Feb 9-Mar 2, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Tramway is one of coolest theatrical venues – a hanger of a space, which retains an excellent sense of intimacy. I was looking forward to watching The Dark Carnival there, a co-production between The Citizens Theatre & the Dundee Rep. It certainly looks fantastic, & sounds completely amazing thanks to the ethereal voice of band-leader Biff Smith. But substance-wise there’s a major flaw.
Writer Matthew Lenton chose to put most of the script into not very good verse, in fact towards the end he admitted through the mouth of one of his characters it was doggerel. So you have a bunch of talented actors chained by having to deliver weak verse, completely restraining their ability to perform. Natalie McCleary, an angel, did employ her lines with a certain rhapsodic quality – I suspect she’s a poet herself – but the others, like I said, were unfortunately held captive by this still-born script. Apart from when we heard ‘Lazarus’ rhyming with ‘hazardous’ – that was quite clever.
So what is the Dark Carnival – well imagine the recent marvellous animated Coco film about the colourful afterlife of the Mexicans. Well, this is a bit like that, but a bit less lively, a lot more morose & a tad more burlesque. The idea is we are all Necropolitans in the waiting room for Dis, our Sibyl being the chief narrator, Elicia Daly. The set is absolutely marvellous, with coffins stack’d higgledy-piggledy, around which the extensive band led by Biff Smith is draped. Above them all is a graveyard, detached & lucidly lit, in which the action of ‘The Still Living’ takes places, with some interaction with those downstairs.
At the final count, it just wasn’t that interesting, like a paddling pool for those who cannot handle a complex narrative. The Dark Carnival was definitely NOT Virgil, nor Dante, taking our psyches to the Underworld! As an immersive experience, however, it was actually quite good; a work of aesthetic beauty, while the addictive, scruffy-puppy music hit like a well-timed xanax to help push the 1 hour & 40 minutes to the finish.
Damian Beeson Bullen
After a wee sabbatical into the lands of motherhood, Stacey Leilua is back doing what she loves – acting in quality productions…
Hello Stacey, first things first, can you tell me what you got for Christmas?
Unlucky – so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I was born and raised in Auckland, NZ – and that’s also where I am now
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Fifteen years old, taking drama as a subject in high school.
Can you tell us about your training?
I studied at the UNITEC school of performing and screen arts, and graduated with a bachelor of performing and screen arts, majoring in Acting.
I hear you’ve recently had a wee baby girl – congratulations. How are you finding juggling early motherhood with your return to the stage?
Oh, she’s nearly 4 so we’ve moved out of the early motherhood stage…but it’s definitely still a juggle, finding the energy reserves to fulfill the role in Wild Dogs as well as be a Mum. There’s no down time.
Having appeared in short films such as To’ona’i (2010), and Tatau (2012), what for you is the chief difference between celuloid & the stage?
The only difference for me is in technique. But your first job as an actor is to serve the story.. that doesn’t change.
You are acting in a play at this year’s Auckland Festival with Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. How did you get involved in the project?
Anapela brought me on board in 2016 for the first season in its new form featuring 6 women.
Has Tusiata Avia been involved at all with your dramatization of her work?
She has been to some rehearsals, and seen performances. She’s very precise about her words and how they’re delivered, so she passes notes through Anapela if they come up. We often will skype her before an opening night, and always feel her presence through the text.
Do you & the ladies socialise out with rehearsals?
I can’t speak for the ladies but between working on the show, and Mum life. I don’t have any energy for socialising!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Aukland, what would you say?
Wild Dogs under my Skirt encompasses the Pasefika female experience – in its many forms. It is heart wrenching and confronting, but also beautifully sensual and funny. Come and watch it!!
What will you be doing after the Auckland Festival?
Catching up on sleep!!
Photography: Head shot, Toaki Okano / Action shots, Matt Grace
Q Theatre (Rangatira)
Mon – Fri: 7pm / Sat: 1pm and 7pm
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 18-23, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Glorious colours lit up the stage as we arrived at the Venue in the Oran Mor; it all looked very plush. This was the second production in Oran Mor’s celebration season, a welcome return of Douglas Maxwell’s hilarious one-act play, A Respectable Widow takes to Vulgarity, last seen here in 2013 and just as funny the second time around.
The two characters couldn’t have been more different – the well dressed, middle class Annabelle Love (Anne Kidd) and her endearing, if uncouth, counterpart, Jim Dick (Craig McLean). From the moment when the hapless Jim opens his mouth and utters his first swear word, the whole room was shaking with laughter at the sheer incongruousness of the conversation. Easy and effective comedy, and yet also an effective tool for the writer to examine the polar opposition of their lives.
