Category Archives: Scotland

Benidorm

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Edinburgh  Playhouse

September 17th-22nd

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


Following a furtive few weeks of recuperation from the reviewing the panoply of theatricalisms abounding at the Fringe, I finally felt ready for a play. It was also going to be on at the Edinburgh Playhouse, which is more of a musical theater venue these days & let me begin by saying that with the help of radio mics, it was an excellent experience to see a real play in such a magnificent auditorium as this. So what was it; well its essentially a stage version of a popular ITV show, Benidorm, which I wasn’t personally familiar with, but the vast majority of the audience were, on account of them applauding quite respectfully the entrance of the actors. These were Jake Canuso (Mateo), Janine Duvitski (Jacqueline), Adam Gillen (Liam), Sherrie Hewson (Joyce Temple-Savage), Shelley Longworth (Sam) & Tony Maudsley (Kenneth). Its playwright is Derren Little, who has poured ten years of experience writing the TV scripts into the condensed & quintessential version of his grittily real, cartoonly-caricatured Benidorm.

Benidorm on Stage begins where series ten left off, with the threat of the Solana Hotel being taken over by a larger hotelier group. What diversifies it from a conventional episode are the dance routines, flourishes of Georgian bawdiness, pantomime, cheesy one-liners & a even a top notch poem of thundering fourteeners. The storyline into which this cornucopia of spices was poured was a clever mix of Shakesperean identity-flipping & innuendo, some of which was definitely innuendon’t. There was also a remarkably refreshing classic-old-queen-pursues-young-gay-guy section, which no self-respecting member of the luvvy-duvvy theatre world would touch with a barge-pole, but was done so well in this setting & with these actors, that I was enjoying the exchange with a liberated jollity. Yes, watching Benidorm is a wee wonder in this world of serious theater & rollicking musicals – somewhere inbetween & everyone involved with the production should be proud of bringing such unadulterated live entertainment to the people.

Damo

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The Lottery Ticket

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 17-22 

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Imagine you have access to a time machine. You pop back to the beginning of the 20th century and happen to bump into mega-rich philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. You tell him a bit about yourself, how you can contact anyone in the world, pretty much instantly and by pressing a button send them a message, photo or movie. You can also talk to them and you can see each other in real time as you chat. You might mention your foreign holidays, car, the pineapples, bananas, grapes that are available to you in the supermarket all year round… and so much more. What Mr Carnegie would want know is, how many millions are you worth.

Salih, a Kurdish asylum seeker and his Polish pal Jacek, don’t feel much like millionaires, sleeping in a bin shelter in the neat back court of a block of houses (a terrific piece of set design by Jonathan Scott and Gemma Patchett). Breakfast is a banana from Waitrose’s trash. As they clean up their litter Salih finds a lottery ticket which could herald a change of fortune, especially when Rhona from the flats bursts out the back door cursing the problem she has with overflowing effluence in her toilet. The men see an opportunity. Can they fix it? Yes they can. They’ll do it by the book – literally, a do it yourself volume Jacek runs to get from the library. A pipe is blocked but they have access to a sledge hammer, what could possibly go wrong?

Nebli Basani’s Salih is a born story teller weaving fate and faith, omens and realities into unlikely probabilities. At times he steps out of the action to stand front of stage and tell tales from his harrowing past. Under a single spotlight, his tall elegant presence is endearing and commanding.

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Steven Duffy’s Jacek is a more down to earth, everyman character who just wants to work for a fair wage and send home money to the wife he loves and misses.
Helen Mallon’s Rhona is a no-nonsense, feisty Glaswegian woman who has a graphic design business to run and deadlines to meet. When not screaming at the flushing neighbours contributing to her toxic problem, she has sympathy for the men but more importantly just wants them to do the job before her important clients turn up. She’ll give them a chance but they better not mess up.

There is an interesting dichotomy at the heart Donna Franceschild’s moving play. While it would require a heart of stone not to sympathise with the plight of these two decent blokes struggling to subsist in a foreign country, the scam they feel obliged to commit would certainly leave the victim of it with a less than favourable impression of both men, and perhaps by extension, all immigrants and asylum seekers.

