Monthly Archives: February 2019
Ishy Din’s new play, Approaching Empty, is blowing into Scotland next week… The Mumble fancied a wee chat about it all!
Hello Ishy, so what’s your new play, Approaching Empty, about?
It’s about two lifelong friends and a business deal. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well for them. It’s an examination of post-industrial northern towns, Asian communities and the male Asian experience. It’s part of a trilogy of plays I’m writing for Tamasha. The first was Snookered, which I wrote a few years ago about young Asian men who were born in this country. It felt like there was more to be explored within that community, so this is the second, which is about middle aged men who came to the UK when they were 12or 13 years old.
How did you come up with the idea?
The themes presented themselves coming out of Snookered; friendship, family, community. I had the title, Approaching Empty, because when I was trying to keep the wolves from the door I did a bit of cabbing. The operator would ask us, “Where are you?” and, if you were nearly finished, you would say “I’m approaching empty”. I thought it was a great phrase.
How much of this play is fed by your cabbing experience?
I think it gives an authenticity to that world. It all unfolds in this dingy cab office somewhere up north. That, I knew really well. The coffee, the dartboard, the endless TV. Sitting around waiting for a job, Tuesday night, 1 o’clock in the morning in Middlesbrough, feeling the whole place is shut down.
It’s set at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Why was that important?
I can trace a line back to the 1980s from today. When people say the phrase ‘working class’ the image that comes to mind is one of hobnail boots and flatcaps, but since the 1950s the working classes have been really multicultural. People came from all over the world to be part of the working classes. For the Asian community, our raison d’etre were the factories. Margaret Thatcher closed them down. For some people it was the opportunity they needed and they went off and became successful. But for many people, it was a devastating blow. I think, in some ways, we haven’t recovered from that. We became isolated within our own communities. Over the years that’s grown because, especially up north, it feels like we’ve been left behind. You think “What about us?”
Do you think enough is done to bring working class and Asian communities into the theatre?
I think there’s a great will now to open up the types of stories being told and the different voices being heard. But I think we need to demystify theatre. If people don’t come to a theatre, it’s theatre’s obligation to go to the people. We need to get out more into social clubs, into community centres, into churches, and say “We tell stories, come and tell us yours” and within that we will find incredible writers and directors. The arts is a £70 billion industry. It’s Britain’s second biggest export. Why aren’t we saying “There are jobs here for you guys.” We’ve taken away one industry, why aren’t we encouraging another industry to pick up the slack. If you’re involved in creativity, it’s good for your confidence, good for your anxiety; it can lead to careers and all sorts of things. I think there’s a fear: “What happens in there? Will I fit? Am I allowed?” These sort of questions that people would ask before going to the theatre. If we can demystify it, people will be much more confident to come in.
How important is it, then, to tour Approaching Empty around the UK and in the north in particular?
I think it’s really important, but touring on its own is not enough. We need to get the marketing right as well. People aren’t going to pick up brochures to see what’s on at the theatre if they have no inclination to go to the theatre. So we have to change how we market it – where do we go, who do we tell, how do we encourage them to come along and say “You’ll enjoy this, this will be something that you recognise.”
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
It’s amazing. You sit there together and you see this thing unfolding in front of you. There’s something beautiful about all those characters going through their journey’s right there in front of you. It’s different every night; it has a different energy. It’s a shared experience, so we laugh together, we gasp together and we leave together talking about what we just experienced. Over the years Tamasha has done so much to encourage people to get involved with theatre. They’ve created work from East is East right up to Approaching Empty, and everything in between. It’s a truly great company.
by Ishy Din | Directed by Pooja Ghai
Tron Theatre, Glasgow: 5 March;
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh: 8 – 9 March.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 28th-Mar 5th, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
“Spuds” is the third show in Oran Mor’s 15th anniversary year, and one that had made a previous appearance at the venue in 2017. The charmingly simple, almost sketch like, set – red seat, window, desk – established the tone for what was to follow; a hilarious take on drug trafficking in a mini musical. The cast comprised Darren Brownlie, Richard Conlon, Dawn Sievewright with Gavin Whitworth accompanying the show, written and directed by Andy McGregor, on the piano.
The “hero” of the piece is one David MacGonigle, in a funk after the death of his wife, with his life collapsing about him. McGonigle accidentally discovers, in a mouldy chip, a new designer drug, Spuds. With theatrical extravagance, the story plays out, opera-like, in music and song. In one farce-like scene McGonigle finds solace in a bottle of Irn Bru which is held up like a revered trophy.
The Glaswegian characters – neds, drug dealers, hard bitten gangsters – sang in their own thick accents while outrageously and hilariously debating the predicaments encountered by the accidental, and very successful, drug lord. The facts were laid bare – the world he was entering was one of vast conceit. But nothing could stop him as he could only think about making a lot of money. The cost of which was personal to him in the end.
This packed hour was a classically brilliant, vibrantly modern comedic take on the miseries of one man as he is taken high and low, too pumped to recognise the journey he was on. The play was filled to the brim with theatricality that had at one moment an entourage of twenty or more people queuing for those fries and at the finale singing in unison of a world that lacked safety and a future where no-one was safe. A piece of well worked theatre, expertly delivered.
19 February – 9 March, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Jemima Levick directs an accomplished cast in Miller’s tragic drama of the moral bankruptcy of post-war American paternalism. Miller’s moralising can be heavy-handed at times, especially for an audience cynical of authority. But beyond the clash of father and son, this production shows us a mother, paralysed by grief, desperately trying to mitigate the impact of a truth bursting to reveal itself on a family already lost to each other.
Joe Keller is the model of a self-made man. Everything he has, he has worked hard for. He had two sons. One son, Larry, went missing-in-action in the war and the other son Chris, an army veteran himself, is set to inherit the family business. Powerfully played by Barrie Hunter, Joe is the embodiment of American masculinity – hard-working, respected by his peers and self-assured. But he is concealing a secret. He made a mistake. During the war, pressured by the military hawks, he was responsible for allowing faulty aircraft parts to leave his factory. This led to the death of twenty-one airmen. At the government inquiry he knowingly let his business partner Steve take the rap for his failure. His partner went to prison, leaving Joe scot-free.
Chris (Daniel Cahill), Joe’s idealistic son, has invited Ann (Amy Kennedy), his missing brother’s sweetheart, back to the family home. He intends to ask her to marry him. However, Ann is also the daughter of Joe’s jailed business partner. Ann’s arrival sparks a series of explosive revelations that will not end well.
At the centre of the action is Kate Keller, Joe’s wife and Chris’s mother. Irene MacDougall gives an outstanding performance as the matriarch of the group. At times wrapped in grief, at others trying to take charge of a situation spiralling out of her control.
Alex Lowde’s design is stark and restrained. The back-yard of the Kellers, where all the action takes place, is a sterile space surrounded by dead trees, even in August it seems. Atmospheric, almost ambient sounds by David Paul Jones deepen the feeling of sterility and mournfulness that pervades the production. The oppressive atmosphere builds with the approaching climax: as Chris and Joe confront each other once Joe’s truth breaks out, the storm that’s been rumbling off-stage breaks into a torrential downpour, cooling the August heat that’s been brewing in the Keller’s garden.
Dundee Rep’s production of All My Sons, like most of Miller’s theatre is never light drama, but it’s like the Ancient Greek tragedies that it nods towards – a cathartic experience that goes with you, long after you walk away, satisfied and a little wiser.
February 21-23, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There seemed to be a sense of magic in the air as I arrived the Tron Theatre at Glasgow Cross. I had come to see Linda Marlowe present “Berkhoff’s Women”, celebrating some of the magnificent woman in the early works of Steven Berkhoff, a show which she herself premiered at the Edinburgh Festival 20 years ago, and which came from her own association and friendship with the playwright himself. To be honest, I hadn’t come across the piece before and didn’t quite know what to expect from the evening’s performance. That, coupled with a personal liking for this venue, served to heighten my senses. From the moment when Marlowe, dressed in a trim sexy black dress, launched herself with shocking intensity into the first role, the whole audience was hooked.
A large square of red material served to further grab our attention as she folded and unfolded it, adding yet more depth and significance to every profound and poetic utterance. Attention which never faltered as she wove together the extracts from the playwright’s work, in a continuous stream of honesty, passion, certainty, absurdity. She embraced each character fully and with gusto, holding a torch to the sensibilities of the playwright and his work.
Nothing was held back; strong shocking language expressing and emphasizing strong emotions. Her bond with the audience built steadily as the performance reached its climax. Charged with ironies and terrible conundrums, her voice filled with the words and gestures of her performance caught your very heart sometimes without mercy as she cajoled, then shimmering forth with the look and the message of love to the depth of understanding as a woman who was delivering lines written by a man.
There was a Q&A session after the performance and Marlowe shared some of her feelings about performing this piece again after 20 years, and perhaps a slight nervousness at such an undertaking. Things had, she agreed, changed in that 20 years, both personally and in society. That’s why it is perhaps important to revisit such a work, to process the changes.
Quite simply, Linda Marlow shone in this performance, a single performer portraying a complex cast of characters telling forceful yet sensual stories; universal truths. Her own persona, inspired, sensual and honest, seems to perfectly typify the strong women she depicts here, Berkoff’s women. All in all, one is left with a swelling sense of love for each other, told in poetic tales of devotion and dedication from a strong (yet universal) female point of view.
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.