A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasg
February 11-16, 2019
It was exciting to be back at Oran Mor for their new season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint. Especially as this year they will be celebrating their 500th production since the whole thing started 15 years ago in 2004. The year got off to a flying start with a revival of Liz Lochead’s wild Lowland Scots version of Moliere’s 17th century comedy masterpiece, Tartuffe. We got an inkling of what we were in for when the lights went up and showed us a solitary figure, a cleaner with a yellow bow in her hair and a broad Glaswegian accent.
Centre-stage was a table whose red and white covering mirrored the floral wallpaper that decorated the room – a domestic setting. The four characters, played by Nicola Roy, Andy Clark, Gabriel Quigley and Grant O’Rourke, used the table to great effect as they danced around it using the words of the dialogue as weapons to deliver the plot, directly to each other and just as directly to the audience – a move that had great thigh slapping potential.
The costumes had a vaguely 19th century feel and conveyed a certain distinguished quality of a prosperous household. With the wife definitely ruling the roost, as we can see in her encounters with both her husband and the disgraced priest, as she sees her husband being taken in by the treacherous visitor and offering him hospitality, while not seeing that he is trying to pursue both his wife and his daughter. Though the wife can see everything and remains in command of herself and them.
This outrageous tale seems as relevant today as it was 400 years ago, concerning the sort of big moral questions we are still asked today, concerning love and treachery and honour. No less true for being told farcically in rhyming verse that had the audience in stitches throughout, even when the two male characters reached the extremes of desperation, shouting at each other. The priest in particular ended up praying and begging on his knees. His desperation should have had us in tears but instead there was laughter; even when he whipped off his belt and pretend to berate himself with it.
This was an hour that just flew by in a flurry of sharp delivery and deep truths, moving at speed from one character’s perspective to the next as the vicious story unfolded. We were picked up all unawares and invited to take a look at the circumstance all turned with gorgeous craft into a play with depth of story as well as character. And at the end of the emotional journey, we come, with great satisfaction, to some kind of universal truth – shouted, not whispered!
West Yorkshire Playhouse
February 8-16, 2019
Random is a solo drama, written by Debbie Tucker Green for a solo female performer. It was originally performed in 2008 and later adapted into a BAFTA winning drama for Channel 4. This production was directed by Gbolahan Obisesan and stars Kiza Deen in the roles of Sister, Brother, Mother, Father and many other supporting characters.
The first thing that catches the eye is the rather striking set – a backdrop of haphazardly stacked chairs that evoke both the title of the play and that neatly visualises the idea of a household turned upside down. Hidden amongst the chaos are odd anchors of normality – a fridge and some school lockers. As the play begins with undercurrents of foreboding that bubble beneath the bright and lively dialogue, the starkly lit stacks of furniture are a threat of looming chaos over the family as they otherwise blissfully head into what is destined to be a catastrophic day.
The story begins with Sister’s reluctant conversation with her alarm clock. As she gets ready for work, she keeps a running track of time that continues throughout the entire play, providing an increasingly urgent momentum. The script provides small but vivid and relatable details of mundane family life – the stench of Brother’s bedroom, an argument about burnt porridge, Mother’s disdain of her children’s inappropriate dress sense, the preparation of unpleasantly sweet tea for some unwanted visitors. A seam of gentle humour runs throughout the dialogue as Deen addresses the audience directly, drawing them into the events as they unfold, who become unwitting members of the extended family group. The entire audience was alive with ripples of laughter in reaction to her engaging and lively performance.
The dialogue itself is certainly the play’s strongest asset – each member of the family speaks with their own distinct rhythms, their own language. Mother has a thick Caribbean twang, Father is gruff monosyllabic, Sister is sassy and confrontational and Brother is cocky and disarmingly charming. Deen’s delivery and performance sells each individual character as she bounds across the stage one moment as Brother and then freezes into the stiff and guarded Father. The dialogue has a real poetic quality, breaking out at times into almost-verse, transitioning between more formal soliloquies and conversational dialogue between the family members and the audience.
