Category Archives: Scotland

The Mistress Contract

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Tron Theatre, Glasgow
May 1 – 11, 2019

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I felt solemn as I entered the tiny venue at the Tron Theatre Glasgow, expecting a serious play. The set was absolutely gorgeous – bigger than the seating area and plastered with props and dividers. It was a very plush living room with luxurious couch and a second level a red drape covering the half of it. All depicting the home of a wealthy man. As the lights brightened, yet more was revealed where the stage seemed to double in size.
The night’s play, inspired by the memoir ‘The Mistress Contract’ by ‘She and He’, was written by Abi Morgan and premiered at the Royal Court Theatre London in 2014, the same year it was written. Now enjoying its Scottish premier, the current production is directed by Glaswegian playwright and director Eve Nicole. Taking the role of HE is the uniquitous Cal MacAninch fresh from TV shows and theatre work around the country and SHE is played by actress Lorraine McIntosh, of Deacon Blue fame.

The Mistress Contract gets straight down to business with the two characters in conversation about their different perspectives on their sexual encounters with each other. Encounters which we learn arise from the contract that they signed thirty years before which lays out the deal in which she would favour him with sexual services in exchange for a home and a decent share of his formidable riches. But, she recalls, there was a period in what she refers to as their thirty year experiment where he couldn’t afford his side of the bargain, but she nonetheless allows him to owe it to her.

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She produces a Dictaphone and recalls that when they signed the mutual contract in 1981, there was an idea that they would record this experiment to perhaps make it into some kind of a book. Today she is someone who is passionate about her books, her life, her house and garden. As they talked, music played and they undressed and sat together on the couch, still debating sexuality, gender equality, whether there was a difference between their perspective sexualities. Finding, 30 years on, that the difference was often profound.

They fought, they kissed, they relaxed they loved. As you watched, you felt that the crux of their relationship was a self-revealing, tangible and passionate love. The fact that it had endured for three decades seems to prove that the contract was a powerful one and signed by both in honesty and good faith. Never to marry, and only to love each other became exclusive as the years passed; they despair, they make up, they perform in love together. They were serious and enlightened, with kids and life to contend with but ultimately they come together as a real life couple who triumphed, and remained faithful to the contract they both signed thirty years ago, which is more than you can say for many marriages!

Daniel Donnolly

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The Origins of Ivor Punch

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
April 29 – May 4, 2019

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A blue-toned set depicting the Isle of Mull – or some similar remote island – greeted us as we took our seats. In the middle stood the grim looking Henrietta Bird clock tower. As the stage darkened we could just make out the movement of the three actors, all playing double roles; Andrew Tait, as Sergeant Ivor Punch and his ancestor Duncan, a postman, Tom McGovern as Ivor’s friend Randy and -no less – the great Charles Darwin; and Eva Traynor playing the famous Victorian explorer Isabella Bird and her sister Henrietta. This play, written by Colin MacIntyre, is quite a complicated piece, based on the author’s own prize-winning book, ‘The letters of Ivan Punch’, and touches upon ideas of identity and mythology, history and love – a tall order in the space of a mere hour!

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The action began with Randy and Ivor Punch sitting together in a car singing a song about angels. The purpose of their journey was humorously to steal a Christmas tree with Ivor ironically dressed in his full Police uniform on his way to commit a crime. But an angel, in the form of a woman in a white dress, Eva Traynor’s Isabella, who stated she was somehow there to help him. He was intrigued when she called him Duncan, a character Ivan was unaware of.

The words ‘God is love’ appeared graffitied on the side of a cliff and were introduced to the plot in a dramatic scene at the clifftop, a proverbial cliff hanger. Then bright lights shone dramatically upon the scene to invite us into another aspect of the story. This time, Andrew Tait appeared as Duncan, postman and jack of all trades, a man of few words, beyond a few well-worn stories. Henrietta falls for him, but you wondered if it was him or something he knew of that she wanted?

