the second. Tonal shifts in lighting (the work, I believe, of Grace Cowie and Joshua Undy-Jamison) ensured that there was a distinct look and feel to the separate kingdoms: Sicilia more glacial, Bohemia warm. These technological details were for the most part handled smoothly and did not overshadow the actors, all the more likely to happen in such a stark set up. I didn’t mind the minimalism of the set; if anything, it gave the actors more space in which to focus on maintaining the psychological arc and drama of the first act, then the comedy and lightness of the second. However, while I appreciated seeing this play in the round, I would argue that the space and its geometry often felt inappropriately used. On a few rare occasions (in the second act), actors engaged with the audience, but this was far more distracting than constructive, or even constructively distracting. Furthermore, the second act’s dance sequence, which struck me as an opportune moment to involve the audience (this is my nightmare, but still…), fell flat. One other criticism I had was that in the sixteen years that spaced the first and second act, none of the characters seemed to have aged at all. At one stage Paulina refers to herself as an “old turtle”, which, while hilarious, was perhaps rendered all too comic without the assistance of aging makeup. As is the case with almost any modern student adaptation of Shakespeare, making cuts and deciding which scenes to showcase can be an incredibly difficult decision with no right answer. On the whole Morris seemed to take a traditional approach, which I do not think in any way hurt the production. However, I was shocked to see that the first act did not feature Shakespeare’s most infamous stage directions: “exit, pursued by a bear”. This became an object of confusion in the second act, in which a bear was alluded to, but seemed so absurd that the audience laughed to an inappropriate degree. A few minor plot holes, undoubtedly due to poor directorial cutting, rendered an already complex narrative either too comic or dramatic at times, but I would say that Morris did an admirable job in ensuring that character-defining moments remained in place. Again, this production was all about its actors, and the audience still got a strong sense of each character (Polixenes’s theatricality, Hermione’s regality). Overall, strong performances from the leads and an unpretentious set up allowed talented actors to shine in a notoriously difficult play to direct. Rating: Four stars
Elliot DouglasI knew absolutely nothing about The Winter’s Tale before I went to see the Mermaids’ version last week, apart from the infamous “Exit, pursued by a bear” line which greeted me (laminated, in Comic Sans font) every day for a year on the classroom door of my high school English teacher. This is probably quite an embarrassing admission to make as a fifth-year English student at a top UK university (citation needed). However, this meant that all of Shakespeare’s 500-year-old twists and turns were brand new to me, and I ooh’ed and aah’ed my way through Caitlin Morris’ neatly cut-down production in what, I’m sure my fellow audience members will agree, proved to be an obnoxious fashion.The play, in short, was tremendous fun. The ensemble cast worked cohesively together, and moments of tension and comedy were well directed. The tragic hyperbole of Daniel Jonusas, Emma Gylling Mortensen and Annabel Steele’s performances was perfectly pitched: realistic enough to genuinely tug at the heartstrings, but camp enough to keep in line with the exaggerated drama. The play’s most tragic moments – the death of a child, for one, adorably played by Cameron Chavers – were jarring in the context of this melodrama, but I believe this was deliberately and effectively done to catch the audience off guard.The denizens of Bohemia – present in the play’s lighter, second half – offered some nice comic relief, with Morgan Corby and Georgie Turner worthy of special mention. The dance scene was a nice touch and there were big laughs for Coggin Galbreath’s “disguise”. However, I would have liked to see a greater distinction between the characterisations of the Sicilians and the Bohemians, and perhaps a more interesting use of staging to illuminate this. A few of the actors seemed a little uncertain how to play their roles and whether they should be performing in a comedy or a tragedy. Wikipedia informs me that five centuries of Shakespeare scholarship also cannot make up their mind, so this is not perhaps a fair criticism – but while this disparity could have added to the unsettling nature of some of dichotomies in the play, in the event it took away from certain performances.Additionally, the staging of the play in the round was somewhat underused and added little to the performance. There were moments where it felt like the actors had been directed to perform in proscenium arch but had unexpectedly walked out onto the wrong set and were forced to do their best under the circumstances. I also felt that the technicians could have made more of the lighting opportunities in the Stage, although this was one instance where the distinction between Bohemia and Sicilia was nicely done.There is probably a reason why The Winter’s Tale is a less performed Shakespeare and overcoming some of the issues raised here would have floored many a more experienced director. Overall, Morris created a funny and suitably traditional show which kept the audience amply engaged and entertained. Sadly, the bear did not make the final cut – but I’ll forgive the crew for not attempting to deal with this particular hurdle. Rating: Four stars
If you're interested in writing reviews for us, please contact our Theatre Editor Sarah Crawford at email@example.com or join our writers' group on Facebook!
