Miss Saigon – spectacular wartime drama + passionate love story = a majestic, modern Pop-opera @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
“The chopper has landed. “Miss Saigon” has finally arrived in New York. That’s one giant step for Cameron Mackintosh. Big, ferocious, raw, in-your-face from start to finish, and it’s here to stay.” Variety, April 1991.
Such was the verdict in April 1991 at the Broadway Theater for Miss Saigon which wowed the press and public, grossing $286 million over a ten year run. From the premiere in 1989, it was also a smash hit at Drury Lane, London with awards on both sides of the pond. A revised, rebooted revival of the show has opened in NY and heads off this month on a USA-wide tour, while a major new UK production is currently on the road.
And now, the chopper has landed at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, staying here until 17 February.
To follow up Schönberg and Boublil’s great success with “Les Miserables,” the inspiration for “Miss Saigon” came from a photograph in a news magazine; it featured a Vietnamese mother leaving her young son in the departure lounge at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board a plane to the USA with his father, an American GI – the ultimate sacrifice to provide a better life for their child.
Tying in neatly, the plot is also loosely based on Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, about Cio Cio San, a young Japanese girl who falls in love with American naval officer Pinkerton, with devastating consequences.
Butterfly’s tragic tale is transported through time and tide to Saigon in 1975, two years after the peace agreement was signed to end the devastating Vietnam (aka American) war. The last of the US soldiers still in residence are demob happy at a local Bar, the raucous downtown dive, Dreamland. Just as in World War II, the GIs were “overpaid, over-sexed and over here”.
“The heat is on in Saigon
But ’til they tell us we’re gone
I’m gonna buy you a girl” ….
.. goes the song, as Sergeant John offers a midnight treat to his best mate but Chris just wants a cold beer. In charge of “entertainment” at the bar, is the loud, lecherous, lascivious Engineer. His posse of pretty girls are treated like pawns to be sold and swapped as they parade about scantily dressed, flaunting their wares.
A newcomer is 17 year old Kim, an orphan and outsider, who is visibly appalled by the behaviour of the outrageous Gigi who wants to be crowned Miss Saigon as top showgirl. But she’s merely playing along, while she dreams of dollars, New York, and the new world. Na-Young Jeon captures this gritty character with a powerful voice as she belts out “Movie in my Mind,” accompanied by the girls as a spotlit backing group.
Chris observes the vulnerable, virginal Kim and decides to protect her from the other Marines, who pick up girls, quite literally, throwing them over their shoulder, at the Engineer’s nightclub with extras. He escapes with Kim to an upstairs bedroom with open air terrace where their one night stand turns into a sweet brief encounter. She explains it’s her first time. He realises she is The One, as he sings the plaintive ballad “Why God Why?”:
“ I’ve been with girls who knew much more
I never felt confused before
Why me? What’s your plan?
I can’t help her – no one can
I liked my memories as they were
But now I’ll leave remembering her.”
Ashley Gilmour is perfect in the role as a tough Army Sergeant softened by gentle, boyish charm. Expressing their love for each other, he promises to return and take her back home.
But during the frantic, final days of the war, with the US Embassy being evacuated, time runs out. As we follow Kim on her emotional journey, Sooha Kim is a remarkable young actress and singer, who transforms from timid, terrified teenager to mature young woman, coping with the responsibilities of motherhood.
Through fast paced, neatly choreographed scenes, the narrative is told, operatic style through the lyrics. Schönberg and Boublil’s soulful score is clearly reminiscent of “Les Miserables”, a blend of spine-tingling music and richly-layered, romantic songs.
The drama is brilliantly achieved through well rounded lead characters, exceptionally fine singing, slick set changes, (creating a real sense of place and time), superb lighting, (tropical crimson sunrise and sunsets), and sound effects. With the arrival of the helicopter, sitting in the dress circle, a low rumbling sound was heard behind us, rising in volume as it moves overhead and speeds over the stage with an almost deafening roar. So realistic, you feel you were taking part in an action movie!
A moving scene is in Atlanta 1978, when a collection of vintage photographs show the penniless Amerasian children on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City as “Bui Doi” is performed by John and the ensemble at the Atlanta Convention, September, 1978
This gets to the essence of the story – the bui doi, “dust of life” kids with American fathers and Vietnamese mothers, either the result of rape, born through prostitution, or like Kim, through loving relationships. With the fall of Saigon, many women hurried with their children to be being airlifted out of Vietnam. Some children made it. Many did not.
By focusing on the personal, private plight of Kim and Chris, we can observe all around, the bigger political picture. Miss Saigon offers a most important history lesson for those who missed out on the now forgotten facts and figures, the dreadful human tragedy of the Vietnam war, when ordinary, innocent people were caught up in the horrific conflict. And history repeats itself, putting into clear perspective current news reports of the boat people drowning at sea en route to Greek shores and the Syrian refugees.
