Category Archives: Scotland

The Ugly One

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Tron, Glasgow
July 4 – 20, 2019

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


The Tron stage looked great as we took our seats for the Scottish Premier of The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg, an award winning writer from Munich. With a door to each side and two pairs of plinths with metallic fruit bowls, the walls, blinds, a conveyer belt all looked very plush and inviting. The characters, played by Martin McCormack (Lette), Sally Reid (Lette’s wife Fanny/rich old lady), Michael Dylan (Lette’s boss/Scheffler the surgeon) and Helen Katamba,  carried on their chairs and sat centre stage in a row, launching straight into the action.

The plot revolved around a revolutionary new plug, invented by Lette, who was very excited about his invention. But the other characters seemed more concerned with who should promote the new product, agreeing unanimously that Lette himself was far too ugly to be entrusted with the task. This came as news to Lette and it was only when his wife agreed with the others that he conceded the point. Rather bizzarly, it was decided that plastic surgery was the way to go.

Movement around the stage was glorious, with people sliding on the conveyer belt, the blind on the walls gliding gracefully to and fro, keeping the action moving with pace in an every-changing set. The hilarities were also unending; clever to the point of showcasing all the facets of theatre, clearly a most accomplished piece packed with the sheer delight of writing and most glorious acting. In continuous use was a screen above the action. We were introduced to this for the first surgery scene that had me in stitches. They held a smart phone to the scene and proceeded to cut into fruit to simulate Lette under the knife

But the surgery turns out to have unexpected consequences, with the new-look Lette becoming subject to the demands of everyone, much to his dismay. The climax comes when Lette climbs on to one of the plinths, in seeming isolation – how dramatic, how captivating! In the ensuing confusion, Lette comes face to face with some very dark truths about human nature.

This show is the blackest of black comedies, touching upon the reality of modern life and how it is lived, making you think. But mostly making you laugh. This was fun, totally brilliant, I commend it and I recommend it. It’s on at the Tron until 20 July – don’t miss it!

Daniel Donnelly

five-stars

Them!

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Tramway, Glasgow
June 27 – July 06, 2019

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


The Tramway was an expectant place as we congregated before the show. As we walked in we were handed ear plugs; you couldn’t have had a better forewarning of the event to follow. It was also testament to the Tramway’s complete versatility as a theatre venue with the whole space able to change at will. The performance event in question was a new show from the National Theatre of Scotland’s Stewart Laing and Pamela Carter.  Them! was inspired by the classic 1950’s horror Sci-fi movie of the same name, in which giant mutant ants attack Los Angeles. No doubt then why the poster listed “the audience, the host, the guests, and band and the ants”. All of which elements were thoroughly examined in one way or another as the evening progressed.

Them! was a talk show, hosted by the irresistible and irrepressible Kirina (Pamela Carter) who began the evening’s interviews by turning to the audience and asking about who we are. An enormous proposition, but that’s just for starters… With Kirina at the centre, the show built with great professionalism, fun, and lots and lots of talking as the artists and musicians offered their own personal take on any and every issue under the sun. Topics were raised and just as quickly flew by as the passionate Kirina, enjoying herself tremendously, delved deeper and deeper, kept us straight as we tried to follow the chaos of the ever changing scenarios.

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I have to say a word about the production – the whole enormous stage was filled with everything a major talk show might have: a couch and chair for the interviews, a performance area for the band (Pop Queen Carla, a young Glaswegian Indie band), all combined with clever lighting, spotlights and the large screen hung right in the middle, on which we could watch clips from the original 50’s movie and from the musical tribute remake produced by Stewart.

Again and again, the discussions came back to the question of who we are, what we are, what are we doing here and touched upon themes of loneliness and survival? All the “guests” offered diverse reflections and comments, which could have been baffling, but somehow we were guided throughout and if we got lost we had the sense of Kirina to rely on.

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So where do the ants come in?  As carefully as we were “captured” we were shown the escape and could choose to go into a tunnel (through the audience) where there was heavy strobing and beat music which seemed almost out of control. My choice was a whisky and the quiet exit which led to a room where there were two  large glass tank filled with thousands of leafcutter ants all busy doing what they do – a fascinating watch.

Are we ants? No we are humans but with very similar tasks, strength and beauty. What do we need? What does it all look like? The idea of Them! showed up many times throughout this show in different guises and with deep and careful and skilled writing and creating. In the end the show explored all sides of being human and surviving the world, just like the ants.

