The Rise and Inevitable Fall of Lucas Petit 

Scottish Storytelling Centre

Edinburgh

20th September

Script: four-stars Stagecraft: three-stars   Performance: four-stars

Lucas Petit.jpg

 The Faustian pact is a well trodden road in theatre and art in general but, as a subject I have particular interest in, I am always willing to see a new interpretation. Here we have an ordinary bloke being lead astray by a camp jakey who may or may not be the Great All Mighty. It begins in a light enough vain, instantly recalling the Peter Cook / Dudley Moore classic Bedazzled (thankfully not the awful remake). The music is strong melodically and intelligent, recalling a burlesque or dance-hall feel with a contemporary twist, and the set design is as irreverent as it is creative. Set becoming props, props becoming costumes, all in a superbly imagined 2D cartoon style. So all in all the play is an audio and visual treat (and a particular mention must go to Nicola Sturgeon’s superb cameo). As for the plot we are soon launched into a fast paced adventure and barely have time to breath before our protagonist begins his dark descent. The interesting twist is that it’s God, not the other guy, who’s doing the corrupting this time. Apparently sick of Beelzebub having all the fun.

As the play continues it is fairly evident that the writer has teeth and doesn’t seem to think a great deal of this every man who has been caught up in this divine dual. Every hope of redemption seemingly dashed. The Lego Movie this ain’t. However the cruel wind it blows is a refreshing change from the tepid breeze of many modern productions trying too hard to please. Some of the gags can be a little obvious at times, local and cultural references thrown in all too frequently for a cheap laugh, but over all the writing remains witty and brutally insightful. Though I didn’t agree with many of the stances took by the play and found the comedy a little bit heavy handed at times (not averse as I am to the occasional tepid breeze), with the right audience this play would, and did the night I was there, go down a storm. So if you like your comedy to reassure you that everything’s all right, Lucas Petit might be worth avoiding, but if you’d prefer something with a little more bite then I suggest you seek it out in a town near you.

Reviewer : Steven Vickers

four-stars.png

An Interview with Laura Pasetti

pasettiphoto1.jpg

***

THE MUMBLE – Hi Laura – so can you tell me what ‘A Bench on the Road’ is all about, & what inspired you to create a play about it

LAURA – The play explore 100 years of Italian immigration in Scotland from the women’s perspective. Narrations, music and physical theatre give voice to many women that between 1850 and 1950 left Italy in search of a better future for their families.  The play is divided in frames as each scene is like a living painting, Italian and English languages intertwine creating an interesting mixture of sounds and expressions. I was inpired to create the play by the story of my first friend in Scotland when I arrived at the age of 15 to learn English. She was an Italian Scottish woman and she introduced me to the story of immigration as I wasn’t aware that so many Italians lived in Scotland.

***

THE MUMBLE – There seems to be an awful lot of research gone into Bench – where did you source you materials

LAURA – The play was commissioned by the Italo Scottish Research Cluster- University of Edinburgh. It because of their archive and the support of many academics like  Pedriali,  Pirozzi , Colpi and Ugolini that I was able to write the play.

***

SAMSUNG CSC

***

THE MUMBLE – Bench is a multi-media presentation, can you go into more detail about we have to expect.

LAURA – The play has been framed in Kantor style where the images s are strong and express the core of the stories; the marriage of ancient Italian and Scottish folk songs support the presentation of each frame. The costumes are designed in the shade of grey and sepia, like an old photograph to give a clear “image from memory” to the spectator.

***

THE MUMBLE – You have seven actors playing the voices of the women. Who are these, & where are they from

LAURA – Vanda De Luca is Italian Scottish, Anna Carfora is Italian and lives in London, Nicoletta Maragno is from Italy. The three Scottish actresses are Scottish: Sian Mannifield, Helen Cuinn, Pamela Reid. The accordionist who is also doing actions on stage with the actresses and playing an important role is also Scottish: Caroline Hussey. I mus say there are an AMAZING cast. This is one of the main reason why I left Italy and founded an international company: to offer opportunities to actors of different nationalities to work together. I travel a lot myself when I was younger, in search of more opportunity to grow and improve as an actress. Actor are constantly under training and if they don’t understand this, they will be extremely unhappy. Researching is one of the main duty of an actor. I noticed that when I was working in Russia with German and Russian actors, we were very open, productive and the creative process unfolded easily. I wanted to do more of this kind of work and after my last trip to Russia I founded Charioteer Theatre.

