Theatre reviews: He Who Opens the Door | The Cher Show

A new play set in contemporary Ukraine is finely balanced between black humour and nightmare horror, while a Cher tribute musical offers a powerful dramatic account of the singer’s life story. Reviews by Joyce McMillan

He Who Opens The Door, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

The Cher Show, King’s Theatre, Glasgow ****

Amid all the agonies besetting Ukraine, one thing that never seems to fail is the creativity and humour of its people. Neda Nezhdana’s new play He Who Opens The Door, which opened at A Play, A Pie And A Pint in Glasgow last week and tours on to Edinburgh and Aberdeen, is an extraordinary drama set in Ukraine right now.

The Cher ShowThe Cher Show
The Cher Show

The action plays out, with bitterly dark humour, in the office of an underground mortuary, where tired worker Vera is getting on with the paperwork when it suddenly becomes clear that one of the dead, Vika, is not quite as dead as she should be.

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Vera naturally faints at the sight of Vika; and so begins a thrilling 50-minute dialogue in which the two women seem trapped together not only in their underground bunker but in a wartime limbo between life and death, where all the potential horrors of their fate – nuclear war, abandonment, rape and torture by advancing enemy forces – race through their minds. As a metaphor for the position of the people of Ukraine, and particularly its women, this image could hardly be more powerful.

Becky Hope-Palmer’s thoughtful production, with superb performances from Louise Stewart and Yolanda Mitchell, succeeds brilliantly in striking the play’s balance between nightmare horror and black-as-black-coffee humour.

In the end, it’s clear that in Nezhdana’s world, death is not necessarily the worst option, even for young women like Vera and Vika; and that is a chilling thought.

If Vera and Vika are left wondering about the possibilities of life after death, Cher is the woman who, at a key moment in her mighty musical career, had the nerve to sing out her fears about whether there is life after love; and the UK production of The Cher Show – a tribute musical written by Rick Elice and directed by Arlene Phillips – offers a powerful dramatic account of the life story that brought her to that point, and beyond.

Staged on a glamorous and flexible open set by Tom Rogers – flanked by two great pillars of faceless Cher wig stands – the show uses three different Chers, known as Babe, Lady and Star, to cover the story of her remarkable life, from a poor upbringing in 1940s California with her single mother Georgia, through her early 60s marriage to Sonny Bono and rise to global fame, to the huge professional and personal crises that followed the break-up of their relationship, and her eventual emergence as a formidable independent artist and businesswoman, and 70-something goddess of pop.

As played by the magnificent trio of Millie O’Connell, Danielle Steers and the wonderful Debbie Kurup, each of these three Chers succeeds in capturing the mix of blazing talent and unruly strangeness that has characterised every step of Cher’s remarkable career.

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The songs are terrific, from I’ve Got You Babe to If I Could Turn Back Time, the supporting dance ensemble are brilliant and versatile; and there’s perfectly pitched support from Lucas Rush as Sonny, the man who undoubtedly helped to make Cher but from whose controlling grip she had to escape, to become the woman she is today.

He Who Opens The Door is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 4-8 October and at the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 11-15 October. The Cher Show is at His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, 4-8 October and at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 11-15 October.