The Musicals are Coming

Jan 27 2015 | By More

Amateur musicals companies take to King’s stage

A quartet of Edinburgh’s leading amateur musicals companies took to the King’s Theatre stage on Monday night to show off some of the highlights they will be performing there in coming months.

The Bohemians dusted off a few songs from Sister Act, with one-time rivals – but now great pals – Southern Light Opera doing the same for Oliver!.

Alexander Morrison (Oliver) and Michael Denvir (Dodger) in Southern Light's Oliver!. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Alexander Morrison (Oliver) and Michael Denvir (Dodger) in Southern Light’s Oliver! Photo: Phil Wilkinson

The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society brought a rather more condensed medley of highlights from The Pirates of Penzance and Showcase gave a taste of the songs which will help them celebrate their 25th anniversary in May.

The evening was also a chance for Æ to catch up with those behind the scenes and find out a bit more about what’s in store. Not to mention providing STV Edinburgh with some superb live material.

“These companies have been at the heart of what we do at the King’s Theatre for many, many years,” said theatre boss Duncan Hendry, welcoming them to the stage.

Describing the evening as a “an opportunistic moment we seized to do a bit of marketing”, Hendry told Æ: “The strategy is to encourage the amateur companies to use the King’s as much as possible. They are an important part of the community and one of our links into the community.”

It is only three weeks until the Bohemians stage Sister Act (Wed 18 – Sat 21 Feb), and Niloo-Far Khan already has all the attitude needed for disco diva Deloris Van Cartier – placed in protective custody in a convent. But she’ll have her work cut out keeping up with the splendid Dorothy Johnstone as the Mother Superior.

Coming home

This will be director Colin Cairncross’s fifth show directing the company, but his first at the King’s.

Dorothy Johnstone as the Mother Superior in the Bohemians' Sister Act. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Dorothy Johnstone as the Mother Superior in the Bohemians’ Sister Act. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

He told Æ: “For me it is like coming home because I used to be on stage with the Bohemians – and Southern Light – and so to come back here as a director and with the company is just brilliant.”

Although the musical has the same plot as the film, it is set in a different time period, so the music is different.

“The challenge for us is to get it as vibrant and exciting as the film, but on the stage,” said Cairncross. “But it is just fabulous to work with all these lovely talented nuns. Getting them to sing badly is a challenge, let us put it that way.”

He was tight-lipped over how, precisely, he is to differentiate this production from others, although he reveal that comedy will play its part: “For me personally, I am a big fan of gags. So if you can put a gag in, why not!”

strength in depth

Southern Light’s Oliver! arrives in March (Tue 3 – Sat 7), and there were no qualms from Alexander Morrison as a wistful Oliver (his Where is Love was emotionally superb) and Michael Denvir as a cocky, strutting Artful Dodger, leading off with great panache in Consider Yourself.

Charlie Monro (Fagin) and Claire Hughes (Bet) in Southern Light's Oliver! Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Charlie Monro (Fagin) and Claire Hughes (Bet) in Southern Light’s Oliver! Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Lori Flannigan looks to be a superb choice as Nancy if her As Long as He Needs Me is any indication of the delights to come. Charlie Monro’s Fagin and Claire Hughes’ Bet showed that there is strength in depth as all five joined up for a meaningful I’d Do Anything.

The music is one thing, but the big question is what director Andy Johnston will do with its presentation.

“I wouldn’t make the mistake of saying that I am going to make a darker, more evil, more mysterious Oliver!,” he told Æ. “It is one of the greatest, one of the most successful musicals of all time for a reason.

“We are not going to break the formula; what we are going to do is make it big, and make the drama a lot more dramatic and the comedy a lot more comedic. That is what we are working on very strongly.”

With a massive cast – Fagin’s gang is 25 strong and there are “bus loads” of orphans – Johnston will be directing one of the biggest ever productions of the show ever to be staged in Edinburgh.

