Andy Cannon

The Sunshine Ghost

07/10/17

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The Sunshine Ghost, a co-production between Scottish Theatre Producers and the Festival and King’s Theatres in Edinburgh, is a brand-spanking new musical, performed with wit and vigour by its small cast.

Directed by Ken Alexander, it’s a convoluted, melodramatic tale, featuring love and loss, castles and ghosts – with lots of laughs along the way. We meet the cursed ghost Ranald MacKinnon (John Kielty), two hundred years dead, and doomed to haunt his family’s castle until an old wrong is avenged. And we meet the woman he falls in love with, the very-much-alive American archaeologist, Jacqueline Duval (Neshla Caplan), daughter of billionaire property tycoon, Glen Duval (Barrie Hunter). Before Jacqueline can stop him, her boorish father is buying MacKinnon Castle and shipping it stone-by-stone to the USA, all to curry favour with his latest amour, the repulsive media-astrologer, Astrobeth (played with real relish by Helen Logan). Can Ranald save his ancestral home and break the curse that binds him to it? Can the hapless caretaker, Lachlan (Andy Cannon, who co-wrote the play), do anything to help? Here, nothing is as it seems, and the resolution, when it comes, is sure to take you by surprise.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of musical theatre, hindered only by a peponderance of exposition in the first act, and the inevitable limitations of a single piano (masterfully played by Richard Ferguson, who also wrote the score, but without the depth of a full band or orchestra). It’s a silly spoof, a daft extravagance, and the cast play up these elements with obvious glee. There are lots of cheeky little techniques employed with a knowing wink: a sheet cunningly moved to allow a shock reveal; a homage to Beetlejuice in the possession scene. Helen Logan’s Astrobeth is the standout performance (it’s a gift of a role, perfect for comic exaggeration), but the whole cast works well, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

A most enjoyable evening at the theatre.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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Black Beauty

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08/11/16

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

If they gave out awards for Shows That Aren’t What You Expected Them To Be, then the Traverse’s production of Black Beauty must surely be a contender for the top prize. I  genuinely roll up to this expecting a more or less straightforward retelling of Anna Sewell’s classic novel – so I spend the first ten or fifteen minutes in WTF? mode as I am introduced to the McCuddy brothers – Big Andy (Andy Cannon) and Wee Andy (Andy Manley) who make up the front and rear end of a pantomime horse called Hamish. The boys are on their uppers, because sadly nearly all the available roles are going to pantomime cows these days (even the coveted animal role at this year’s Kings Theatre show!).

These opening sections are played for laughs and it quickly becomes apparent that the show is aimed squarely at the younger members of the audience, some of whom are so impressed with what’s going on, they decide to do a running commentary throughout, something that the actors deal with expertly.

Just as I’m beginning to think that this has absolutely nothing to do with that famous novel, the brothers reveal that the book was their late mother’s favourite read and they begin to retell the story in their own quirky style – whereupon the show settles into its stride (or should that be trot?). The staging is simple but ingenious. The horse trailer in which the brothers travel opens up like a box of mysteries to create a host of different locations – and our equine hero is portrayed by all manner of random objects – wellington boots, a handbag and sometimes even by ‘Hamish’ himself. It’s all rather charming and exerts that charm increasingly as the story progresses. There’s a lovely ‘George and Lenny’ interplay between the two brothers – Manley is particularly endearing as the man-child, Wee Andy, always being passed over in favour of his big brother – and the physicality of both performances is precise and wonderfully comedic.

There’s a final, inspired joke at the play’s conclusion, one that really is aimed at the older viewers – indeed, the kids must wonder why their parents are laughing so uproariously – and ultimately this is a lovely family production, suitable for all ages, and – once you get over that initial confusion – really rather fabulous.

4 stars

Philip Caveney