Angella Marzola-Browne reviews Mermaids’ production of Spanish playwright Federico Lorca’s 1932 play, Blood Wedding.I knew I was going to enjoy Blood Wedding when, walking into the theatre, I saw the cast lined up along the stage with their backs to the audience. Such a statement reflected the shocking nature this production, which told the tragedy of a bride who, on the day of her wedding to another man, elopes with her cousin’s husband, Leonardo. This play was full of action, with many scenes focusing on the build up to the doomed wedding. With the actors already onstage, the play began with a dance to Andalusian music, with movements that reflected the desire and lust that drives the plot forward. This was successful in introducing the traditional Spanish setting. Keeping the staging out-of-the-round allowed the action to be directed to the entirety of the audience, and gave depth to the blocking. However, I found issue with the difficulty of the play’s props and set, particularly in the first half: a dining table fully laid, chairs, and trellises, which had to be carried on and off stage repeatedly. While the pieces themselves were effective and enriched the scenes, I felt that the constant disruption to the action was jarring. That said, during these breaks, the playing of Andalusian music gave time for the audience to reflect on the action, lessoning the impact of the brief disruptions.The use of lighting and live music was truly effective. During the wedding scene, a violinist, drummer, and guitarist played folk music, and the tension caused by the lost bride was intensified by the haunting violin that ended the first half of the play. Likewise, the second half opened with Emma Norman becoming the moon, standing above while the rest of the cast formed grotesque shapes and hissed and whistled to reflect a torturous wood. Being a tragedy, there were many dark elements within the play, but I found this the scariest, with Norman looking like a reanimated Elizabethan, wearing a large ruffled collar and makeup to mimic wrinkles and paleness. The deaths of Leonardo and the Bridegroom were also truly terrifying. Punctuated by the Bride’s screams and the cutting of the lights, the onstage confusion was cleared by the reveal of a long, red, satin cloth connecting the two men, with the Bride finally illuminated in red between their two bodies. Visually, it was highly compelling, and was followed by a captivating, eerie final scene, featuring a knife passed among the cast members while the silhouette of a stained-glass window remained lit up along the back wall. This was both impressive and creepy.The actors were all brilliant. Toby Poole mastered the sullen anger of Leonardo, and Alex Duckworth was amazing as the Bride, insolent and resigned to her marriage in the first act, and passionate and grief-stricken in the second. Likewise, India Pinker as the Bridegroom’s mother was incredible, playing every inch the widowed matriarch and retaining a refined poise even in the face of her last son’s death. George Watts’ portrayal as the hunched, wailing, bloodthirsty figure in the second half of the play was truly chilling, while Harry Johnson opposite him introduced the violence that would soon occur. Kate McGregor as the sinister old beggar was equally unsettling, and Ben Hood as the unlucky Bridegroom was a perfect ‘mother’s boy’ and spurned lover. Likewise, Imaan Kotadia inspired deep sympathy as both an unhappy wife and a desperate mother, who watched her husband run off with her cousin and then die. Despite the dark subject matter there were still comedic elements, courtesy of Isabella Zeff as a crude yet confident servant and Minoli de Silva as a gossiping neighbour. The costumes were simple yet reflective of the characters, with the cast donning lace masks over their eyes following the wedding to become a formidable hunting party. Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable production and performed with great skill and talent. Rating: Four stars Editor: Sarah Crawford
Our theatre editor, Sarah Crawford, reviews Peachy Keen’s production of No Exit, a 1944 existential drama by French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre.Recently I watched Hannah Gadsby’s half-stand-up-half-call-to-action, Nanette,on Netflix. In her performance, Gadsby describes the relationship between the comedian and their audience as being manipulative and abusive, relying on comedian’s creation and eventual release of previously nonexistent tension in the audience for the punchline to hit. Theatre functions much the same, I think. Certainly after watching Peachy Keen’s recent production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, directed by Rowan Wishart, which stretches this concept to its limits, building and building and refusing any relief until the last minute of the play. I really don’t mean to go on and on about tensions, which I know I wrote about in my last review, but so much of performance, particularly dramatic (though, as Gadsby says, comedic as well), relies on the deliberate creation and manipulation of tension in order to be effective. This production of No Exit handled its tensions well, which was vital to its success as a four-character play.Wishart’s decision to perform the show in the Small Rehearsal Room of the Union was unconventional, and I wasn’t sure what to think going into it. I have to applaud Grace Cowie’s lighting design, decorating the ‘stage’ with lamps, which was creative and unexpected. I also liked the decision to use mirrors as a backdrop, though they weren’t as integrated as I would have liked. I kept expecting the actors to actively engage with them, or for them to reflect the characters’ blocking or expressions back to the audience from a different perspective. I was disappointed when they remained largely unacknowledged for most of the play. Because the mirrors weren’t integrated, I felt it might have been more effective to strip the play to its core and have a minimalist set instead. I also felt that the space of the Small Rehearsal Room would have been better used if the audience had been placed on three sides of the actors, in thrust staging. As it was, because the seats couldn’t be raised as they are in the Barron, it was often difficult to see past the first two rows. This is probably my biggest critique for the production; I would have liked to feel more a part of the action in the play than I did, and I felt the staging hurt more than helped. While the Small Rehearsal Room might have been perfect had it been staged differently, as it was, I think the production would have been better suited to the Barron. The performances were complex and well-developed. In