King’s Theatre

Sunshine on Leith


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, you’re never more than six feet away from a Proclaimer. Or, at least, from someone proclaiming their love for the Proclaimers. The affection is well-deserved. Craig and Charlie Reid are responsible for a multitude of absolute bangers: deceptively simple tunes, combining heart and anger, warmth and sadness. It was inevitable someone would say, ‘Hey, we could make a musical from these.’ (Cue: Stephen Greenhorn.) And equally inevitable that the resulting project would be a hit, a regular on stage since its 2007 debut, with a successful film adaptation to boot.

So there are no surprises here. We’re familiar with the show; of course we are. Nonetheless, there’s a palpable thrill in the air, because we know we’re in for a treat. This two-venue production – co-directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti – is laden with symbolism: the first show since Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s revamp, and the last before Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre closes for its own refurbishment. It’s the perfect choice for both, a celebration of Scottish talent and a love song to the people of Caledonia.

There’s a low-key, homespun ambience, which works well, creating a sense of familiarity between the performers and the audience. There are no flamboyant costumes here, no fancy pyrotechnics. Instead, like the Proclaimers’ songs, it’s quietly clever – no showing off. The band doubles as the ensemble, and they appear to be a happy team, grinning at one another and at us, and vibing unselfconsciously. There are no barriers, which cements that feeling of intimacy, enabling us to empathise with the characters. This is no mean feat in a large, traditional theatre like the King’s, with its proscenium arch and imposing loges, all designed to accentuate the separation of stage and auditorium. It’s really very impressive.

The story is a Willy Russell-esque account of working-class life, told with affection and a strong sense of place. Ally and Davy (Keith Jack and Connor Going) are back in Leith, having been honourably discharged from the army, just in time for Davy’s parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary party. Ally’s been going out with Davy’s sister for years, and he’s hoping now’s the time to settle down, but Liz (Blythe Jandoo) isn’t quite ready for that. She’s been stuck at home while he’s been away, and she’s restless, keen to stretch her wings. Her nursing pal, Yvonne (Rhiane Drummond), meanwhile, has fallen for Davy – and what is Davy’s dad, Rab (Keith Macpherson), hiding from his wife, Jean (Alyson Orr)? It’s a simple tale, but surprisingly affecting, and I find myself tearing up on more than one occasion. No spoilers, but the line “Because they wanted me” just hits me every time, and Orr’s rendition of the titular song is genuinely heartbreaking.

Adrian Rees’ set looks great. A miniaturised Edinburgh skyline is mounted on stilts, while the action occurs below – a neat representation of Leith and Edinburgh, the city looming over the town. There are ladders leading up to Blackford Hill; from here, we join the characters looking down on their home turf, trying to get a handle on their place in the world. The set comes apart, so that sections can be moved to create walls, but this is a distraction for me. It seems unnecessary and, although the transitions are thoughtfully choreographed, there’s too much clutter and stage traffic for very little gain.

In the end, this is all about the music (directed by Richard Reeday), and it’s a fabulous combination of the raucous and the refined. There are some issues with the sound – mics occasionally cutting out, and some imbalance between the vocals and the instrumentals – but none of it really detracts from the serious talent on display.

Sunshine on Leith has a relatively long run, so you’ve got until the 18th June to catch it here in Edinburgh – and to say “bye the nou” to the Old Lady of Leven Street.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Wuthering Heights


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I can’t think of a better match than Emily Brontë and Emma Rice: two renegade spirits, purveyors of verve and rebellion; two flawed geniuses, whose work is – love it or loathe it – undeniably compelling.

In this Wise Children production, Rice strips Wuthering Heights down to its beating heart, illuminates its essence. Anyone familiar with Rice’s previous work (at Kneehigh, for example) will know to expect a chaotic, frenzied telling, a stage so bursting with life and energy that it’s sometimes hard to know where to look. And that’s what we get. It’s dazzling; it’s dizzying – and I adore it. This is the sort of theatre that excites me.

Instead of Nelly Dean, we have The Moor, the landscape personified as a Greek chorus, whose Leader (Nandhe Bhebhe) narrates and placates, while her acolytes sing and dance their embodiments of weather, conscience and commentary. It’s a bold move, but it works. The setting is integral to Brontë’s novel; why not bring it to life? It’s also a neat way of conveying the labyrinthine plot in a mere three hours, so that we’re never in any doubt about who’s who, or how they’re all related, despite the too-similar names and the double-roles.

