Monday, 29 June 2015

A Little Night Music

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

It's not hard to see the appeal of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical waltz through the mating game that so captivated Broadway on its 1973 debut. From teenage dreams to mid-life crises and beyond, it is sex that drives its action, after all. It may be set in 1900 Sweden, but it remains a text-book study of a neurotically self-absorbed generation coming to terms with the trickle-down possibilities the sixties brought in its wake. This much is clear from John Durnin's stately revival, beyond the chocolate box veneer of Charles Cusick Smith's set which puts the full compliment of Pitlochry's acting ensemble into the frame. All this with great songs to boot.

This is laid bare once the dressed-up chorus gathered round a baby grand give way to the play's principal players, who let off steam with the opening salvo of Now, Later and Soon, as the frustrations of middle-aged lawyer Fredric Egerman, his teenage virgin bride Anne and his horny but hapless adolescent son Henrik are unleashed. With Fredrik's old flame, actress Desiree Armfeldt, still burning, a country house party allows full vent for the emotional merry-go-round to work its magic.

As Fredrik and Desiree, Dougal Lee and Basienka Blake strike just the right balance of desperation and hope, with Blake in fine voice for a still show-stopping Send in the Clowns. With all the cast wielding instruments alongside musical director Jon Beales' live quartet, there is strong support too from Ceri-lyn Cissone as Anne, Gavin Swift as Henrik and especially from Isla Carter as worldly wise maid Petra in a pan-generational pot-pourri of innocence and experience that fuels this most grown-up of musicals.

The Herald, June 30th 2015

ends

Elizabeth MacLennan Obituary

Elizabeth MacLennan

Actress

Born March 16th 1938; died June 23rd 2015.


Elizabeth MacLennan, who has died aged 77 following a short illness, was an actress of great passion, whose presence on stage and screen demanded attention. As one of the co-founders with John McGrath and her youngest brother David MacLennan of 7:84 Theatre Company, who blazed a trail touring the Highlands in the now seminal 1973 production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil, she was also at the vanguard of a theatrical revolution. The resonances of this are currently influencing a brand new generation of politicised theatre-makers in the face of the business of bad government.

In partnership with her life-long personal and professional comrade and soul-mate McGrath, MacLennan was at the forefront of applying traditional art-forms to make serious political and theatrical points that created a new form of ceilidh theatre. With McGrath and MacLennan serving as each other's inspiration, MacLennan appeared in many of 7:84's defining works, many written or directed by McGrath. As well as The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, MacLennan took the lead in Little Red Hen, Men Should Weep and Blood Red Roses, reviving her role in the latter in a three-part TV version of the play produced by McGrath's Freeway Films for Channel 4.

Of Men Should Weep, Nadine Holdsworth recounts in The Cambridge History of British Theatre Volume 3, how, following a run of 7:84's revival of Ena Lamont Stewart's then largely forgotten masterpiece at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow as part of 7:84's Clydebuilt season of neglected working-class plays, it was performed at a benefit show for striking NHS workers. After the show, MacLennan, who had played Maggie, the heroic tenement matriarch attempting to keep a family together in the thick of the 1930s depression, made a speech appealing to the audience to learn from history and unite behind the Labour movement.

Holdsworth quotes MacLennan saying that “it is well to remember that the advances in Health and Welfare – albeit inadequate – that have been achieved since the Thirties were due to the unremitting and successful struggle of the Labour Movement...Today's vicious Tory government is intent on dismantling all that...We will not accept this...We will not go back to the 1930s.”

More than thirty years on, the face of the Labour movement may have shifted, but, coming from a doctor's daughter like MacLennan, her argument remains as vital today as it did then.

Elizabeth Margaret Ross MacLennan was born in Glasgow, one of four children to Hector, an eminent gynaecologist, and Isobel, a leading obstetrician. MacLennan grew up in Glasgow and in the Highlands, where the family spent their summers in Rogart in Sutherland. She studied music, then read Modern History at Oxford University. It was here she met John McGrath, and the couple were together thereafter, marrying in 1962.

While her siblings Robert and Kenneth moved into politics and business, with her brother Robert going on to become leader of the SDP while her other brother Kenneth became a successful businessman, MacLennan went on to train as an actor at LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts). They were heady days for a generation exploring new freedoms through the performing arts, and as they became successful in their respective fields, MacLennan and McGrath cut a glamorous and fiercely intelligent dash through the worlds of film, theatre and TV.

