Monthly Archives: February 2016

Mr And Mrs Laughton

A Play A Pie And A Pint

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Feb29th-March 5th


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

In this two-handed play written by Michael-Alan Read and directed by Gethin Edwards, we are introduced to the lives of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, one of the original odd couples of stage and screen from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Elsa is played by Irish actress Abigail McGibbon and the talented but troubled Charles Laughton by Steven McNicoll, whose face may be familiar from the TV series Bob Servant Independent.

Mainly seen from Elsa’s point of view in a series of flashbacks the strange story unfolds of how two very contrasting characters came together and of their enduring marriage, which only ended with Laughton’s death from cancer in 1962. Elsa Lanchester, the attractive daughter of somewhat bohemian parents was making her way as a burlesque dancer and actress when she met Scarborough hotelier’s son Charles Laughton in a stage play. She lead a racy life as a society girl (she had an abortion at this time) and Laughton was in his own words “rubber faced and fat.” They married two years later in 1929.

marandmrslaughton.jpgThey both went on to have careers on stage and screen with Charles Laughton becoming a major Hollywood Star. Elsa Lanchester is probably best remembered for her part as the bride of Frankenstein in the film of the same name while Laughton had leading roles in Mutiny Of The Bounty, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and many others. He also directed the original version of Night Of The Hunter, which has become regarded as one of the great Hollywood films of the 50’s. Even though Lanchester knew fairly early on in their marriage that Laughton was bisexual and that he admitted to bringing young men back to their home for sex she never left him and her obvious and undying love for him was at the heart of the play.

Although very well acted the piece did come across a bit as a potted history and it was left unclear as to whether Laughton had real feelings for his wife or the marriage was a cover for his homosexuality, which was illegal at the time. All in all though, a poignant play, which concluded with Lanchester quoting one of his sayings, “there is no time.”

Reviewer : David Ivens


The Angel & the Manse


Oran Mor, Glasgow

 22 – 27 February


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

George Docherty has added playwright to his repertoire of talents. Twenty years of acting has lead him to write what he would normally act. No bad thing. His cast comprising Sarah Carmichael ( Helen Logan), her husband Rev. Martin Carmichael ( Alan Steele) and the stranger in need of help Stephen ( Ewan Petrie) – who turns up at their door soaking in his tea shirt and jeans with head injury and no recollection of how it happened – are all excellent and very believable characters. Sarah is struggling, suffering from M.E. when she used to be the life and soul of the party and her preacher partner is struggling with hardened arteries to keep her amused; ‘What do you want…what would make you happy?’ The question of life eh? He thinks it might be fancy dresses, bigger house, but ultimately she wants to be noticed, touched and loved.


Docherty has illustrated through his plot and actors a very simple message – is the slog worth it when we want to realise our dreams?  No-one knows what is waiting round the corner in this crazy messed up world but who you will find yourself identifying with? Will it be the self trapped wife, struck down with the debilitating condition of myalgic encephalomyelitisor, or are you more of the helper, carer kind willing to assist because you love the yuppie and know that she will probably marry you for your efforts?


This disgruntled married couple face a storm in a storm. An angel in a teacup? Or a devil in disguise? After a dram the stranger Stephen gets poetic preaching to the converted Reverend and his mid life crises wife, ‘Your only significance is your insignificance.’ Is this, as Rev. Martin believe , his murder about to happen? Sarah, in sarcastic retort, enhances her husbands suspicions that Stephen’s a ‘hit man, it’s a great big game of cluedo. Killed in a manse with a walking stick? Too far fetched?’ Maybe, but there are some witty one liners that will strike a chord, even if its not the angelic kind.

Reviewer: Clare Crines


The Crucible



18th Feb – 19th March


 Script: 5 Stagecraft: 4.png Performance: 5

Without Arthur Miller, the American cultural landscape will be full of so many errant tumbleweeds, but he stands in the middle of it all like some strong, juicy cactus, prickly as hell, but completely ingenious. The guy lived for ninety years, but it was in his mid-thirties, the time of a man’s premium intensity of intellect, that he completed his eloquent masterwork, The Crucible. In it we are driven straight into the heart of the Salem ‘witch’ hysteria of the early 1690s, in which through only four scenes we are told the overall story & tickled by a series of sub-plots which together form the most immaculate, composite whole.