Other stand out performances include Zoe Doano as Ellen, elegantly poised yet appearing fragile and alone, understanding too well that her husband’s heart has been left behind in Vietnam. Taking centre stage in a couple of show stopping numbers is the cool, charismatic Red Concepcion as The Engineer – the sleazy Hustler, like the camped up MC host at the Kit Kat Club in Cabaret, as he cavorts with his Dreamland dancers.
Far removed from typical light, frothy, sing along musicals, and similar to “Les Miserables” and “Evita”, this a serious theatrical drama, performed with electrifying energy, ensemble dancing, marching and glorious music.
Apart from hard hitting wartime action and hovering helicopters, this is a passionate love story, a modern Pop-opera, which resonates its tragic true-to-life tale as strongly today as it did nearly 30 years ago.
17 January to 17 February. 2018
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – www.edtheatres.com 0131 529 6000
UK Tour dates:
THE OPEN – SSA & VAS Together 2018 at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh: 29 January to 8 March, 2018
The Open is a collaborative exhibition between two of Scotland’s renowned arts organisations, the Society of Scottish Artists and Visual Arts Scotland celebrates the very best in contemporary art, presenting commissioned work, established artists, emerging talent and young graduates, a total of over 166 artists selected from over 2,000 submissions from around the world.
The rich heritage of these two prestigious art organisations is quite extraordinary, featuring a roll call of the most genre-busting, ground-breaking artists of the late 19th and 20th century.
The Society of Scottish Artists was founded in 1851 with the aim to show controversial and unexpected art as well as promote new artists. In 1913 Post Impressionist paintings by Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh were on show and around a decade later, inspirational work by Picasso, Daumier and Degas. In 1931 the SSA exhibited, for the first time in the UK, twelve canvases by the highly controversial Edvard Munch who then became a member of the Society.
Today the SSA has a network of 800 members and continues to reflect the spirit of its founders, showcasing innovative work at its Annual Exhibition as well as events and artists’ residencies.
Visual Arts Scotland is also a major group of national and international artists; it was originally founded in 1924 William McDougall as the Scottish Society of Women Artists to assist his daughter, Lily McDougall, a talented painter, who was not recognised in professional art circles because she was a woman. The Society encouraged arts training and showcase work by women.
In the late 1980s it was renamed Scottish Artists and Artist Craftsmen, but then a few years later changed to the more inclusive, Visual Arts Scotland. Over the decades, artists have included Joan Eardley, Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frink.
More recently Rachel MacLean has exhibited with VAS, and who recently gained major reputation when she represented Scotland at the 2017 Venice Biennale. (For those who weren’t able to visit Venice last year, MacLean’s dramatic installation will be exhibited at the Talbot Rice Gallery from 24 February to 5 May 2018.)
Today VAS is a multi-disciplinary organisation for painters, textile artists, sculptors, ceramicists and photographers.
“For the first time in our long histories we have joined forces, combining our expertise and experience, to create one cohesive and carefully conceived show, which we believe to be the very best in contemporary art and design. OPEN 2018 is the best possible showcase for our members, collaborators and visitors.
We believe strongly that we have created a show which everyone can be proud of: dynamic, forward thinking, courageous and beautifully presented.”
Sharon Quigley, President SSA and Andrew Mackenzie, President VAS
OPEN – SSA & VAS Together will draw together a most diverse range of contemporary Fine and Applied art: paintings, drawings, multimedia work, decorative design, crafts, glassware, ceramics, sculpture, jewellery, prints, photographs, video and installation projects.
Highlights include OBSERVER CINEMA, the premiere of a commissioned multimedia work by international artist and filmmaker Sven Werner. It tells the story of a man who finds he is able to recognise and inhabit the blind angles of people’s attention so he becomes an invisible man, perhaps inspired by the novel by H. G. Wells.
This year’s Graduate Award showcase presents ten young artists from Scotland’s five leading art schools, such as sculpture by William Braithwaite, colourful kinetic jewellery by Isla Christie, product designs by Natasha Duda and Kasey Hou, painting by Annie Mulvey and printmaking by Calum Wallis. painting by Annie Mulvey and printmaking by Calum Wallis.
Funky colourful ear-rings, Isla Christie
Làrach is a collaboration between the SSA and An Lanntair arts centre, Stornoway, a project by artists from Lewis and Harris focusing on how the landscape links closely with the language, identity, culture and history of the Hebridean islands.
This collection of artwork representing an atmospheric sense of place, is complemented by Jessica Danz’s re-scoredIcelandic documentary, Ísland í lifandi myndum.