Adding to the bustle and busyness, there’s a live band on stage throughout (Sid Goldsmith, Nadine Lee and Pat Moran), as well as some stunning back projection, depicting turbulent skies and flocks of birds, which soar noisily into the clouds whenever someone dies. Rice’s signature puppetry puts in a brief appearance too, as the infant cuckoo, Heathcliff, lands in the Wuthering nest.

Rice foregrounds the differences between the Earnshaws and the Lintons: Hindley (Tama Phethean), Cathy (Lucy McCormick) and Heathcliff (Liam Tamne) are played as dark, almost monstrous figures, while Edgar (Sam Archer) and Isabella (Katy Owen) are light and clownish. This unevenness of tone serves to highlight how very dangerous the Earnshaws are, and it’s almost unbearable to witness the silly, foppish Lintons veer into their orbit, knowing that every encounter takes them closer to sealing their own dreadful fates. Owen garners many laughs with her cartoonish depiction of adolescent naïvety – she’s a gifted comedian – but Isabella is a petulant shrew in a tiger’s paw, and this is clearer here than in any other adaptation I have seen.

Emily Brontë purists will hate this show; it’ll give ’em the heeby-jeebies. But there’s a row of teenagers sitting behind me at the theatre tonight – they’re on a school trip – and they love it. I can hear them laughing and gasping, even exclaiming out loud. And Wuthering Heights is a YA book, isn’t it? A cautionary tale about a very, very toxic relationship, all raging hormones and melodrama, perfectly encapsulated on this anarchic stage.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

A Murder is Announced


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

‘Cosy mystery’ is a strange genre. The body count is high but the blood loss is minimal; an alarming number of its denizens have murder in mind, but we’re not witness to any physical brutality. Death occurs courtesy of a fast-acting poison or a single, well-placed blow to the head; killers tend to be well-to-do, well-spoken, suburban types, fond of chintz and regular cups of tea – oh, and there’s usually a domestic servant or two.

If the genre has a queen, Agatha Christie wears the crown. And of her prodigious output, the Miss Marple stories are the cosiest of all. Jane Marple looks like a cliché: a nosy, soberly dressed spinster of independent means, living modestly in a sleepy village. But Miss Marple is shrewdly intelligent, and her prying has a purpose: she’s a dab hand at uncovering criminals, and the local constabulary often find her help invaluable.

A Murder is Announced is a classic Miss Marple mystery. It opens with an unlikely premise: someone posts an ad in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, announcing that there will be a murder at 6.30pm that night at Little Paddocks, home to Letitia Blacklock (Barbara Wilshere). Letitia is a kindly soul, and she’s opened Little Paddocks to a whole host of friends and relatives, so there’s a raft of potential victims – and killers. Her impoverished old school pal, Bunny (Karen Drury), has lived there for years, and – more recently – Lettie’s second cousins, Julia (Lucy Evans) and Patrick (Will Huntington), have appeared. They’ve been living abroad, but now they’re back in the UK and need somewhere to stay. In addition, Lettie has taken pity on Philippa (Emma Fernell), and invited the young widow to reside in her home too. Housekeeper Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak) is kept very busy!

And, at 6.30pm that night, a murder does indeed occur. What’s going on? Luckily, a certain Miss Marple (Sarah Thomas) is in the vicinity, visiting her nephew, the local vicar, so Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) doesn’t have to figure it out alone…

Despite the convoluted and unlikely plot, there are no surprises here. But that’s part of the appeal, I guess: we know what we’re getting – hence the term ‘cosy.’ Middle Ground Theatre Company’s production is competently done: director Michael Lunney successfully corrals the twelve-strong cast’s tortuous backstories into a comprehensible tale, and the actors deliver solid performances.

I’m a little confused by the lowering of the curtain for an extended period at the end of each scene. The first time, I’m expecting a complex set change, but, when the curtain rises again, only minor adjustments are apparent. A plate of sandwiches has been removed; a newspaper folded. I can’t help feeling this could be achieved a little more dynamically.