For a solo performance, rapidly switching between characters is a hugely demanding task and Deen mostly sticks the landing here. The main distinctions between the characters lie in the shifts of tone and dialect, propped by with subtle shifts in body language. These distinctions are more pronounced as moves energetically across the stage, however the lines are far more blurred during intimate and static moments and can cause at times a certain confusion as to which character we are hearing.
The lively opening act is brought to a jarring halt as the titular random act of violence throws the family into crisis. The tone of the performance shifts into more muted territory, the humour becomes either bitter or non existent and the interplay with the audience cuts away, leaving the auditorium buried in a thick silence that conveys just as much as the dialogue. Throughout the performance, the lighting is barely perceptible yet thoroughly effective, taking the space through the various times of day – it starts in the darkness of pre dawn, then shifts subtly to the light of a cold yet sunny day and then brings it round back full circle to the darkness of night, a darkness that has consumed and inevitably changed a family that was only an hour before comically arguing over breakfast.
Given the striking nature of the scenery, it felt starkly distant from the action on stage and despite some perfunctory use of the lockers, it had potential to lend itself more fully to the performance and create a more intimate picture of a family home and a surreal depiction of a family home torn asunder by tragedy. That said, any quibbles are minor and the silence that descended in the final moments of the performance were testament to the play’s true power. The story comes round full circle with a solitary character sitting with their back against a wall, simultaneously ruminating on how much has changed and raging in denial of this very change. Where once warm laughter had been heard around the room, this were replaced with tears.
Random provides the stark personal context of knife crime, something that is all too often reduced to a statistic. This play is anything but random in its careful, precise and powerful detailing of how these statistics affect real lives.
The Tron Theatre
February 7-9, 2019
The Tron’s Changing House studio theatre is a delectable wee space, a smaller version of the main affair, compact & cosy but intimate & intelligent. Also compact & intelligent is twenty-seven year-old Katy Dye, whose remarkable contribution to the modern theatrical arts, Baby Face, is based upon her, well, baby face & her delicate, butterfly physique. Katy’s character is also call’d Katy, & thus we enter the passive-aggressive insanity of her self-portrayal more as family members than audience.
Katy takes us thro’ a snapshot retropsective of her earliest years – from yelling baby to horny schoolgirl – blending discombobulating ballet with the most snappiest & effective of scripts. This is vivid theatre that makes the pulse burst with rawness – encapsulating the core of the paradox of living in a society which continues to infantalise women. As Katy came on to a male audience member sat next to his wife, it was nerve-janglingly awkward, yes, but also a crucial head-out-of-the-sand moment for us all. This is a strange thought-haunted world in which we live, with all its its creaks & bangs & psychic torments.
The show pendulums twyx the fragile fun of quirky cabaret to moments of extreme – tho’ at the same time highly riveting – unpleasantness. There is also a garish sexuality underpinning everything. Each scene is cleverly wrought, with Katy unafraid to slip to her underwear to perform costume changes! Her stage persona is a seething cauldron of moving physicality, quite acrobatic bends & twists; perhaps meant to represent the chaos of a young lassie growing up & going supernova with her hormones.
To experience Baby Face is to be the jaw-gaping anvil upon which Katy’s effervescent hammer pounds her psychic blows. A highly polished, thought-provoking, & brutally honest piece, which left last year’s Edinburgh Fringe gobsmack’d, & continues to hold our attention.
Damian Beeson Bullen
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 26th – Dec 29th
Hello there from the 2018 panto at the Oran Mor, Merry Christmas! Is there anything better than seeing a panto? Loudly planted on a tiny stage, the set looked very cute with lively colours and characters. This year’s show was sold out and the bustle of the crowd was loud as they took their seats and enjoyed their food. Four of those familiar panto characters were to take to the stage including the traditional man in a woman’s costume, Dame Beanie Bumpherton (Dave Anderson, Empress Evil-yin, the baddie (Maureen Carr), Handsome Jack, the hero (John Kielty) and Ravishing Rosie, the female heart throb (Hannah Howie) all of whom were up for making a huge joke of themselves, the plot and anything else that came to mind.