The Crucible Production Image 3 Ensemble Photo credit Drew Farrell.jpg

As we are ushered into a world of whispers, witches, warlocks, & the drinking of chicken blood, dramaturgically speaking, the play is perfect; each scene unveiling the development of each character’s personality, of which the hell-fire-raising then completely-bemused-by-everything-that’s happening Reverend John Hale is the most interesting. He is just one of a number of star turns from this brilliantly symbiotic cast, complemented by beautiful costumes & the most authentic New England accents I have heard outside of, well, New England (soft rrrrs included). Miller creates this world of words one would love to remain immersed in, with touches of ultra-modern humour tossed in with imperceptible nuancity.

Miller’s aim was to compare the persecution & labeling of women as witches with the Communist hunting of the McCarthy era, when people are condemned to ‘confess or hang.‘ In the same fashion, the play still resonates today – the suspicion present in 17th century Massachusetts has only been displaced onto other groups such as the Mexicans, or Islam. Paranoia has never left the American psyche in which lies a stagnating & deep-seated distrust of the different. But Miller also showed the other side of the story. Ron Donachie played Deputy Governor Danforth to perfection, a supercilious man with the remit of bringing order to that bewitching hurricane that blew through the streets & farmsteads of Salem. It was a time where people could enact petty personal vengeance on others by simply accusing them of witchcraft – Darnforth truly knew this, but was forced to uphold the law, for without it all would have descended into chaos – & thus 24 women were hung.

The Crucible Production Image 9 ÔÇô L-R Christina Gordon, Kirsty MacLaren, Meghan Tyler, Emma Gribbon.jpg

This play has a realistic fluidity, the sea-like cast ebb & flow into the nooks & crannies of the plot, & in the hands of director John Dove do so with optimum timing. Philip Cairns is a masterful, handsome lead – effortlessly growing into a more serious role after his ‘Kill Johnny Glendenning‘ & I look forward already to his next work. With the days getting longer this pretty little pre-spring, I urge on any theatre-goer to simply gasp with astonishment at the handling of Salems’ ‘black mischief’ by both Miller & the Lyceum players.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen


Face – Morag

HiPlay, Pie, Pint

Oran Mor, Glasgow

15-20 February

Script: four-stars  Stagecraft: three-stars Performance:  5


A week after we met the feisty Isobel, a five star performance, playwright Peter Arnott introduces the world to her twin sister, Morag. How different their lives are: where Isobel married & had kids, Morag remained single & focused on her career as a Science Teacher; where 10-year-old Isobel blamed her sister when she got caught nicking sherbet from John Menzies, 10-year-old Morag said nothing; where 60-year-old Isobel has left her family to live it up in Dubai on borrowed money, 60-year-old Morag stays in Britain to focus on her career, although admittedly – ‘at the of end her disappointing, unfulfilled tether.’

url.jpgThis play sees the monologuing Morag give us all that information & more, a bitter sister caught in a dispute over the liquidation of their dead ‘mummy’s money.’ I didn’t see her first run out as these siblings incongruous, but I did feel keenly how well actress Janette Foggo brings to the optimum of reality Arnott’s characters.  Their long-standing relationship had begun back in 1986 with the ‘Adventures of Thomas Muir’ at the Tron, & they seem a couple married to each others’ muses as  their material & delivery remains invigoratingly accurate.

‘Is it alright if I sit here,’ asks Morag as she first enters the stage, ‘I wont disturb you.‘ But disturb us she did, running rough-shod over our deeply-buried ideas of death’s finality & life’s pointless carousel. Morag moans who way through the play with the high-brow eloquence enough to maintain our interest – one of the keystones of such theatre – holding us in her hands for a good fifty minutes, as if we were bartenders & she the only drinker in the bar, offloading her problems as she downed her JD & cokes. Though with Morag it was more like an Earl Grey & a wafer biscuit down the W.I.