In the end, there’s nothing striking here – either good or bad. A Murder is Announced just does what it says on the tin, and there’s no denying its popularity; the theatre is bustling. There are worse ways to spend an evening, but I’d love one day to see new life breathed into this old form.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I almost don’t make it to tonight’s production of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. The drama class I’m teaching doesn’t finish until 6.30pm, and FGWWCTW starts at 7pm. That’s half an hour to get from Fairmilehead to Tollcross, which ought to be do-able but – well, this is Edinburgh – there are roadworks. It’s 6.57pm when I park up, and then dash breathlessly to the King’s Theatre, charging into the box office, hollering ‘thanks’ as I hurtle through to the foyer, before racing to the auditorium. I slump into my seat next to Philip, only for the end of an umbrella to appear before my eyes. “Phones off!” says a voice. There’s a woman in a raincoat and glasses, all mock severity, and that’s it. The show’s begun. She marches onto the stage, barking instructions. The lights go down…

Aaand relax?

Well, no. FGWWCTW is not a relaxing show at all. In fact, the frantic urgency of my arrival serves well to set the mood. This is a dynamic, fast-paced gallop of a show, as bold and spirited as can be – like SIX’s little sister. I love it.

Based on Kate Pankhurst’s 2016 nonfiction best-seller of the same name and directed by Amy Hodge, the musical has a simple premise. Jade (Kudzai Mangombe) is on a school trip to a museum. Ever the ‘good girl,’ she has helpfully stopped to retrieve other students’ misplaced items, only to be forgotten in the chaos – and left behind. This, we learn, is typical: Jade’s quiet obedience means that she is often ignored or overlooked. A disembodied tannoy voice tells her that the museum is closing, urges her to leave, and forbids her from entering the Gallery of Greatness she’s standing outside. But Jade has had enough of doing as she’s told. This time, she’s going to do what she wants to do – so into the Gallery she goes.

It’s a good decision. Inside, Jade meets a host of inspiring women, who share their stories with her, and urge her to find her own greatness. There’s Sacagawea, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie (Jade Kennedy); Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole (Renée Lamb); Gertrude Ederle, Jane Austen and Mary Anning (Christina Modestou) – not to mention Emmeline Pankhurst and Agent Fifi (Kirstie Skivington). Anne Frank puts in an appearance too (she’s played with charm and grace by young actor, Lana Turner, who shares her name, of course, with another ‘fantastically great woman’.) The women are all wise in their own ways: some are funny and some are serious; some are gentle and some are fierce. But they are all, without exception, exceptional. “Take up space,” they tell Jade; “find a way to make yourself heard.” Jade doesn’t know what she’s good at or what she wants to do, but they tell her that doesn’t matter. All she has to do is exist, be true to herself and stand up for what she believes is right – and she will change the world.

The target audience is a young one (6+), and the theatre tonight is full of enthusiastic kids. It’s heartwarming to witness: they’re enraptured by the audacious performances and the maverick message. Even as an adult, I’m totally engaged, caught up in the drama, delighted that Jade is being encouraged to dare. Mangombe’s performance is central, of course, and she’s mightily impressive. When I consult the programme, I’m genuinely shocked to realise she’s an adult, as she embodies a conflicted eleven-year-old so well.

The songs (by Miranda Cooper, Chris Bush and Jennifer Decilveo) and choreography (Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe) are great. None of it’s subtle: this is as in-your-face and brazen as it gets. It works. It’s impossible not to feel energised and, yes, empowered.

“A better world for everyone begins with dreams.” And “deeds, not words.” If you have children, there’s an easy first step: take them to see this.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

The Rocky Horror Show


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

‘It’s just a jump to the left… and then a step to the righ-hi-hi-hight!’

It’s hard to believe that Richard O’Brien’s shlock-horror musical began its theatrical journey way back in 1973. Like many others, I didn’t actually witness it until The Rocky Horror Picture Show hit cinema screens in 1975. I can honestly say I’d never seen anything like it. The sexual politics were startling to say the least, Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter virtually burned up the screen, and yet the film didn’t make much of an impact at the box office. Go figure.

It wasn’t until much, MUCH later that it began to build its dedicated cult following.

Die-hard fans are only slightly in evidence at the King’s Theatre tonight, a few brave souls sporting French maid outfits, stockings and suspenders – which may have more to do with the Scottish weather than anything else. But the elderly couple sitting in front of me are clearly longtime fans, singing along with every single number and helping each other into the aisle to smash The Time Warp.

Rocky Horror is just a gloriously silly romp with canny sci-fi references, backed up by a whole string of banging songs. From the opening chords onwards, I’m hooked.

Brad (Ore Oduba) and Janet (Haley Flaherty) are two wholesome (okay, repressed) people, whose car breaks down one stormy night. They take refuge in that creepy-looking castle they passed a couple of miles back. Here they meet their unconventional host, Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb), his handyman, Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe), his maid Magenta (Suzie AcAdam) and a whole gaggle of deranged characters with a propensity for dissolute behaviour.