One thing is for sure, those lucky enough to live in this country, have a home, a reasonable income and access to free medical care, have already won the lottery of life, several times over. Buying a ticket for this excellent, nuanced drama would not be a gamble.

David G Moffat

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Tap Dancing with Jean-Paul Sartre

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 10-15 

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


“All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.” So said pipe smoking, deep thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. But, as is often the case with the philosophically inclined, his advice is for giving, not taking. When it comes to searching for love, failure (or Simone de Beauvoir) is not to be contemplated.

Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are in Paris rehearsing dance routines for the movie Funny Face. They’re giving some serious thought to the nature of the alluring deception that is their chosen profession, when they stumble across a guitar strumming, quote spouting, Jean- Paul Sartre who engages them in intellectual discourse and a bit of existential improvisation. The philosopher’s high-minded musings go out the fenetre, when faced with Audrey’s gamine beauty and he pursues her with Wile E. Coyote determination. Although elegant Fred Astaire is at hand to keep an eye on the Frenchman’s amorous intentions, he needn’t worry; cool, chic Miss Hepburn has the situation under control.

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Darren Brownlie’s Fred Astaire taps and sings with boundless energy, aptly demonstrating that true freedom comes, not from theoretical pondering on one’s derriere but through laborious and diligent practice at your craft. Those who are familiar with Brownlie’s work will be pleased to note there is room for some of the broader, physical humour (cue the giant moustache) at which he also excels. In addition to his own splendid performance, he choreographed the play.

Ashley Smith’s Audrey Hepburn is vulnerable yet full of graceful strength. Her scene as a piece of living film, slowed down, sped up, rewound, is a particular delight. She gives us two different faces of Audrey Hepburn, pixie ingénue and tiara lady in the little black dress. Kevin Lennon’s Jean-Paul Sartre is an utterly believable, shameless cerebral chancer prepared to summon whatever words it will take to ingratiate himself with the object of his desire. He is a champagne communist whose redeeming feature is self awareness. He knows for sure that God, if he exists, loves a trier.

The direction in James Runcie’s excellent play is first class with back projections of locations cleverly extending the dimensions of the stage. While the show invites us to enjoy song, dance and wit (and we do) it also slips in a deeper question. Is choosing a role to play and performing it, the ultimate existential act? A great piece of theatre you’d be out of your mind to miss.

David G Moffat

five-stars

Cyrano de Bergerac

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Tramway
Sep 1-22 (7.30)

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


The story of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac has been celebrated now for over 100 years. It was written at a time of social turmoil in France, where literature had taken on the character of oppression. Cyrano stands out as being set in a point of history but is an endearing love story that spans the ages, and lends itself well to Edwin Morgan’s feisty Scots translation.

This collaboration between Edinburgh and Glasgow theatre groups; The Citizens Glasgow and Royal Lyceum Edinburgh had a feeling that something happened that hasn’t quite happened before in theatre; an entire play totally dedicated to the very heart of theatre. In the modern world sets are changed without a curtain call and as part of the scene. The great stage at Glasgow’s Tramway – temporary home to the Citizens while their premises are being refurbished – took to this very well in its flexibility and incredibly simple function.

This play is nothing if not spectacular, with its amazing colourful costumes and over-the-top staging, each character being defined by their respective costumes – the more frills, the more important they were. Then we have the entrance of Bergerac himself (Brian Ferguson), a commanding presence immediately, with his thick Glaswegian and his poor appearance. This accent added freshness and life to the dialogue and all of the players delivered their lines with gusto. Jessica Hardwick as Roxane’s full-on Scottish accents sounded masterful, and brought sincerity and great power to her character.

Cyrano’s inspiring wisdom, that he called wit, was so absorbing. He grew and grew through his deeds that felt appealing to our hearts, everything was important. Bergerac in the original, has a famous scene wooing of Roxane offering love words to Christian, played by Scott Mackie, for Christian to use.

Bergerac was torn apart by the idea that she could never love him because of his big nose. As his nose and his love developed, he stole the show, and our hearts, every time, his presence changing as his humility himself grew to the size of his large nose. The poetic and romantic dialogue was coupled with sword fighting, choreography, food, wine, bread. Food that was served by the comic chef in chef whites (checkers) that were a few sizes too big.

The actors’ voices were arresting and travelled far into the theatre, also enhanced by microphones. Bergerac shouted in a fast song about “these are the cadets…” Bergerac’s love for Roxane was a secret to her and the tragedy was touched upon throughout. Her character was the centre of the show, her dresses and her words had the ability, like Bergerac, to convey serious thoughts.

This is a wonderful, joyful production, drawing us in to the complex plot and heartfelt performance by Brian Ferguson, screaming for love as Bergerac. The three hours simply flew by and leave you feeling grateful for having witnessed it. Not to be missed!

Daniel Donnelly

five-stars

Outside In

 

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
3rd-8th May

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Jay, a distressed young man in tartan pyjama bottoms and floppy slippers, paces anxiously while awaiting the return of his mother with the milk he desperately needs for his late supper of Rice Krispies. The agoraphobia that won’t let him leave the house is reinforced by a succession of bleak reports on the TV news. What the nervous Jay doesn’t need, is a hand wiggling through the letter box like a horizontal Lady of the Lake, holding not Excalibur, but an automatic pistol that drops with a clunk to the floor. Soon Coco, an apparently aggressive youth is pounding at the door, demanding and gaining entry to the flat – and there’s still no sign of mammy and the milk. Could things get any worse? Well on the plus side, local police officer Kayleigh, who is on a shots-fired case and hungry, can take her Rice Krispies without milk. She does have a few questions though, that both of the guys might struggle to answer.

Christian Ortega’s Jay and Martin Quinn’s Coco are a delightful pair of seemingly mismatched characters that find they have more in common than they think. As they bounce hilarious, perfectly timed, verbal misunderstandings off each other an unlikely bond is built that softens the would-be gangster Coco, and toughens the stay-at-home Jay. Their musings about the possible ways of eating soup without a bowl, straight off the table, is a discussion Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon would have lapped-up.
Katie Barnett’s officer Kayleigh is a good natured, well grounded cop who knows Coco has ‘previous’ and works slowly but surely to unravel the case. Not short on dry humour, she opines that “Nobody should be in a gang that doesn’t have a tree house.”

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Chris Grady has written a comedy drama as bright as officer Kayleigh’s high vis jacket. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to keep the audience entertained, the dialogue is sharp and fresh, the characters funny and rounded. A highly entertaining play well worth getting out of the house to see.

David G Moffat

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The Yellow On The Broom

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DUNDEE REP
Tue 28 August – Sat 22 September

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Throughout this year, Dundee Rep have presented different versions of Scotland and Scottish folk. The urban-rural culture clash of Passing Places and the derring-do of The 39 Steps have given us some entertaining fictional portrayals of Scotland and Scots; from misanthropic Highlanders to dislocated young urban men. The most recent offering from the Rep continues this trend with a lyrical and sympathetic presentation of Scottish travelling people, often reviled by ‘decent folk’ and by definition on the margins of society. The Yellow on the Broom is a dramatisation of the first book of autobiography by Betsy White, a traditional Scottish Traveler, covering her childhood years in and around Perthshire and Angus. This is a revival of Anne Downie’s faithful adaptation, directed by Andrew Panton, and brings a focus on nostalgia for a time and place and ways of living now long gone from Scotland.

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Sentimental without being saccharine can be a difficult road to steer, but the Rep’s fine ensemble players manage to get it right most of the time. In particular, Ann Louise Ross is superb as the older Betsy, who narrates the story, and thus holds together the entire piece, through her memories of her younger self, Bessie. There’s a lovely point in the action where young Bessie’s father reaches out for the young Bessie’s hand, and the older Betsy’s hand reaches out for his, only to fall back again as the older Betsy realises that it’s a memory, and instead it’s the young Bessie who grasps her father’s hand.