the play, Garcin acts as the primary point of tension between Estelle and Inez, and I felt George Lea’s performance in this role was particularly convincing and his body language spot-on. My favorite moment, however, was Annabel Steele’s ‘dancing’ monologue, as Estelle, which was captivating and confidently delivered. Iona Robson also did well as the icy Inez; I only wish that the script had allowed her more moments of vulnerability, as I felt it was more difficult to grasp Inez as a character than with Garcin and Estelle. Inez is a self-proclaimed ‘damned bitch’, and it seemed as though Sartre, in writing the play, kept her fixedly in the ‘cold lesbian’ stereotype (though it is undoubtedly progressive for a play published in 1944). Lastly, though only briefly on stage, Guy Harvey was wonderfully cast as the Valet, adding a special touch of humor to the play’s opening moments. These actors carried and developed the play’s tensions well, carefully building to the final moments of laughter. I do feel, however, that the tense moment between Estelle’s stabbing of Inez and the realization that neither is incapable of dying, that they are stuck together in eternity, could have been longer, or the stabbing more ‘realistic’. Had the blocking been directed to make the stabbing, and the plastic stage knife, less seen by the audience, I think the final collapse into hysterical and defeated laughter by all onstage would have been more hard-hitting. I was expecting this production of No Exit to be more innovative than it ultimately was. I thought there could have been attempts to make it more ‘modern’, and there are elements of the script that would have lent themselves well to this: Garcin’s act of cowardice, Estelle’s not wanting to have children, Inez’ sexuality. Instead, the play felt determinedly stuck in the time of its publication, from the characters’ softly lilting accents and carefully formal movements to the soft lighting and statuesque mantelpiece. That being said, the decisions made were well done, consistent, and highly engaging. I don’t think this is a play that’s necessarily meant to be enjoyed, but I can say that it kept me, and much of the audience, squirming uncomfortably in our seats as the tensions built, as I think it’s meant to. They manipulated us beautifully. With just a few changes, this could have easily become a five-star show. I thank the cast and crew for their thought-provoking performance and look forward to seeing more of Peachy Keen’s productions in the future. Rating: Four stars
Our theatre editor, Sarah Crawford, offers her perspective on the recent Mermaids’ production of Closer.The appeal of a play like Closer, which reveals itself through a series of snapshots across a few years in the characters’ lives, heavily relies on the subtle tensions that build within the relationships as the show progresses. The director’s decision to stage the production in-the-round did well in highlighting this aspect, placing the audience directly into the action. Dynamic and interesting, seeing this production made me keen to see further attempts at central staging by Mermaids. Jonusas also made a bold decision in placing the bed at centre stage, which, in The Barron, is a relatively small area. For the most part, I felt this was done successfully, as well as it could have been done in such a restricted space, but there were times when I felt the performances were ‘cut-off’ by the set, particularly in the more argumentative scenes.Closer also advertised an integration of technology, collaborating with the St. Andrews Film Making Society. The four screens, which were suspended from the ceiling, were very effective in the messaging scene between Dan (Bailey Fear) and Larry (Louis Wilson). However, I felt that the screens weren’t well incorporated outside of that scene, and that much more could have been done to involve them in the production. Additionally, there were times I didn’t notice anything was happening on the screens because they were outside my line of vision. However, no matter the set, ultimately the progression of the tensions within a play, and the reception to of the play itself, are dependent on the actors’ performances, their abilities and their chemistry. They achieved this with varying degrees of success. I had never seen Ellie Hope in a St. Andrews production before, but her performance as Anna was easily my favourite in this play, from the moment she stepped onto the stage. I felt she well-understood her character, and that her portrayal of Anna was convincing and realistic. I might have liked to have seen more vulnerability from her at times, but as Anna is a very closed-off character, I understood its absence. Fear also deserves applause for his portrayal of Dan. Though I felt there were times where he could have been angrier, crueler, almost, particularly in the final fight scene between Dan and Alice, I enjoyed his performance and, having seen him in a few other productions, think he is a very talented actor. Scenes between Hope and Fear’s characters were the most captivating, I felt, though sparse. I found the performances of the other two actors to be less compelling in comparison. For Alice, played by Hannah Gilchrist, I can’t say whether the failure to reach the character’s full potential was more the part of the actress or the direction she was given. As the youngest character in the play, the other characters tend to view Alice as naïve and needing to be taken care of. Unfortunately, I felt that this naivete was confused with innocence in Gilchrist’s performance. Alice is an experienced stripper, albeit a young one, who can fend for herself; in this production, she often came across as flirty and vulnerable. I would have liked to have seen the darker, more knowing, and deliberately manipulative (after all, as we know, Alice lies) side of her character. This contrast between youth and experience would have made for a more dynamic performance and realistic character. As it was, I found it difficult to buy Alice’s assertion that she’s ‘the one who leaves’. My review of Louis Wilson’s performance as Larry might controversial. The other three published reviews of this production have all referred to Wilson as being the ‘standout’ performer. In contrast, I felt his performance was the weakest. Throughout the play there were a few references to Larry’s age, and, as a dermatologist, his character seemed to be intended to be the oldest. In this production, however, Larry seemed to act the youngest. Rather than an older, somewhat desperate and creepy man, Larry came across as being a misguided young man with a temper. I felt that Wilson’s eagerness to play into humour at times for