Furter, it transpires, has been working on a special project and Brad and Janet have arrived on the very night he plans to unveil Rocky (Ben Westhead), the perfect sexual companion.

This production, directed by Christopher Luscombe, moves like the proverbial tiger on vaseline – the dance routines are brilliantly executed, Webb is wonderfully flamboyant as Furter and, of course, the presence of The Narrator (Philip Franks) is the production’s trump card. Suave, sophisticated and delightfully potty-mouthed, he fields interjections from the more vocal followers and offers a few pithy observations in return. One of them, about Prince Andrew, has the entire audience applauding.

Okay, so the first half still features the lion’s share of the best songs – which has always slightly unbalanced the production – and there are a couple of scenes in the second half that, viewed through a contemporary gaze do feel a bit… well, rapey… but of course, this was written at a time when the subject of sexual politics was in its infancy. O’ Brien’s main theme – that people should embrace and celebrate their sexual identities – still seems somehow ahead of the game forty-nine years after the show’s birth. And it seems highly unlikely that anybody is going to attempt an update this late in the game.

This is an absolute delight. As the performers thunder into a reprise of the show’s two best songs, the entire audience is up on its feet, clapping, dancing and singing along. Few nights out at the theatre are as deliriously enjoyable as this – and as we wander out into the night, we’re still humming The Time Warp.

After so long shut away in glum silence, we all deserve a large helping of Rocky. If this doesn’t put a great big stupid grin on your face, then nothing will.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

And, we’re back!

After the disappointment of seeing the King’s Theatre close its doors shortly after the launch of the Christmas pantomime, it’s wonderful to return once more to the stalls of the ‘Old Lady of Leven Street’ – and what a fabulous offering to kick things back into motion! I’ve seen several adaptations of CS Lewis’s celebrated book over the years, but few have handled the material quite as skilfully as in this powerful show, directed by Michael Fentiman and based upon Sally Cookson’s original production.

The four Pevensie children – Susan (Robyn Sinclair), Lucy (Karise Yansen), Peter (Ammar Duffus) and Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) – are sent away from home as evacuees and, in a brilliantly staged opening , find themselves whisked off by train to a remote house somewhere in the wilds of Scotland. Here they meet their host, Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis), the owner of a curious cat and an ancient wardrobe that provides a convenient portal to the forever-winter world of Narnia…

From the outset here is a production that dazzles with enchantment. There’s a big cast, all of whom are given their chance to shine as they dance, play music and slip from character to character with apparent ease. This isn’t so much a full blown musical as a play with songs and the occasional burst of foot-tapping music. Of course, all the familiar faces are in place. There’s the imperious white witch (Samantha Womack), the messiah-like lion (Chris Jared), the flute-tootling faun (Jez Unwin) and the two of rebellious beavers (Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders), intent on returning Narnia to the way it used to be, before the snow began to fall.

There are several moments here that actually make me gasp in surprise: simply but effectively staged flying sequences; genuinely mind-twisting magical effects; and a brilliantly engineered set, where circular panels move smoothly aside to reveal fresh wonders, looking for all the world like Renaissance paintings. The audience sits spellbound as the performers leap and whirl across the stage in a riot of sound, colour and spectacle. The character of Aslan, simultaneously a real actor and a huge puppet, is an absolute masterstroke.

If you’ve been missing the buzz of live theatre, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe offers a feast of delights for all the family – and, if you’ve been waiting for just the right production to lure you back, this must surely be the one to do it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Sleeping Beauty


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The King’s panto is an Edinburgh institution, and this year’s is extra special for a number of reasons. It’s the first one since the pandemic forced the theatres to go dark. The last one before the King’s closes for refurbishment. And the first one since the demise of Andy Gray, one third of the beloved triumvirate synonymous with Christmas theatre in this city. This Sleeping Beauty isn’t just a pantomime; it’s a tribute to him too.

There’s nothing new here. If you think you’ve seen it all before, well, you probably have. This is a tried and tested formula. Elaborate tongue-twisters? Check. Queen May hovering over the audience on a cantilever? Check. That thing they do with the chocolate bars? Check. It’s all there, like a greatest hits album. And thank goodness for that. Because this is as warm and familiar as a comfy cardy or a mug of hot chocolate – exactly what we need on a cold winter’s night.