There is something about the PPP plays that offers us windows into the lives of real people, which is a strength of its programming & support of local up & coming playwrights. With Morag, they have again hit the nail firm on the head, a piercing spike into the fibres of our existence that despite the odd uncomfortable moment, is a ravishing piece of reality. Arnott  & Foggo should be really proud of this clever double-header.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen


The Canterbury Tales

Stanwix Arts Theatre,


13th February

Script: 2.png  Stagecraft: three-stars Performance: four-stars


The performance is billed as “The Canterbury Circus” and on entering the theatre the circus performance is already underway. It takes a bit of time to acclimatise though: the circus is more of a dark and grotesque carnival of exaggerated figures and sickly circus music; the pilgrims are already trying to catch our attention, gesturing–often lewdly– and commenting on the audience’s appearance: all very apt of course as in carnival everyone is an active participant, social class is at least temporarily destroyed and the grotesque is a part of the subversion in the sense that authority is humourless and sanitizes experience.  I did like this dramatic focus on the carnival as The Canterbury Tales can be read as a moment when the full range of medieval society is introduced, but also the seriousness of the pilgrimage and hierarchy is gradually undermined and destroyed by the playful pilgrims; the production also catches Chaucer’s own self-deprecating irony: one pilgrim asks Chaucer, “Who are you?” Chaucer shrinks back and responds timidly, “No one.” And in a line to savour, Harry Baily, the host and ring master, tells Chaucer, “Thy drasty rymyng is nat worth a toord!”

 Chaucer’s pilgrims are amongst other things  a mermaid, ring master, spiv, camp aristocrat, scullery maid, circus mannequin, bearded lady, gypsy fortune teller and Chaucer, the narrator, is a clown, or the clown’s precursor, the carnivalesque trickster figure, causing mayhem, cackling at disorder and subtly subverting the story telling process. Another interesting part of the production was the juxtaposition of Chaucer’s voices and the pilgrimage with the voices of the 21st century media perhaps representing a breakdown of social distinctions in creativity; to this end, the performance contained a dizzying array of cultural references to develop the idea that technology is a carnival of ideas, including Family Guy, Alice in Wonderland, An Officer and a Gentleman, and at one point—I think during the Reeve’s Tale– a pilgrim sang the narrative to the tune to of one of Adele’s hits and it worked beautifully.


So, what worked and what didn’t? The production cannot be faulted for vitality and creativity—it was bursting with ideas. It wasn’t a monument to an ancient text; it took the spirit of Chaucer’s text and threw it about with youthful abandon: surely the right thing to do. The best parts were the bickering of the pilgrims between the tales and the simpler tales; in particular I’ll mention The Cook’s Tale which was very vulgar and very funny, the lady doing her best Father Ted: “I’m feckin’ funny, feck off!”  At times though the cacophony of voices was just too much and it was hard to follow the narrative, and in particular The Knight’s Tale was difficult: too much action, too much noise and without prior knowledge of the tale, all but impossible to follow, or enjoy.  However, I could always follow Chaucer’s own advice when introducing the Miller’s Tale: if you don’t like it, “Turne over the leef and chese another tale”.

Reviewer: Paul Rivers



Bedlam Theatre


Wed 10th – Thurs 11th Feb


“Do not pity me – you brought a child into this world & he is miserable!”


Canon EOS 5D Mark II025.JPG

Jari Fowkes as Frankenstein’s father and William Byam-Shaw as Frankenstein

Script four-stars Stagecraft: 2.png Performance four-stars

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff).jpgA couple of hundred years ago, the English literati were discussing an anonymously written novel in the presence of the young Mary Shelley. ‘Perhaps it was written by a woman,‘ she suggested, only to be met with laughter & ridicule. Born from the gothic fermentation of the post-krakatoan apocolypse of 1815, when at the Villa Diodati the Shelleys & Byron swapped ghost stories throughout the dismal rainy summer of 1816, Frankenstein is an eternal classic. The idea of bringing corpses to life is a haunting one – & one still not realized outside films & TV series such as the Walking Dead. Mary’s own story has spawned thousands of spin-offs, including  RN Sandberg’s play, which has just been capably performed by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II066.JPGSet in the novel’s final scenes, but full of retrospective & psychodrama, this play is a moving piece which penetrates to the core of Mrs Shelley’s concepts of good & evil, of life & love, of birth & rejection – the raw primality of existence – with genuine tension-builds & a cataclysmic finish. The production was excellently-acted, perhaps a little too vigorously, with hardly a pause for breath. Outstanding performances came from the Monster itself, played by Jai Sharma, whose broad Yorkshire accent seemed rather apt for the role, & his ‘mate’ multi-playing Jennifer Jones, whose final hideous part was the best of her three. Also exceptional was Kelechi Hafstad’s Elizabeth – whose well-nuanced passage through the emotions was a joy to watch.

