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This week 19 – 25 Feb 2018

Posted: 18 Feb 2018 04:08 PM PST

On Edinburgh’s stages this week

A busy week on Edinburgh’s stages, with big circus, a bordello, Burns, a spot of ballet, a ghostly tale and the youth section of the SCDA’s one-act festival.

The big news for new writing fans is the return of the Village Pub Theatre, however, which has an evening of plays inspired by all things literary this Tuesday – following on, no doubt, from VPT co-founder James Ley’s Love Song to Lavender Menace.

Scandal in Georgian Edinburgh: Nicola Roy, Helen Mackay and Pauline Knowles in The Belle’s Stratagem at the Lyceum to March 10. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

You have three weeks to see The Belle’s Stratagem, which is at the Lyceum until March 10. Directory Tony Cownie excels himself, as Hugh noted in his review (★★★★☆ Exemplary comedy), and word of mouth is likely to be very strong on this one, so the advice is a to book a ticket early.

If you missed Conor McPherson's chilling, modern classic The Weir when it was at the Lyceum in 2016 (“★★★★☆ Quietly affecting”) the usually excellent English Touring Company is at the King’s to Saturday with a production that originated at the Mercury Theatre Colchester, directed by Adele Thomas.

There are three companies taking part in the SCDA’s youth event on Sunday 25 at the Church Hill Theatre. It should be something of a blast – with one production featuring a cast of 38, no less. There are more details of the event, which starts at 5pm, here: SCDA One Act Festival Preview.

If you missed Natasha Gilmore’s Barrowland Ballet last week at the Festival Theatre Studio, they are continuing their tour of Wolves to the Brunton on Friday night. We didn’t see the show ourselves, but we had great reports from our friend in the stalls, who said she: “loved the performances by the very talented, intergenerational cast. It has lovely, whimsical moments; funny and moving with a wonderful score.”

Phone worms!

She didn’t like the fellow audience member who sat looking at her phone for the whole performance, however. And worse, who boasted at the end that she was friends with members of the cast. Some friend!

Incidentally, that is the second report this week of people looking at their phones during a show and, if not ruining the performance, at least reducing its impact. We think that this is the height of theatre bad manners and have started keeping a note of instances. If you have experienced phone screen light pollution in an Edinburgh theatre, do drop us a line.

Back to events on stage, and Lucy O'Byrne who is returning to town as Maria in The Sound of Music – at the Playhouse all week. The runner up of BBC One's The Voice in 2015, she certainly impressed our critic the last time she was here (★★★★☆ No problems with this Maria).

Also back in town, but riding a somewhat different wave, is David Leddy with The Last Bordello. We ran a preview of this intriguing show back in December (Leddy's Bordello Edinburgh Bound) in which he said he “finds myself writing about the abuse of power again and again because it disturbs me so much”. This was before his company, Fire Exit, controversially had its RFO status removed by Creative Scotland. It will be interesting to see the production in the light of these subsequent events.

Listings: Mon 19 – Sun 25 Feb 2018

Assembly Roxy
2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Ae Fond Kiss
Friday 23 February 2018.
Two performances: 2.30pm & 7.30pm.
Nonsense Room Productions with a musical journey through the major events of Burns' life from birth to death. Rabbie Burns is your guide with quirky commentary, amusing and poignant interactions with key characters along the way, and renditions of several famous poems and songs.

The Brunton
Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA. Phone booking: 0131 665 2240
Barrowland Ballet: Wolves
Friday 23 February 2018
Evening: 7.30pm.
Wolves explores the stories that have been told through time to different generations, from grandparents to children, keeping us all in place. With live music by Mairi Campbell set to an evocative score by Luke Sutherland.

Church Hill Theatre
33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
SCDA YOUTH One-Act Festivals 
Sunday 25 February 2018.
Afternoon: 5pm.
Three teams compete to represent Edinburgh District at the Youth Divisional Final in April 2018:
Girls Like That by Evan Placey. (Indelible Arts Youth Theatre 1).
Ticket To Hitsville by Bill Tordoff and David Dougham. (St Kentigerns, Blackburn).
Three by Harriet Braun. (Indelible Arts Youth Theatre 2).

Festival Theatre
13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Cirque Berserk
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 February 2018.
Evenings 7.30pm | Matinees Sat 2pm and 5pm
Showcasing the finest in traditional circus thrills and skills, Cirque Berserk! celebrates the 250th anniversary of the invention of Circus by bringing this treasured form of live entertainment bang up-to-date in a jaw-dropping spectacular – created especially for the theatre. Æ review of 2016 tour: "★★★★☆ Runaway success".

King's Theatre
2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
The Weir
Tuesday 20 – Sat 24 February 2018
Evenings 7.30pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
In a small Irish town, the locals exchange stories round the crackling fire of Brendan's pub to while away the hours one stormy night. As the beer and whisky flows, the arrival of a young stranger, haunted by a secret from her past, turns the tales of folklore into something more unsettling. The English Touring Company with Conor McPherson's chilling, modern classic.

Lyceum Theatre
Grindlay Street EH3 9AX. Phone booking: 0131 248 4848
The Belle's Stratagem
Saturday 17 February – Saturday 10 March.
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Matinees from 21st: Weds, Sat: 2pm.
A witty riposte to Farquhar's The Beaux Stratagem, Hannah Cowley's rediscovered gem, adapted by Tony Cownie and now set in Georgian Edinburgh, turns the tables on the farcical goings-on and has the women coming out on top. Read Æ's review: ★★★★☆ Exemplary comedy.

18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014
The Sound of Music
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 Feb.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Wed, Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
One of the greatest musicals of all time returns to tell the true story of the world famous singing family, from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness, to their thrilling escape to freedom at the start of WWll. With Lucy O'Byrne and Neil McDermott.