***

THE MUMBLE – What is your personal background in theatre, Laura,& how did you come to be in Scotland

LAURA – I started as an actress in 1990 after the degree at Piccolo Teatro di Milano Acting School. The director was Giorgio Strehler.  I immediately started to tour internationally and I think that I was pretty successful in my acting career. I won the Milano 90 Award as best emerging actress then the Virginia Reiter Award  and then the Anna Magnani Award. I had the privilege to work with the best Italian directors and to have rewarding experiences abroad. I then became a writer, a director and an acting coach. I love teaching actors. I consider myself a real CAPOCOMICO, like in the tour companies of comedians in 1500, I lead my company artistically but I also drive the van on tour.

***

THE MUMBLE – So you are taking your play across Scotland – what do you hope that your prospective theatre-goers will get out of ‘A Bench on the Road’

LAURA – Possibly a new intake on a piece of Scottish and Italian history. I hope that they will perceive the play as a journey through which they can reflect on identity and sense of belonging.

 

B&W Image1 - photo credit Courtesy of the ISRC Archive -  Italo-Scottish Research Cluster.jpg
***
TOUR DATES
Platform, Glasgow
Thu 29 September, 7pm – with post-show discussion
£8.50 (£5/£4 local links)
0141 276 9696 / platform-online.co.uk
 
CatStrand, Castle Douglas
Fri 30 September, 7.30pm – with post-show discussion
£12/£10
01644 420374 / catstrand.com
Post-show discussion
 
Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling
Tue 4 October, 7.30pm
£12.50 (£10.50/£5.50)
 
Gaiety Theatre, Ayr
Wed 5 October, 7.30pm
£13.50 (£12.50)
01292 288 235/ thegaiety.co.uk
 
Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow
Thu 6 October, 7pm
£10 (£6)
0141 550 2267 / womenslibrary.org.uk
 
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Sat 8 October, 8pm
£12 (£10)
0843 208 6010 / thelowry.com/studio
 
Paisley Arts Centre, Paisley
Tue 11 October, 7.30pm
£10 (£6) + booking fee
0300 300 1210 / renfrewshireleisure.com
 
The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Wed 12 October, 7pm
£13.20 (£5.50)
 
Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Fri 14 October, 7.30pm
£14 (£12-£8)
01334 475000 / byretheatre.com
 
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Sat 15 October, 7.30pm
£14 (£12)
 0131 623 3001 / assemblyroxy.com

TRAINSPOTTING

Citizen’s Theatre

Glasgow

14 Sep 2016 to 8 Oct 2016

Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars

photo.JPG

The death of ecstasy-victim Leah Betts in late-1995 cast a gloomy shadow over substance abuse in the UK two decades ago. While the perils of party drugs distressed a scintilla proportion of the country, the perception of drug users, and substantially harder, more addictive narcotics, were counter-balanced by Irvine Welsh’s book ‘Trainspotting’ in 1993, Harry Gibson’s theatre production in 1994, and Danny Boyle’s film in 1996. This was to become one of the most vital stories narrated during the 1990s, studying the lives of four friends as they delve into the drug culture of Leith during the late 1980’s in an effort to escape from the hopeless world they find themselves living in.

Courtesy of Citizens Theatre itself, the lives of Mark Renton, Simon ‘Sickboy’ Williamson, Francis Begbie, and Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy returned to the hallowed main stage of Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre after a notable absence, guided at the wings by revered director Gareth Nicholls, whose previous productions include ‘Into That Darkness’ and ‘Blackbird’. In terms of both novel and picture, Trainspotting holds a place in the heart of most 30-somethings who badly wish to see every element of its reputation succeed, preserving its creditable stock and prolonging for future generations.

Reprising the roles made famous onscreen by the likes of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, tonight’s cast had the unenviable task of staying true to both book and picture, whilst also lending its own black humour into proceedings. Playing the lead as Renton was Lorn MacDonald, a tall, skinny, ranting sphere of machismo who required only twenty seconds before the first mention of drugs entered the fray during the opening interview sequence alongside Spud, played by Gavin Jon Wright. The youthful energy cascaded by both actors was a genial welcoming into a forbidden world, rousing the audience with the unmistakable twang served up by author Welsh. The grubby, insanitary stage was laid out for the introduction of Sickboy performed by Angus Miller, and Mother Superior played by Owen Whitelaw; the latter of which made a stunning appearance from the inside of a couch. It was Mother Superior, dressed in effeminate clothing and twirling around the stage which chiefly grabbed the eye, a large departure from Peter Mullen’s robust performance in the film, whilst serving up a homoerotic, scene-polluting number at the same time Alison, played by Chloe-Ann Tylor, Sickboy, Renton and Spud tightened the tourniquets around their arms in preparation for the first, slow junkie dance. The injection scenes are, as one should expect, fairly harrowing – an intelligent use of illumination and rumbling sounds flooding with the actors’ gasps and groans. This is no glorification of drugs, despite what the monologues ladled by Renton may have imposed upon the audience.

photo (1).JPG

It is testament to author Welsh’s dramatic writing that frequently the highlights of the performance whittled down to the lone dialogues delivered by the cast, adopting narrator roles to the audience. From Sickboy’s gross attack on Shane the pitbull to Alison’s uterine lining complimenting a bowl of soup, the cast were at their foremost when the stage was reduced to a chair and a voice. That is not to dismiss the impact that a busy stage offered when a nightclub scene flooded with pulsing dancers alternated between standing, sitting, gyrating, and swaying, both in the foreground and in the background, during Renton’s first unsuspecting meet with schoolgirl Diane, also played by the talented, afore-mentioned Tylor. Having previously reviewed Tylor during a performance of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I was privy to what a convincing actress the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate can be, and there was no anti-climax tonight as she teased, toyed, and delivered a wicked temptress performance. Renton’s chameleon-personality simmered throughout this scene, flitting between politics and music in an effort to win Diane’s affections, while an animated bevvy of dancers maintained the youthful energy in front of a shrewd sex scene.

Dark comedy is etched throughout Trainspotting, glittering in the shadowed piss-soaked curtains while Spud regales a story of an unfortunate accident and Renton’s realisation that he has become a sex offender, but the tenebrosity of Alison’s baby Dawn’s cot death is an acutely distressing scene. These moments often allowed the cast to ignore their audience and concentrate on those under the dimmed lights, with Owen Whitelow’s turn as Mother Superior often more savage than his second role of the evening, the renowned Francis Begbie; none more so than when he rages with a black bin-bag intended for the deceased infant.

In his secondary role as the ill-fated Tommy, Angus Miller flits between his characters with an ease which enables the audience to establish which turn is being performed instantly, regardless of Tommy’s double-denim fashion being an obvious cursor. Although the nod to Tommy’s demise is clearly affiliated with the picture (in the book no such thing happens), director Gareth Nicholls remains faithful to scenes from Welsh’s initial written creation addressing Renton’s soldier brother and Begbie’s alcoholic father with a susceptivity which addresses a true representation of industrial working class people. Recently, producer Harry Gibson was quoted in The Herald saying “Trainspotting was a punk book and a punk play”, and this quality ebbs through the imagery, the dialogue, and the DIY ethos conjured by lead Renton’s ambitions, consistently putting himself first before friends or family. Whether it be the colourful pink lights and confetti cannons during Renton’s AIDS test or the tense, psychotic attempted murder of Renton by Begbie at Leith Central Station, the stage craft flowed with Welsh’s words, Gibson’s vision, and Boyle’s sensory depictions. Not forgetting the glorious compositions spun throughout the evening by Michael John McCarthy, webbing and weaving dialogue between sounds of horror and unbridled elation which captured each fitting mood, this was a truly triumphant return to the Citizen’s stage.

A special mention to Gavin Wright’s turn as the unfortunate but eternally-likeable Spud – every twitch, shuffle, facial expression and response was received with glee and captured everything and more that the audience have associated with the character. Preconceptions are a difficult thing to shake off but rest assured that this play will win you over and reignite your love for the film prior to the sequel which is due for release in early 2017. Choose life, choose Trainspotting at the Citizens.

Reviewer : Stephen Watt

four-stars.png

An Interview with Andy McGregor

The Rise and Inevitable Fall of Lucas Petit, by Andy McGregor, is just about to embark on a nationwide tour. Its creator, Andy McGregor, managed to squeeze out an extra few minutes from his hectic preparations for a cheeky interview with the Mumble;

andy_mcgregor_PlaywrightPortrait.jpg

IMG_9591.jpg

The Mumble – Hello Andrew – you must be excited about your forthcoming tour of Scotland with a certain Lucas Petit – but who is he?

Andy – Lucas is a downtrodden, middle-class man who has lost any zest for life that he once had. His wife hates him, he’s bored at his work and his only joyful experience is when he is alone and munching on a fudge donut from the B&Q cafe. The play focuses on him finding a briefcase that appears to have magical qualities. A stranger, who claims to be God, pushes him to take the case and, in doing so, Lucas starts to live a new life but (as keen observers will be aware if they have read the title of the show) ultimately it leads to his downfall. It’s like Macbeth. But with briefcases. And with words people can understand.

IMG_9313.jpg

The Mumble – Love 2.0 was a great success nationwide, will you be tapping into the same kind of vibe again

Andy – Very much so. We are keen to get those people who enjoyed Love 2.0 to come and check out this show and bring a pal or two. We’ve upped our ante this year with a top class production team and the play has a larger journey than Love 2.0 which was focused on two teenagers. This show is part cabaret and part caper, it never stops moving.

The Mumble – I have heard that there is a certain cinematic undertow to Lucas Petit, could you elaborate on that

Andy – Sleeping Warrior’s ethos is to make shows that can only be theatre. So we have had a lot of fun in taking some stereotypical move ideas (such as a training montage) and seeing how we can make that work theatrically. Probably my favourite section of the show is based on the film Entrapment. Lucas has to make his way through a series of lasers to get to the alarm system – I think we’ve found really pleasing ways of achieving effects like this. If anyone has been to see The 39 Steps, then it’s a similar vibe to that. But with briefcases.

The Mumble – So just like Love, this play is being funded by Creative Scotland again. How does the money help you get your playout there.

Andy – It would be impossible for us to tour this show without CS funding. I don’t think people realise exactly how much money it costs to put on even a small-scale show like ours. There are so many people involved in making a piece of theatre and the materials are so expensive, that financial support is always required to put something on.

IMG_9574.jpg

The Mumble – Can you tell us a little about your cast – have you worked with them before?

Andy – I worked with Darren Brownlie on my show Vinyl Idol (that I co-wrote with Debbie Hannan) that was on as part of the Play Pie and a Pint mini musicals season this summer. He is playing the questionable ‘deity’ and it’s a brilliant performance he turns in, showcasing all his singing, acting and dancing talents. I’ve never worked with Ashley Smith before and it’s been a great pleasure. She may be known to some people from her role in Scot’s Squad, she has to play numerous characters throughout and we have a lot of fun in seeing her change from one outrageous creation to another. And finally we have Lucas, who is played by Al Hankinson. He brings a real warmth and quirkiness to the character and can move his body in ways I’ve never seen a human move there body before! It’s a multi-talented cast who are working great together.

The Mumble – So whats the future for Sleeping Warriors

Andy – Can’t really think about that just now! We need to keep ourselves focused on this show, try and get as many people to see it as possible and then I can start thinking about the future. Which won’t involve briefcases.


Lucas Petit landscape.jpg

TOUR DATES

Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling Fri 16 & Sat 17 Sep

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Mon 19 & Tue 20 Sep

Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock         Wed 21 Sep

East Kilbride Arts Centre, East Kilbride Thu 22 Sep

Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock Fri 23 Sep

The Brunton, Musselburgh         Sat 24 Sep

Theatre Royal, Dumfries                 Mon 26 Sep

The Mill Theatre, Thurso                 Wed 28 Sep

Falkirk Town Hall, Falkirk         Wed 5 Oct

Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine         Thu 6 Oct

Aros, Skye                 Sat 8 Oct

Eden Court, Inverness         Sun 9 Oct

Tron Theatre, Glasgow         Wed 12 to Sat 15 Oct

The Letter

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

Oran Mor

Sept 12th- 17th

 TheLetter1 (1).jpg

Script: two-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars  Performance: four-stars 

The Letter, written by Stuart Paterson and directed by David Mackay, is a religious romp that concerns itself with stereotypical roles found within society at large but reflected in the antics of the three characters. Meet Deacon Orlov, sanctimonious and ever judgmental in his holier than now attitude to all and sundry : it is His way or the highway and he’ll take no prisoners. Contrasted with alcoholic  Father Anastasy who will chat to anyone for a vodka and Father Andrey wondering where his parenting skills failed him and we have a rather colourful insight into this letter writing trio. David Mackay stepped in to play Father Andrey last minute and was excellent in his portrayal of the bumbling indecisive deacon.

The letter3.jpg

More smiles than guffaws, the farcical plot unravels at a pleasing adagio tempo to reach its climax which is surprising and unexpected but altogether welcomed. Deacon Orlov,  played by Laurie Ventry (Gangs of New york, Hector and River City), the rambunctious, self-righteous patriarch overseeing his minions is played with gusto and aplomb imparting his acerbic comments to the audience like an Andy Murray ace. Billy Riddoch (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and Silent Scream ) was in top form , back for his third appearance in A Play,  A Pie and A Pint  since his first visit back in Season one in So Long Sleeping Beauty. He endearingly is delighted to be back in the real ‘ WEST END’. With thirty years acting and twenty directing, David Mackay’s ( My Name Is Joe, Ae Fond Farewell ) collective fifty years experience is a testament to the wealth of thespian talent Glasgow has to offer which we are lucky enough to be recipients of at Oran Mor .

Reviewer   :   Clare Crines

three-stars.png

Democracy

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

6th – 10th September 2016

democracy-michael-frayn-theatre-royal-glasgow.png

Script: two-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars  Performance: two-stars.png

Rapture Theatre Company, proud to be Scottish, have adapted Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a contemporary Glaswegian backdrop and worked with John Byrne – our contemporary Shakespeare – on his adaptation of Checkhov’s Uncle Vanya which Byrne titled Uncle Varick set in 1960’s Scotland. With an intriguing backlog  I was excited and intrigued to be reviewing this rehash of the 2003 play Democracy written by Michael Frayn. Better known for his intelligent books The Tin Men (1965), The Russian Interpreter (1966)and Sweet Dreams(1973) Frayn, now in his eighties, has had flops and triumphs in his forays into theatre, Noises Off (1982) being his most acclaimed to date.

Demo1.jpg

This slice of cold war espionage did not hook me in due to the banality of the acting and the monotony of costume. Ten white men in suits, all with impressive film and tv credits, struggled to keep the audiences attention. The long drawn out acts found the woman in the row in front of me falling asleep over two seats and I struggled hard not to follow in her footsteps. The problem here was the fact that I couldn’t empathise with the Stasi mole Gunther Guillaume (Neil Caple) who was in pursuit of his dry boss Chancellor Willy Brandt (Tom Hodgkins). The elusive Mischa that sent the workers into a state of fear didn’t work for me either , though that was entirely due to the fact that my dog shares that name.

Director Michael Emans’ regurgitation of  Michael Blakemore’s slick premier at The National Theatre in 2003 really is not worth the stamina needed to stay engaged. The colour of the evening was provided by the stage lights and the much needed interval. I’d give this a body-swerve if I were you.

 

Reviewer   :  Clare Crines

two-stars.png

 

Behind the Barrier

Oran Mor, Glasgow

September 5-10

Play / Pie / Pint

————-

JPEG_4535i Hilary Lyon, Kirsty McDuff.jpg

Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: three-stars

Morag-Fullarton-300x300.jpg

Morag Fullerton

Behind the Barrier is a meeting of two Scottish broadcasting heavyweights – & when the peroxide mind of Muriel Gray meets the dramaturgical ninja that is Morag Fullerton, then we should expect a production of some quality. Luckily, they did not disappoint, & as we stand behind the barrier watching two women watch spectating at a marathon, we enter a curious yet poignant world. Gray’s wit seeps out of every second line, but the retrospective scenes offer a completely different avatar of her genius. Julie & Pat are the two women; Julie a middle-age mother of three whose husband is running the marathon – somewhere between the Kenyans & the fancy dress, but definitely after the club runners – while Pat is a sporty young un.’