All the classics elements of panto were covered – “oh yes they were!” – with the cast enjoining us “Boys and Girls” to greater and greater efforts as, egged on by them, we cheered, booed and hissed our way through the performance. Whenever they burst into song, which was whenever they felt like it, served to further raise the room into something resembling a frenzy. The plot really came alive when Handsome Jack introduced the Empress and she tyrannically declared that singing would no longer be allowed and that there would be a prison sentence for anyone caught singing. As music and singing are basically the heart of panto, her subjects were not happy to say the least.
With the plot fondly set in Glasgow, author Morag Fullerton had managed to cram in plenty of local name drops and hilarious topical references, all in best panto tradition, with all of the cast taking the p*ss from a great height. In particular, I have to mention Dave Anderson as the Dame, who perfectly balanced his place in the plot with a sort of ongoing stand-up act which was performed as if he didn’t know he was a man dressed as a woman. The sharpness of wit – and rudeness of language – had a genuine appeal to the adult audience, which was something we could have expected from the sardonic title “The lying bitch and the wardrobe” – makes you smile, right?
The title was finally explained when it came to light that Empress Evil-yin had a dark secret hidden in there – a nemesis in the shape of the one song that would tear her powers asunder. The story unfolded and the plot thickened, with the people of the town afraid to sing a note for fear of what the wicked Empress might do to them. A few timely costume changes later, Handsome Jack and Ravishing Rosie finally broke into Evil-lyn’s house and discovered the one song hidden in the wardrobe, whereupon her power was destroyed and she was defeated, hooray!
In the end all was forgiven with the Empress even joined in the singing as the audience bade farewell to each character in turn. This turned into a big chaotic singalong that we repeated umpteen times till we got it just right. Then they left us with a big cheerio and a big cheer and applause from an audience full of smiling happy faces.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 19th – Nov 24th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The set caught our attention immediately, with two well-turned beds with tartan drapes hanging above each. There was a Christmas twist to the show, as the two protagonists stood singing a comedic song wearing red leotards and black frilly skirts. Sandy (Julie Coombe) and Rose (Libby McArthur), otherwise known as the Heatherbelles, were twins who worked as entertainers on cruise ships, singing and dancing their way around the globe, though for once about to spend Christmas on dry land.
Singing ‘Donald where’s your troosers’, a famous – and rather righteous – song in the eyes of Scottish culture, the two proudly proclaimed their right to be Scottish. In fact their verve for Scotland put other places down for not being Scottish and hinted at what really made a Scot. This worked later as a cornerstone of the play when information provided from DNA tests reveals that the two are in fact far from being from the singular culture of Scotland. For the moment, their Scottishness was emphasised by their strong, full-on Glaswegian accents, delivering the messages with gusto and pride. Having set the scene, they pulled the focus around and began to reminisce with each other as they put their dressing gowns on.
With a touch of panto, the girls plucked random items from their suitcase – old clothes, a packet of jaffa cakes – using them as props as they really got to grips with their introspections on life, great or small. Sometimes risque, sometimes moving and sometimes just plain funny, the dialogue developed with ever growing certainty, camaraderie and intimacy, touching the audience who were busy laughing at the plethora of jokes, intertwined with many touching moments. Songs such as Paul McCartney’s ‘Mull of Kintyre’ and ‘We are sailing’ by Rod Stewart illustrated the story, portraying pain, celebration and, crucially, to entertain. In the midst of this quick fire, wide ranging patter, they would repeatedly mention KD Lang whose fight for acceptance as a lesbian became a metaphor for other causes fighting for acceptance in the mainstream.
As to the question of nationality, a realisation started to dawn that the platform of being Scottish relied upon the idea of having always lived in the place and may not have been as vivid as they had at first thought. Being on a boat at sea may have had something to do with this growing uncertainty and the story takes a twist where we are asked to join in and question ourselves in a special, at times painful way, all portrayed in a very light hearted manner. Rose repeatedly stated that their unknown father could in fact possibly be Prince Philip himself. It was rather sad to see her reason like that, but it was also a great joke.