Daniel Donnelly

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Pink House

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Assembly Roxy
Edinburgh
June 28-30, 2019

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


Pink House is a new play by New Yorker, Madison Pollack, produced by Edinburgh theatre company Paradigm Lab. I got to see a preview before the show runs at Edinburgh Fringe this August, and whilst first performance nerves were certainly palpable I enjoyed the production a lot, especially Pollack’s thoughtful and emotive script.

Pink House explores the new relationship between a Jewish grandmother, Shira, who immigrated to America as a child and her adopted teenage grandchild, Peri, who she only meets after the death of her estranged daughter. As well as presenting the new co-existence of Shira and Peri and the seemingly insurmountable gulf between them, we see flashbacks of Shira’s childhood. These flashbacks depict a house of women and girls: Shira, her mother, aunt and sister, all with contrasting personalities. And this all-female cast adds to Pink House’s distinctive tone and perspective. The overall structure is chronological, but lacks rigidity, so that understanding of what has happened and is happening unfolds for the audience as the play goes on.

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The strongest aspect of Pink House is its tender exploration of ideas around memory, family and what divides and connects people. The play deliberates over what makes someone family, and whether family is something you can choose. While Peri’s mother chose her through adopting her and did not choose Shira, but Peri and Shira are forced together through family connections. Pink House explores Anti-Semitism specifically through these questions of family, divisions and connections. Shira is faced with the childhood memories she has oppressed through the voices she hears (perhaps through senility) and the recordings on an old wire recorder, which her sister made “for posterity”. Memory becomes complicated when you are displaced from your family and culture by immigration and the repressing of trauma. For Shira this bottling up has resulted in cruelty to herself and those around her. And as we see throughout the performance, that certain things deserve to be remembered.

The abstract, minimalist set consisting of metal wire boxes which could be moved to create tables, chairs and cupboards, achieved the perfect balance of simplicity and flexibility required of a festival show. Although the movement between scenes was a little stilted it is sure to pick up pace by the run in August. The abstraction of the set pieces and how they are interacted with juxtaposes beautifully with the more concrete descriptions of the family home settings.

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Alice Jackson had quite a challenge portraying both the younger and older Shiras. With no time for a costume change, let alone aging make up, as the scenes flow from past to present, it is all down to Jackson to make the shift clear to the audience. While there was a notable and satisfying change in her interactions with other cast members it would have been nice to see more from her physicality. Ania Myszkowska was particularly enigmatic as Rebecca, Shira’s younger sister, her energetic and youthful performance contributing a lot to the tenderness of the production and the heart-breaking revelations of the family’s experiences.

Pink House has a very original voice, a thoughtful script and some great performances and stage craft. If you are looking for some new writing that is more thought-provoking than provocative this Fringe, then I would recommend getting a ticket.

Katrina Woolley

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Last Ferry to Dunoon

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
June 24 – 29, 2019

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The set glowed blue with a backdrop depicting Katsushika Hokusai’s famous Great Wave print, perfectly setting the scene for us as our three characters sat together in a shelter on a stormy day, waiting for the ferry to Dunoon – it was unclear whether they planned to embark or were waiting for someone who was due to arrive. As they waited, the three – Karen (Linda Duncan McLaughlin), Aiden (Iain Robertson) and the aptly named Johnaboy (Laurie Ventry) – regaled each other with tales of the seaports and coastal towns they had visited, stories that seemed as large as the sea itself.

This week’s PPP was Peter McDougall’s amazing seventh play at the Oran Mor (he also co-wrote the very first) and opened to a full house with an eager and appreciative audience, full of relish for what was to come. And they weren’t disappointed, with the action moving from frolicking comedy to spotlit drama as the actors in turn held sway with the stories they had to tell about well-remembered summer trips down the coast to traditional destinations like Millport, Wemyss Bay, Rothsay.

As the stories unfolded, it felt as if there was more to this than met the eye as the characters revealed more about themselves and you wondered about what the relationship was between them. Karen seemed to be the cornerstone and to have the key that would tie the story together. When the storm exploded, with thunder and lightning roaring and flashing over the stage, the two fellas were thrown to the floor where they remained for a good ten minutes.

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As a twirling twist Karen was repeatedly revealed in different guises, taking off her jacket to reveal an NHS costume, then later shaking out her hair to make her appear like some sort of god. There seemed to be a kind of mythical undertone to this section as she performed various small tasks over the prone men, delivering both blessings and condemnations as she woke them up obviously feeling very rough after their handling by the storm.