The theatre is busy and bustling, but it feels relatively safe. People are taking the mask-wearing seriously; we’re all used to it now, and it doesn’t seem to impede the fun or mute the atmosphere. Anyway, we’re all putty in Queen May’s hands: Allan Stewart is a consummate comedian, and he knows how to work an audience, proving the adage that it’s not the joke, it’s the joker. Even the cheesiest of cheesy lines is funny when he utters it.

Grant Stott is here too, of course, and he’s a towering presence, playing Queen May’s – ahem – identical sister, Carabosse. In this version of the story, she’s the villain who curses Princess Aurora (Sia Dauda), dooming her death when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel. The Good Fairy (Nicola Meehan) isn’t powerful enough to reverse the spell, but she can modify it, and Aurora falls asleep instead…

It’s nice to see the fool conflated with the love interest. Jordan Young plays Muddles, the jester whose heart belongs to Aurora. He delivers a wonderfully energetic performance, and appears to be having the time of his life as he hurtles from one ridiculous moment to another.

Andy Gray might be gone, but he’s not forgotten. His daughter, Clare Gray, has picked up the family panto-mantle, playing punky Princess Narcissa. She must be proud as punch when the audience applauds ‘King Andy’ – the affection is sincere and profound.

As ever, the King’s panto is a real treat, and not to be missed.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Death Drop


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

There’s nothing subtle about Death Drop. This pantomime-style murder-mystery spoof is as big, bold and spangly as a sequinned frock, and there are plenty of them in evidence too. Director Jesse Jones has embraced the ostentatious, which is, let’s be honest, the only option for a show with an international cast of Drag Race stars.

The set-up is familiar: we’re in a spooky manor house on a remote island. It’s 1991 and Lady von Fistenburg (Vinegar Strokes) is hosting a party in honour of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s tenth wedding anniversary. Okay, maybe not all of it is familiar. Blue, Brie and Spread Bottomley (three sisters – or peas, named after cheese – all played by writer Holly Stars) have been engaged to do the catering for an eclectic mix of guests. These are: has-been pop starlet, Shazza (Willam); TV weather girl, Summer Raines (Ra’Jah O’Hara); odious newspaper editor, Morgan Pierce (Karen from Finance); Tory MP, Rich Whiteman (Richard Energy), and film-maker, erm, Phil Maker (Georgia Frost). But – oh no! – there’s a storm! Cue OTT sound and lighting effects from Beth Duke and Jack Weir. The phone lines are down, the electricity’s playing up and a fallen tree has blocked the only bridge to the mainland. And, one by one, the guests begin to die. Someone is clearly intent on murder. But who?

I spend the first ten minutes thinking I’m going to hate this show. I like drag, but the humour here is way beyond broad. They’re establishing the context, so there are lots of 90s references, but it’s all a bit sub-Peter Kay. I mean, just mentioning ‘Anne Diamond’ shouldn’t be enough to get a laugh, should it? I want my comedians to work harder than that: tell me a joke about Fray Bentos; don’t just say the words.

But it soon hits its stride, and I find myself laughing with everybody else. The assembled drag artists strut their stuff with aplomb, and the silliness is disarming. There are a few songs thrown in to good effect (penned by the ever-marvellous Flo and Joan), and these really help the carnival atmosphere. I’m less familiar with the work of drag kings than I am drag queens, but they make perfect sense: like their counterparts, they focus on exaggerated gender and cartoonish caricatures.

Holly Stars is a standout: her deadpan delivery guaranteed to entertain. Richard Energy’s Rich Whiteman is noteworthy too, a study in extravagant characterisation. I like Karen from Finance’s Morgan Pierce; it’s a peach of a part and Karen aces it.

There are a few issues. The second act is baggy, and the payoff isn’t strong enough. Death Drop peters out instead of climaxing, and – in a show as dependent on innuendo as this – that really matters. Nonetheless, this is fun. If your three favourite things are Drag Race, The Play That Goes Wrong and panto, then this is your dream production.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Enemy


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Ooh. I’m VERY excited about this one. I’m an avid admirer of Ibsen – what self-respecting theatre-lover isn’t? I’m in awe of the way he combines theatrical innovation and political conviction with accessible story-telling. I’m also a fan of Kieran Hurley’s work (Chalk Farm, Mouthpiece and Beats are all excellent), so I’m fascinated to see what he and director Finn den Hertog do with the Norwegian’s masterpiece, An Enemy of the People.