laughs also hurt his performance. Of all the characters, Larry should have been the most recognisable. I have met Larrys, the men who view themselves as the ‘nice guys’ of the world, as I’m sure we all have. Wilson’s Larry felt more harmlessly pathetic than dangerously righteous. I was never scared of what he might do next – and I felt I should have been, particularly in the strip club scene with Alice.As a whole, I feel like this production of Closer could have taken more risks than it did; the tensions, while present, never seemed push themselves to a breaking point. One reviewer wrote that there is a danger of Closer becoming a ‘watered down porno’. I disagree. Closer is a play with scenes that occur just before sex, or just after sex, or in argument about sex, and I felt this production shied away from that. This was most apparent to me in the scene between Alice and Larry that I mentioned. That being said, while I realise this review might seem negative (the result of my trying to critique what was left uncritiqued in other reviews), I really did enjoy watching this play. Jonusas’ blocking and direction was new and engaging, and I hope to see more productions by him in the future.Rating: Four stars. Author's note: After getting a response to this article, I thought I might address a few things. I’d like to clarify that I didn’t intend to criticise Gilchrist or Wilson’s talent as actors, but to disagree with the interpretation of their characters, which I feel does not rest solely on the them, but on their direction as well. I acknowledge that this is student theatre and I didn’t mean for my review to come across as unnecessarily harsh; I assure you that I do not want to hurt or discourage anyone from being involved with theatre at St. Andrews. I apologise if it came across that way. I would encourage anyone, including those involved in the production, to get in touch with me if they were upset by or disagree with my article. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk to you. I think it’s important to have conversations about this sort of thing, especially in a town as small as ours. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Christina Riley is left disappointed by the Just So Society’s production of Sweet Charity, though she commends the actors for their performances.Sweet Charity opened in the Byre Theatre this last Tuesday, bringing to the stage the Just So Society’s first musical of the semester. The Byre location comes with an expectation of grandeur, this somewhat being promised in Hannah Lawson’s director’s note, which said that Sweet Charity, and the Just So Society’s rendition of it, was ‘fun’ and ‘sparkly’.The show started with some difficulties, a curtain cue that was mistimed with the introductory music unfortunately setting the precedent for the remainder of the performance. Starting off with a rather long musical score and a blackened stage left a want for more. A colourful lighting sequence could have filled this void, or perhaps an impromptu dance number, a creative spark to set an initial upbeat tone. Following on from this, Charity’s (Ella-Rose Nevill) opening number was at times barely audible in contrast to what seemed like obnoxiously loud music, due to a lack of vocal projection from the performers and what can only be assumed to be temperamental microphones. It seemed only fitting that Charity’s character was drowning whilst the lines of the chorus were simultaneously drowned out and lost amidst the brass instruments. Volume issues would go on to plague the performance, a regrettable misfortune for the actors who had clearly put a lot of effort into the show, and a frustration for the audience who wished them well.The stage itself looked simple but elegant. But the Fosse style choreography would have benefitted from extension. At times, the precision and flare of the dancing style was lost in the musical numbers due to a myriad of people on a small stage, and this was often confusing for audience and cast alike. For reasons that could have been outside of directorial control, the band was placed onstage behind a screen; over-anticipating the popularity of the show may have led to this decision, however placing them in front of the stage could have improved spacing issues and allowed the Byre to appear fuller in their opening night.Overall, the acting itself was for the most part seamless in that it was well-rehearsed. Chuckles from the audience were received here and there where the script demanded it, however the performances felt flat for large chunks of the show. The facial expressions and intonations of Nevill in her comedic one-liners demonstrated why she was suited to Charity, but her performance lacked consistency; for instance, her wavering New York accent. Liliana Potter (Helene), Rachel Munro (Nickie) and Coggin Galbreath’s (Vidal) performances would far surpass that of the leading role. It was the sassy and sarcastic vocals of Potter and Munro, as well Galbreath’s caricatured Italian, who gave an exceptionally moving rendition of ‘Too Many Tomorrows’, that stole the show. The trio were completely convincing in their assumption of the characters, and while Munro’s voice was obviously worthy of a starring role, Nickie suited her perfectly, the boldness of the taxi dancer commanding the stage whenever she took to it. Alongside Linus Erbach (Oscar), they gave comical performances that drove the show until its end.While there were glimpses of greatness throughout Sweet Charity, it was underpinned by a perpetual lack. The performance of ‘Big Spender’ summed up the show’s entirety in that it showed moments of greatness, however fell just shy due to dips in momentum. While the musical did deliver on the sparkle through its enthralling costumes and a selection of well casted supporting characters, the moments in between were perhaps a little stunted. Rating: Two Stars Editor: Sarah Crawford
