Aladdin @ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen – Duncan Harley reviews

Following a thrilling, but ultimately unsuccessful, swordfight arch-villain Abanazar is thrown upon the mercy of the audience. “What shall we do with him now?” cries Widow Twankey. A young voice from the front stalls cries out “Kill him! Chop off his head.”
Quick as a flash, Twankey replies “We can do pretty much anything in Panto, but the one thing we can’t do is kill Jimmy Osmond.”
Indeed, the Christmas Pantomime at His Majesty’s Theatre delivers everything from death defying stunts to innuendo laden humour and, of course, gloriously costumed entertainment suitable for children of all ages.
As the undoubted star of the show, Jimmy Osmond’s Abanazar exudes a suitable mixture of evil and cunning as he schemes to steal Aladdin’s magic lamp before, in the second act, delivering a stunning medley of familiar Osmond 70’s classics. As the show progressed the US born star dipped a brave tongue into the Doric, endured several inevitable references to his ‘Long-haired lover from Liverpool’ 1972 hit and generally endeared himself to the audience.
There were flying carpets galore, an impressive Bush-of-Truth stunt, a flying Jordan Young and, perhaps surprisingly, an ethereal appearance – as the Voice of the Genie – by Elaine C. Smith.
Costumes of course are at the core of Panto and although Alan McHugh’s Dame Twankey outfits outshone most in that department, Emperor Ming’s jewel-laden headgear really took the biscuit for ponderosity. Indeed, it’s a wonder that Billy Riddoch’s head remained upon his shoulders throughout the performance.
Irreverent humour is of course the mainstay of any Aberdeen Panto and inevitably both Trump and the Scottish Parliament took a bashing. The Trump reference took the form of a not-so subtle ‘trouser cough’. As for ‘Hollyrude’, well it would be unfair of me to give away the punch-line but let’s just say that it involves the Bush-of-Truth.
Special effects are to the fore in this production and the overall entertainment quotient is a massive 5 stars. Add in Jordan Young’s Aladdin on the Ladder sketch and a few comedic references to Echt, Tillydrone, Mintlaw, Balnagask, Ellon, Buchan, Tarves and Oldmeldrum and you have a winning combination of belly-laughs and completely splendid entertainment. Indeed, at the end of the night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and for all the right reasons.
I did wonder why Inverurie failed to get a mention though.

With the pupils of Aberdeen Academy of Dance, written by Alan McHugh and directed by Tony Cownie, Aladdin plays at HMT Aberdeen until January 7th

Tickets from APA @

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Sunset Boulevard @ HMT Aberdeen – A review by Duncan Harley

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac 'Joe Gillis' and Company
A compelling study on how to grow old disgracefully, this tale of manipulation, madness and obsession seems doomed from the start to have no happy ending. As ageing silent-star Norma Desmond’s insanity blossoms, the tension builds to bursting-point whilst all around the gloomy interior of Sunset Boulevard the world moves on relentlessly to greater things.
Having failed to make the transition from silent-screen to talkies, Ria Jones’ Norma Desmond pens a clunker of a movie-script in anticipation of a return to those heady days of stardom. Danny Mac’s Joe Gillis takes on the task of re-writing the ageing diva’s version of Salome. There are no renditions of ‘bring me the head of John the Baptist’ here though. Indeed, phrases such as ‘All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up’ might be mistaken nowadays as a prelude to an innuendo laden casting-couch moment, and Norma Desmond’s deadpan comment ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!’ leaves little to the imagination.
Norma is of course ‘Mad about the boy’ – and where have we heard that before – in this case the boy is Joe. SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac 'Joe Gillis'
And, predictably perhaps, he is strung-along by mad Norma until he can take no more. The tale is told from his viewpoint and his journey through Norma’s celluloid memories is at times a difficult watch.
Ria Jones’ powerful portrayal of Norma eclipses all on stage and rightly so. The deeply flawed Joe Gillis must come a close second. Danny Mac’s Joe is clearly on a treadmill to oblivion from scene one onwards and this portrayal of a kept-man on the road to nowhere leaves little to the imagination.
For my money though, Adam Pearce’s Vettriano-like singing butler, the scowling Max Von Meyerling, gets top marks. Suitably servile when it suits him, sternly efficient and quietly loyal to the very end; Adam’s Max lurks quietly in the shadows and perhaps his story, when finally revealed, is the saddest tear-jerker of them all.
Animal lovers might just shudder at the understated chimpanzee funeral but, in the big scheme of things, Sunset Boulevard presents as an entertaining and powerful musical melodrama graphically portraying the, sometimes wickedly distorted, dream-factory that is Hollywood. Fast-paced throughout and with a wild car-chase worthy of no-glory San Francisco cop, lieutenant Frank Bullitt, this classic stage musical is well worth the seeing.