10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED. Phone booking: 0131 228 1404
The Last Bordello
Wednesday 21 – Saturday 24 February 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
There's one bordello left in a brutal war zone and inside the atmosphere's like an X-rated mad hatter's tea party. David Ledy's Fire Exit with its biggest production to date. Æ preview: Leddy's Bordello Edinburgh Bound.
Project #1
Friday 23/Saturday 24 February 2018.
Evenings: 8pm.
The first development piece from the brand new Edinburgh-based company Wildfire Theatre, formed by theatre veterans Molly Innes, Pauline Lockhart, Wendy Seager and Natalie Arle-Toyne.

The Village
The Village Pub, 16 South Fort Street, Leith, EH6 4DN.
VPT Book Club
Tuesday 20 February 2018.
7.30pm (doors) for 8pm. Entry £3.
New short plays adapted from, inspired by or somehow tenuously connected to a book by Tim Barrow, Giles Conisbee, Sylvia Dow, Sophie Good, Jonathan Holt, Corinne Salisbury and Sara Shaarawi. Featuring your fave fiction, non fiction, nibbles and a second hand book stall.


The Belle’s Stratagem

Posted: 18 Feb 2018 08:26 AM PST

★★★★☆   Exemplary comedy

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thurs 15 Feb – Sat 10 Mar 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Vivacity, wit and downright stupidity abound in The Belle's Stratagem at the Lyceum, a production of verve and cheek that produces as much laughter as anything seen on the Edinburgh stage in recent years.

Hannah Cowley's 1780 comedy of manners is adapted and directed by Tony Cownie, and tells of young Letitia Hardy, betrothed to Doricourt since childhood. Doricourt, recently returned from the Grand Tour, regards the women of Scotland with disdain, and Letitia accordingly sets in motion a scheme to make her fiancé either fall in love with her – or hate her, which is apparently just as good.

Angela Hardie and Angus Miller in The Belle’s Stratagem. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

No-one who saw the same director's rip-roaring version of The Venetian Twins will be surprised by this stylish, colourful comedy. Indeed, the moving of the setting to Georgian Edinburgh, with its opportunities for local references, brings this even closer to pantomime territory.

There are certainly plenty of knowing asides, and jokes both old and new, in a script drawing on several strands of the Scottish traditions of variety and comedy. At times the playing to the gallery verges on the shameless, and there is one moment – where Richard Conlon's Courtall expounds his villainous plans to the audience – when the temptation to boo is almost irresistible.

Whether this goes too far will depend largely on personal preference and tolerance for keech jokes, but anyone who appreciates skilful comedy performances will find a great deal to appreciate. The ability to wring the maximum possible humour from a situation without killing it, is beautifully displayed by Steven McNicoll, whose blustering Provost and wheezing servant are equally vital characterisations.

Similarly, John Ramage's instantly recognisable journalist, obsessed by gossip and star ratings, is a beautiful creation. Nicola Roy, in another double role, has unbeatable comic timing.

contemporary relevance

There is more than just knockabout fun here, however. Cowley's original story, originally partly a response to Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem, sought to give female characters more of a driving force in theatrical plots. Even if not all of the attempts to update things ring true, the contemporary relevance is clear.

John Kielty, Helen Mackay, Richard Conlon, Nicola Roy, and Pauline Knowles in The Belle’s Stratagem. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

This is helped by some performances which go beyond humorous effect and are more affecting. Grant O'Rourke's comedic brilliance almost goes without saying, but there is something about his insecure man-child Sir George Touchwood that is pathetic in both senses and is thoroughly believable. Helen Mackay, as his naive wife Frances, also has considerable authenticity behind the stereotypical character.

Pauline Knowles, meanwhile, gives the widowed Mrs Racket a thoroughly convincing and utterly modern air. John Kielty's Saville also has an ambiguity about him that seems very contemporary.

Not all of the characters lend themselves so readily to understanding by modern audiences. The 'Belle' of the title, her intended and her 'stratagem’ could come across as unfathomable, but Angela Hardy gives Letitia such life and individuality that it largely convinces. Angus Miller's Doricourt, meanwhile, has an air of befuddled haughtiness that makes him more likeable than he might be.

melodramatically conniving

Conlon's Courtall almost needs a moustache to twirl, so melodramatically conniving is he, but the role is discharged with considerable glee, and contrasts excellently with the same performer's portrayal of the character's more sober father the Bailie.

That the story hangs together as well as it does, and sustains its energy throughout, is largely down to Cownie. Not only is his adaptation constantly funny and inventive, his handling of his ensemble and of the more farcical elements is exemplary. He also knows when to drop the pace slightly, and there are some fetching tableaux in front of Neil Murray's almost cartoonish, grey depictions of the New Town, whose monochrome nature sets off the splurges of colour in the costumes beautifully.

In the end – despite the contemporary parallels – any attempts at universality come second here to more home-grown concerns. It is difficult to imagine a production that, for example, gets big laughs simply by using the word 'fantoosh' travelling that well.

There are more than enough laughs here, however. Indeed, there may be more than expected – the only real problem at the moment is an impatience that leads some of the cast to tread on the laughter and lines can be lost as a result. That will surely settle down, adding to a production that already has a wonderful comic rhythm thanks to an excellent ensemble and a director at the top of his game.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 15 February – Saturday 10 March 2018
Tues – Sat evenings at 7.30 pm. Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.00 pm.
Information and tickets: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/the-belles-stratagem.

Lyceum on Facebook: @lyceumtheatre.
Twitter: @lyceumtheatre.

Angus Miller,Richard Conlon,Pauline Knowles,Angela Hardie,Grant O’Rourke,Helen Mackay and John Ramage. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic