Category Archives: Scotland
Dundee Rep Theatre
Sat 23 November – Sun 5 January
Get your dungarees on and spike up your hair for bucketfuls of songs, laughs and good traditional fun as Scotland’s own comic superhero makes his musical theatre debut at Dundee Rep this Christmas. Wullie’s appeal spans the generations. He’s been around – and been ten years old – for eighty years now, doing his scallywag thing in the town of Auchenshoogle. Accompanied by his best mates Soapy Soutar, Fat Boab and Wee Eck, a real slapstick trio if ever there was one, Wullie makes good-hearted mischief in the way young boys used to before the internet and Xboxes, dodging the long arms of PC Murdoch, Teacher and the slippers of Ma and Pa. Christmas without an Oor Wullie annual is like turkey without stuffing, or indeed the eponymous hero without his bucket.
That’s just the problem – someone has stolen Wullie’s bucket. As a result of this calamity, the comic-book coloured Auchenshoogle and the real world are getting mixed up. Expect high-jinx abundant. Can Wullie and his gang and new found friend Wahib retrieve his bucket from our world before his mortal enemy Basher McKenzie turns Auchenshoogle into a richt stramash?
Always bringing something special at Christmas, Dundee Rep have excelled with this year’s production. Bright, colourful and exciting from start to finish, it’s sure to appeal to young children and nostalgic adults alike. The songs are fun and the tunes catchy enough for folk to be humming them on the way out. Take children or don’t – you’ll love Oor Wullie. It’s good wholesome fun for the children in all of us.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 25 – Dec 28, 2019
From the moment when Dixie Whittington (Amy Scott), Captain Cut-Thrapple (Claire Waugh) and Dame Dora Dumplin (Dave Anderson in a wig) came tripping down the aisle through the audience, the stage was set for an hour of merriment and chaos. So began Oran Mor’s 2019 Christmas Pantomime, “Dixie Whittington, the Hamecoming” written and directed by the excellent Morag Fullerton.
The fast moving plot found the naïve young Whittington under the sway of his evil landlord, Skinflint (John Kielty), head full of London tales that never came true, despite the voice in his head telling him to turn again for he would be Mayor of London. And when he was chucked out of his digs, and found himself in a tavern full of drunken sailors, his thoughts turned to heading back up north where his poor old grandmother sat all alone in her lonely flat. When pirate captain Cut-Thrapple offered him and his cat, Fleabag, a passage all the way up to Glasgow –– it seemed like the answer to his prayers.
Of course all Cut-Thrapple and his dastardly sidekick Dame Dumplin the ship’s cook could think of was treasure and cared not for the destinies of man or woman – he had every intention of corrupting the hapless Dixie and leaving him penniless. Was the ship even going to Glasgow? Who knows? The dark tale unfolded with plenty of rip roaring, thigh slapping action, hearty songs and fulsome audience participation. And just when we were wondering how the poor lad would ever climb out of his desperate predicament, enter Inverary Jones (John Kielty again) the shining hero, pushed onstage on a trolley.
With twists and turns too numerous to mention, and with the help of Inverary and a mysterious mermaid called Suzi-the-single-fish, Dixie eventually found his way back to the arms of his grateful granny, who would be lonely no more, much to everyone’s joy – except Cut-throat’s (Boo! Hiss!). And we end with the voices proclaiming that Dixie Whittington, you SHALL be Mayor of Glasgow! Hoorah!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 18 – 23, 2019
Oran Mor’s 500 Play season came to a glorious finale this week with a welcome return of “Cranhill Carmen”, Benny Young’s outrageous Glaswegian version of Bizet’s Carmen, complete with versions of all the best known songs, gustily performed by the gutsy cast who first appeared at the venue in 2018 as part of its Mini Musicals series. Reprising their original roles are Charlene Boyd (Carmen McGurn, the eponymous factory girl), Ewan Petrie (Donald John Macneil, the god fearing policeman from the islands) and Jason Harvey as Glesga Millio, the Glasgow hard man come matador.
We first encountered Carmen rather the worse for wear as she stumbled up the aisle in her high heels and frilly red skirt, and finds a suitable spot on the pavement to use as a toilet. Just the moment when PC Donald came upon her and, deeply offended by the depravity of the act, held forth on his fears for mankind and his unwavering faith in God, both for good inside and out. When he took out his notebook in order to charge her with indecency, Carmen employs all her wiles to persuade him not to book her for her minor misdemeanour. He found himself drawn towards her, enchanted by her glamour and her clever wit. The two engaged in a highly charged philosophical game and he was completely captivated – he’d give up his life for her.
Enter Glesga Millio, resplendent in full matador kit, going all out to impress the lovely Carmen. In complete contrast to the gentle Donald, this was the bad boy, taking command of the stage with his deep bellowing tones and overpowering flavoursome self. His wooing was rough and full of innuendos about what he’d do to women like her, but Carmen loved it and succumbed to his charms.
Dripping in sin, the lovely Carmen revels in the attentions of the two men in turn, laughing at their male competitiveness and transcending what seemed like horrific circumstances into something that it was a joy to behold. Of course the music helped, with all three belting out Bizet’s marvellous tunes with true operatic gusto and heart wrenching feeling. When the finale arrived it was Carmen who emerged victorious, declaring that both men just want to control her and she’s not having any of it. She deftly informs them that she’ll soon be leaving the country anyway.
This play is full of sheer flamboyance, reaching great heights and depths. When in the end Carmen left as she had come, disappearing back up the aisle with neither man in tow, we can’t help but smile.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 11 – 16, 2019
As we approach the end of this season’s 500 play celebrations, today’s production took the form of Do Not Press This Button, a new play by Alan Bisset, directed by Kirsten Mclean. The scene was two table’s on a train where Ben (David Rankine) and Maria (Gemma McElhinney) were seated on either side of the four big windows, both looking intent and composed. All at once Ben tried to start up a conversation with a reluctant Maria and they growl at each other for a bit, recognising that they often share the same train journey but had never talked before.
The somewhat abrupt interaction warmed up when Maria hit upon the idea of a game of questions and answers where they each agreed to answer questions from the other. But Maria had an agenda, and her questions become increasingly personal and uncomfortable for Ben. With a smile on her face, she asked which race was his favourite, as in race of people, and the conversation took on an increasingly explosive tone as he tried to evade her probing. It was almost like watching a Shakespearean encounter with Maggie’s intelligence and sharp wit leaving Ben standing. We laughed at the sight of him being put in his place, it seemed that Maggie couldn’t be won over as easily as all that – if that’s what Ben was trying to do…
Enter Terry in his bomber jacket (Cameron Fulton), who became a kind of an innocent third party as the other two discussed him when he went off to find beer. They agreed that they found his demeanour threatening and confessed to feeling relief that he had temporarily absented himself. The contrast between the stereotypes was not lost on us – the two middle class professionals and the working class Terry with his rough accent and casual clothes. But their attitudes and opinions could confound us too, and lead to assumptions being taken to account. Things took on a much darker turn when Terry was reluctantly cajoled into talking with the two about race and Dire Straits, of all things, and he responded by threatening Maria with his fists. It all ended very badly…
This was a wonderful piece of writing and fitted the Oran venue perfectly, with marvellous edgy performance from all three actors. I suppose that if we don’t “press these buttons” we wouldn’t learn anything at all, but the stern lesson is to do so at your peril and know when to stop!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 4 – 9, 2019
500 plays is no mean feat, and every week the Oran Mor seems to improve on everything that has come before. David Harrower’s effort today was a play called Good with People, a calm yet dangerous take on things that seem to sneak up on us. The set looked inviting, offering a green floral wall paper with a reception desk, a door and a bookcase with a painting in the middle, signifying a hotel reception.
The weary and injured Evan, (Daniel Cahill) had come home to Helensburgh. He found himself at the Seaview Hotel arguing with the receptionist Helen (Louise Ludgate). He was not happy with the hotel service thus far as she had refused him entry until officially opening the hotel and bar at 12 o’clock midday. From Helen’s point of view, she’d come across a problematic customer though with every conversation they had she felt more and more curious and even compelling about him.
As each of these dialogues happened the stage would go from black to total light which brought the points being made across all the more assuredly. They almost fell into total chaos on more than one occasion which also held a light to the frustrations which were arising. After these story telling sessions Fastlane was mentioned; the nuclear defence programme, that was also a popular resort destination. But by this time Evan was irate about revisiting the past horrors he had encountered there and in reality really not wanting to return to it.
There was no going slowly for either of these characters, no time for contemplation or even serious concern aloud but instead a despair. Yet even as the whole world tussled they came to quite some endearing agreements as he flashed himself upon her drawing out of her the information he would need to know for the whole play.
This play was a topsy turvy encounter between two voices and humble physical appearance looking into facing things though they may remain too large to really contemplate. Fastlane is a controversial institute in Scotland and is the cause of many a protest. The protest reflected in the play asking us to question things to a far larger degree, because things can look bleak.