Onstage, MacLennan played Molly Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, Little Boxes, and in Chekhov's The Three Sisters on the West End. On television she appeared in Z-Cars, the pioneeringly realistic police drama which McGrath had co-created, as well as guest roles in Dr Finlay's Casebook, a TV production of Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian and assorted one-off roles in the Armchair Theatre, Play of the Week, Television Playhouse and Thursday Theatre strands. By the time MacLennan made a cameo appearance in Hammer's 1971 film, Hands of the Ripper, however, 7:84 had already begun its move away from mainstream theatre.

Founded initially in England following the Birkenhead born McGrath's experiences as a writer at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, 7:84, which took its name from a 1966 statistic published in The Economist that pointed out how 7% of the UK's population owned 84% of its wealth (a figure much narrower now), produced accessible agit-prop theatre that fused music, text and polemic. The company's first production, Trees in the Wind, played the 1971 Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Cranston Street Hall before going on a tour that would set the tone of things to come.

In 1973, and with a counter-cultural alternative theatre scene in full bloom, 7:84 split into England and Scotland-based companies. In Scotland, MacLennan appeared in The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil alongside the likes of John Bett, Alex Norton and Bill Paterson in a now legendary Highland charge of village halls. It was the beginning of a twenty-five year adventure that took MacLennan and McGrath across Britain, Ireland, Europe and Canada, and from the Outer Hebrides to Tblisi and Cape Breton, often with children Finn, born in 1966, Danny in 1968 and later Kate in 1979, in tow.

The spirit of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil was captured on film by John Mackenzie for Play For Today. This BBC strand was more associated with gritty realism, but here the audience could be seen watching the performance in a way that stayed true to 7:84's rough Brechtian aesthetic.

As well as Little Red Hen (1975), Blood Red Roses (1980) and Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep (1982), MacLennan performed in The Baby and the Bathwater (1984), the first of several solo pieces by McGrath. With the political tide turning as Thatcherism dominated 1980s Westminster, the then Scottish Arts Council effectively left McGrath and MacLennan with little choice but to remove themselves from the company they had founded.

With Freeway Films, McGrath directed MacLennan in TV versions of Blood Red Roses (1986) and There is A Happy Land (1987), and MacLennan charted her experiences with 7:84 in The Moon Belongs To Everyone: Making Theatre With 7:84 (Methuen, 1990), a volume as significant as McGrath's own two books, A Good Night Out and The Bone Won't Break.

With Freeway Stage, MacLennan appeared in several 'solo epics' by McGrath; Watching For Dolphins (1991); Reading Rigoberta (1994); The Last of the MacEachans (1996) and HyperLynx (2001/2), McGrath's final play before his death in 2002. MacLennan's own play, Wild Raspberries (2002), ushered in an era that saw her explore her own writing. With her first grand-child born in 2003, these included a children's book, Ellie and Granny Mac (Walker, 2009), translated into French as Eliza et ses deux grand-mères, and most recently a collection of poetry, The Fish That Winked (Live Canon, 2013).

MacLennan's death comes a year after the passing of her brother, David,who had diverted from 7:84 early on to start up Wildcat Stage Productions before going on to found A Play, A Pie and A Pint's ongoing strand of lunchtime theatre at Glasgow's Oran Mor venue. With MacLennan and McGrath's daughter Kate now a cutting-edge theatre producer of note, the dynasty looks set to continue.

MacLennan spent her final years in London, where she cherished her growing tribe of grand-children inbetween spending lots of happy times in Greece and the Highlands. The importance of how family and work influenced each other was demonstrated in 2010 when MacLennan reunited with the surviving alumni of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Oil for an event at the National Library of Scotland. The event was part of Curtain UP!, an exhibition celebrating forty years of Scottish theatre. One of the key exhibits was the original pop-up book set for the first tour of The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil.

This large-scale construction not only allowed for multiple scene changes, but was portable enough to carry around in the back of a transit van. It was when MacLennan pulled out its inspiration, an actual pop-up book of Pinocchio, however, that the roots of her art, and any people's art, were fully revealed. As she wrote in The Moon Belongs To Everyone, 'If a society destroys its artists it destroys itself. They are reflecting the hopes and fears of our children.'

MacLennan will be cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium in London on July 26, and her ashes buried with John McGrath's at St Callan's in Rogart, Sutherland.

MacLennan is survived by her brothers Robert and Kenneth, her sons Finn and Danny, daughter Kate and seven grand-children.

The Herald, June 29th 2015

ends




Love's Labour's Lost

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The hunt is on in the first offering from this year's Bard in the Botanics season of outdoor Shakespeares, with one of his lesser spotted rom-coms leading the charge. Gordon Barr's promenade production opens with Constable Dull cast as a red-neck parkie navigating the audience up hill and down dale. Here King Ferdinand of Navarre and his preppy band of brothers sport donnish gowns to make lofty proclamations of abstinence for three full years while they get themselves some qualifications.

When the fair maids of France come calling necking airline miniatures and with their smalls hanging out to dry, the rugby shirts go on but the gloves are off as temptation looks like getting the better of the stags if not the hens. Throw in Kirk Bage's Daliesque Spanish rogue Don Andriano and a couple of chavvy servants and it looks like the casts of Made in Chelsea and Geordie Shore have been rounded up and cast incongruously adrift on Love Island.

Despite the frivolity, there's depth to Barr's production which taps into the play's complex treatise on the fragile forces of true love in a place where macho gestures simply aren't enough. This is seen especially in the intellectual kiss-chase between Ferdinand's cynical sidekick Berowne and The Princess's soul sister Rosaline, played with intelligence and wit by James Ronan and Nicole Cooper.

As the bad tidings at the end of the play upends the merriment in favour of pathos, the song and dance finale that follows may be a cop-out, but it still suggests it's only right for those involved to take time out enough to grow a pair in this winningly difficult affair.

The Herald, June 29th 2015

ends

Frantic Romantics - Alan McCredie, The Shrimptons and How Brit-Pop Lost Owt

In the early 1990s, Baggy may have been on the verge of morphing into Brit-Pop, but in Edinburgh's bohemian Stockbridge district, something was stirring in the form of what can now be seen as a missing link that had absolutely nothing to do with either of those era defining musical movements. Nor indeed would it.

Weaving together a mish-mash of musical incongruity that defied both style and substance, The Shrimptons burst onto St Stephen Street, where Velvet Underground vocalist Nico had once held court and where Punk Rock's luminaries once played, to massive indifference. Like all prophets in their own land, however, The Shrimptons were both ahead of and seriously behind the times.

In a parallel universe, and with something resembling decent management instead of the shifty, dole queue lowlifes who attached themselves to the band, bumming drinks and favours off anyone who'd have them along the way, they could have been contenders. As it is, all that is left of the Shrimptons are a couple of hard-to-find cassettes (yes, really), including the seminal (and indeed gents toilet vending machine referencing) Packet of Three, and, for those in the know, a few hazy memories of nights spent chatting at the bar to their mates or else trying to get off with posh student girls while the band were actually playing.

From their name, one might have expected The Shrimptons to be led by a groovily bouffanted chanteuse in full possession of a retro chic mini skirt and pin-up good looks. In actual fact, with a line-up that included a couple of fly-by-night actors on vocals and a rhythm guitar that barely got through a song without its strings being hammered into submission, a public schoolboy drummer, a pair of hippy types on keyboards and percussion, and an actual real live proper musician on bass guitar, the nearest thing The Shrimptons had to a girl was lead guitarist and songwriter, Alan McCredie.

With a Prince Valiant style Bob of curly dark hair reaching his shoulders and sporting an ever-present pair of hip-hugging white jeans that topped off a look that cried out for unisex toilets, McCredie was androgyny in action (or inaction, most likely). Onstage, McCredie flaunted his fop-like sartorial sense of adventure in a way that hadn't been seen since Mick Jagger wore his mum's blouse at the Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert in 1969. Like Jagger, McCredie had the moves, wiggling about like someone had slipped a nest of ants into his necessarily tiny undercrackers, while his floppy hair shook in the strobe lighting like he'd just discovered the word 'grunge' without anyone actually telling him what it meant.

An insight into McCredie's status as a musical guru came when a then unknown Oasis played Edinburgh for the first time at the tiny Wilkie House venue on the Cowgate, an area that was home turf for the Shrimptons and the place where most of their back catalogue was forged over yet another desperate Saturday night. Here, however, was a band already being talked up by Creation Records svengali Alan McGee as the best band in the world muscling in on the Shrimptons territory. But, you know, what did he know about music?

What to do? The answer came in the form of long lost Greenock band Whiteout, whose cheeky brand of laddish pop had seen them supporting this new Oasis group on tour. For some reason best known to Oasis' so-called manager McGee, however, in Edinburgh the bands played in separate venues. On the same night.