It seemed like no time before the hour was up and we were left slightly wondering what just happened – more than just waiting for a ferry while being blown about by the wind and the rain. A romp down memory lane perhaps. An invitation to explore the old and the new and perhaps the mythical in Scottish culture. An entertaining and intriguing experience, full of light and dark, just like the sea.

Daniel Donnelly

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Dusty Won’t Play

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
June 17 – 22, 2019

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


Today’s set was a marvellous confection of soft frilly orange material at the back with red on either side, with something of the look of a stall at the circus. And following on the big background came the big music as we were introduced to the inimitable Dusty Springfield who glided on stage and into song. A tribute to Dusty’s famous 1964 tour of South Africa, this play was written by well-known comedy writer and children’s author Annie Caulfield and is making its second appearance at Oran Mor, the first one being back in 2017.

Frances Thorburn as Dusty – at the height of her fame – passionately refused to go on tour in South Africa and play to segregated audiences. According to the law they would only be playing to segregated audiences, basically a gig without black people. Music and dialogue intertwined with lighting effects to build the plot, a story hard to hear for modern sensibilities.

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Kevin Lennon and Andy Clark both shared a number of roles, not least Clark’s portrayal of the South African Policeman, out for Dusty’s blood because of his zealous dedication to the extremes of South African apartheid law. Lennon played both Dusty’s band member and her Manager, working hard at watching Dusty’s back and making a very good job of it. They played a gig in Johannesburg to both white and black people where Dusty out-performed herself.

Frances Thorburn’s portrayal of Dusty captured all the magic and power of that unique voice, together with that legendary star quality which she used to battle over great opposition and in the end to triumph over it. Not that she didn’t have many moments of doubt, especially when she and her band found themselves in some seriously sticky situations – this was a South Africa that could be hostile and inhospitable. But in the end they stood firm; with Dusty at the wheel they all found themselves fighting for nothing less than human dignity, or at the very least raising awareness of the issues.
In the songs we laughed, we cried, we were treated to a voice that sang from somewhere beyond, and we laughed at the jokes. With the final iconic song ringing in our ears, we were left thinking that choosing Dusty’s legend was a great way of showcasing the sort of problems we see the world over, because everything changes and everything stays the same…

Daniel Donnelly

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Ida Tamson

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
June 10 – 15, 2019

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


For Oran Mor’s offering this week, the set had a somewhat clinical feel with panels covering the back of the stage and a gap that would act as a door. There was a table with two dark seats and a mug on the table. As the play began, large magazines were projected on the panels. To the sound of rap music we saw Elaine C Smith and Joy Mcavoy join each other already deep in conversation. Smith was reprising the character of Ida, a part she first played in 2006 when Denise Mina’s play was first produced at Oran Mor to great critical acclaim.

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We got the measure of the two women straight away by the contrast in their attire, the middle aged Ida in her less expensive clothes compared with journalist Helen (Macavoy) in her plush business suit. Helen was chasing the story of Ida’s daughter Mary, victim of an overdose. In their conversation it turned out that Mary was dead, wasn’t dead, was dead again, becoming a farcical exchange between them and greatly frustrating Helen as she has became emotionally invested in the Mary situation. Every time the journalist felt she was making progress Ida shuts off and gave out her usual banter to get out of talking about the unbearable details.

Gradually the truth emerged and we realised that Ida’s humour was her way of trying to deal with the great grief of losing her daughter to drugs. Helen seemed to want nothing more than to represent Ida in telling her story, indeed she became quite passionate about that. But Ida remained aloof, never quite trusting this journalist who she felt was really only looking for a good story to boost her own career. In fact at one point Ida was so full of distrust and paranoia that she clasped her hands around the journalist’s throat, nearly strangling her. And it would be a good story because Ida had turned her back on a life as the wife of gangland drugs boss and was bringing up her lost daughter’s children on her own.

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With a nifty change of scene (worthy of larger and longer productions), we were introduced to the character Fletcher (Paul James Corrigan) who it turned out was a rival drugs lord, and the person who got involved with Mary and got her into drugs in the first place. He was planning to move to Cyprus and wanted to take his son, Mary’s child, with him. He demanded that Ida allow him to do so, threatening violence if she didn’t. We saw all of Ida’s inner turmoil as she struggled to find the strength to assimilate yet another body blow made by this unreasonable man, who was already in reality the villain of the piece.