Directed by Nikolai Foster with Musical Direction by Adrian Kirk, Sunset Boulevard plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday November 11th.

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After the bloodbath

a pig in Venice
After the bloodbath of the night before, all seemed quiet in the ward. The blond bigmouth in the corner lay curled up beneath his hospital blanket and the sun streamed in through the blinds at the far end. An occasional phone went and the buzzers summoned the bustling staff.
Us of us patients who could, slept or read. And, just above the hum of the air-conditioning, an occasional snore could be heard.
The blood-man, for that is what we called him after the night before, had quietened down and was brought back into the ward. Bigmouth continued to complain to anyone who walked past. Seemingly he had been a victim of the night before and had had to have his bed changed due to spilt blood soaked urine. Shamefully he told the night’s tale to the relatives next day despite ample warning from bed four that all that happens in the ward, stays in the ward. Such abominable patients can be a pain.
Naked and full of good intentions, the blood-man had – in the best possible taste – become unpopular. But what he had done must remain secret, for if revealed then heads might roll and his unpopularity might become infamy amongst his peers. And, we shouldn’t countenance that at any cost.
Suffice it to say that he had lost both his Press and Journal newspaper plus a full three pages from the Daily Telegraph. The loss of the P and J was easily solved. They say they sell 60 thousand of the bloody things each day in Aberdeen alone and the man in bed two happily donated a copy to compensate the blood-man’s loss.
As for the Telegraph, we were all at two’s and three’s. After all, the blood-man’s wife had seemingly taken the missing pages. “I can’t find three of the pages of my Telegraph” he had said “My wife has probably taken them. It’s exactly the sort of thing she might do” he concluded.
We, apart from the blond bigmouth – who was by that time AWOL and possibly meeting a friend with vodka at the lift on level three – remained sceptical. But, of course you never really know what’s going through a man’s mind.
Maybe Mrs Blood-man had it in for the man. Or maybe she was simply looking out for him. Or maybe it was all in his imaginary world of pain, urine and shit.

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Jane Eyre @ HMT – Duncan Harley Reviews

Source: Jane Eyre @ HMT – Duncan Harley Reviews

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Orange is the new blue

I had to think about the election result for a moment. In fact over a few hours I struggled to make some sense of it all.
Never a great fan of politicians, I did place a vote and I assumed that all would be well. A few friends did not vote and that perhaps is why Alex Salmond has been ousted in Gordon by such a narrow margin. In Moray we have allegations of a bullying candidate gaining a seat. Elsewhere, the recriminations carry on.
I was put off politicians following that Clegg led 2010 Lib-con coalition and am glad that the silly man has been ousted at last. What a betrayal that was. The voters of Gordon seemed not to notice but why Lord Malcolm of Bennachie, god help his cotton-socked name, continued to pound on my door escapes me. After all, his political secretary accused me of muck spreading on the occasion of his elevation to the Lords.
At least that old hoary failure Brown was not trotted out much on this occasion and in the big scheme of things that at least is a plus.
As for the alliance of May with the gunslingers of the Emerald Isle, I am aghast. It’s only a few years since the British Army were sent to wipe them out.
Perhaps I am just an angry old man but it seems to me that something is badly wrong in Theresa-May-land.
I diverse of course. Perhaps it is time for a Scottish Spring. Mind you, look what happened in North Africa.
In the meantime we have a ConDUP alliance in the Palace of Westminster dictating to the country.
DUP? I had never heard of them until today either except in a negative sense. Composed of ex-terrorist’s and ex-extremist’s they have associations with Loyalist death squads and murderers.
Against gay marriage and abortion they were recently implicated in a scam involving green energy. The Tories complained about Labours supposed links to terrorists during the election campaign. Now they want to go into coalition with people with a history of backing terrorism.

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The mid 19th century was a period of rapid industrial growth both in the North-east of Scotland and throughout the British Empire. The boom-and-bust times of railway expansion had opened up new markets and stimulated engineering innovation on a scale rarely seen before.
From humble beginnings supplying the likes of the Great North of Scotland Railway’s seemingly insatiable demand for cast iron fence posts and level-crossing gates, Harpers were soon exporting cast-iron pre-fabricated pedestrian suspension bridges right across the globe.
Engineered and manufactured in kit form at their Aberdeen foundry and using innovative techniques gleaned from long experience in the designing of fences, the Harper products required little local engineering expertise to either assemble or construct, making them popular choices in developing countries. These instantly recognisable and iconic bridges – with spans of up to 91m – provided many decades of service in places as diverse as Nepal, South Africa and even the Falkland Islands.
Prior to the manufacture of bridges, Harper’s concentrated on the manufacturing of fence posts and strainers.
On a walk around Scolty woods at Banchory, we chanced upon a pair of 140 year old Harper’s Patented Strainers.