In whichLydia Hoffman and Cate Casalme review Mermaid’s Closer and try to incorporate the title in as much as possible. Our two reviewers walked into Barron Theatre last Sunday night with completely different expectations. Hoffman had seen the play before, but Casalme had only the name Natalie Portman to guide her. The bright lights of the Barron shone down on a mattress accompanied by a small table. The seats were positioned in the round, creating an intimate atmosphere and bringing the viewers closer to the action. Patrick Marber’s Closer follows the story of two couples as they navigate the complexities of romance. The play is a whirlwind of raw emotions as the characters betray one another while expecting honesty and faithfulness from their partners. They claim to want love, but often fall victim to the powers of attraction and lust.The direction was excellent, with undeniably creative choices, such as the use of television monitors above the stage, which transformed the minimalistic set into a range of locations. The actors were constantly moving around the stage, allowing each audience member to get closer to the action. Music was integrated flawlessly and expertly into scene changes, creating a cinematic feel to the production. Louis Wilson shined in his role as Larry, a character whose?insecurities pour out of him in the form of rage as he tries to elicit responses from the other three characters. Wilson’s talent was apparent throughout, but his ability to emote was most striking during the scene in the strip club. It is clear he is going to be a massive force going forward in Mermaids productions. Ellie Hope had the extremely difficult task of playing a more reserved character to oppose her volatile counterparts, but she played the part excellently. Her neutral and sometimes cold demeanour made the other characters’ emotions seem so much more extreme, and the moment of her losing control and telling Alice to stop was incredibly impactful.Hannah Gilchrist set the mood for the play as she opened instantly flirtatious. Her character, Alice, is the closest thing this show has to a singular protagonist. Though she refuses to allow anyone to get close to her past or even herself, she is a devout partner to Dan and never cheats. The actress’s most memorable scene was her reaction upon realising Dan has left her, she grapples with the realisation that this time it isn’t her who leaves. Hannah expertly drips away the confident, flirty facade and finally lets the audience glimpse the young, scared girl inside. Bailey Fear developed his character consistently with emotion and passion. His character, Dan, is a boy so obsessed with the idea of love that he wrecks his relationships and manipulates others just to chase it, only to find himself unsatisfied and stuck in a toxic cycle. Fear portrayed his character in such a vulnerable way that whilst the audience generally didn’t like Dan as a character, they understood his motives. His acting was superb, taking us on a rollercoaster of emotions.The single critique lies in the opening scene: the pacing was a bit too fast and it was difficult to really establish what was going on. However, as soon as the play was underway, the cast got into a rhythm that was easy to follow and very natural.Whilst the show, like all others, had its shortcomings, overall the play was outstanding, balanced with moments of hilarity, anger, desperation, and vulnerability. The passion and hard work of every member of the cast and crew was evident throughout the entire production. Rating: Five stars Editor: Sarah Crawford
Anushrut Ramakrishnan Agrwaal spends an enjoyable evening reviewing The Mikado, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s first production of the year.
The Mikado is the first musical production I’ve seen in over a year. The last one I saw was on Broadway, so one might say the expectations were pretty high. However, I can say without a doubt that it was The Mikado I enjoyed more. It is not professional polish that makes or breaks a play, it is the dedication to your performance. Watching the cast have an absolute ball onstage is what made it such a moving experience. Each body carried a contagious intensity as it moved from one end of the stage to the other and every time a note was struck or a lyric was sung it was as if it personally resonated with the actor. The Mikado is an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. It is set in Japan precisely to exoticise and de-familiarise its audiences with the setting of the play, allowing for a satirisation of the political institutions in Britain. This unfamiliarity only works if you both fall into its traps and see through it so that the absurdity of the situation stares you in the face. The director, Emma Barker, and the ‘Wardrobe Mistress’ Angela Warneken set up for this up beautifully with the costumes. You could not describe the garb of the actors as anything but western, and in this western garb it is hilarious to see the chorus sing in unison that they are ‘Gentlemen from Japan’. In that moment particularly, the satire of the piece is clear. The thought that went into the actors’ wardrobe was made further evident when the Mikado himself (played wonderfully by Peter Black), was dressed in a more ‘oriental’ style so to speak, to set him apart from the rest. The difference in the costuming foregrounded the inconsistencies of the world created on stage, which any good satire will try to draw attention to. The use of lights by the director and the technical team should also be commended. The design was minimal for the first part of the production, but as the production continued, we were visually treated to a lot more colour. Though it is one of the oldest tricks in the book to introduce more technical elements throughout a show to build up to a crescendo, it should be applauded every time it is done well, if for no other reason than that it shows a confidence in the performance of your actors and in the design of your play. It shows you that the director has a firm hand in structuring all the elements of perception to make your evening worthwhile. Additionally, the orchestra of the production should not be ignored. Under the musical direction of Charlotte Perkins, the team showed a great range and capability. While their performance of the score was near flawless, it was their comic timing which really caught my attention. The acts of striking a chord here, or blowing the flute there, to accentuate a character’s plight or hysterics was extremely well done. My personal favourites were the flutists Mathew Patton and Iona Baillie. It was as much fun to watch them as it was to watch the actors. They were both watching the performance intently, making me feel that they were looking for opportunities and spaces in which to improvise. It was heart-warming to see musicians so keen to contribute to your experience. Coming to the actors, while the whole cast did an admirable job, the performances that really stood out for me were Alice Gold’s Katisha and Ben Connaughton’s Ko-Ko. They were thoroughly entertaining spectacles in themselves. Gold moved with the precision of a craftsman. No one else could match her dynamism during her performance of the ‘Daughter-in-law elect’. Connoughton’s singing of ‘On the list’ brought the satire much closer to home, adding to his execution list the likes of Britain’s ‘dancing-queen’ Prime Minster, among other noteworthy figures. He played the Lord High Executioner with a panache and self-deprecation which is rare in actors these days. The scene involving Katisha and Ko-Ko was easily the best of the lot, and the grace of their movements across the stage during ‘On a tree by a river’ gave me goosebumps. While the rest of the cast was competent, their range and physical precision did not quite match up to Gold’s and Connaughton’s and their performances felt like works in progress in comparison. As far as criticisms go, if forced, I would say that the choreography remained slightly unsynchronised and the projection of some of the actors needed improvement, as they often could not be heard clearly over the orchestra. That being said, this was only their first production of the year, and I would most definitely buy tickets to future Gilbert and Sullivan Society productions.Stars: ****