The only thing which let the play down was the set; which attempted to recreate the Arctic, but looked more like someone had splurged a huge tube of toothpaste all over the place. The final scene offered the stagecraft some redemption, however, when at the burning of the monster the set was illuminated in a bright & moody orange. This moment of purification, as if lifted from the Ramayana, was a thrilling way to end the play. Still, student theatre is more about the mood, I feel, & the company captured the feel of the story with a keen ability & I was very glad I bobbed along that night. That evening, by the way, was freezing, as was the Bedlam Theatre, which really did help transport one to the icy North.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen




Play Pie and Pint

Oran Mor, Glasgow

8-13 Feb

Set: 4.png Script:5 Performance:5


Isobel, played to mesmerising perfection by actress Janette Foggo is a typical west end theatre goer…a lady who lunches.. or is she? This play by Peter Arnott makes us think beyond the loud woman in the audience who is complaining about when the play is going to start. We are taken on a roller-coaster ride of life from sibling rivalry to toyboys and everything inbetween and beyond.

Meet Isobel , newly wealthy  from her mothers demise : a lady with a fiery wit who takes no prisoners when it comes to life. This offering has more proverbial food to chew on than the mutton pie or quiche that comes with it. Of course Isobel is a quiche eater, she wouldn’t be seen dead with a greasy pie in front of her. It’s bad enough frequenting a former presbyterian church due to her very fixed views on, ‘presbyterian arse grabbers ’ but as she peruses the audience she’s not quite convinced, ‘looking at these pensioners maybe it is still church goers,’ in this place. As Isobel moved from her perch in the front row to take centre stage it becomes apparent that this woman doesn’t care for the theatre too much , they are always trying to convey, ‘some message to make you feel guilty.’ Now her twin sister, frumpy Morag is a different kettle of fish, a bit of a culture vulture, ‘this is her kinda place.’

Face-Isobel-3Isobel leads us on a merry verbal dance conjuring up potent visual images in our minds as she gives us her life story in under an hour with much mirthfulness along the way because as you find out Isobel is a half-full rather than half-empty kind of girl. At times you will love her, at times pity her though she would really hate that. Her demotic rhythms chime many a chord : humorously captivating us, not only with her charm but  her scathingly wry comments like, ‘a protracted fart – plenty of time to walk away.’ The twins’ old school teacher, purple permanent maxi suited brutal Mrs Mackay’s ‘face softened…to a simper,’ prior to writing the word on the chalkboard before, ‘she held my hair and rubbed it out with my face.’

24778182432_ae66c986b7_b.jpgIt really is all in the delivery, no amount of words can express this experience well enough. Peter Arnott is as accomplished a fellow Weegie as Chris Brookmyre, and is a talent to be treasured. If you can’t make this play, his new book Moon Country will give you many a laugh but you would miss Janette Foggo, (Rhoda Tait in movie Loch Ness and Mrs Meikle in Rab C. Nesbitt) bringing Arnott’s Isobel to life : from her smoking and shoplifting days when she suffered five hours of of Scottish opera on a Sunday afternoon to her plans for a face-lift in the imminent future, a beguiling presence with a thunderous thespian delivery and sense of timing difficult to match

Reviewer : Clare Crines


The Tailor of Inverness



5th February

 Stagecraft: 5 Script : 5 Performance 5


Last week I found myself watching on the BBC iplayer a story of Treblinka’s last two survivors, & was especially moved by their tales. If it wasn’t for the intrepid determination of the Jewish workers to escape the camp during those last desperate days, their story would never have been told. In the same fashion the Tailor of Inverness is also the story of a survivor of the great cataclysm that was the Second World War. This conflict is a gigantic stitched canvas in which millions of life-tales were interwoven – but in the case of Mateus Zajac, his thread weaves in & out & all over the canvas like some hyperactive child in a nursery.

tailor460.jpgThe play is in two parts – the first is an odyssey in the traditional sense: an orator with not a little PTSD traveloguing through a series of escapades & misadventures that saw the young Mateus land up in Scotland – a child of global war & scattered to the winds like so much confetti. The second half of the play concerns his truth-seeking sons unraveling of that tale & his astonishing discoveries of the real truths behind his father war-time activities. The play’s title comes from Mateus’s profession, who learning his trade in his home village astride the Poilus Ukranian border in Galicia, found himself in Scotland shortly after the war. Of his work, Dogstar Theatre’s director, Ben Harrison told the Mumble, ‘the metaphor of a tailor stitching fabric & at the same time fabricating stories to clothe or mask his true identity.’ On stage with him in a mannequin doll & table & a clothes rail , props used to perfection to flesh his tale. The stagecraft to this impeccable, perfect for the job from the fiddle-player accompanying the Ukranian folk songs, to the well-timed maps & photographs projected on screen – this is both a multi-lingual & a multi-media production.

the-tailor-of-inverness.jpgMateus is played by his son, Matthew, who is also the writer & producer of Tailor. On its premier at the 2008 fringe it won many awards & went on to tour Scotland 5 times as well as performances in  Poland, Ukraine, USA, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Wales,  Germany & England; with its 250th performance coming up. Despite this heavy schedule, Matthew’s performance is still top-notch, capturing his subject with emotion & the most flawless delivery. His 33 years in the business has seen him assimilate ideas from across the board, masticate them in his teeming brain & then regurgitate what is clearly his masterpiece. It really is an astounding piece, which grabs you from the word go & doesn’t let go the teary finale.

The Tailor of Inverness invades your mind as the Polish, German, English & Russian tongues intermix, & at all times I felt like I was some wee nipper listening to my Great Grandfather’s yarns about the Boer War. Of its creation, Matthew told the Mumble, ‘The play represents the culmination of numerous journeys I have made, which started with childhood holidays to Poland…. my father’s story is one of millions, each worth telling, whether from Poland or Sudan, Syria or Congo. The need for these stories to be told is one of the strongest arguments I know for the necessity of art.’ As a spot of archiving, Tailor is supreme, & as a piece of theatre is as equally brilliant, an intricately-woven story full of fine speech & moving & momentous moments.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen


Frances And Ethel

A Play A Pie And A Pint

Oran Mor

Feb 1st– 6th 

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


Frances Gumm was the somewhat inelegant given name for the star who was to become a leading player in the Hollywood of the Thirties and Forties and a singing legend of the Fifties and early sixties- Judy Garland. Unfortunately, Judy never escaped from the self image of herself as untalented, plump little Frances, (not helped by her mother and Louis B Mayer the head of MGM), and died from a barbiturates overdose, a tortured soul and totally burned out, at the young age of 47.

This excellent piece, written by David Cosgrove and Directed by Mary McCluskey gave us a touching insight in to some of the key moments in her career. Set in a dingy rehearsal room in New York at a confidence- boosting rehearsal prior to her major Carnegie Hall appearance in 1961, (she was a chronic no-show for films and gigs alike), the story is told from the point of view of Judy’s  long-time friend and fellow musician, the hard-drinking Sal.

Piano playing Sal (John Kielty) reminisces about her fabulous career and Almost Being In Love, sung from offstage initially, announces the arrival of Judy (Frances Thorburn). Sitting upstage is her mother Ethel (Alison Peebles), dead by this time but still a grim and unlovable presence in her life.


We jump back in time and Frances’ father Frank has managed to secure a deal for her with MGM much to Ethel’s disbelief. How could fat little “monkey face”, her “little hunchback” possibly have managed this? It soon dawns on Ethel that there is money and fame to be had on the back of her daughter’s success.

One of the most poignant moments of the play is Judy’s rendition of her father’s favourite Danny Boy (a great vocal performance from Frances Thorburn throughout) as she reminisces about his early death which left her in the clutches of her domineering mother and the ruinous Hollywood star machine.

The finishing number,a show-stopping The Man That Got Away, had the audience spellbound and the players were given a well earned ovation by a near capacity crowd.

Definitely worth a trip to Oran Mor.


Reviewer : Dave Ivens