If you’re in the prime of life then you might have seen the magnificent Ken Loach film “Kes”. One of those gritty Seventies movies, it was a favourite of English lessons to accompany the book by Barry Hines “A Kestrel for a Knave”. I don’t remember the book much but the film has stayed with me over the years. So how effectively would a stage version of a film, that heavily features a boy flying a hawk, manage to capture the visual poetry of boy and hawk? Very effectively indeed, actually. A credit to the actors in this fine drama. This from now on will be the “Kes” that I remember.
Billy Casper, a young delinquent and loner, escapes the crushing indifference of school and home by training and flying a kestrel. For him, the wild bird embodies freedom and escape from the ever-nearing adult world of work. His older brother, Jud, works in the coal mines that encircle the Northern town, and Billy, with no means of escape after school, will likely follow him down into the cruel blackness that is so different to the airy light of his hawk’s flight. Danny Hughes makes the character of Billy his own. His South Yourkshire dialect sounds convincing and he has a hang-dog stance down to a tee. The relationship between Billy and his brother Jud, played by Matthew Barker, is the source of the action of the drama, and Hughes and Barker portray this sibling antipathy perfectly. Barker’s Jud is a cocksure, working-class lad, content to live for the weekend, a few too many pints and if she’s lucky, a different type of ‘bird’ than the kind Billy is interested in.
Behind this triangle of brothers and hawk, there is a plethora of other characters, schoolfriends, teachers, shopowners and ‘Mam’. The film version of these characters provided some comic relief and the first screen appearances for actors such as Brian Glover (as a hilariously pompous PE teacher) and Lynne Perrie (Ivy Tilsley from Coronation Street) but here the two actors take up the parts as required. This works well, concentrating the focus of the drama onto the tensions between Billy and Jud, what they each represent, and at the same time allowing the two to inhabit the many really funny moments of this adaptation.
Staging and set detail are used cleverly and evoke that peculiarly British working-class atmosphere of the Sixties and Seventies. Everything, even the school blackboard, is a little bit faded and yellowed with cigarette smoke. It’s fifty years since Ken Loach’s film was made. This adaptation by Robert Alan Evans does real justice to that film and more. It’s one of those one-act plays that you wish had a second act, not because it’s not complete, but because it’s so utterly charming and captivating that you leave wanting more.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 28 – Nov 1, 2019
Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint 500th play year continued with the re-run of another hit production by the popular Stuart Hepburn. Marco Pantani: the Pirate followed the gigantic rise and fall of Italian athlete Marco (Mick Cullen) where he climbed to the very top of cycling which for him was the whole world. With a racing bike hanging at the back of the stage, the scene was set to tell the tale, beginning with conversations with his very supportive family, mother Tonina played by Janet Coulson, who somewhat grimly would always be warning about the serious side of things, and his grandfather Sortero (Tom McGovern) who had complete faith in the remarkable talents of the boy. The bike, it turned out, was unveiled as a present for him, confirming the faith they had in him.
The action jumped between different periods in the life of all three characters, at first focusing on Marco with a bandage on his head having had plastic surgery to fix his ear problem and highlighting how he had always felt different and had been made in a different way to anybody else. But somehow everything faded into the background in the face of his overwhelming dream of making it to the top. You felt that even when his mother was found to be mentally ill and she spoke about her incarceration, he somehow couldn’t quite comprehend anything about it.
The story took us from his first race to when he went on to win the Giro D’Italia and the Tour De France. We watched him mount the bike pretending to cycle hard and fast with a sheer determination that was shocking to doctors and fellow sportsmen alike. He would then go on to celebrate hard with the money that came his way due to these races, taking drugs and hanging around with the kind of people with whom he was better off without, and which led to his downfall.
But to the great excitement of his family, that indomitable spirit led him on to complete many great victories in the cycling world. All his life he had suffered from mental fragility, often casting around in a place of pain and anguish. But to his credit what was inside him flourished for a brief hot while, as he won races on the strength of his hill climbing abilities and triumphantly donned a pirate bandana in recognition of the amazing life that he led; which made his fall from grace all the sadder.
In the end this seemingly simple play was a complex exploration of how a unique man challenged the gods of his sport and achieved his dream, at least for a while, to cycle to the top of the world.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 21 – 26, 2019
As part of its 500th play celebration, Oran Mor is this week reprising Dave Anderson’s play “A Walk in the Park”, starring the said Mr Anderson as an everyman character struggling hilariously with his i-Pad and with modern technology in general. He wanted to write a letter and reflect upon tech literature versus the now old fashioned method of using paper.
Taking a walk in the park to think things through, things took on a somewhat surreal tone when he encountered, among other things, a fox and a squirrel (played by Helen McAlpine) along the way. The fox appeared, as bright and orange as the real thing with a small mask of brow and snout. It danced about but went on to join him in his complaints about the real world that we live in today. The fox for him was like a bright apparition which whom he gleefully shared some poetic lyricisms.