The inaugural Inches Carr Mentoring Award offers a valuable bursary to an artist developing their career to assist them pursue new directions, as well as providing funds for a mentor to encourage their project.
Visual Arts Scotland together with Craft Scotland, celebrates the ambitious work of three distinctive glass artists, Andrew Horsely, Carrie Fertig and Jeff Zimmer.
Engramme, an organisation in Eastern Canada promoting contemporary printmaking, works in partnership with the SSA and Andréanne Gagnon from Quebec will be featured as part of an exchange programme. “ My practice focuses on the borders between various artistic disciplines….the ambiguity.. at the limits of drawing, engraving and photography.”
This showcase of Scottish and International artists offers an extraordinary opportunity to view the most imaginative, innovative and perhaps, controversial, artwork being created today. And browsing around this carefully curated selection, you might spot a modern masterpiece akin to exciting, enlightening modern art – from Gauguin and Matisse to Eardley and Frink – exhibited by the SSA & VAS for around 170 years.
The Open – SSA & VAS Together 2018
29 January – 8 March 2018
10am – 5pm Monday – Saturday
12 noon – 5pm Sunday
Royal Scottish Academy
The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL
N.B. Please note that a few of the images are included for illustrative purposes but may not be part of this exhibition to promote these artists – Carrie Fertig, William Braithwaite, Alex Boyd, Isla Christie, Andreanne Gagnon.
Alexander Moffat and John Blackburn: a joint masterclass in portraiture and abstract art: Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh
To celebrate the publication of “Facing the Nation: the portraiture of Alexander Moffat” with text by Bill Hare, (Luath Press), the Open Eye Gallery is showcasing a fascinating collection of portraits of eminent Scottish writers, poets and artists of the 20th century.
Around the walls one can “meet” a very dapper Richard Demarco (1988), in a blue linen suit, and the crème de la crème lady of letters, Muriel Spark (1984) – most apt to view this charming, youthful portrait as we celebrate her centenary year.
“Attempts to capture the spirit of the place are rarely fortunate; it is wiser to point to its literature as the embodiment of a thousand subtle and vagrant traditions”. John Buchan
Following Buchan’s view that arts and culture reflect the beating, emotional heart of a nation, Alexander Moffat has long been at the forefront as a social and political commentator – the subject of his book, “Arts of Resistance: Poets, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland.”
During the early 1960s, he studied with John Bellany at Edinburgh College of Art, both strongly committed to reinvent portrait painting for the vibrant modern age. As Head of Painting and Printmaking at the Glasgow School of Art, (1992 – 2005) he encouraged a fresh resurgence of figurative studies, inspiring a talented group in particular – Peter Howson, Steven Campbell, Ken Currie and Adrian Wiszniewski – all of whom went on to experience flourishing careers in their individual ways.
This quartet, the “new Glasgow Boys” are all illustrated here as eager young students, such as Campbell and Wiszniewski captured in a simple pencil sketch, like a quick painterly “snapshot,” taken in 1987 at Nico’s, no doubt a favourite haunt.
Giving people a sense of place, Moffat’s iconic masterpiece, “Poets’ Pub” (1980, National Gallery of Scotland) is an imaginary vision of the leading, late great Scottish poets and writers gathered around Hugh MacDiarmid, set in their regular Edinburgh drinking dens, Milne’s Bar, Abbotsford and Café Royal.
In this exhibition, the poet also takes a central role, viewed as a soulful philosopher, no more so than the Gaelic bard, Sorley Maclean. The lithograph of MacLean, against a Hebridean mountain peak, portrays the man as well as his land and language, so engrained in his work.
In a soft shadowy portrait, the Orcadian poet and novelist, George Mackay Brown presents a thoughtful gaze with a sense of sadness in his gentle blue eyes.
Unlike a photograph, it is the art of the portrait painter to draw out hidden depth through gesture and facial expression. This masterly portfolio of well known movers and shakers of the Scottish art and literary scene, past and present, captured with clarity in oil, pencil or charcoal, reveal a moment of silence, and private reflective mood.
“There is more power in telling little, than in telling all” Mark Rothko
On the other side of the hallway at the Open Eye, there is also a stunning exhibition of “Paintings from the Studio” of John Blackburn, selected by Dr. Ian Massey. After studying at Margate School of Art, in 1954, Blackburn decided to leave post war Britain to travel in search of new horizons in New Zealand and then (following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Gauguin) to the South Pacific. Returning to England in the early 1960s, his work was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (alongside William Scott and Roger Hilton) and was soon critically acclaimed as an abstract painter of originality, invention and vision.