There was a shout from the character Gordon (Mark McDonnell) who only graced the stage for a moment, acting as an anchor and a balance from the point of view of being outlandishly loud, ever complaining about his backside at sea. The tragically theatrical side of the play was confirmed with a recorded message about their mother that kept getting cut off. But we found out from Rose that they had in fact been let go from the cruise because she punched someone who was standing in her way, a fact that she was rather proud of.
In the end, Rose smartened herself up, coming clean that she didn’t really think that Prince Phillip could be her father, that she in was in fact a self-reflecting person, rather than a delusional one. And then, when the final devastating news comes through (I’m not going to spoil it for you by giving it away), the whole play culminates in the realisation at the heart of their story that sometimes the truth is too sore,
I found Lynn Ferguson’s play a wonderful, endearing examination of human strength in the face of potential heartache. There were insights into how to deal with sadness, portrayed through the tender care shared between two loving sisters. Plenty of twists and turns and a message that would break the heart of any onlooker, all masterly done in a cheerful, positive and sympathetic way.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 12th – Nov 17th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
A projection of the book ‘Oscar Slater – the trial that shamed a city’ served both as a surreal backdrop and an introduction to Stuart Hepburn’s production, telling the story of a shameful episode in the City’s history which saw Oscar Slater, a German Jew, found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. The story unfolds, narrated by the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, played by the familiar actor Ron Donachie, and it becomes clear that Conan Doyle himself took a great interest in the case and had been instrumental in uncovering the injustice done to Slater, played by Kevin Lennon.
The dialogue sets out for us the grim facts of the case; how 83 year old Marion Gilchrist (played by Ashley Smith) was brutally murdered for a diamond brooch on 21 December 1908. The crime spelled disaster for Oscar who was quickly identified as the likely culprit on the flimsiest of evidence. The drama was intense and moving, but not without its moments of humour, as it portrayed the turmoil of the trial and Oscar’s death sentence, later commuted to hard labour. We were brought close to tears as the dead woman took to the stage and gave her testimony from the grave, she being the closest witness.
But Sir Arthur, our narrator, used his Sherlock-Holmes-like powers of deduction to show that the evidence of the detectives in the case did not stand up to scrutiny, and that the conviction was more to do with prejudice against the foreigner than any real evidence. As he listened to the conflicting accounts of detectives and so-called witnesses, he would feign tiredness, with sad music playing in the background, and echoing the feelings of Oscar, locked away in prison for all of 20 years with his hopes sometimes being raised only to be cruelly dashed again by yet another seemingly outlandish official obstacle.
This production leaves you with a feeling of abhorrence and shame. The moments of silence only heightening the sense of shame, taking us to a place where for one to be ashamed is for all to be ashamed. We have to ask ourselves who is ultimately responsible when it comes to questions of guilt and innocent. Who will accept responsibilities far beyond the call of duty in order for the truth to win through in the end.
Big ideas, big questions, sharp and careful reasoning, all on show at the Oran Mor. A play that faced you with something that really mattered and didn’t allow you to turn away.
Until Saturday 10th November
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Viewing this play was a first on two fronts – the first time I had seen a live radio play and the first time I had seen a piece of work addressing Indian Partition. I was wary that I may be in for a lecture and with the stage left to the bare bones set of microphones and a table with sound effects equipment there would be no-where to hide from it’s preachy tones. Yet I need not have feared for ‘Partition’ addressed complex issues with a light touch. As a play it emphasised the humour of its situation whilst not shying away from the historical horrors behind it.
The play started with a collage of crackly recorded voices from the past as politicians, activists and royalty spoke of the fateful date when the Indian subcontinent was split in two and divided into India and Pakistan. Underneath the mix was the ghostly echo of a news bulletin unfurling the events. Then we were upended by a crying woman calling out to someone – her boyfriend, husband, father. It was all far from clear. The play started out in this rather jumpy way which felt initially quite jarring. I struggled to tell who the characters were or how they related to each other. This wasn’t helped by the novelty – to myself at least – of having different characters in the same costume playing multiple characters in quick succession, and with no stage props or scene changes to help guide me. Soon however the play seemed to settle into itself and I became accustomed to the nature of the radio play set up.
