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Horse: Review of Careful, The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, August 2016 and Winter Tour Preview


“Be yourself, and others will find you”
 This stage show, shown at this year’s Edinburgh Festival was the story of Horse’s life. Born Sheena McDonald (the Sh-he-na part she hated), in one of Scotland’s market towns.
And as a fellow Lanarkian, the feeling of the town felt very familiar, but while I might have experienced the usual teenage angst, Horse’s experiences growing up were very different.
First of all the name that she hated. She decided she was going to be called Horse, she identified with those lovely majestic animals, and she knew in her heart she was different from the other girls, as she struggled with her sexuality, feeling misplaced in the world.
The set was minimal but effective. Two chairs on stage – representing her home life – one for mum and one for dad – both empty. Her parents, Vicky and Dugald, both passed within six months of each other, leaving Horse bereft. The experience somehow cemented even more firmly her compassion and ability to connect and empathise with other people.
During her show we hear about the simple things, and the things you remember growing up. We hear tales of her mum and dad and how they would sit in their chairs, drink tea and eat Rich Tea biscuits.
We hear about the angst of growing up in a small town where Horse stood out, was subjected to bullying and the odd advice from a lady on a train who tells her of a doctor she could go to to “help” sort out her problems.
There’s lots of laughter too among the tears, as Horse talks of her two tone loons “as experimental as it gets in Lanark” and having to go to the school disco in her mum’s Paisley patterned shirt.
 But there’s an escape and a sanctuary which Horse finds in music. Oddly not realising at first the gift she was born with. But then success comes as she appears on The Tube, gets the record deal and is asked to perform at the Stonewall gig at the Albert Hall.
There are still dark periods though – the operation for vocal nodes and the agonising wait as she fears she won’t be able to sing again.
And then we somehow come full circle. Horse meets her soulmate Alanna. she returns to her birthplace to marry, and she attends the equal marriage vote at the Scottish Parliament on 4th February 2014. And we feel a lovely sense of love, acceptance and peace.
This was a heartfelt and soul-baring play, delivered bravely by Horse, beautifully written by Lynn Ferguson and expertly directed by Maggie Kinloch.
While I know Horse and the town she grew up in, what would the couple from California I got talking to in the queue make of her? They visit Edinburgh every year and stay for the duration of the Festival, packing in as much as they can. They knew nothing about Horse, stumbled upon the play and decided to give it a go.
I met them afterwards. They were enthusiastic and moved to tears. The lady was desperate to get her hands on a Horse CD and loved the song Careful – which Horse sang and referenced throughout the show. I caught Horse’s play on the first night, and if this was anything to go by, all those festival goers who stumble upon shows will have felt like they discovered a little Edinburgh Festival gem.
Horse is now back at the “day job” and getting ready for a tour in November and word is that she’s going to be touring Careful next year.
Meanwhile catch her at:
Dundee Rep 5th November

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Filed under Edinburgh, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Music, Previews, Scotland, Theatre reviews

Scottish Ballet Winter Season 2015 – Cinderella

Scottish Ballet - Cinderella

During the festive season there’s a few things you can be sure of. John Lewis bringing you a heart-rending advert, parents searching for the latest must-have toys, shops seducing you with sequins making you buy an impractical party dress you’ll only wear once, while all your good taste disappears as soon as you pull on that novelty jumper with the flashing lights. And after a few drinks you’ll be misty-eyed, singing The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, while hugging your pals. Yes, it’s the season to be silly.

But there is one reassuringly stylish event in the festive calendar, and it’s from Scottish Ballet, who inject some class into Christmas. Every year they pull out the stops to bring a sparkling and magical seasonal ballet to life on stage.

This year it’s the turn of one of our favourite rags-to-riches stories. Where the poor girl really does get it all, and there’s more sparkles than you can shake a fairy godmother wand at.

Cinderella is about to undergo her transformation and find her beau, assisted by a glass slipper and a little fairy magic.

But before the festive fun kicked off, the award winning company warmed up with their autumn season, and at a special bloggers’ preview event, I got behind the scenes at the Ballet’s headquarters located in Glasgow’s Tramway.

The autumn season was a double bill consisting of Elsa Canasta by Javier de Frutos and Motion of Displacement by Bryan Arias. An informal chat to the dancers revealed the challenges of working side by side on two very different ballets, each bringing a choreographer with an individual style and method. A tour of the costume department lead to the most important part of a dancer’s attire – their shoes.

