Friday, 26 October 2012

Review: Marcia Murray MacDonald's Midnight Halloween Murder Mystery

By Rachel Taylor

I love shows with a difference.
Why use a conventional theatre space when you
can utilise an entire building, multiple great sets without scene changes and have the atmosphere already buzzing when your audience walk in?
The performance of the Junior Sleuths course – “Marcia Murray MacDonald's Midnight
Halloween Murder Mystery” – ticked all of these boxes and more. The young actors became a
gaggle of nightmarish creatures, but wouldn’t you know it:
There’s been a murder! Or, well, there would be.
But first there was a Halloween documentary for the cast to set about. The audience for the show became the audience for their documentary and was enthralled and entertained watching arguments over roles, props and interpretation. We were entertained by adorably dense witches, game-loving zombie twins, the cutest ghost in history, a mad scientist (with a true love for Cosmo the cat), a rather tall pumpkin, a demoted cat, Dracula with a secret, an unimpressed devil and, of course, Marcia, who played a star turn as the overbearing star and producer of the piece along with her cameraman.
However, the audience were not just there to observe. Each audience member was given a pack at the start of the show to facilitate their job: be keeping an eye out for a murderer in their midst. Clues, hints and red herrings abounded as the group moved through the building from room-to-room and the antics progressed, spattered with stories, songs and Halloween games – the last being great for further audience involvement.
Every location in the building was brilliantly prepared, with eerie lighting and fun props – from the cauldron in the witches’ hovel to the sugar doughnuts strung up in the zombies’ games room!
All too soon, the audience arrived in the last room – the main studio. The cast gathered on a truly beautiful set for a banquet with Dracula…but one of the guests wasn’t eating much…
The final scene was dramatic and brilliantly executed. Encompassing a beautiful tableau, it was a masterful scene that belied the youth of the actors.
Finally the cast congregated in front of their detective audience for a Q&A session, which brought forth some impressive improvising and, eventually, a confession.
It was, all round, an incredible show. The Scottish theatre scene should watch out – it doesn’t know what’s hit it with the SYT kids!!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Review: Family Storytime - Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

By Rachel Taylor*

Nope. No way. I wouldn’t have believed it either – but there really is something right here in Glasgow which is brilliant for families (including children of any age), loads of fun but still educational, perfectly tailored to young minds yet still entertaining for the grown-ups, inclusive to a whole bunch of people and even helps to grow the kids’ imaginations.Welcome to Family Storytime at Scottish Youth Theatre!

Upon arriving for your storytime – in this instance, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves – you will be greeted enthusiastically by your storytellers in rhyme. As they lead you into the theatre space you will find yourselves transported: if the tinkling Arabian-sounding music doesn’t take you to far-off places, the shining fabrics hung from the walls and props and the dozens of costume pieces certainly will.

There is a distinct lack of set and scenery, but this is because the imaginations of the audience are key. When creating Ali Baba’s woodland, the children were invited up to discover where their imaginations took them, exploring what they could see, hear and feel in their wood. The storytellers skilfully guide the process, offering suggestions of their own and asking lots of questions for the children to react to. This process happened several times throughout the story, right up to the celebratory feast at the end.

But back to the “theatre space”. Far from trying to keep the kids in seats while lofty actors proclaim down from a stage on high, Family Storytime takes place in a studio – in simple terms, just a room rather than a theatre with a raised stage – keeping the storytellers on a level with their audience: even the little ones on cushions at the front. Not only that, but the children (as a whole group, not just a select one or two) become part of the production – from picking out each character’s costume to walking through the woodland they have imagined together; from helping Ali Baba chop enough wood to feed his family to hunting around for the greedy Kaseem whilst keeping an eye out for the King of Thieves himself! All of these come with rhymes and songs – short and set to recognisable nursery rhyme tunes so that even the smaller participants  will still have them learned in moments.

These active parts are interspersed with short bursts of the story at only a few minutes long at a time – perfect for keeping the little ‘uns from tiring of the tale. 

Once the story is done, there is a short time where imagination is all that rules the roost as little and big kids alike are invited to explore the props, fabrics and costumes in the room and to see what they can become!
All too soon, though, a bell signals tidy-up time and it’s time to leave Arabia behind with “a round of applause, a seal of approval and a big hand”.

The magical time certainly gets my seal of approval and from the entranced children and fascinated families; from seeing every single audience member participate; from hearing the gushing praise as the audience left, I’d guess it got theirs too.

* Rachel is a member of SYT's Young Reviewers group. A group of young people who are passionate about performing arts for children and young people. If you want to take part or to find out more, you can email