The play concluded with Ida sitting at Helen’s desk with the journalist frantically writing away. Ida had already lost so much, has had to dig deep into her inner reserves of courage and resilience in order to survive, but in the end we are left with a poignant vision of a heroic Glasgow woman who despite having lost so much, found the courage to acknowledge all that had happened and agreed to make her story public.

Daniel Donnelly

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What the Animals Say

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
June 3 – 8, 2019

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


As we settled in our seats, the simple set (6 chairs and a screen) effectively took us to the waiting room of the Stranraer to Belfast ferry. This two-hander by David Ireland (first performed at the Oran Mor in 2009) concerns two young men, Eddie (Jordan Young) and Jimmy (Kevin Lennon) who encounter each other in the ferry terminal. The two soon discover that they are actually old school buddies from Belfast although they then took completely different paths in life. We get an inkling of this from their attire, with Eddie looking very smart in his expensive track suit and state of the art headphones, while Jimmy is scruffier in rather down at heel casual gear.

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It turned out that Eddie had made it big as a football star and now captains Glasgow Celtic and hobnobs with celebrities. Jimmy, as he continually impresses upon Eddie, is an accomplished actor, but is still seeking his big break; the role that will really put him on the map. At the moment he was on his way to an audition which he hoped could change his life, to be in a new Mel Gibson film. As the two converse, we see Eddie’s larger than life personality as he becomes more and more personal with Jimmy, and exposes his own sectarian and racist attitudes. The military-sounding flute and drum music that introduced the piece had already given us a clue as to the underlying themes what would be explored.

The contrast between the two characters couldn’t be greater, with Jimmy quoting Shakespearean passages in the face of an increasingly threatening and volatile Eddie. The content came fast and hard with the whole thing seeming to be an emotional outburst about the sectarian sector we know of in our society. The writing had a straight attitude towards that by simply having them state, the hard facts that are on the road in the Glaswegian lifestyle. It also got to the heart of its subject by posing abrupt emotions; as they really seem to lie in us that they both did with the same sincerity but also lightening the mood as needed be.

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In the second part of the play, there was a complete turnaround. The scene changed to a dressing room where Eddie was practicing his lines. It drove Jimmy mad that Eddie now wanted to try his hand at acting and has persuaded Jimmy to help him with his lines in return for an introduction to Mel Gibson. But after some more personal jostling they both wind up with balaclavas on their faces, a no holds barred and rather shocking effect that was done with a little humour. Eddie held a small bat in his arms with much too great a relish. In the end Jimmy was beaten with the bat as Eddie just loses it and can find no more use of words. With its straight down the line dialogue, this play challenges many levels of perception, perspective and reality. You cannot look away, it was strong theatre.

Daniel Donnolly

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Cool Dads

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
May 20 – 25, 2019

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


No sooner had the house announcer proclaimed “…with no further ado…” than the room fell silent and dark and we were catapulted straight into the action. The spotlight fell on an ever so green set, with two supporters standing on the touchline for the first round of the under 14’s Scottish Cup where their boys’ team, Mosspark, faces the mighty Kings of Rosshill. The banter between the sardonic Danny (Adam Robertson) and his pal Graham (Kris McDowall) was fierce and authentic, with Graham clearly terrified of the opposing team. Along comes the team coach, Paul (David McGowan), making a big impact in his tracksuit, along with larger than life Angie (Natali McCleary) who soon makes her presence felt.

The four of them, long term – and long suffering – fans, talk football and offer contrasting opinions and guidance from the side lines, yelling their gratuitous advice and instructions in the familiar manner of fans the world over. We see Danny unable to shift out of his negative mindset – even when their team scores, and then wins the match, he can’t find praise for the youngsters. His ranting becomes more and more aggressive as if he can’t stop himself while friend Graham keeps his back from any fray and tries to guide Danny towards a more peaceful mood.

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It turned out there was history between Danny and coach Paul – they had a falling out when Paul’s football career was cut short due to an injury caused by Danny, something Paul had never been able to forgive. The two nearly come to blows, but Angie intervened and in an angry outburst she puts them in their place by shouting that life could ultimately be a lot harder and that in fact no-one had the right to think of themselves as the ‘cool dads’ that they think they were because there’s always something new to learn. In the course of these exchanges we came to realise that Danny had never known his own father, something he found hard to accept and which perhaps was at the root of all his troubles.