And Johnston has own hints at his approach to the production: “Everybody has seen an amateur production of Oliver! and everyone knows the pitfalls. When I approached it, I looked at all the bits that usually make me cringe in other people’s productions. I started with them and then worked back the way.”

vocal embellishment

Edgas bring the ever-popular Pirates of Penzance to the King’s later in March (Tue 24 – Sat 28). To give a quick reminder of the joys of the show, they brought a slick medley of songs from the Pirate King (Scott Thomson), Mabel (Gillian Robertson) and the Major General (Ian Lawson).

the Pirate King (Scott Thomson), Mabel (Gillian Robertson) and the Major General (Ian Lawson) in Edgas' Pirates of Penzance. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

the Pirate King (Scott Thomson), Mabel (Gillian Robertson) and the Major General (Ian Lawson) in Edgas’ Pirates of Penzance. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Thomson has a nicely strutting demeanour and Lawson provided excellently enunciated lines to ensure that his tongue-twister Modern Major General was easily understood.

But it was Gillian Robertson who brought the house nearly to its feet with a stunning bit of vocal embellishment work as Mabel – always threatening to let her voice go higher, she eventually let fly on her top note with real ease. It is definitely a performance to look forward to.

“This is a great venue for amateur companies,” Andrew Crawford, Edgas’ business manager who will be playing Sergeant of Police, told Æ. “A lot of people have had their grounding on the stage and have gone into professional careers, not only from the three or four amateur companies but also the Gang Show who use it as well.”

Speaking the company’s choice to stage Pirates, which has had several recent productions, Crawford said: “People want to see shows that they know: Mikado, Pirates and Pinafore.

“We struggle a little bit doing the lesser known works – we still do them, but in order to fund them we have to put on shows like these. A lot of people have done Pirates of Penzance or the Mikado at school and they sort of revel in what they have done previously.

“This production will be a traditional G&S show with the fun and the wit and the skill of Gilbert’s words which compliments Sullivan’s amazing score of music he has written for it. And there definitely will be a few topical parts added into that, as usual!”

big numbers

The final production of the four was Showcase, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary by moving down the hill from its usual home at the Church Hill, and date in mid Autumn, to hold a big anniversary feast at the King’s in May (Fri 29-Sat 30).

Showcase 25: Ian Sutherland gets Happy. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Ian Sutherland gets Happy in Showcase 25. Photo: Phil Wilkinson

Showcase’s trademark is to take big numbers from the worlds of musicals, rock and pop and give them a big stage presentation. Starting off with Happy, swinging by Get Lucky, hitting a big sound with Stars from Les Mis, the showpiece ending off with the superb Ibiyemi Osinaike singing This is the Moment from Jekyll and Hyde.

Director of Showcase is, once again, Andy Johnston. “We just felt that having done 25 years in the Church Hill Theatre it seemed an obvious step to  come here to celebrate that,” he said. “Normally at this time of year we would do fund-raising concerts, which are just a ‘stand and sing’ in a church, so instead of doing those concerts we are actually, foolishly, putting on a full show.”

Not content with the extra work, the company has also invited anybody who has ever appeared in Showcase over the years to either take part in the entire show or join in a special 30 minute finale.

And that is not all, as Johnston adds: “We have also started youth theatre. The Showcase youth theatre is launching next week, and we have got 75 kids on the books for that already, so they will be appearing in their own section of the show and also in the finale, so really you will be talking of 150, 170 people in the finale, along with the traditional Showcase 16 piece orchestra.”

However, Showcase’s fans should not expect a simple run-through of past successes. As Johnston is quick to point out, he will be rising to the challenges and opportunities which the stage allow him.

He said: “The easiest thing in the world would be to take a normal Church Hill show and just Xerox it up, to fill the space here. But of course it is the King’s Theatre – you can do so many more different things – and we will!”

The King’s, the Grand old Dame of Leven Street, has seen many varied amateur productions over the years. If Monday’s showcase is any indication, this year’s crop are going to be remembered for a while to come.


The Bohemian Lyric Opera Company:
Sister Act – The Musical
Wednesday 18 – Saturday 21 February 2015.
Evenings 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Booking from:

Southern Light Opera
Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 March 2015
Evenings 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Booking from:

The Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society:
The Pirates of Penzance
Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 March 2015
Evenings 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Booking from:

Showcase 25th Anniversary
Friday 29-Saturday 30 May 2015
Evenings 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Booking from:


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