In fact the nature of how the play was staged often emphasised the skills of the actors involved. The actors were able to convey their different characters through acts as simple as taking off a hat or adjusting a scarf and at times seemed to physically embody their differing roles beautifully. All the actors were worthy of praise in this regard but special credit should go to Sushil Chudasama whose performances of both the energetic and playful Rajpal and his reserved Grandfather, Ranjit contrasted beautifully.
At first I was initially put off slightly by the central couple who I found a bit too ordinary to be compelling. The supporting cast of characters seemed bolder and more intriguing and yet I gradually I began to see that the strength of the play was in its every day setting and its gentle humour which rooted it in a provincial Northern landscape which felt both familiar and safe. The cosiness of this setting lent both tension and power to the moments when darker undercurrents were revealed.
The use of sound throughout the play was superb and added a great deal to the piece helping the audience to evoke changes not only in space and time but also in mood. With clever use of sound effects and music we were one minute in the cavernous magnificence of the town hall, the next in a bustling cafe. I found the judicious use of silence also highly effective lending power to moments of already heightened emotion such as the monologues.
Once we learnt of the struggles of the two lovers to bring together their families for their special day the play began to explore the darker undercurrents of the subject and the reasons for these divisions. These moments in which we found out the real life brutalities partition was responsible for were handled with a marked subtlety. In lesser hands these shocking and emotional truths – they are based on real life testimonials – could have jarred badly with the overall tone of the play but here they almost snuck up upon the audience making them all the more moving. We learn not only how events of real life horror can change individuals beyond recognition but how the fear and anger associated with them can be passed down the generations and have repercussions decades later and thousands of miles away from their ground zero.
I found Partition to be both an enjoyable drama full of lively characters and also a very effective tool for the historical and cultural lessons it clearly wished to teach. It’s light touch and affection for the people and places it evoked was its real strength and in this way made the darkness underneath seem all the more potent than any number of more bleak and worthy works could have been.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 5th – Nov 10th
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
As we walked to the downstairs venue at Glasgow’s Oran Mor, the room opened on a stage where written in large red letters was the word LIVE. The guitars and podium were standing by and the room had that very special atmosphere that promised that the hour would indeed be ‘Live’. As a title, ‘We interrupt this programme’ worked in so many ways, as the play swiftly moved from scene to scene. It seemed The DM (Danger Mouse) Collective couldn’t help but make jokes and use sarcasm to deliver their dangerous message.
No topic was off limits; racism, politics, alcoholism: all were thrown at the wall to see what would stick. The interplay between the actors, such as a dialogue ridiculing skin tone segregation, enhanced and sharpening the issues, seeking to make some sense of the seemingly overwhelming concerns that these days stretch over the globe. Not to mention the way we are manipulated by live TV and the media. Everything was challenged with close scrutiny, without fear.
They used many characters to show us that it is only when each voice is heard that meaningful progress can happen. Props and costumes; music and songs were all used with great purpose to build up the pictures and tell the stories. Strong writing, grabbing us by the proverbials with punchy, lively action that confronted us with something that bordered on liberation for the masses…
The scenes worked so well that we forgot that the stage had only one set. And the sense of purpose grew stronger and more focused as the jokes flew by. It was as if they were employing every theatrical device known to man in order to make their point – the only thing missing was a trapeze act or a gorilla suit. Just the use of simple things like the wearing of a certain hat or a bathrobe or a business suit, helped to empty our minds of things that might just be irrelevant, of no real use, and offer instead the bright opinion that our minds matter, despite the ubiquitous machinations of the multimedia.
