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Theatre reviews

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

It's the voice of God you hear first in Vanishing Point's exquisitely realised impressionistic evocation of the life and times of the poet and song-writer whose influence on popular culture over the last half century is only now being fully recognised.

It's a jolly voice compared to the deadpan melancholy of Ivor Cutler's own, but this unseen presence points up Cutler's own uneasy relationship with religious beliefs of all persuasions, even as this co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland is as much a spiritual meditation as any liturgy.

Using the framing device of an actual meeting between actor Sandy Grierson, who plays Cutler, and Cutler's partner Phyllis King, below the Kentish Town flat where Cutler once lived, the first half is a celestial radio play that shows how a dreamy boy from Ibrox went from life as a pilot and a teacher to an underground cult figure and star of TV and radio.

These scenes give us a glimpse of what shaped Cutler's mind even as they explore how such a remarkable life can be translated into the play we're watching. The second half shifts in tone to become more elegiac as it focuses on Cutler and King's love story, and a personal and artistic bond that proved indestructible even as Cutler slid gently into old age.

Accompanying all this in Matthew Lenton's beautifully nuanced production of a text, knitted together by Grierson, is a barn-stormingly good five-piece band led by composer James Fortune. Their rollicking new arrangements of Cutler's songs reinvent them as a colourful riot of Klezmer, Calypso and Indian Ragas to shed vivid light on Cutler's unique form of Zen absurdist music hall.

Elicia Daly makes a poignant Phyllis, while guitarist Ed Gaughan provides an array of comic voices that include Ned Sherrin and Paul McCartney. It is Grierson's remarkably observed study of Cutler however that carries the show as he charmingly and movingly captures his subject's sense of wonder even at his frailest in this most tender and loving of homages to a true genius.

Freckleface Strawberry

Brian Cox Studio, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

So, here's a double first: the Scottish premiere of Freckleface Strawberry the Musical - and Scottish Youth Theatre's first ever go at an all-singing, all-dancing musical show. And it's a delight, a lovely whole-hearted tonic of a production that would surely delight the creator of the Freckleface Strawberry books, screen star Julianne Moore (who sent the company a hand-written "best wishes" card, by the way).

Everything is hoop-di-do in young Strawberry's life until schoolmates decide to tease her about her freckles, freckles everywhere.

All joy departs, her existence is blighted and though her nightmare miseries are the cue for hilarious episodes - the Mafiosi Freckle family is a ring-a-ding take on the Godfather via Bugsy Malone - there's a serious point being made about "difference" and just being yourself, because we're all different in some way.

Designer Finlay McLay has merrily echoed that theme by having spots dance before our eyes - the rainbow-bright costumes are a riot of polka-dots, but no two outfits are exactly the same. The set is a minimal strawberry-stippled wall with advent-calendar openings.

This leaves the floor clear for the teenage company to make the most of Gary Kupper's bright and breezy score and lyrics, which they do with a zest and sincerity as funny, yet as affecting, as Strawberry's journey to self-acceptance.

If Katee McCulloch claims centre spot as a feisty but vulnerable Strawberry, she is backed by an impressively versatile band of players who double (and treble) roles with elan. Now, Ms Moore - forget freckles, what about age spots?

Runs until April 21 (not Mon 14).

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