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Master Class

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Life and art are pretty much inseparable in Terrence McNally’s epic
homage to Maria Callas, who, as the grandest of operatic divas, put
herself through the emotional wringer enough both onstage and off to
become a pop art icon. Using the neat conceit of Callas giving a public
masterclass to a trio of students at New York’s great Juilliard School
in New York in 1972, McNally allows the real life audience to get up
close and personal to a surprisingly playful if past her best and
unsentimentally caustic Callas. In this way, Callas is allowed to
indulge in her own personal reveries to lay bare the agonies of what
made her such a great artist.

Any production of McNally’s play requires a lead actress as formidable
as it’s subject to make it live, and Jonathan Church’s puts a larger
than life Stephanie Beacham in the frame to give what may well be the
performance of her life. As she puts the succession of wannabes through
their paces, Beacham struts the stage like she owns it, moving from
wisecracking camp to the highest of romantic tragedies in a heartbeat.
“This isn’t about me,” she insists to us as she enters, but, as a
torrent of words tumble from her lips as she moves through her affair
with Aristotle Onassis and all her girlish insecurities that contrast
so starkly with the force of nature she becomes in the spotlight, of
course it is.

As Beacham unfurls her subject’s anguish, her words are underscored by
recordings of the real Callas, who herself graced the Kings stage in
1957. It’s as spine-tinglingly thrilling to hear today as it
undoubtedly was then.

The Herald, February 10th 2011

ends

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