“Oasis sound shit,” said the Shrimptons guitarist. “Let's go and see Whiteout instead. We've seen them before and they're lush.”

Having turned his back on the chance to rub shoulders with the future messiahs of Brit-Pop, McCredie's cult status as a legend in his own bathroom mirror was guaranteed. Nights at Moray House and a Stockbridge Festival appearance showed the world that the Shrimptons could more than hold their own with a whole lot of other local bands you've never heard of, and songs like Frantic Romantics became instantly forgettable pop classics.

Following the Oasis incident, however, the Shrimptons were toughening up, and while their finest moment had yet to come, when it did, it proved so controversial, so near the knuckle, and so downright taboo-busting that it was destined to be swept under the carpet and never unleashed onto a musically and morally moribund world.

As a song, Laura's Satchel may have been shot through with The Shrimptons trademark feelgood chirpiness that bordered on teeth-grating, but lyrically it was mining something more profound in a way that cleverly counterpointed its simple, gossamer-light structure.

Here was a Play For Today in miniature, a tale of chance meetings, unrequited yearning and forbidden fruit that crossed generations, even as the song's protagonists – the waif-like Laura and the more comically worldly if increasingly desperate and, oh, alright, then, downright pathetic figure of Captain Mersey – were destined to only ever meet once.

Laura's Satchel was rumoured to be based on a real-life incident involving the band's sponging wastrel of a manager, and which may or may not have occurred one Friday night in the summer of '92 in long lost Cowgate pub the Green Tree, later on beside the piano in the former Traverse Theatre bar in the Grassmarket and maybe, just maybe up a nearby close, though due to legal reasons I don't honestly recall, Your Honour.

The song may have referenced Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Lolita, but it also nestled dangerously alongside others based on similar themes. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's Young Girl, Don't Stand so Close To Me by the Police, Mary of the Fourth Form by the Boomtown Rats and little known Eddie and the Hot Rods B-side, Schoolgirl Love, were all in the mix.

Where McCredie's opus might have gone on to become a cult crossover classic, instead, like all of those songs mentioned which have been mysteriously airbrushed from pop history, Laura's Satchel has languished in obscurity. Until now, that is. Maybe the moment is right for those with curious ears to listen to both Laura's Satchel and indeed the Shrimptons entire canon, without prejudice. Well, not too much, anyway.

Proving themselves even more provocative, The Shrimptons were yet again ahead of the pack when, with the zeal of admittedly slightly confused converts and their recently discovered sense of political commitment in a divided nation still reeling from the onslaught of Thatcherism, they played a show advertised as 'Say No To Westminster With The Shrimptons.'

For the die-hard fans who had lapped up the band's mix of pop bubblegum glory days as a stray cat might with curdled milk beside a puddle until they were sick, such flag-waving revolutionary antics were a step too far.

A lacklustre benefit show for a radical feminist children's theatre company at Edinburgh College of Art's Wee Red Bar, however, spelt out the beginning of the end when, during an inexplicable encore, the aforementioned free-loading excuse for a manager stopped trying to get girls to notice him for a minute to display an all too rare insight into the state of his charges by loudly pointing out how “You don't deserve it.”

As art school rock n roll legends go, such out and out moaning minnyness was on a par with The Who's iconic lynchpin Pete Townshend – an obvious role-model for McCredie – when he appropriated Gustav Metzger's theory of auto-destructive art by smashing up his guitar mid-set. If only Townshend had McCredie's girly hair and a pair of white jeans instead of an industrial size coke habit, he too might have become the voice of a generation, even if that generation had either all gone home for the weekend or were in the pub.

Edinburgh will never forget Alan McCredie and the Shrimptons. Even if they did get the dates mixed up and went somewhere else instead. Yet for McCredie, a cross-dressing myth-maker in excelsis, history has spoken far far more than his songs ever did. Notwithstanding some inevitable wedding reception reunion, it might be best to keep it that way, lest the legacy become tarnished forever.