As I write this review, I am not only writing about the play as a piece of drama, but as a response to the challenges it set me. The company has created a piece of work which encourages the audience to look and really see what’s in front of them, to dig deep for understanding and truth. This drama mastered everything in its path in a way that made us view their subjects both in pieces and as a whole. Power to the people
New company Ja?Theatre are bringing /SYLVIA\ to this year’s border-busting Voila European Theatre Festival for the first time. Witness a historical portrait painting session in 1920s Berlin Etcetera Theatre, Camden; 13/16/18 Nov. We spoke to Dutch director Anne Mulleners……
Hello Anne, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Anne: Hello Mumble. I’m originally from the Netherlands, a town called Nijmegen, which is near the German border on the east side, & now I’m living in Lewisham, South London.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Anne: To be honest I mainly developed a love for the theatre when I moved to England to study a degree in English Literature at the University of Greenwich. In my first year I began to see quite a few theatre pieces through my course, & as a result of seeing these I switched my course in the second year to Drama & English. From that moment it has just developed more & more.
Can you tell us about your training?
Anne: After I graduated I went on to do a masters in Theatre Criticism & Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. From there I’ve been mainly freelancing in assisting & stage management work – to do as much practical work as possible.
Can you tell us about Ja? Theatre?
Anne: Well, we all did the same MA at Central. I found the play – Sylvia – when I was in Paris with our course. I grew interested in putting it on, or at least translating or adapting it. I spoke to Melissa Syverson about this & we began to develop it. At some point we thought why don’t we create a company to put it on as we were both interested in making work & then, after this current configuration of roles, we would like to continue making work which perhaps someone else would direct.
The company seems to have a specific theatrical MO- which is described as ‘overcoming the ever-present dichotomy between British New Writing and ‘European’ Regie theater.’ What is the backstory?
Anne: During our MA we read an article in the Guardian by David Hare which highlighted a Germanic form of theatre in which the director leads a protest & has more powers than maybe the writer. David Hare describes how he finds that this kind of theatre is infesting Britain. We had a discussion about this article & how it was received, & because Melissa is from Norway, & we have both have worked in Europe, & since the article we became struck with both the differences & the similarities, but definitely by the fact that people tend to always separate these things. We became intrigued by making theatre here in Britain that would bridge the gap, utilising & engaging with both traditions.
Do you socialise with the ladies outwith your professional relationship?
Anne: We meet up all the time – & we do try sometimes to do other things & not talk about the company, which proves difficult!
Find out More about Ja? Theatre
You are directing for the company for the first time with /SYLVIA\ /a woman becomes a painting\, at this year’s VOILA festival, can you tell us about the play?
Anne: Its basically a play in which you see the main character being painted in 1920s Berlin. She is a real person, Sylvia Von Harden. You see this painting session & while she narrates her life, she more & more becomes this portrait. It engages with themes of gender, about LGBTQ representation, & its mainly about how we see people – how people can at first be a subject & then become an object.
That is indeed an obscure corner of history – what drew the company to it?
Anne: When I saw the play, I found it a very nice text, on the page its black & red, its a bilingual piece, I never mentioned that, its very niche. The main draw to it was the way the language went from French to German & then German to French – & the colouring was altered with the switch & I thought it a really interesting way of dealing with print. Then it also turned out to be a monologue, & then to be about this fascinating woman in 1920s Berlin, so it all just kept adding & becoming more & more interesting.
How is directing Sylvia coming to you – is it natural or a struggle?
Anne: I would say I’ve obviously had some training & had some ideas to go off – but I did find the first few rehearsals to be really difficult having not done it as much, especially practically. But the more & more I’ve been doing it in rehearsals, & seen what works & what doesn’t, & also with the person in the room & how that goes, I’ve come to understand it & to also enjoy it, which is the main part. Yes, its definitely a struggle, but something that definitely pays off the more I do it.
Thank you Anne, one more question. Have you prepared Sylvia especially for the pan-European Voila Festival?
Anne: No. We were already developing it last year & we even went to the Voila Festival last year & we were like, this is a really great festival, we should apply to this. So we applied this year & were happily accepted. In that sense it wasn’t specifically developed for Voila, but its definitely a really good match. We are interested in the European theatre aspect of our work, & it fits really well with their overall program.
The Etcetera Theatre, Camden