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The young Bessie is played with real energy by new member of the Rep Chiara Sparkes. Sparkes captures the tomboy of the book exactly as one would imagine her. By turns wild and carefree, by turns courageous and forthright, the young Bessie navigates the prejudice and mean-spiritedness of the ‘Scaldies’ (the non-travelling, settled people), learning how to live in the wider world and still be true to her heritage. Bessie survives bullying and taunting from schoolmates as she and her family move from town to town, and she endures her hundred days minimum schooling per year. Luckily, it seems that for every unfair teacher who unfairly punishes Bessie for standing her ground against the bullies, or bigoted policeman who moves Betsy and her family on, there is a kindly stranger who offers the travellers some food or clothes or small charity of some sort. Sometimes, there is even better luck for the family. Comic relief comes in the guise of characters from Bessie’s childhood memories – a gaggle of Glaswegian women raspberry pickers that you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night and a wonderfully eccentric Laird played by Barrie Hunter.

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Family is important to travelling people and in Betsy’s case her relationship with her father, Sandy Townsley, seems to have been central to her early years. Sandy is lovingly portrayed by Gary Mackay as a wise, quiet man, ennobled but physically broken by adversity and hard work. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting effects give Kenneth MacLeod’s stark set designs the quality of illustration, especially at the beginning of each act where the stage is one great silhouette. This is an entertaining tale played with real sentiment that avoids sentimentalism and gives an enthralling glimpse of a Scotland and a group of Scots that we have forgotten, in our race to be modern.

Review: Mark MacKenzie

Photography – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

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BOOK TICKETS HERE

TOURING TO MACROBERT ARTS CENTRE WED 26 – SAT 29 SEP

Losing the Rag

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Aug 27 – Sept 1st

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Newspapers, especially the local variety, have been under the cosh for some time now as circulation falls and advertising moves from printed paper to pixelated screen. It would seem, with publications big or small, the medium is the message or as a succinct blogger might put it, Gutenberg … 0 Berners-Lee … 1. This is certainly the case with the Avondale Advertiser where Derek (Gerry Mulgrew) a stressed-out, old-school editor, is under pressure to boost digital ratings and avoid staff cuts. The 34 year veteran of journalism prowls his office despairing at the inaccuracies that litter his publication. With the newspaper’s owners, Mental Mickey the local junior football team manager and possibly Kim Jong-un on his case, he is a man with a strong-tea habit, feeling the strain.

Perhaps salvation lies with his second in command Susan (Louise Ludgate) who started journalism in the days of clattering typewriters and fag-fug newsrooms. She’s been working for some time on an exclusive involving a politician’s dodgy expenses. Could a financial scandal be the big story that saves the wee paper and secures jobs? There’s more than a hint of arrested development in the third member of the team, young Barry (Martin Donaghy) who hurtles to work on a BMX bike, headphone-cans clamped to his ears. He’s a broad-strokes, funny-photo sort of journo, with little idea of the consequences of getting the facts wrong. Yet might his youthful insouciance and social media savvy, trigger the online hits his paper needs or is his ‘Deadpool’ T-shirt an ominous prediction of the fate awaiting the press in all community newspapers?

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Alan Muir’s play takes an amusing look at the troubles facing traditional journalism when it has to compete with wacky web content for site hits. Although free online material is an issue, the main problem this fictional newspaper seems to have, is the incompetence of staff who fail to notice the numerous errors and mix-ups that pepper the publication. Injudicious quotes, misplaced adverts, wrongly captioned photographs; these faults are not caused by internet rivals. Maybe that’s the message – lower the standards of traditional journalism far enough and you get the equivalent of what dubious cyberspace has to offer.

Not a headliner but a fair start to Oran Mor’s new season of lunchtime plays.