Samantha Harper spends an evening at The Byre reviewing a Mermaids production of Tennessee Williams’ much-loved classic, The Glass Menagerie.As an avid theatre goer, it is unusual for me to see a show without knowing anything about it, but this was the case when I went to see The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams in The Byre. The lights came up on a beautifully detailed set. The whole play takes place in one room, a classic strategy of Williams’ which lends itself to productions that have less money and time. However, if you only have one place for the whole story to play out in, that set needs to be great. The attention paid to the period style was evident, and it added a lot to a story that can seem quite dated. The small size of the space created a box-in feeling perfect for the position the Wingfield family find themselves in.The Glass Menagerie is a play dealing with the trials of a small family: Amanda (Molly Williams), a single mother dealing with an absent husband, Tom (Morgan Corby), a young man in search of adventure, and Laura (Eleanor Burke), a shy ‘crippled’ girl who has never had a suitor. The play begins with a monologue from Tom, leading into the narrative; his character often steps outside of the narrative to remark on certain things. Overall, Corby did a good job of emphasising the contrast between Tom’s personality as narrator and the personality he shared with his family. However, while his performance carried the plot along, I felt Corby neglected Tom’s relationship with his sister, a relationship that could have brought the play to a higher emotional pitch and tied up loose ends. Without that profound love, his final monologue lost something.As Amanda, Williams well-embodied the ‘southern hospitality’ that drives the plot. It was unfortunate that a poor costume choice hindered her performance in Act Two. Though Amanda is supposed to be overdressed, the choice of a floor length, strapless gown was not the right one. Williams seemed uncomfortable in the gown and its length tripped her up a couple times, nearly causing some serious wardrobe malfunctions. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a pity she couldn’t do her best because of it.Though Burke gave a decent performance, hers was probably the weakest link in the show. There is so much potential in her character, and I was prepared to have a full-on meltdown the theatre, but it never came. I wanted more depth, more trauma, more something. Laura is meant to be consumed by her little glass animal figurines, that is her ‘glass menagerie’. However, despite being the play’s namesake, I felt like not much attention was paid to the figurines in the blocking or acting. Maybe it was the way certain lines were delivered or the fact that the figures were hidden in the back of the set in a small plastic tub that seemed very out of place, but I felt like a huge symbolic part of the story was gone.Xavier Atkins, portraying Laura’s opposite and high school crush, Jim O’Connor, carried his part brilliantly. Atkins embodied his character with the same confidence his character preaches about; his candour and approachability nicely contrasted with Laura’s reticent nature. Their chemistry was beautifully done.My biggest complaint about this production of The Glass Menagerie was simply the lack of attention to detail. The paper cranes hanging from the ceiling in the second act cast weird shadows across actors’ faces. The lighting was standard and didn’t live up to the potential that the Byre light system promises. But my ability to nit-pick the details shows that, overall, the cast and crew of The Glass Menagerie did a pretty good job.Stars: ****
Elliot Douglas reviews Mermaids production of Rabbit Hole in Week 5 at the Stage.Gosh – it’s quite depressing, isn’t it? There are a couple of laughs in this two-hour play, but they are few and far between, and managing to keep an audience hooked for that entire time takes a great deal of skill. Luckily, director Emma Gylling Mortensen, producer Benjamin Osugo and their team succeeded beautifully, bringing me to tears on more than one occasion as I huddled under a pile of my friends’ coats and scarves (the nights are fair drawing in).I didn’t know the plot of Rabbit Hole before walking into the Stage, and I was in for a harrowing shock. Becca (Sarah Chamberlain) and Howie (Guy Harvey) are a young couple who, as slowly emerges, have recently lost their four-year-old son Danny in a car accident. They are aided and abetted through an awkward and painful grieving process by Becca’s pregnant sister Izzy (Katherine Somerby), mother Nat (Rachel Augustine) and, eventually, the driver of the car which inadvertently killed Danny, the naïve high school student Jason (Martin Caforio).So far, so Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But where Edward Albee’s more famous play allows the characters to shout and yell at each other, David Lindsay-Abaire’s piece instead offers awkward silences and constantly has characters skirting around what they really want to say. It takes a masterful director and cast to handle such dialogue well, and I am pleased to report that this group of actors did it justice.They are all worthy of complimentary words – so here are some. Somerby managed to keep the gobby and nosy Izzy an engaging and likeable presence on stage, while Augustine offered some of the funniest and also most moving lines of the night as a woman who had lost both a grandchild and a child of her own. Caforio’s almost painfully awkward performance was difficult to watch, especially as he sat with Becca attempting to seek absolution for what he had done. As Howie, Harvey kept the hidden layers of the character well controlled and yet completely transparent to the audience – he is a man just about keeping everything together, but who could crack at any moment.