So there you have it – a great play not just about football (though that too) but about life and learning and living with our past. An enthralling hour full of gusto, passion and an ultimately moving story. What’s not to love?

Daniel Donnolly

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Jocky Wilson Said

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Tron Theatre, Glasgow
May 13 – 18, 2019

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


A desert scene stretched out from the back of the stage, with colourful backdrops and green fresh cacti. A solitary scene for the one-hander to come. It’s 1979 and Jocky Wilson was 184 miles from his destination, Las Vegas, but missed his connection and was forced to hitch hike his way there. But would the wait prove too much for him? Darts player Jocky Wilson (convincingly played by Grant O’Rourke) turned professional in the late 70’s and went on to win World Pro Darts Championship in 1982 and again in ’89. He always was the gallous character from Fife that was captured in this play written by Jane Livingstone and Jonathon Cairney. Jocky Wilson Said was first performed at Oran Mor in 2017.

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Clothed in his professional darts garb – he was on his way to play an exhibition match – Jocky’s emotions fluctuated from elation to despair as he waited for a ride that at times didn’t look like it would even come. At one point he screamed angrily as a possible hitch passed him by. He started talking to a cactus and in the conversation reflected on his life and the journey which had taken him thus far. It was as if the stage was peopled with characters from his imagination as he recalled the huge, all- encompassing part that darts had played in his life, becoming a way out for him, but more than that giving him something at which he excelled. He told the cactus of his great triumph and how winning the championship was both a victory for himself and a victory over people he encountered who perhaps didn’t believe in him as much as he would have liked.

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Jocky Wilson Said was very much a tale of the underdog made good, going through the elements of his life one by one like the pile of rocks he was sitting on. We saw the real man behind the image, got a feel for what made him tick. Not least because of a wonderful performance by Grant O’Rourke, who seemed to completely inhabit Jocky’s persona, from his accent and mannerisms to the very spirit of the man himself. And at the moment when a vehicle finally stopped for him, he gathered his things and as a goodbye from him to us he lifted an imaginary championship cup and he proudly and defiantly raised his hands to the sky. With that, the lights went out and he was gone.

Jockey Wilson’s character shone through this play, his courage, his determination; and in no small part, his humour. It set the stage alight as though it was big production with a big cast. But these were things it didn’t need. Altogether a skilful and accomplished piece of drama.

Daniel Donnolly

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Toy Plastic Chicken

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Oran Mor Glasgow
May 6 – 11, 2019

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


At the Oran Mor, this week’s set had an air of readiness about it, somehow clinical. Sure enough, when the lights were on it, a passport control point immerged. Ross (David James Kirkwood) and Emma (Anne Russell Martin) appeared as passport officers in full uniform. Ross seems happy in his work, while Emma is full of inner rage about her profession. The play, written by Uma Nada-Rajah, is set at Edinburgh airport and is a black comedy based on a true story.

Enter Rachel (Neshla Caplan), who seems like a victim from the moment she comes on stage and is put through her paces by the two officers. The set changes cunningly to depict the various sections of the airport kiosk, as the examination progresses. In one powerful scene, the hapless Rachel has been told to strip behind a screen, while the silent and furious Emma stands by. It is an extremely uncomfortable moment. Ross, the jokey male officer, provides an element of comedy. But his jokes have somehow an undercurrent of violence about them, highlighting another uncomfortable aspect of the action.

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The eponymous plastic chicken is set on the table from the beginning as it is the only item left after Rachel has divested herself all metal and electronics. When the alarms go off, the toy chicken is deemed to be a bomb and uproar ensues. Protocol must be followed and Emma becomes more and more robotic in the discharge of her duties, though Ross can be relied upon for complaining to. Indeed Ross even professes his love for Emma, but she simply replies ‘…not today…’ The situation deteriorates drastically, and Rachel reacts badly, becoming distressed. As she has to turn her attention to the woman’s care, an increasingly conflicted Emma curses repeatedly “..f**k..” as she expressed her hatred of her life as a passport control officer.

The play ended as it began with a deliberately standoffish Emma and the ever-joking Ross directing a distraught traveler through Edinburgh passport control – a down to earth delving into the paranoia of modern life and the art of sticky situations, I found the dialogue dynamic and emotionally true. Yet another example of the high art of drama to be expected at the Oran Mor venue, well worth a watch.

Daniel Donnolly

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