Written for a fanzine, produced and edited by Daniel Gray, on the occasion of Jenny Ryan and Alan McCredie's wedding on June 27th 2015, this was penned by some chancer calling himself Group Captain Leon O'Price III (nee Mersey). Everything here is true.

ends



Edinburgh festivals 2015 highlights

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner

When Stewart Laing's Untitled Projects, who were recently turned down by Creative Scotland for Regular Funding, brought this meticulously observed show to the stage in 2013, it ostensibly told the tale of a radical young theatre director who staged a production of James Hogg's novel, Confessions of A Justified Sinner, in the 1980s before vanishing from an increasingly safe artistic scene. In actual fact, its mix of film footage, archive material and a performance by actor George Anton tapped into a hidden history of underground theatre-making in Scotland that reclaimed it in the most playfully inventive of manners. Already acclaimed internationally, Paul Bright has now been picked up by the Edinburgh International Festival for dates in the Queen's Hall, a venue integral to Anton's story.
Edinburgh International Festival, Queens Hall, August 19th-22nd


Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

When Alan Warner's Saltire Society-winning novel, The Sopranos, appeared in 1998, it was one of the funniest, most potty-mouthed and ultimately tragic stories to come from any of the 1990s wave of writers. Following the adventures of a teenage schoolgirl choir from Oban over one day in Edinburgh, a film adaptation was mooted for several years, but has yet to appear. In light of a certain iconic TV show, this new stage version presented by the National Theatre of Scotland has seen Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall rename Warner's story for a production that marks former NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone, now in charge of the Royal Court in London, return to the company for a play with music for a look at the lives of six devil-may-care young women on the verge of change.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Traverse Theatre, August 18th-30th, then on tour to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Musselburgh and Newcastle.


Viv Albertine with Ian Rankin – Words and Music: Memoirs of A Punk Rocker

The first time Viv Albertine came to Edinburgh was when she was the guitarist with The Slits, the all-female punk band who, along with Subway Sect, Buzzcocks and The Jam, supported The Clash at the Edinburgh Playhouse date of the headliners May 1977 White Riot tour which kick-started auld Reekie's own music scene into life. When her book, Clothes, Music, Boys, appeared, it may have charted that period with guileless candour, but it also told how Albertine dropped out of music completely for a life of domestic bliss before returning with equally warts and all album, The Vermilion Border. Albertine talks about all this and more in conversation with crime writing music fan Ian Rankin.
Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 23rd.


Tadeusz Kantor Inbetween Structures

Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor and his Cricot 2 company key figures of late twentieth century theatre and art. As was often the way of things in the 1960s and 1970s, Kantor was first brought to Edinburgh's attention by Richard Demarco, as a famous image of Kantor performing at Forest Hill Poorhouse in front of an audience who included a moustachioed Sean Connery makes clear. On the 100th anniversary of Kantor's birth, the Polish Institute and curator Dr Marc Glode look at the intersection between Kantor's performance and visual art work through assorted paintings, drawings, collages, gouaches,and photographs. At the show's centre, however is Attention....Painting!, a rarely seen film that won the prize for experimental film at the 1958 Venice Film Festival, and which here shows a master of what we now call cross-artform or intermedia practices, but which then saw Kantor blaze a trail as a maverick polymath in a show that follows its Edinburgh run with dates in Germany at the Polish Institute for Berlin Art.
Summerhall, August 5th-September 4th.

Bella Caledonia, June 2015

ends

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Lady in the Van

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

If the former World War Two ambulance driver who camped out in a yellow-painted Humber in Alan Bennett's Camden garden for fifteen years until her death in 1989 had been around today, chances are she would have been carted off a lot earlier than she is in Bennett's quasi-autobiographical look at truth, artifice and how we care for each other.

The woman Bennett knew as Miss Shepherd arrives in the neighbourhood at the fag-end of the sixties like a leftover from the Bloomsbury set by way of the squatters paradise of alternative London. With Bennett represented by two actors, both facets of his split personality collect people's personal tics as material, even as he divides his time between his ageing mother and this other psychologically bombed-out presence who defines him.

Led by strong central performances by Jacqueline Dutoit as Miss Shepherd and Mark Elstob and Ronnie Simon as the two Bennetts, Patrick Sandford's production goes beyond its initial comic warmth to recall a time when people like Miss Shepherd were at the very least indulged, and in districts like Camden accepted as part and parcel of a once colourful but now gentrified social fabric. The latter is shown through Bennett's neighbours, who start the play as a couple of aspirational groovers and end it as Barbour-clad toffs.

Punctuated by explosions of increasingly surreal life, the play is also an often unflattering self-analysis. The Bennetts resemble Gilbert and George as possessed by a pair of Yorkshire-sired Jiminy Crickets, each reining the other in lest their emotional guards come down in a gently daring expose that flits between life, art and the selfish demands of both.