IMG_4515i.jpg

Each actress was excellent in her part, but I did notice a lack of chemistry between them on stage, which was this play’s only drawback. Otherwise, it is an excellent hour of theatrical entertainment – a parallelian play which keeps leaping about thro’ time, but not confusingly,  for there is a deftness to the timing of each leap. Gray’s chit-chatty comedy is brilliant throughout; bang-on at times – kids are only useful these days for changing fonts – cheeky at times, as when she described a ‘Pompeii in your pants,’ & her overall take on the situational play – stuck in a lift, soldiers in a trench kinda vibe – is refreshing. Yeah, a great start to this season’s PPP.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

four-stars.png

Dark Tales

 

2016DARKTAL_PA.jpg

Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance:  five-stars

Dark Tales is a horror come thriller by Tim Arthur. Played out in a dark, upper level room of the Pleasance Courtyard with gladiatorial type seating, this was sure to be an eerie tale of jitters and scary moments.  With a well-crafted and realistic stage set, you can see that this is a production that has thought of it all. With brick walls, cabinets, library shelves of books,  a singular desk, and a few chairs scattered around, we are drawn into the murky world of Alex Crowley, a lecturer with an ambition to write chilling horror stories.  With Mr. Crowley as the main character he is soon put in his place by Lucy and Jack, two of his highly strung students. As the tale becomes unhinged the darker side of the three menacing characters is revealed …

The strong acting and convincing dialogue allows the viewer to become engulfed in the deceitful relationship between the characters. With the first quarter of the play setting the scene, the story becomes apparent…. Jealousy, lust, manipulation , love, anger, revenge and hatred are just a few of the stomach-churning emotions that are highlighted in Dark Tales. The fight for one women’s love soon drives the two bickering rivals to a duel of verbal insults. Like a balloon waiting to burst,  you become obsessed with anticipation as spooky music starts clawing its way across the backs of the audience. Sit tight and don’t move, even a twitch could be fatal…

The tension builds…  The voices get louder…  The insults become threats…  finally, with the truth at large, the three objectives become clear.  Hitting you head-on, like a deer in the headlights of your car, your are stunned and shocked as to what was about to happen..  Enchanting yet twisted, disturbing yet relieving, this is not a show for the faint-hearted.  The performance, delivery and execution of the acting was superb, grasping and holding the audiences attention the actors were a joy to watch.  With Crowley’s goal accomplished the tale comes to a dramatic and sinister end.  Never turn your back on your enemy or friends ?  Theatrical horror tales at its very best….

Reviewed by Raymond Speedie

four-stars.png

 

The View from Castle Rock

Inline image 1
Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars 

 

The stark simplicity of the wooden pews in St.Mark’s Unitarian Church created the perfect atmosphere for the story of Alice Munro’s Scottish ancestors leaving for a better life in Canada. Smoke curled around the solid wooden props like shrouds of distant memories, and the call of disembodied voices began to take us back in time. To the eighteenth century, to be exact, to tell the story of plucky migrants, the Laidlaw family from Ettrick Valley in the Scottish borders. The exuberant band of five actors from local Stella Quines Theatre Company began to emerge from all corners of the church, clutching Nobel-prize winning Canadian author, Alice Munro’s ‘The View from Castle Rock’, ready to bring two of the stories to life in front our eyes. They tossed the books aside as they launched into embodying the tale, taking it in turns to piece together their dramatic journey across the ocean in search of a better life.

As in many old churches, the acoustics heightened the beautiful sound of the choir, the Castle Chorus. All of the members were talented actors and singers, and each came to the fore in their own unique way. Lewis Howden was the most memorable as old James, the grouchy, heavy-set patriarch of the family, intent on making this journey and dragging along everyone with him. Bearded and red-faced, his rants were almost comical, with his heavy accent and his obdurate, domineering ways. The audience laughed, most of being them Edinburgh folks, when he takes his son up to Edinburgh Castle to see the enticing view of ‘America’, when of course, it’s only Fife!