Scottish Ballet

Scottish Ballet

Scottish Ballet

As a joiner needs a screwdriver, a ballet dancer needs their shoes. They are their tools of their trade. A dancer can use up to three pairs of shoes per performance, and Scottish Ballet uses over 2,000 pairs of shows during each winter season. Each pair of shoes costs £40. Therefore the company spends more than £20,000 on shoes each winter. That’s enough to keep Carrie Bradshaw and her Sex & The City girlfriends in Manolo Blahnik’s for a long time.

Scottish Ballet have cleverly launched their own Cinderella Shoe Appeal, and it’s where you can get involved by contributing to the cost of a dancer’s shoes. See more about this on their website and see the film below.

Meanwhile, this production of Cinderella, created by Christopher Hampson for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007, comes to Scotland for its European premiere.

The show opened at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on December 5th and remains there until the 31st. Then with a wave of a fairy godmother wand – it will cast its spell over Glasgow’s Theatre Royal in January before visiting Aberdeen and Inverness. For a list of dates and venues, see below and get a glimpse of the magic by having a peek at the official Scottish Ballet trailer.


Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Sat 5 – Thu 31 Dec 2015
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
Book online
Full venue details

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Tue 12 – Sat 16 Jan 2016
Box Office: 0844 871 7647
Book online
Full venue details

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
Wed 20 – Sat 23 Jan 2016
Box Office: 01224 641122
Book online
Full venue details

Eden Court, Inverness
Wed 27 – Sat 30 Jan 2016
Box Office: 01463 234 234
Book online
Full venue details




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Filed under Scotland, Scottish Ballet, Theatre reviews, Tramway Glasgow

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel Bloggers Event – Blythswood Hotel, Glasgow, Dec 2013

Scottish Ballet Hansel & Gretel

Scottish Ballet eat, breathe and sleep whatever production they happen to be working on. And when Hansel & Gretel was finally unwrapped for Christmas 2013, the magical posters, videos and photographs had already been enticing us for months before the big reveal.

So while I was sitting having afternoon tea at Glasgow’s Blythswood Square Hotel at a specially arranged Scottish Ballet bloggers event and having a quick read through their souvenir brochure – it was no surprise to read the words of production designer Gary Harris, who said :

“It’s something I love doing so it’s not like working. It goes right through your life – it’s everything and makes me realise I’m so lucky to do what I do”.

It was also no surprise to find myself sipping a delicious Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail while munching on gingerbread men and carrot cake with popping candy – all created with Hansel & Gretel in mind.

Afternoon Tea, Blythswood Hotel, Glasgow

It was a lovely way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon in Glasgow just before Christmas. Blythswood Square became the Clubhouse for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) from 1910. Now a hotel and spa, it’s a decadent escape from the busy city centre with its throng of shoppers.

Unlike some afternoon teas, this was a substantial one. There was plenty sandwiches, mini scones, little pink macaroons and lots of sweet treats to accompany your tea or coffee.

Afternoon Tea, Blythswood Square Hotel, Glasgow

And sometimes you just have to have a gin in the afternoon, especially if it’s dressed up as a Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail. This concoction was made up of Martin Miller’s Gin with Amaro Nonino, fresh lemon juice, lemon curd and ginger syrup, candied peach puree and a splash of egg white. Delicious.

The hotel is also home to a gorgeous spa with a vast array of treatments as well as a thermal experience. Newly introduced to the hotel is a range of products from the Isle of Lewis called Ishga – a name derived from the Gaelic word for water.

Blythswood Square Hotel, Glasgow

Blythswood Square Hotel, Glasgow

To make us feel really pampered some of the therapists were around to give us a hand and arm massage

We also saw some video clips showing little snippets of what it takes to breathe life into a ballet production.

Scottish Ballet Website

Then it was time for a chat with some of the ballet dancers. Christopher Harrison and Constance Devernay joined us, alongside Scottish Ballet’s Marketing & Communications Editor, Christina Riley for a Q&A session. Here Constance talks about how to get into the mindset of playing a child.

With our appetites well and truly whetted, it was time to go down to the imaginary woods, and to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to see the performance. Christopher Hampson has been Scottish Ballet’s artistic director since 2012 and this is his first full-length production for the company. It lived up to its expectations. We were met with a backdrop to the stage that was reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.


This version of the Brothers Grimm’s famous story comes with the characteristic Scottish Ballet twists. While there’s lots of fun and good doses of darkness, there’s no wicked stepmother. Hampson felt that evil stepmothers are not relevant to today’s world. In her place we have a school teacher who becomes a witch and everything is set in a nameless 50s/60s town. The parents are flawed but adorable and the interplay between them is very funny as they carry out rag-taggle scenes of smoking, drinking and lying on the sofa watching telly. It’s all very playful and realistic.