The squirrel too gave him an opportunity to think out exactly what was disturbing him, and in doing so, he also managed to create an unexpected bond that gradually begins to do him the world of good. Thus ensued lively conversations between all three characters, both with themselves and between themselves and often directly with the audience. Audience participation being very much part of it all as the three strolled and postured around the stage and up the aisle, to musical accompaniment (piano and song), pondering what they thought of as the horrors of technology.
We were often in tears of laughter with every punchline that came from the actor’s mouth, with his sharp looks and pointed stances. The inclusion of the animals seemed to widen the sense of philosophical exploration, somehow making the smallish room seem bigger as they concluded that they were overawed by the simple statistics of technology as we have come to know it and that being modern might mean that that old traditions may no longer be of any use. It was a message made gently, engaging us completely. When the line “life is not a walk in the park” was uttered, we saw how simple things were really. We were left with a feeling that the questions still remain but we were not alone as we explore them because we all share the same conundrums.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 14 – 19, 2019
This week’s offering at Oran Mor saw the return of Ian Pattison’s play “Divided”, about the iconic psychiatrist, RD Laing. The scene was set in a stylish art deco living room with three comfortable chairs and an extra podium at the front where Billy Mack relaxed and likeable Laing would sit with a whisky at his desk while he talked on the phone. We listened in as he took many calls from various characters, dealing in depth with each.
The play explored the way Laing would constantly come across the then behavioural dysfunctions of mental health treatment, which he saw as not humane. And so, as the action unfolded, these dialogues revealed the universal insights and the great passions that characterised his life. Alongside his work, life was happening for him too. Both of his daughters, Suzie (Sarah Miele) and Karen (Eve Traynor) would want to talk to him, but there was always some sort of barrier that meant that they felt he wasn’t quite there. It was sad to see this side of things, but although there were many arguments you got a strong sense of the family love that existed between them and that always helped them sift through to find the truer meaning – very much the work of the psychiatrist.
Laing was portrayed here as being defined by the huge regard he felt for his family and lovers. There was a dilemma regarding the hard fact that his daughter Suzie was ill with leukaemia and in all reality did not have long left to live. His love for her ‘perhaps’ conflicted with his philosophy; that it is better off to know bad news than to conceal it. After passionate arguments with his other daughter Karen, he decided to adhere to that philosophy causing Suzie to become upset though she later revealed that she was glad that he did so, while Karen too accepted it in the end.
This production had the taste of a fair-minded exploration into what made the great man tick, both positive and negative. It was also a dedication to a time when old walls were falling down and new doors being opened. Laing’s new theories about the doctor patient relationship would go on to change everything; a fascinating insight into a complicated mind.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 30th – Oct 5th, 2019
Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint’s 500th play season continued this week with the return of “Fly Me To the Moon” by Marie Jones, a play that first appeared at the venue in 2010. The stage was set in a cosy looking living room where we meet two care workers, Loretta (Sandra McNeeley) and Frances (Julie Austin) who were there to carry out their duties for their client, Davy McGee. The two had devotedly looked after the 84 year old Davy for the past 12 years, knowing him well and familiar with his habits and routines, such as his love of the horses and of Frank Sinatra and the way he would sing along to “Fly me to the Moon”.
However it was soon clear that today wasn’t going to plan when Frances shot into the room from the bedroom and did a quick couple of turns around the stage, in a panic because she’d discovered that Davy had passed away in his sleep. What will we do, what will we do….? With Francis going out of her mind, the mind of Loretta got to thinking as she realised that the old man had died before he was able to pick up his pension of £80. Not only that but Loretta discovered a betting slip – for once Davy’s horse had won at 100 to 1. Wham the plot to take it for themselves was born.
While Loretta started making plans for a trip to Barcelona, Frances fretted about the fact that what they were doing could be fraud, and with the strains of “Fly me to the Moon” in the background, they discussed the rights and wrongs of the situation. The arguments went to and fro, but whenever Francis complained that they were doing something wrong, Loretta would persuade her that it was both of their ideas to which Frances always came round. But their careful plan fell flat when they realise that the time of death would not concur with the time of cashing the pension. But they did it anyway, justifying themselves on the grounds that they had been working for years on minimal wages. We can understand from the stories that blended into their conversation that no matter how hard they both worked, they have money troubles that won’t go away.
With lively dialogue and thought provoking issues, this was a play that challenged you. You can’t just dismiss the temptations the women are subject to as despicable without also considering the role of society which expects them to perform work for the vulnerable while not paying them a living wage. It’s good theatre that raises these conundrums and makes you think.