David G Moffat

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Conspiracy


Assembly Roxy
Edinburgh
11th July 2018

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The dashing, young, talented director that is Robin Osman seems to like World War 2. Last year he brought a Vichy France inspired piece to the Edinburgh Fringe, & the other day, for two nights, he served up Loring Mandel’s very excellent Conspiracy at the Assembly Roxy. His cast mirrored that of the film The Expendables, but here the Hollywood A-Listers are Edinburgh theatrical Don Juans such as Ben Blow, Matthew Jebb, Chris Pearson & Jonathan Whiteside.

Conspiracy is a play about the now infamous meeting at Am Großen Wannsee 56–58, a grandiose villa at the edge of Berlin, lapping against gorgeous lake waters &, in January 1942, the setting for the most terribly implicative ninety minutes of conversation the world has ever known. The Endlosung had come, the Jewish Question had an answer. From ‘Vladivostok to Belfast’ there would be ‘no Jews, not one!’ all murdered by poison gas in efficient factory fashion & cremated into dust. The drama of the piece is contained in small measure within the personalities of the fifteen high-ranking German officials at the meeting, but it really pursues our psyches like a slavering beastie thro’ the monstrous promises of ghastly futurity polluting the play’s dialogue. The author, Loring Mandel, imagined the scene at Wansee & replicated its oral ambience to the best of his abilities; which means, pretty much, its brilliant.

Conspiracy was at first a joint HBO-BBC TV special, which won an Emmy, a Golden Globe & a Bafta, & was created on the back of a single document found in Berlin – the only one that was never destroyed. Of his use of this materielle, Mandel told the Mumble;

The document that survived was very highly redacted, by three different people: first by Eichmann, then by Müller, then by Heydrich himself. So all that it really contains is the cast of characters and the sequence of events, the agenda. But there’s other information—not much, but there are comments that Eichmann made when he was captured and more comments during his trial. That’s really the only hard material we have. So I spent a couple days in the archives of the Holocaust Museum finding out as much as I could about as many of the participants as I could locate in those files. I also looked at the transcripts of the Eichmann testimony. Then I did research at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the museum in the building where the conference took place, and Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. When I had enough of a feel of the background of the participants, plus what I had gotten from the conference itself, I wrote the first draft, and that was finished in January of ’98. That was submitted to HBO, they said they wanted to proceed with it, and they hired a full-time researcher to provide supplementary material, and she was able to find out a great deal more of the background of the characters than I had been able to get. We ended up with tremendous amounts of research

A few years later, Mandel decided to reconvene his TV classic with the stage. ‘The film is a one-eye process,’ he told us, ‘it’s monocular. Stage is binocular, and it makes a real difference. In film, it’s easy to begin a scene in the middle of a sentence, because you can cut into it. You can’t do that on the stage because the character is there and talking before, unless you do it all with lights, and then it really isn’t an adaptation. The only reason that I did a stage version of it is because I felt it was something that people should be made aware of—young people particularly. I thought it was something that schools could do, and churches and synagogues and so on. That’s why, because I never thought it was a big commercial property. So the fact that it’s been exposed here, I think that’s absolutely wonderful.’

L-R = Jonathan Whiteside (Heydrich), Alastair William Duncan (Heinrich Muller), Ben Blow (Otto Hoffman)

So to Edinburgh & the Assembly Roxy. I took my seat in the far top left corner, directly before the end point of a ‘Last Supper’ style arc of tables, behind which was another table corncucoping with fine wines & meticulously laid out chips n dips. Here was David Taylor’s Eichmann – the guy caught by Mossad agents in Argentina in 1960 –  the shadowy holder of the scythe, who would greet the 14 guests with a foot-stamping ‘Heil Hitler.’ One of these was Matthew Jebb, whose SS Oberfuhrer Erich Neumann sat down right in front of me, rattling on about the Four Year Plan, & somebody who would one day save lives by requesting that Jewish workers in firms essential to the war effort were not to be deported for the time being.

