Critical Feedback

From local to national, the press have had their say concerning An Audience With… and the conclusion? They adore us! Not only with some glowing five star reviews, but an active interest in the lives of the women and the impact Variety Theatre has played. Here are some reviews, articles and snippets of some of the coverage.

Variety is spice of life for dance trio

Steve Hendry – Sunday Mail

Age has not stopped Marie Duthie, June Don Murray and Doreen Leighton-Ward dancing and they will be hoofing on stage at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.

They will appear in An Audience With… at the theatre on October 21, 26 and 28 as part of the Luminate Festival of Creative ageing. The live events take place in the Festival Theatre’s Empire Rooms as six dancers, from three generations share their dancing lives, past, present, and future.

Janice Said: These women have never stopped dancing. They have so much skill, knowledge, and passion. True forces of nature. For a year we have been working a day a week...

We have two young dancers in their 20s, Katie Miller and Daisy Douglas, who are learning technique from Marie, June and Doreen. “They are also learning about the life of these women and its relevance and contribution to dance now. I long to give relevance to older women dancing, to their continuing possibilities and to the stories out bodies tell. There is so much to share.

“At the peak of their careers, Variety dancers were unnamed. Some weeks they did 13 shows and travelled to the next with costumes and the occasional dog and kangaroo., on their day ‘off”.

‘An Audience With… is a way to share the energy and vivacity of these dancers. We dance. We Talk. We think about what it feels like to not be able to do what you once could, and what it means to do it differently”.

Marie, born in 1923, trained in Edinburgh. She said; “I’ve danced from the word go. My mother used to say whenever there was any music on, I was twitching and moving. I feel so at home the minute I put my tap shoes on”.

June, who moved to Edinburgh aged three, performed across the UK with the Adaline Calder Girls, the Hamish Turner Dancer, and the Moxon Girls. Doreen became a Calder girl age 15 then was head girl with the Hamish Turner Troupe. They all love being part of An Audience With…

Doreen said: “I’ve a renewed sense of worth in the work we did 65 years ago. This is exciting, heady stuff.”

An Audience With… – Festival Theatre

Lauren Humphreys – Reviews Hub

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A more life-affirming, moving and ultimately inspiring “happening” (in the words of the performers), you are unlikely to experience than An Audience With… Created after choreographer and dance-maker Janice Parker put a call out to dancers from the Variety era who had performed on the stage of the Empire (now Festival) Theatre in Edinburgh. Answering that call from Parker were: Marie Duthie (94), June Don Murray (90) and Doreen Leighton-Ward (85), all seasoned stars of the Variety stage.

Their rich lives and legacy are the core of this promenade performance. And oh, what lives they’ve lived. Their memories of the golden age of Scottish variety are a glimpse into an almost lost world.

June Don Murray still shows the spark that served her so well as a performer. Born into a family of performers and theatre managers (one of her father’s illustrations adorns the walls of the performance space, an illustration that the theatre knew no backstory to, until June herself spotted it), she takes us through our paces in a dance lesson, performs a dying swan ballet sequence and recounts some of the hair-raising feats she performed. Along with being a Moxon Girl, Scotland’s answer to the Tiller Girls, June was Australian illusionist The Great Levante’s assistant and was shot out of a cannon into a basket in the gallery of the theatre on a nightly basis.

Doreen Leighton-Ward as well as being acclaimed for her dancing skills, organised a strike to obtain a pay rise and better contracts and conditions for Scottish dancers. An act that led one spiteful theatre manager to sack her, however, this quiet, but strong woman, expresses no regrets.

Marie Duthie née Pyper, began her dancing career as a toddler at her father’s amateur concert parties. In 1932, at the age of 9, she performed the dying swan solo and Edinburgh’s Evening Dispatch newspaper said, “memories of Pavlova are brought to mind”. By 1940 she toured the country with The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita and in 1942 became one half of The Raymond Sisters, extensively touring the UK on the renowned Moss Empire Circuit, ending the act in a mini kilt singing and tap dancing to Macphersin’ is Rehearsin’ to Swing.

We are led through the private corridors and side rooms of the theatre, experiencing different aspects of these remarkable women’s careers. They are joined by two more generations of dancers, creator Janice Parker, and two young dancers, Daisy Douglas and Katie Miller, whom the women are teaching to tap dance.

These women have never stopped dancing, and to this day are still passing on their techniques and wisdom to a new generation of dancers. Their legacy too, is getting the recognition it deserves with a book and film due next year.

Celebratory, moving and inspirational in turn, the joy in the room is palpable. The enthusiasm they transmit for dance is measured by the scrum to don tap shoes and take part in a lesson at the end. This life-affirming production proves that love for, and participation in dance, has no age limit, it will leave you with a song in your heart and wings on your heels. Truly joyous.

An Audience With…

Kely Apter – The List

Rating: 4 out of 5.

oung and old unite through a love of dance in this beautiful celebration of theatrical history

The walls of the Festival Theatre’s Empire Rooms are lined with history. Frame upon frame of photos and playbills depict artists who trod the boards here, long before most people who use these rooms for drinks receptions and workshops were even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. But not today.

Today those playbills are coming alive in the form of three incredible women who performed at the Festival Theatre (then Empire Theatre) during the golden age of variety. Aged 94, 90 and 85 respectively, Marie Duthie, June Don Murray and Doreen Leighton-Ward toured the UK in countless shows and, thanks to choreographer Janice Parker, are facing an audience once again.

The three women have been working with Parker once a week for a year, funded by the Life Changes Trust’s Dementia programme. But, as Parker says with a smile as she guides us into the performance space – ‘the only “D” word we use here, is “Dancing”.’

And dance they do, whether it’s up on their feet (Doreen, the 85-year-old spring chicken of the trio), sitting down on a chair with a portable tap mat or balanced at a ballet barre (June, the witty 90-year-old) or filmed (Marie, the 94-year-old hoofer, still light on her feet, but recovering from a hip operation, so not performing in person today).

Katie Miller and Daisy Douglas, two dancers in their 20s, are also part of the line-up – learning from those who went before them, and adding their own youthful energy to the room.

Stand-out moments, in an hour of funny, engaging and life-affirming dance, include Don Murray’s heart-rending ‘Dying Swan’ at the barre, and Miller dancing a solo once performed by Leighton-Ward at Leith’s former Gaiety Theatre in the 1950s. Leighton-Ward joins in on the bits she still can – and each woman’s rendition is beautiful in its own distinct way.

But it’s the stories as much as the dancing that matter here: a photo of Leighton-Ward from The Scotsman in 1953, showing her at an Equity meeting in Edinburgh, requesting better pay for dancers; Don Murray pointing to a poster on the wall, expertly drawn by her theatre-manager father ‘with soot from the fireplace’; and Parker holding a playbill from 27 November 1944, announcing that The Raymond Sisters would be playing the Empire Theatre that night – then pointing to Duthie, who was one of those sisters.

A book and film of An Audience With … is scheduled for spring 2018, and while there’s nothing like sharing a space with these women in person, both of those outputs are likely to be just as fascinating and moving as this.

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