In fact, Hurley doesn’t change much at all, plot-wise. This 140-year-old play is uncannily prescient. The difference is all on the surface: in the modes of communication, and the cadence of the dialogue – and it’s beautifully done. The story shifts easily to a contemporary “once-great Scottish town,” where a new spa resort promises regeneration, and offers hope to the poor and dispossessed who live there. But Dr Kirsten Stockmann (Hannah Donaldson) is concerned: a sickness bug is spreading, and she’s almost certain the town’s water supply has been contaminated. But how? Could blame lie with council-approved shortcuts, aimed at bringing forward the resort’s opening? Maybe. If so, it’s more than a little awkward, because the provost is Kirsten’s sister, Vonny (Gabriel Quigley). Still, surely she will be grateful for the heads up, pleased to be able to avert a public health disaster, no matter what the cost? But no. Vonny has no qualms: without the resort, the people have nothing. They’re not sick because of poison, she tells her sister; they’re sick because they’re poor. She has a point.

Although the story remains unchanged, the staging is bang up-to-date: video designer Lewis den Hertog has created a multi-media piece à la Katie Mitchell, with ‘live cinema’ (where the onstage action is filmed and projected simultaneously onto a large screen) a key feature. There are pre-filmed sequences too, such as a jarringly upbeat advert for the new resort, and a series of enthusiastic vox pops on the local news. And there are text messages, and YouTube videos, and Skype and BTL comments a-plenty. It’s Ibsen with all the socials. It works. There’s a dizzying sense of things spiralling out of control, with Kirsten in the middle, alone, holding on to the damning test result – a dreadful talisman.

But Kirsten isn’t quite alone. She might have broken ties with her sister; her friend, Benny (Neil McKinven), and local celeb, Aly (Taqi Nazeer), might have sidled away – but her teenage daughter, Petra (Eléna Redmond) is firmly on her side. And so, perhaps, is Derek Kilmartin (Billy Mack), who has a proposal for Kirsten to consider…

It’s wonderful to see creative theatre projects taking shape again (I’ve nothing against old favourites, and it’s clear to see why theatres are being cautious post-pandemic, but it’s definitely time for something new). This particular project seems like a canny move, combining Ibsen’s timeless appeal with something bold and fresh. It’s almost guaranteed to get bums on seats, while simultaneously allowing playmakers the chance to experiment. Good call!

For the most part, it pays off. I have a little trouble hearing some of the dialogue, especially in the first act. I’m sitting quite far back in the stalls, which might have something to do with it, but I wonder if it’s more about the actors delivering their lines to cameras rather than to the auditorium. But this is my only gripe. The performances are natural and convincing, the relationships well-defined.

The message is clear: the truth matters, however unpalatable. It’s a timely homily. We need to heed the experts. The only problem is, we all think we’re Kirsten Stockmann.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Dial M For Murder


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

For a playwright who purportedly ‘hated writing,’ Frederick Knott has certainly had a lasting impact. True, he didn’t write a lot but his 1951 stage thriller, Dial M For Murder, is still packing in the punters almost seventy years after its creation, and is a classic of its kind.

Predictably, the King’s Theatre is full tonight; this one is almost guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser. But it’s subtly done: Anthony Banks’ direction avoids the arch high-campery that’s all-too pervasive in period crime dramas these days. Sure, he embraces (and even highlights) the nonsensical aspects of the plot, but not at the expense of credible characters.

Still, there’s no getting away from it: this is a schlocky tale of murder and intrigue. Beautiful heriress, Margot (Sally Bretton), has been having an affair with dashing young writer, Max (Michael Salami), and has worked hard to keep her tennis-player husband, Tony (Tom Chambers), in the dark. She has no intention of leaving her marriage, and thinks she can keep everyone happy. But Tony is onto her, and has a yearning for revenge… His plan is cunning and convoluted; can he contrive the outcome he desires?

The four-strong cast (Christopher Harper, dual-roling as Captain Lesgate and Inspector Hubbard, completes the quad) deliver slick, believable performances, even managing to sustain my interest in the overly-expositional opening half hour. After that, things become more action-packed, and we’re less reliant on hearing the detailed back story.

I really like the bold lighting and sound design (by Lizzie Powell and Ben and Max Ringham respectively), which works especially well in the scene transitions. The passing of time following the fateful incident at the core of the play is beautifully evoked, and the use of The Beatles’  Tomorrow Never Knows is perfect here.

So yes, Dial M For Murder is a well-worn piece, and it won’t win any innovation prizes in 2020. But it’s a classic for a reason, and this production does it proud.

4 stars

Susan Singfield