Meanwhile with their parents attentions diverted elsewhere, the kids are getting up to mischief. They jump over the kitchen table and chairs, clamber around and fight over toys. They are utterly convincing as children.

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel

The witch is a strong female role and after seeing Eve Mutso’s portrayal of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson knew she was perfect. The witch goes through three incarnations, from gawky, nerdy teacher to the beautiful and terrifying enchantress who eventually unravels to become an old knife-wielding hag. The first transformation is magical, making use of a massive flowing cape, which must give the dancers some difficulty trying to avoid any tangling mishaps.

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel

The Sandman is an intriguing shadowy figure and it would have been good to see a little more of him on stage. The delightful dew drop fairies are as pretty as a fresh flurry of snowflakes floating down from a frosty blue sky.

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel, Dew Drop Fairy Costume

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel, Dew Drop Fairy Costume

The costumes are beautifully designed. The parents reappear to the children in a dream while they are lost in the woods. And unlike their usual down-at-heel selves, they have been transformed into movie stars from a golden era. The dress which the mother wears was modelled on a typical Grace Kelly look and was stunning.

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel

Designer Gary Harris has crafted a truly enchanting and breathtaking set which includes a wonderful opening to Act II complete with glowing coloured lollipops brightening the darkened woods. It’s a feast for the eyes. The spectacular setting combined with the clever lighting gives a 3D effect and you feel as if you could wander onto the stage and disappear.

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel  (Picture Credit: Andy Ross)

Scottish Ballet, Hansel & Gretel
(Picture Credit: Andy Ross)

The instrumental score comes from Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera. Using this original score some music was created specially for this production by principal conductor Richard Honner and digital audio editor Brian Prentice. Listen to an excerpt on the Scottish Ballet Website

As well as the darkness, there’s a lot of humour. Constance Devernay mentioned a food fight and it all gets messy towards the end in a macabre room filled with mayhem.

Visually stunning, beautifully and lovingly crafted – it’s easy to see how Scottish Ballet can get totally wrapped up in their work.

There’s still time to see it. It’s touring and has just started a four day stop-over in Edinburgh. For details see below or Scottish Ballet Website

8 – 11 January 2014
Festival Theatre
Box Office 0131 529 6000

15 – 18 January 2014
His Majesty’s Theatre
Box Office 01224 641122

22 – 25 January 2014
Eden Court
Box Office 01463 234 234

29 January – 1 February 2014
Theatre Royal
Box Office 08448 11 21 21

5 – 8 February 2014
Grand Opera House
Box Office 028 9024 1919

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Filed under Glasgow, Scottish Ballet, Theatre reviews

Theatre Review: My Name Is Rachel Corrie, Tron Theatre, Glasgow – February 5, 2013

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she was trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie cover

My Name Is Rachel Corrie cover

This piece of verbatim drama is based around Rachel’s own journals, letters and emails, which were edited by the actor Alan Rickman and Guardian Editor Katharine Viner.

The play first appeared in 2005, has been seen all around the world, and its first showing at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow was in 2010. Now revisited by Director Ros Philips, it’s part of an extensive Scottish tour via Mull Theatre in association with RT Productions and Sphinx.

Mairi Phillips is also reprising the role as Rachel, and gives an intense and moving performance in this one-woman play.

Mairi Phillips as Rachel Corrie

Mairi Phillips as Rachel Corrie. Photo by Tim Morozzo for Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow

Rachel wanted to make a difference and she wasn’t prepared to watch injustices happen in the world. But this fiery student, who was on her way to becoming a peace activist, was also a young woman trying to negotiate the everyday dilemmas of growing up.

And it’s through the mundane and ordinary world of Rachel, which can be seen interspersed throughout the play, that we get a sense of her personality. The little nuances which made her real and brought her to life

The scene is set upstairs at the Tron Theatre’s Changing House space. We enter Rachel’s world, initially via her bedroom of her home in Olympia, Washington. We see the untidy mess of discarded clothes, underwear and posters pinned crudely to the wall. We see her sitting on her bed taking off her make-up, listening to pop music on headphones and singing out loud. We hear about her student life, her dealings with the sometimes confusing mass of boyfriends, friends and relationships.

But her journey strays off the path of what many would consider “normal”. Not content to just read or hear the news, she wanted to experience for herself what conflict means to those who have to live with it. She wanted show communities living in troubled areas that there were people from other countries who cared about them.