Dead men don’t hump
Dead women don’t get pregnant

So in they came, lieutenants of the Nazi experiment, key representatives of agencies created by the Fuhrer in order to transmit his imbecilic White Supremacist philosophies, & to turn them to reality; the ultimate of which was the rendering ‘Judenrein’ of Europa to unfold. At their heart was Jonathan Whiteside’s Heydrich, play’d with a commanding & sneering hostility – like the Devil at icy Cocytus with his anti-pantheon at his feet, his telligible snarl barking his masters’ orders without complaint. ‘After the war this is my home, a marvelous home,‘ he chirps on first arrival. He’d be assassinated in Prague within six months.

As a drama, we had Heydrich’s & Eichmann’s slow roll-out of the Endlosung – half history lesson, half surreal vision – interspersed with excellently presented buffet intermissions where the hubble-bubble mumblings of twos&threes conversations were broken by flash-fires of actual dialogue. It was all such a bouncy script to behold, a masterwork of multiple voices as the single item on the conference’s agenda slowly ripened into truthdom like rapeseed in the Spring. To counteract the growing ‘storage problem‘ of Nazidom’s Jews – millions had been acquired through Hitler’s conquests – euthanasia would be expanded on a massive scale when, to save the soldier’s sense of honour – they didn’t enjoy shooting women & children – the systematic extirpation of a race would be achieved thro’ poison gas. Eichmann’s mini emotional break-down as he described the sounds of the dying being almost drown’d out by a gas-truck’s motors was a high point in the play.

Such a powerful ideological performance was this, that at the end I was waiting for some cretinous Neo-Nazi to stand up applauding wildly & cheering. Of course it never happened, this is gentile Edinburgh, but we were all transfixed by both the morbid curiosity & the elk-paced intensity of the piece. The finely uniformed gentleman actors were as one soul, a very precise & genuine performance. Conspiracy is a warning of how sick & how sterile human compassion can become, & plays handling such hot potatoes of the conscience should be treasured – not for their hateful ideas – but to remedy Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s observation that, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

Damo

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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The National Production Company
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
13-16th June, 2018

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has been a consistent crowd-pleaser since its debut in 1987. A Fringe Festival stalwart, the play has the survival abilities of a cockroach, and the script itself is so tried and tested that it would seem that it would take some effort on the part of a performance troupe to make it anything less than utterly charming and delightful for an audience.  The brain child of American writers Adam Long, Jess Winfield and Daniel Singer, The Complete Works… is a light-hearted and irreverent romp through all 37 of the Bard’s plays, consisting of slap stick, farce and pantomime-esque audience participation.

In many ways, this winning formula serves The National Production Company well in their incarnation of the play, currently appearing at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy. The fledgling company have an admirable stab at it, employing the requisite high-energy and fast pace, and adhering stolidly to the well-loved, conventional features of the play – the sonnets are handed out on paper, Shakespeare’s biography is confused with that of Adolf Hitler, Titus Andronicus is presented in the style of a cookery show, MacBeth is performed in see-you-jimmy hats and in terrible Scottish accents, Othello is a rap, the ‘Kings’ plays are transformed into a slow-motion American football game.

One of the elements of the play that makes it satisfying for performers is the capacity for improvisation and the requirement for cultural references to be updated and tailored to specific audiences and locations. The play presents many opportunities for The National Production Company to put their stamp on it and really make it their own, but they choose to play it a little too safe. The result is that some of their references seem unimaginative, at points bordering on cliché. Even the decision to use Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ to bookend the show feels like it would’ve had more cache during the Rickrolling phenomenon/Astley renaissance ten years ago.

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As the play is now 31 years old, some elements of it are badly in need of updating. The implication that a man in a dress doing a high-pitched voice is automatically hilarious doesn’t sit comfortably in 2018. One line about ‘not making things gendered’ in this version seems to acknowledge this, but so weakly, it somehow manages to make it worse. Similarly, the idea that a Southerner affecting a Yorkshire accent is inherently funny has gone out of fashion since Michael McIntyre was called out for classism by justifiably irked northern viewers several years ago. Presenting two men kissing as something to laugh at – really? Still?

