An Audience With . . . (4 stars)

Dance review – An Audience With . . .

Young 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.

Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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