Montezuma by Carl Heinrich Graun to a libretto by Frederick II, King of Prussia

Rating: ★★★★☆
This review should appear in due course on the Opera Britannia web-page.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – 14 August 2010

Despite a somewhat slow start to proceedings, this Edinburgh Festival production of Montezuma was an inventive, surprising and ultimately very enjoyable evening.

An unsuccessful attempt at setting the Mexican scene was underway in the theatre as the audience took their seats. Shouting hawkers tried to pique the interest of opera-goers by attempting to sell them cheap trinkets and Montezuma T-shirts. Meanwhile members of the company huddled on the stage in peasant fashion apparently knocking together the props. Whilst this might have been entertaining for a few minutes, the production started some twelve minutes late and the joke had worn thin long before the orchestra began an eleven minute overture. It was something of a relief when the curtain finally rose to reveal the title character, the Aztec emperor squatting in centre stage [Read more…]

Peter Pan – National Theatre of Scotland

Rating: ★★★½☆

Clap your hands if you believe in stage magic.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s latest show is full of big set piece theatrical experiences that make for an exciting if occasionally puzzling evening. Peter Pan comes home to Scotland in an extravaganza, which locates the Darling household in Edinburgh and Neverland as a place somewhere across the Forth Bridge, which is being built on stage even as we watch.

This setting is inspired, offering a grandiose reveal of Neverland beyond the girders of Victorian industry and eventually, a convincing pirate ship when a sail emblazoned with the skull and crossbones is raised up on the iron lattice work.

Many of the cultural symbols determined by JM Barrie’s play have become rather complicated for a modern audience in recent years. Can we think of Neverland without thinking of Michael Jackson? Can we be entertained without making judgements about the way gender is dealt with? Do we not hesitate before we can participate fully in a play in which fairies and pirates fight over who will take possession and control of a crowd of lost boys? A young boy crying out for his common fairy has resonances with us which may not help. This is a play which raises may puzzling psychological questions which remain long after the final applause has ceased.

However, this is not an attempt to explain or to resolve our deep-seated anxieties. It is an attempt to entertain. On those terms, it is a successful attempt to relocate Barrie’s play. We must hope though that the National Theatre of Scotland remains within a remit of trying to provide the best theatre in the world and doing so on Scottish stages and never begins to see itself as the primary teuchterizing force within Caledonian society.

John Tiffany likes dramatic entrances and having previously witnessed the bayonetted beginning of Black Watch and Alan Cuming’s behind landing on the Bacchae’s stage, we should not have been surprised to find Pan appearing from an unexpected corner. This is the first of many glorious pieces of stage-craft, without which the action would be slight and the narrative rather ponderous. Pan’s first appearance is completely upstaged by the advent of Tinkerbell though. In this production, its not so much Tinkerbell but Tinkerball-of-Fire who entertains us. The pyrotechnic business is dazzling and enchanting. Tinkerbell’s entrance was completely beguiling and left an audience utterly perplexed by how a ball of fire flew out from the Gods, under the Proscenium arch and down onto the stage. Similarly, the scene where Tinkerbell knocks over a bottle of arsenic and consumes it is astonishing. Pan is always meant to be precocious, but who could have expected that to be mirrored in such stunning stage-craft.

There are many glorious technical achievements. So many of them so well done that it comes as a surprise when other things miss the mark. Nana the Darling’s dog was never a success, pushed about in confusing manner. (And reminding this audience member how good Warhorse actually was). It was also surprising to see a technician so very obviously in Neverland providing the counterweight to some of the flying. Why was she not dressed as a pirate? There were also one or two shadows appearing on stage from the wings which should not have been there. Oh the irony, in a play in which Peter loses his shadow and cannot fly.

North British ballads and sea-shanties punctuate the action in a pleasant enough way without adding anything particularly helpful dramatically. This is a soundscape which never entirely descends into the Celtic-slush sounds which we love so much.

Amongst the company, Kevin Guthrie gives an secure lead to the production, discovering within himself a character which occasionally seems more Puck than Pan. Kirsty Mackay’s Wendy has the uphill struggle of convincing us that there is the voice of reason even within Neverland. She brings a confident sense of purpose to the role which wins out in the end.

Ultimately, it is the astonishing theatrical magic which steals the show. Worth going to see for that alone.

Updates: Other Reviews
Thom Dibdin in the Stage
Susan Wilson in the Caledonian Mercury
Joyce McMillan in the Scotsman – 3 stars
Mark Fisher