Through a purely abstract vocabulary of shape, structure, colour and contour, Blackburn’s minimalist approach is far removed from realistic representation of a figure or landscape. Take time to wander around the room to study these cool, crafted and composed images to let the space, tone and texture convey its underlying meaning about place and time.
“John Blackburn is an artist who relates strongly to the raw experience of human life, and although ostensibly abstract, his paintings are rooted firmly in life as it is lived on a day-to-day basis. … with a deep sense of empathy in a wider sense.” Dr. Ian Massey
An essential aspect of his work is the use of found objects and disused materials – old nails, scrapings of rust and varnish – to combine physical aspects of the past and present; as the artist describes his working method ..’using stuff that has been used before gives the picture a life before the picture is started.’
The colour palette is quite enchanting, a blend of ochre, grey, black, brown, juxtaposed with a sudden splash of green or soft pink, across a richly patterned geometry of squares, ovals and circles.
Titles are sometimes humorous, such as “Two Forms (Lemon Meringue)” or an enigmatic, “Untitled”, but across this marvellous retrospective, there is a tangible sense of peace and contentment to reflect the artist’s philosophical view of humanity and our place in the world.
Also on display around the gallery, there is an evocative selection of paintings on the theme of the sea by Chris Bushe, John Bellany, Donald Provan and Archie Dunbar-Smith, as well as a range of prints and jewellery.
Book Launch: Alexander Moffat and Bill Hare will take part in a discussion on “Facing the Nation” at the Open Eye on Wednesday 24 January. Reservations essential – contact the gallery for more information.
January Exhibitions – Alexander Moffat & John Blackburn (and other artists)
10 – 29 January, 2018.
Monday to Friday: 10am to 6pm; Sat. 10am to 4pm.
The Open Eye, 34 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh EH3 6QE – tel. 0131 557 1020
A wonderful, wild trek across the African Bush through the eyes of Marnus Roodbol: Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh
“Africa has it all; from grandiose waterfalls and mystifying rivers to white sandy beaches and rich African cultures – not to mention the prevalent attractions of them all, the wildlife.” Marnus Roodbol
“My Africa,” a pop up exhibition of photographs by Marnus Roodbol, is a personal vision of the natural world of Africa in the wild, to capture its unspoilt landscape, ancient spirit and timeless sense of place.
Having been brought up in Pretoria, Roodbol studied for a diploma in Game Ranch management and eco training to work in the bush as a guide, starting at the world-famous Sabi Sands Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park. He gained valuable experience up close and personal caring for hand-raised lions on farms, and worked in Botswana, taking part in a lion & cheetah census in Masai Mara.
Concerned about animal welfare, in 2012 Roodbal was inspired to create the non-profit organisation, Walking for Lions, a campaign for wild lion protection and survival. It is estimated that during the last 40 years the lion population around Africa has seriously decreased due to thousands being killed by farmers, for sport, big game hunting and illegal poaching, down from an estimated 200,000 a century ago to about 20,000 today; the last of our wild lions could be wiped out by 2030.
When Cecil the lion was killed in June 2015 by American tourist Walter Palmer, outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, the news sparked an international campaign to restrict trophy hunting tourism. But tragically last summer, Cecil’s 6 year old cub, Xanda, was also killed by a a professional hunter near Hwange National Park
Through sponsored walking and cycling treks through Namibia, Botswana and other countries, WFL is involved in research projects and an annual census to estimate the number of lions in the wild, to assist communities to prevent human-wildlife conflict and create global awareness.
As a Safari guide and conservationist, Marnus is passionate about promoting the scenic natural beauty of Africa as a dream destination but also to highlight the importance of protecting endangered animals. This exhibition of stunning photographs capture these majestic animals, from tall elegant giraffes to a proud lioness, born free and roaming free in the bush; if “one picture is worth ten thousand words” as the Chinese proverb states, it’s the ideal way to use art to spread the message.
With his wife Lucy, they have launched their own specialist travel company, “Outbound in Africa”, which creates bespoke trips to southern Africa, including safari experiences to spot the Big Five (African lion, elephant, leopard, Cape buffalo and black rhino), gorilla trekking, photography safaris as well as luxury train journeys. Based on their professional knowledge working in game parks and lodges for many years, they are keen to share and show off the real African bush. Personalised, tailored tours are based around conservation policies to offer an eco friendly, authentic adventure, off the beaten track.
For a real taste of a sightseeing safari, visit the Dundas Street Gallery to observe and learn all about “My Africa” by Marnus Roodbol.
Dundas Street Gallery, 6a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
12 – 17 January 2018.
Exhibition in association with Walking for Lions and Outbound in Africa
Images courtesy of Marnus Roodbol. WFL and OiA.