Chamberlain, however, stole the show. As the neurotic and broken Becca she is perfectly cast. There were a few moments where she faded into the background of the set as she cleared away dishes or silently folded laundry, and even when she descended into silent, unostentatious tears in her meeting with her son’s killer. The realism that this performance brings – of a woman who doesn’t want to be watched, but simply wants to be left alone – was heartbreakingly accurate. She is sensationally talented, and every acting decision she made in this role was perfect.
The set was well-adapted to the awkwardly cavernous Stage, with the floor in front of the stage being used as a second level of Becca and Howie’s house, designed by Natasha Maurer. Accompanied with a simple lighting plan and beautifully-used projections at one point indicating a home video of Danny, it was elegant and moving. The only real criticism which I can level at the production was that there were a couple of times when it was difficult to make out actors’ words, especially in the case of Somerby, which made a few poignant moments lose their punch as the audience collectively leaned in to make out the dialogue.
Rabbit Hole was simple and certainly not innovative. As a piece of proscenium arch kitchen-sink theatre it ticked every box, and could very easily have become boring. But as a piece of student theatre its ambitions were realised and it achieved everything it set out to do. I am perhaps biased here - tragic domestic dramas are my jam and not knowing the plot meant that I was moved by the characters' stories in real time.
The Week 5 slot is hard to fill, allowing so little rehearsal time. Nevertheless, Mortensen and co. produced, quite simply, one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in five long years at St Andrews. Bravo.
Hilary Chan reviews the Opera Society’s contemporary take on Venus and Adonis. Venus and Adonis, composed by John Blow in the late seventeenth century for the court of King Charles II, was given a modernistic turn by Juliet Boobbyer, who decided to set the adaptation in 21st century St Andrews. This directorial decision seemed promising on various levels, with the potential of framing the Baroque score with contemporary intimacy while meditating on the timeless theme—love and lust, life and death, dichotomies in cyclic pursuit of each other. Unfortunately, it unfolded quite incompetently on stage. The opera started under a somnambulistic spell: the cast presented themselves in shapeless clusters, (and thereafter often returned to this audience-unfriendly arrangement); their voices did not project five rows past the stage to where I was seated. Mature intentions to include subtle humour about university life instead came across as jagged and pretentious due to the stiff and awkward body language of the performers. Though the actress portraying Venus had a resonant voice, striking heartstrings when she called out to her lover, this was a rare display of emotion, for she appeared discouragingly uninterested in most of the scenes following. (What heartbroken paramour carefully brushes her hair behind her shoulders before letting out a shriek at the dying lover?) Occasional slips by other singers and the orchestra did not improve the situation. The performers were not only ones to blame for this disappointment. Certain stage designs simply didn’t work; disco lights and dancing could not come to match the pastoral score, and the photos of St Andrews at the background, a time-nibbled old town, communicated so harmoniously with the music that only the performers, sloppily dressed and unnaturally positioned, seemed grudgingly irrelevant. In general, the nuance of bringing an old opera to the modern setting was not well thought through. That being said, the actors were deeply talented singers, and the main performers portraying Cupid, Adonis and Venus, handled many of the score’s tribulations masterfully—if only they would project themselves to show off their art. Had director and performers alike injected more professional vigour, Venus and Adonis could have been an impressive show.Stars: ** Featured image credits: Amanda McAfee / OperaSoc
Angella Marzola-Browne spends a captivating night reviewing a student-written showcase of live performance storytelling in Tales of Our World. The Director’s Note on the brochure for Tales of Our World discusses the ‘compelling range of narrative voices’ portrayed in the performances, and that was certainly true of the production. Featuring nine stories ranging from the times of Medieval kings, the awkwardness of Year Six discos, and the turmoil of our modern political era, the breadth of topics did not overshadow the one true link between each piece: the amazingly talented cast, each of whom individually demanded attention with their performances.The production itself was stripped back, with the cast using only necessary props and costumes with minimal detail. Lighting was often the only other visual aspect in each piece. This complimented the storytelling theme by guiding the audience to focus on the actor and their words rather than distracting their attention with an influx of objects. Most of the audience was seated on the floor, with blankets provided for comfort. This, combined with the use of central staging, was reminiscent of listening to a grandparent tell a story, ensuring that we were completely focused on the stage. The staging helped fully immerse the audience in the stories, with the cast members making direct eye contact and rushing around to introduce themselves.The storytelling began with the fable-like ‘The Pageboy and the Amulet’. The fairy-tale tone of this story made for a perfect opener, particularly when acted with such enthusiasm. The following performances were hilarious, making use of creative lighting and the circular staging to incorporate the audience members, who became both gawking prepubescents and extended family members. Comedy was then swapped in favour of contemplation in ‘Jazz’, where the tranquil drum of rain mixed with the soothing jazz piano left the audience silent, caught up in pensive thoughts. The final performance before the interval was ‘The Dreamcatcher’, which was truly mesmerising, embracing harrowing themes. The clarity and eloquence with which Catherine Potter spoke the powerful words of Madison Hauser left the audience hanging on her every word. In this scene, however, the inclusion of props was unnecessary; having a dreamcatcher descend from the ceiling and a sunflower dropped onto the stage floor distracted from the lyrical quality of the monologue.After the interval, ‘Night’s Haven’ discussed the eternity of three in the morning, continuing the show’s descent into darker material with its descriptions of the anxieties and fears that come with a new relationship. This was followed by ‘Lesson Number One’, a short piece that nevertheless had a palpable impact on the audience, resonating with the current issues surrounding gun laws. The political theme continued with ‘This Isn’t About You’, which incorporated lighting and sound effects, and culminated in a shock ending that left the audience reeling. ‘Hung Love’ portrayed a modern tragedy, skipping between the past and present with such skill that it was easy to visualise the scene in a film. This piece focused on the topic of suicide, making it no mean feat for Charmain Au-Yeung to flip through such an array of emotions in so short a time, captivating the audience.The night ended with a final story following from the first piece. This cyclical element truly drew the night to a close, ending the series of vignettes and imbuing myself and the rest of the audience with a sense of hopeful optimism that lasted the entirety of my cold walk home. Stars: ****
Stella Milinich reviews the second production of St. Andrews’ student Gabriele Uboldi’s new translation and adaption of The Bacchae at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ___________________________________________________________________________________________The Bacchae, adapted and directed by St. Andrews’ own Gabriele Uboldi, made an energetic return to the stage, this time as an innovative and politically relevant tile in the zany mosaic that is the Edinburgh Fringe.The immersive experience began straight away as audience members, cued up and tickets in hand, overheard an argument between two cast members as they made their way inside, pulling at and adjusting their flower crowns and togas. Bickering and disagreements continue throughout the show as the two leading actors, Phoebe Angeni and Toby Poole, who portray Dionysus and King Pentheus within the play’s original text, free from the authority of their absent director, attempt to satisfy their own opposing agendas. Angeni – or the fictionalized version of Angeni presented within the play – wishes to modernize the myth, engaging with contemporary politics and incorporating sensuous dancing, which was expertly choreographed by Charmaine Hiller and set to some seriously killer music. Poole takes a more tradition position, wanting the performance to stay true to the original ancient Greek rendition. The tension between the two actors underlies the dramatic arc of the original myth, expertly navigating between performative and meta-performative levels.The chorus effectively used sounds and physicality to emphasize plot points. Some moments that stick out in my mind include their intentionally awkward and lackluster performance of traditional choral lines, their tension-building hissing as they encircled Cadmus the Messenger (Donovan Kelly) before they tore apart Pentheus in a feverish height of bacchius revelry.Physicality was effective in expressing the oppositional relationship between Dionysus and King Pentheus. Angeni would often drape herself over Poole’s tensed shoulders, communicating their ideological opposition through their bodies as well as their words. However, while the piece made effective use of physicality, treatment of space could have been further developed, particularly in the distinction between the moments occurring ‘backstage’ and those occurring onstage.I also took issue with certain political moments in this piece. Dionysus’ opening monologue explicitly mentioned Trump and Brexit which, especially in the context of the Fringe, where every other show makes some kind of throwaway reference to these topics in attempts to be relevant, felt tired and predictable. However, the political message ultimately distilled into something refreshing and timelessly expressed through ancient myth. The Bacchae shows logical and moral high grounds as our downfall, arguing that a society must engage with and understand all aspects of itself to achieve reason and balance. This message could have stood alone; leaving the audience to draw their own connections to contemporary politics would have achieved greater political resonance.Those small notes aside, those who contributed to The Bacchae should be very proud of the engaging and relevant piece they staged at The Fringe. It maintained a difficult meta-theatrical conversation with clarity and ease, struck a lovely comedic balance and made great use of physicality and storytelling.Stars: ****