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Trump Trump Trump Trump

Nanny Abercrombie’s Windmill

By Duncan Harley

When Presidential hopeful Donald Trump began his tirade against Scotland’s renewable energy policy year he famously commented “”I don’t want to be standing on the first tee looking into an industrial wind turbine if I’m going to be spending all this money” and “we will spend whatever monies are necessary to see to it that these huge and unsightly industrial wind turbines are never constructed.” Perhaps he would be persuaded otherwise if he were to pay a even a fleeting visit to one of Aberdeenshire’s hidden gems, the Glassaugh Windmill just east of Sandend on the Buchan coast. Both used to blow in the wind.

At first glance, the windmill can easily be mistaken for a Pictish Broch or even a Martello Tower. Set back over 500 metres from the A98 between Portsoy and Cullen the structure has a covering of ivy which masks the outline and suggests a tower house with a walled garden circling around the base. Nothing could be further from the truth however!

In common with much of the Banff and Buchan coastline, the area around Sandend is full of Pictish remains. These are often built over or indeed incorporated in later structures such as farm houses, churches and dykes. The Glassaugh Windmill is just such a building.

General James Abercrombie of Glassaugh was as his title suggests a military man. He was born in 1706 to a wealthy Banffshire family and as was the custom of the time, he purchased a major’s commission to enter the army in 1742. He was promoted to colonel in 1746 and major-general in 1756. He is credited with having good organisational skills but little understanding of the art of warfare and was known to his troops as “Mrs Nanny Abercrombie” because of his skills at provisioning and providing creature comforts such as tents and hot food on the long marches through North America during the French and Indian War of 1689-1763.

Unfortunately, in the July of 1758 he met his “Charge of the Light Brigade” moment when he rather rashly directed his troops into a frontal assault on a fortified French position without the benefit of artillery support. More than 2,000 of his force of 15,000 were killed or wounded resulting in the good general being recalled to Britain where he duly became a member of parliament supporting the cause of British dominion over the Northern Territories of America and Canada. No surprises so far then.

When Major General Abercrombie MP returned to his native Scotland he of course took over the running of the family estate at Glassaugh and possibly lacking much to do in the parliament of the day he began organising the improvement of the agricultural economy of the area.

This was a time of land improvement and land enclosure. Labour was plentiful and indeed cheap as a large number of Irish Catholics had been disposed by the influx of English and Scottish aristocracy and had in many cases sought work on the land in Scotland. What was Major General Abercrombie MP to do?

He had been a poor general indeed but had as has been said, had good organisational skills. In the true spirit of Jaroslav Hašek’s Good Soldier Švejk which is essentially a series of absurdly comic episodes, Abercrombie decided to build a windmill.

Now, in those far off days, most mills were powered by water. There are tens of thousands of watermills in the UK and at a guess there must be at least one in every inhabited town and village in Aberdeenshire. Transport was improving during the 1750’s but local flour and grain mills were still the order of the day and met the needs of the townships and small communities all around the shire. Windmills were not unknown in the North East, but were not that common due to the ease and availability of waterpower. The good General however decided that wind was the way to go.

As any engineer will know, the biggest challenge in building large structures is the sourcing of building materials. If you need to build a wall then you will require large quantities of heavy and difficult to transport stone. The shorter the journey from quarry to building site the better.

Well, it just so happened that Major General Abercrombie had a ready made supply of building materials in the form of a bronze age burial cairn. The folk who had built the cairn would have no objections to its recycling after all and of course Scottish Natural Heritage was not even a slight smile in the womb of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991.

The Cup and Saucer was born. Using the materials from the ancient cairn, Abercrombie bade his workers to build an enormous windmill four stories high and with a tapering tower topped with white sails. It must have been the sight of the century for folk who had never travelled further than Sandend or Portsoy.

How long Abercrombie’s windmill was in full tilt is not recorded, however in a letter dated 23rd August 1761, the good general advised his daughter that high winds had almost blown off “the pompon of the wind mill which was only set up yesterday.”

The ivy covered stump of the structure is all that remains today to remind us of the man who had the vision to build it.

Mind you, when you think about it, you’re actually looking at a Bronze Age burial cairn undergoing a Tibetan sky burial.

Perhaps the man who would be President should re-visit his homeland for a few more hours.

© Images and words – Duncan Harley

(c) Stupidity – Donard Tlump

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