So Rachel’s world changed, the scene moved from her bedroom and was cleverly imagined as the streets of Rafah City in Gaza. We were in the houses she shared with Palestinian families, who gave her shelter and offered her food. The noise and glare of lights from the military were outside the front door, while she was inside snuggled under a duvet with a family watching cartoons on TV.

Rachel posts details of Palestinian life on the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) website, and we are also reminded of the other life she’s left behind, through email exchanges with her parents.

As the play reaches its two hour conclusion, we sense a change in mood, an increase in tension and the fear around the situation seems to escalate.

This thoroughly engaging play will stay with you for a long while after it finishes and make you stop and think.

Touring throughout Scotland until Saturday March 9, 2013. For more details see: Mull Theatre

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Filed under Glasgow, Theatre reviews, Tron Theatre

Playing With Food, Cranhill, Glasgow, June 21, 2012

Last week I witnessed a food fight. It was messy, nasty and sticky. In the aftermath, red jelly and pieces of cake stuck to the floor in a sad, splattered mess. But this wasn’t some toddler party or some misdemeanor caused by Katy Perry – it was theatre.

Playing with Food

Playing with Food

Playing With Food: Meals And Memories was the result of a year-long collaborative project formed by Glasgow’s Cranhill residents and A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company in partnership with Platform Theatre, and also part of Refugee Week Scotland 2012.

The show was held in Cranhill Parish church, and I didn’t know what to expect. We were ushered in by the cast to a cozy hall. No standard seating here – there were comfy sofas, armchairs, big cushions, throws, tables and dimmed lights from standard lamps, all reminiscent of a large living room.

Once seated, the residents served tea in proper china cups and saucers. This was welcoming and homely. Ok – where’s the cake and biscuits? And that was the problem – empty tins – Annie had eaten them all.

And so the play started – they were going to bake us a cake.

Food and the rituals around eating is a simple, effective and clever way to tell a story. From films like Chocolat to The Waitress and Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Cafe, food can be a focus. It can be used to console and celebrate … as well as a basic means of survival. It has the power to create divisions between the wealthiest and poorest but it can also bring communities together – and this is what Cranhill shared with us – their community spirit.


Waitress movie

And so the eight strong cast, residents in the area, with no previous acting experience, donned aprons and one by one sat on a stool in front of us and told their own story of Cranhill.

We drank tea and listened to a series of funny, heartwarming and touching tales. Tales of hope, love, inspiration and things held dear – like a first experience of having a proper inside toilet, with a light. No more fumbling outside in the cold and dark and trying to keep the door shut with one hand.

There were stories about food and cooking, from those who learned to cook watching their mothers and those whose mothers wouldn’t let the kids near the kitchen, to tales of trying to cook onion soup to impress a girlfriend.

The residents wrote their own material. Angie Cunningham wrote a poem and Maureen Hamilton’s recipe for the area was a play on the word Cranhill.

A cleverly choreographed scene where everyone worked in unison putting imaginary ingredients in a bowl and mixing was very effective.

Cranhill Recipe

Cranhill Recipe – extract from Playing with Food

It was all very harmonious – so why the food fight?

This part of the story was told from the perspective of a mother sitting between her “sons” played by Brian Greer and Denis Clark. It was meal time and the story started with “I’d only ever been to one food fight before …” and every course finished with “the food fight didn’t start here …”. The “boys” played up behind the mother’s  back. Denis picked on Brian and made sure he got the blame for everything. Eventually we got to the dessert and the food fight began – all the cast came out wearing waterproof ponchos – jelly and cake was thrown around everywhere.

This was an entertaining and well thought out play and there is a book to accompany it, which I would recommend. It’s only £4 and inside there’s lots of photos of Cranhill residents in their kitchens, people involved in Cranhill Development Trust and artistic staff from A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company. The little stories and comments bring the book to life and there’s lots of recipes, like Annie’s – who can make everything in a mug – even an afternoon teacake.

Playing with Food book cover

Playing with Food book cover

“It wasn’t just one person who taught me how to cook, cooking is just such a big part of the culture when growing up in Pakistan.”

“When I was first married we just had a room and a kitchen. There wasn’t much space at all. Then we moved up to Cranhill and it was a vast improvement.”

“The intention of this project, co-produced by A Moment’s Peace and Platform, was to create spaces for people to come together and share their experiences, as well as to engage as many people as possible in a discussion about the personal and cultural importance food has within our lives. Along the way new friendships have been formed, memories have been shared, exciting theatre has been made and a lot of lovely food has been described, cooked … and eaten.”

Extracts from Playing With Food: Meals and Memories from Cranhill residents


Filed under Theatre reviews