The Herald, July 26th 2015

ends

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jerry Mitchell - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Jerry Mitchell had never watched the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when he was asked to choreograph David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's stage musical of the Frank Oz directed 1988 big screen vehicle for Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That was back in 2004, and by the following year the American born dancer turned director and choreographer was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Choreography on the show's original Broadway production, which ran for some 626 performances.

A decade on, and Mitchell revisited the show for a UK production which he both directed and choreographed on the West End. With the production being nominated for an Olivier Award, again for Best Choreography, Mitchell jetted in to London in April to attend the award ceremony in-between overseeing rehearsals for a touring version that arrives in Glasgow tonight prior to dates in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Oz's original caper movie about a couple of middle-aged con artists competing to scam wealthy women on the French Riviera may not have looked like an obvious choice for a hit musical when it first appeared, but since he saw it Mitchell has become a life-long fan.

“I laughed my ass off when I saw the movie,” he says now on a brief break during his whistle-stop London visit,. “I'd worked with Frank Oz, and the movie of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was so funny, so I had a blast the first time I worked on it, and to go back to it and rework it for the West End and on tour like this is a joy. The West End production came about after I'd done Legally Blonde here, and I formed a company with Ambassador Theatre Group to help start and promote new musicals. Although I'd never done Dirty Rotten Scoundrels here, I loved it so much that I thought the humour would work better here than it did in America, and here we are.”

With the original London cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels featuring the likes of Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound, Mitchell is full of praise for his current company. This includes former Robin of Sherwood star Michael Praed, ex member of TV reality show created pop band, Hear'Say, Noel Sullivan, and former Hollyoaks starlet Carly Stenson. Also in the cast is Waterloo Road star Mark Benton, with Gary Wilmot stepping in for the Edinburgh dates in September.

“Carly is so beautiful,” Mitchell says, “and she plays that mature cool so well. She also sings beautifully. Noel I was already a big fan of, and I'm even more so now. When Michael first came in to see me he sang Love Sneaks In, and out of all the great men who played that part, nobody delivered it better. Mark auditioned for the West End production, and I already knew him from Hairspray, so it's all worked out great.”

Mitchell may not have initially been au fait with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a decade a go, but he had worked with the film's director before when he choreographed Oz's 1997 feature film, In and Out. Other film work includes choreographing Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman, and directing a TV movie of Legally Blonde: The Musical.

Having worked on stage versions of other hit movies including Hairspray and The Full Monty – both originally directed by Jack O'Brien, who also looked after the first production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - as well as directing Legally Blonde: The Musical and this current take on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mitchell has become something of a go-to guy for such big-scale song and dance shows. He won a Tony for Cindi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's take on Kinky Boots, which he has also just directed in the West End.

While far from blasé about his shelf-full of awards, Mitchell is also pragmatic about how they sometimes work.
 
“This is the third or fourth time I've been nominated,” Mitchell says “and I do have one Olivier Award for my production of Legally Blonde, so I don't expect to win this time, but it's still great to be nominated, even though its kind of weird to be nominated alongside my peers for something completely different.”

Mitchell's early career saw him dance in several Broadway shows before receiving his first professional production credit in the 1990 musical of Jekyll and Hyde. He followed this with a revival of the Peanuts-based musical, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, before really hitting the big time with his work over the last decade that has also seen him direct and choreograph shows in Las Vegas, as well as becoming a mentor on dance-based TV reality shows.

Returning to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mitchell has kept the essence of the show, even as he has tweaked it slightly for a UK audience.

“There's a real immediacy to this show that I love,” he says, “and I try to put that into an audience's lap in the same way I did with Hairspray, and the same way I did with Legally Blonde and the same way I did with Kinky Boots. With this show as well, the music is so great, and the comedy works so well that it can't help but be immediate.”

Hearing him talk like this, it is clear that Mitchell's unabashed enthusiasm for both Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and his work beyond it remains undimmed.

“I do this because I love the work,” he says, “whether it's in the West End or on Broadway. I love the community it creates, and anything else is icing on the cake.”

After almost forty years in the business, he sees the value too in these times of austerity of something which, for all its glamour and glitz, is in effect a Robin Hood style story

“In today's world,” says Mitchell, “I think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a chance to go to the theatre to be totally entertained, and instead of everything else that's going on, we have this chance to have a wonderfully romantic evening. In that way I think musical comedy is a wonderful respite from what's going on in this world.”

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, King's Theatre, Glasgow, June 23-27; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, July 21-25; Edinburgh Playhouse, September 14-19.
www.scoundrelsontour.com

The Herald, June 23rd 2015

ends