Reviews: The Tempest (Botanics, Glasgow) & Little Shop of Horrors (Pitlochry)

Theatre

The Tempest,

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow,

Until July 7

Little Shop Of Horrors,

Pitlochry Festival Theatre,

Various dates until October 13

Reviewed by Mark Brown

To say that presenting a play called The Tempest, outdoors, in Scotland, a matter of hours after an electrical storm is tempting fate is an understatement akin to saying that Michael Winner is merely a bit unpleasant. When Glasgow’s annual Shakespeare festival, Bard In The Botanics, got under way on Friday evening, it was all-but-inevitable that rain would stop play, and it did just as (in the fourth of the drama’s five acts) Stephen Clyde’s regal magician, Prospero was giving his great, existentialist speech (“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on”).

Which is a pity, because the show was rolling along pretty nicely until the cloudburst brought things to a premature conclusion. In particular, Clyde (recent recipient of the Best Actor prize at the Critics’ Awards for the Theatre in Scotland, for his hilarious playing of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Botanics last year) was doing a lovely job in the lead role.

There’s quite a distance to be travelled between the hapless man-ass Bottom and the austere and powerful Prospero. Clyde, whose talents have, hitherto, been underrated, provides unarguable evidence of his range with a confident and nuanced performance, which is balanced intelligently between draconian arrogance and benevolent humanism.

Elsewhere, Beth Marshall is convincing as Prospero’s scheming “sister” Antonia (a feminised Antonio), and Finlay McLean plays the old councillor Gonzalo with the perfect combination of verbosity and decency. Inevitably, the relative poverty of this little festival shows up, both in the unevenness within the cast and some of the design elements (the brittle body paint with which young Tom Duncan’s spirit, Ariel, is adorned is a case in point). The obvious solution – as I have argued before – is for the major funder of Scottish theatre (Creative Scotland) to step forward with the cash which will enable this ambitious festival to realise its potential.

There’s never any question of a lack of production values at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which, year-after-year, presents some of Scotland’s most stunning stage designs. The Perthshire playhouse has surpassed itself with its new production of the American comic musical Little Shop Of Horrors.

A cross between Grease, Sweeney Todd and The Beechgrove Garden, this cartoonish tale of a carnivorous plant with a taste for human blood is visualised brilliantly by designer Charles Cusick Smith. In particular the puppets for the ever-growing horticultural monster (named Audrey II after the flower shop worker beloved of the killer plant’s creator, Seymour) are an absolute delight, and one from which the fine cast extracts full comic potential.

As so often at PFT (which has a deservedly growing reputation as a major producer of stage musicals) the musical arrangements (by Jon Beales) are superb. Inevitably with an ensemble company such as this (the casts of all six shows in the theatre’s summer season are drawn from a pool of 14 actors) the vocal abilities of the cast vary, but Kate Quinnell has power and range as Audrey, as does Natasha Lewis as doo-wop girl Crystal.

As garish and unrestrained as this spectacularly silly musical demands, PFT artistic director John Durnin’s production brings a bit of Broadway to the foothills of the Highlands.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on June 25, 2012

© Mark Brown

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