Agnes, played by Sally Reid, took the limelight next, with her ‘pregnancy apron’ quickly transforming her into the expectant sea voyager and feisty wife of Andrew. She came into her own in this scene, heavily pregnant and frustrated, and full of speeches about men with ‘such a great notion of themselves’. Alice Munro is well known for bringing a women’s perspective into her stories, and this is highlighted by the fact that the members of the Stella Quines company and their associates are almost all female, except for the male actors themselves. From the award-winning playwright, Linda McLean, who has adapted the material for the stage, to the designers, the producers and the directors. We see the inner turmoil of Agnes, and feel her pain as she gives birth on ship, attended by a weirdly convincing pair of ‘Edinburgh ladies’, complete with an upper-middle class Morningside accent delivered by bearded Lewis Howden himself . A hush descended as we witnessed an unexpected intimate moment snatched between Agnes and the doctor attending the birth, as he stands behind her and lovingly strokes her hair.

The energetic physical antics of the members kept us enthralled and entertained. They used the space of the church really well, and surprised us by popping up in unexpected areas to shout, sing or create a network of dialogue or chorus between them all. They wove an invisible net of words around us all, giving us a very visceral sense of being wrapped up in the story along with the characters. They had limited props, but used them in conjunction with the sound effects to create magic. One ancestor was a famed runner, and there was a hilarious scene when his trousers fell off to the sounds of sheep bleating. When Young James disappears on board ship to Mary’s utter despair, we all share in the search for him, as they frantically run shrieking into the audience.

Alice Munro’s beautiful descriptions of Newfoundland enchant us as they reach their long-awaited destination, sharing their excitement on ‘the day of wonders’ at reaching ‘Nova Scotia’, indeed their and many others’ ‘new Scotland’. We’re disappointed but understanding of Old James now terribly homesick and feeling out of place. They display the typical adjustment to a new land, with its concomitant culture shock and generational conflict; Old James disgruntled and threatened by his grandson Young James, with his unfamiliar accent and mannerisms. The new environment affects them all in different ways; especially Agnes, now disappointed she has held herself back with marrying unromantic, uninspiring Andrew, when there are so many handsome officers anxiously seeking a wife. Mary, particularly, transforms from a wilting, skittish young girl with bizarre facial expressions, to a lively if quirky young woman. I grew to love her character, with her fierce loyalty and affection towards her nephew, James, and her extreme facial contortions that perfectly expressed her disposition.

When a baby dies on board, the solemn procession holding the tiny corpse underscores the precariousness of these long journeys, and how many tragedies must have happened, and indeed, still happen. So many talks and performances I’ve seen this year have been linked to the present refugee crisis in some way, attempting to bring some historical perspective and evoke a sense of empathy in the audience by likening it to the similar trials of their own ancestors. Scotland’s diaspora numbers more than 50 million people who claim Scottish ancestry. This unusual collaboration between the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Stella Quines Theatre Company created an impactful personal tale of migration that we can all relate to; wherever we’re from and wherever we’re might be going.

Reviewer : Lisa Williams

four-stars.png

Anything That Gives Off Light

EICC
25th August
 —
IMG_20160822_194818467
Script: two-stars.png Stagecraft: five-stars  Performance: three-stars

 A strange play this one, a half-breed born out of a cross-oceanic dramaturgical bonding session. On one side we have the Scots, & the other their diasporan descendants amidst the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Of its conception, Bob Leonard, chair of the MFA directing & public dialogue programme at Virginia Tech, told the Mumble how Rachel Chavkin, artistic director of TEAM,’played me like a trout in a stream, enticing me with the company’s desire to speak to present-day descendants of the Scottish diaspora about the cultural legacies of their heritage & how they understand the principles of democracy in terms of their own lives in the ridges & valleys of Appalachia. I was hooked.

 

Their creation is a strange one. Chuck all the stereotypes cliches about Scotland in a bucket & draw them out one-by-one to be discussed systematically by a couple of Scottish lads & an American woman (Jessica Almasy). Where the lads especially had some chemistry, the woman had talent, so as a watch it wasn’t too bad. Add to this some pretty talented, punk-looking musicians & some neat stagecraft & you’ve pretty much got the picture. Funny at times, like having a brillo-pad brushed roughly against your brain at others, the overwhelming feeling I got from watching the play was, ‘why did you bother?’ An unintervaled hour & an half of my life that I will never get back.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

three-stars.png