It’s a shame that these wide-open opportunities to innovate were missed by The National Production company, as they are clearly a very talented bunch with heaps of passion.  Bits of the performance were absolutely pitch-perfect and well-executed – the demanding final scene, with three versions of Hamlet performed at breakneck speed and backwards, and the tightly choreographed prologue to Romeo and Juliet were particular highlights. While a little disappointing, their decision to stick to established formulas is understandable. This was a solidly enjoyable performance, but I think much bigger and better things await The National Production Company.

Kirsty Mcgrory

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The 39 Steps

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Sat 9th June
Murthly Village Hall

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This is the ninth season that Dundee Rep have taken theatre into the community to various local venues. This year, director Irene Macdougall and the ensemble are revisiting familiar community venues and have added some new ones to the itinerary. There is something quite magical in the idea of a touring theatre and this Saturday night performance was packed. There was certainly a bit of a buzz amongst the audience as the hall filled up before the lights went down.

The 39 Steps being one of my all-time favourite movies (Hitchcock’s 1935 version, not any of the lacklustre remakes), I was keen to see what Dundee Rep’s ensemble would make of this classic Buchan ripping yarn. Would this Richard Hannay be a suave prototype James Bond, who takes his ladies’ kisses without asking? Or perhaps the comic Hannay of Simon Corble’s 1996 stage reboot? And how do you squeeze a tale that starts in a London music hall, steams up the Northern Line to Scotland and back to London again onto a stage (little Murthly village hall stage at that)?

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Dundee Rep’s Joe Landry’s 39 Steps takes the conceit of a radio ‘play within a play’. As the lights go down the familiar pips of Greenwich time signal give way to the clipped tones of a Radio Scotland announcer introducing ‘tonight’s live performance’ of Buchan’s play in front of ‘a live audience’ – Hey that’s us! As the action progresses there were moments when, if one closed one’s eyes, one could easily have been listening to a radio drama from the nineteen thirties. Sound effects, mostly all produced ‘live’ by the five actors on stage, were a great part of the pleasure of listening as the familiar plot unfolded.

Ewan Donald’s Hannay is a delightfully upper crust rogue. Dressed for the part in tweeds and brogues, and with an accent that could cut a bar-full of glasses, he playfully keeps up the conceit of the nineteen thirties radio actor playing Richard Hannay. Emily Winter’s Annabella Smith/Pamela are just as playfully done. The awkwardly stifled romantic spark between Hannay and Pamela is the source of much magically amusing moments. Barrie Hunter takes, among a plethora of roles, the character of Professor Jordan to ‘evil genius’ proportions. Billy Mack and Ann Louise Ross take up the remaining cast with some excellent quick-change vocal acrobatics. At points in the action it’s hard to believe that there were only five actors on stage.

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For me, and the appreciative audience in Murthly village hall, much of the comedy of the play was in watching the cast provide the sound effects. Look (or listen) out for the barking dog with excellent comic timing, and the flock of sheep. The excellent sound production never overtakes the plot, and, being created live, is a reminder, like the two old style BBC microphones at front of stage, that this is a radio performance being recreated on stage.

Dundee rep are currently touring venues around Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perthshire until Saturday 23rd Jun. If you want to be seriously entertained for an evening then look out for your nearest venue and get along. The ticket price is worth it twice over!

Mark Mckenzie

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TOUR DATES TO COME

 June  Venue  Book Tickets
Thu 14 Dibble Tree Theatre, Carnoustie  01241 853946
Fri 15 Menzieshill Community Centre  01382 432967
Sat 16 Rio Community Centre, Newport  01382 543366
Tue 19 Kirriemuir Town Hall  Click here to book
Wed 20 Forfar Reid Hall  Click here to book
Thu 21 Maxwell Centre, Hilltown  01382 802628
Fri 22 Douglas Community Centre  01382 436944
Sat 23 Eassie and Nevay Hall  01307 840839

www.dundeerep.co.uk/event/the-39-steps