A warmth grows between the pair as Jim’s guttural language reveals his origins and his outlook on life, and the widow strives to emulate him, in turn revealing truths about herself and her late husband’s origins. She finds the foul language somehow liberating and increasingly throws caution to the winds as she tells the young man her intimate secrets and discusses the meaning of the words being uttered, much to his astonishment – his face was a picture! But perhaps the point was that intimacy could grow between this unlikely pair of human beings even though there might at first seem to be no connection between them.
Make no mistake, the swear words made you blush, and yet the audience loved it and lapped it up. Annabelle Love (a dream of a name!) used them as an inquiry into life, pushing against its boundaries, finding a new freedom. Alongside her was the perfect protagonist who was able to explain relevance of the words as he also insisted upon using them. Their conversation became an insight into reality.
And as they screamed out expletives to the world, so their stories unfolded and their bonding grew. Annabelle expressing her hurt at the loss of her husband and Jim also reflecting on missing his dear father. There was something touching in the way the language brought them together to express their inner feelings, perhaps for the first time. Their moments of silence brought the room to a perfect hush.
You come away from this play feeling deeply moved and with a new interest in brushing away the barriers that separate us so that we can recognise our common humanity. Enthralling.
Feb 14-23: Joan Knight Studio, Perth
Feb 27 – Mar 2: The Tron, Glasgow
Mar 6-9: Festival Studio, Edinburgh
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Me & the wife love going to Perth to sample the ‘Horsecross’ contribution to the Scottish cultural landscape. Its a pleasant, unbusy evening’s drive from East Lothian & over the Bridges, where Perth’s shabby chic, warm & welcoming Venue eaterie has just started a new menu. Scottish Tapas. While tucking into our Ceasar Salad with Halloumi, & Tempura Broccoli, we were informed by the staff that David from the Gin Bar had watch’d Miss Julie & had developed a strong opinion on the piece.
Take an old foreign play, take a funky young debut director, see what you get. This, then, would be something like the season-opening Miss Julie from Horsecross Arts. First staged in Stockholm in 1888, writer August Strindberg whisks us to the estate of a Swedish Count – in whose ‘cat-is-away’ absence the drama unfolds. Adapted for the English language by Zinnie Harris, the setting fast-forwards to 1920s Scotland, & the middle of the General Strike. The next link in the chain was director, Shilpa T-Hyland, last year’s first ever recipient of Perth Theatre’s Cross Trust Young Director Award. To Shilpa, Miss Julie is, “a fantastic adaptation which really resonates for me with contemporary issues of intersectional conversation and the moments where we fail to reach each other.”
The Joan Knight studio theatre in Perth is a cubic delight, with a stage deep & wide enough to host quality productions. The play we saw there last night has only three characters – archetypically The Maid, The Butler & The Mistress. The action is wholly set in the working scullery of a stately home, into which struts a drunken Miss Julie – there is a party happening upstairs – to flirt with the butler, John, who has already been flirting massively with Christine, the maid. This, then, is the chief wormhole of the play; the creation, attraction & resolution of the chemistry between a count’s daughter & his chief servant.
I found Miss Julie an unusual piece to judge, it had as many merits as faults; intimations of genius, expressions of vaudevillian amateurism. As a spectacle it was perfectly watchable, there wasn’t a skipped beat for the full ninety minutes, & the idea – when class struggle is subsumed by sexual desire – was entirely engaging. Objectively we were never bored. But the ‘performance’ could have been done better, & when I say performance I mean that of the original playwright & his modern-day adaptor. We are not an 1888 audience.
As for the actors, on her third return to Perth, the ever-charismatic Helen Mackay as Christine was fastidiously wonderful. Beside her, Lorn MacDonald’s smooth-talking, slick-set John was bristling with talent, & together they were scintillating – Scottish theatre at its very best. Alas, Hiftu Quasem was a little too dry, a little too rushed, a little too unbelievable for her part. She was supposed to be playing a sultry, kinky, upper-class psycho, but the steaminess was less boiling kettle & more simmering saucepan. When there are only three characters, a play balances on a tripod, & with one unsteady leg the whole thing may simply collapse.
The whole third scene was like a boxing match, in which Julie & John – a soul-consuming love cloud hanging over their heads – exchanged blows from a constantly flipping emotional high ground. Without any dramatic pauses whatsoever. Then the line, “we have gone through in one night what married couples go through in 30 years,” popped out into the play to titters from the audience. I mulled on it for a moment & then realised that the whole 20 minutes may have been built around that entire gag. In reality, the entire scene was practically needless, or better for being heavily condensed, & I tend to feel that without it the play would have been much improved.
A confused & convoluted affair, like classical Roman theatre, I found Miss Julie sometimes skyrocketingly brilliant, sometimes pitilessly pithy, sometimes hysterically melodramatic. It seems Miss Julie may have lost something in the translation.
Damian Beeson Bullen
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
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.