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Through interactions between the various modern and historical characters, the story delved more and more into exploring the identity of Ivor and the factors which made up who he was. We had costume changes and found Charles Darwin, resplendent in top hat, waistcoat and pocket watch.  Lofty ideas were analysed and Ivor revealed that he had put Darwin’s book ‘The Origins of…’ to the test with the ‘Bible’ and found that naturally the Bible was chosen every time. In the midst of all these weighty discourses, light relief was provided by Randy, with his down to earth, not to say rude, language.

The passion between Duncan and Henrietta was also explored, particularly in the dialogues between the two sisters. Ivan and Randy came to realise the identity of the name on the clock tower and in the final scene we found Henrietta offering support to Ivan as she professed her faith in his capability for love in all of life.

The way this story was built up, using a great many facets that all somehow mysteriously melded and joined together was much like the complex original book by Darwin himself. The play bounced along sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily, for the hour and after proposing many questions, somehow in the end had them all answered.

Daniel Donnolly

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Turn of the Screw

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Perth Concert Hall
Tues 16 – Sat 20 Apr

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A young inexperienced governess with a fertile imagination fuelled by gothic horror potboilers; two precocious children, altogether too knowing, in her care; a rambling, isolated country house witness to a history of cruelty; preternatural occurrences and eerie noises in the night. Henry James’ 1898 horror novella is the archetypal haunting story. Or, at least that’s one reading. It could equally be the account of the young governess’s incipient ‘female hysteria’. The novella maintains the ambiguous nature of the events at the house and James leaves the reader to make up their own mind over the causes of the horror. It’s a satisfying read.

Mercury Theatre Colchester and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s production of Turn of the Screw, adapted by Tim Luscombe, whilst replete with enough terror, puts the cause of all the haunting malarky on the governess, played by Janet Dibley with maniacal poise. Confirmation bias from the homely but astonishingly dim-witted housekeeper Mrs Grose (Maggie McCarthy) propels the governess ever onwards in her attempt to save the children, Miles and Flora, from what she thinks is supernatural attack from the spectral visitations of the previous governess Miss Jessel and the diabolical ghost of Peter Quint, the former upstairs-man, who had, and seemingly still maintains, a corrupting influence on young Miles.

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Luscombe’s treatment turns the action into a taught psychodrama, that pulls out many of the threads in James’ story, such as the suppressed sexuality of the tale, hinted at in the relationship between the governess and young Miles, and the nature of Quint’s corrupting influence on the boy. It’s unfortunate therefore that the dramatic energy begins to disappear in the second half, as it becomes apparent that the cause of all the disturbance really is the governess’s psychotic break. With the loss of ambiguity of the cause of the haunting, whether psychological or supernatural, much of the tension of the story is also lost. It’s a different terror, altogether human, that is portrayed in the closing scene. This is an intelligent production that delivers some shocking moments in an entertaining evening that occasionally misses a chance to terrify.

Review: Mark Mackenzie
Photography: Tom Grace

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The Mack

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
April 15-20, 2019

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It was with a slight degree of apprehension that I settled down to watch Rob Drummond’s new one-act play at the Oran Mor today. “The Mack” is all about a hero of mine, Charles Rennie Mackintosh who died 90 years ago. His famous approach to life and art had some in his period smiling and others not. The stage was set in Mackintosh style, complete with three chairs in that distinctive ladder-back design.

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Mackintosh himself took centre stage; James Mcanerney resplendent in the artist’s signature large cravat; it was like seeing the man himself brought to life. The two other characters came in the guise of an expert, a well-dressed Janet Coulson; and John Michie as a fireman in full uniform. The three don’t address each other, but talk to the audience directly and between them the story unfolds into the well-meant debate as to whether or not to once again save the internationally renowned Glasgow School of Art building that unbelievably caught fire for a second time. Included were all the various opinions and points of view we have all had about it, presented in an almost court-like discussion as to its importance or no.

Each character reveals insights into their individual points of view; vivid feeling of loss and appreciation of the work of a Master; rhetoric about the life and style of Mackintosh himself; the artist recalling his life in his letters to Margaret, his wife and long term partner. Somehow it seemed as if the artist himself was looking down in amusement at his work and what has famously happened to it, in reality some of his work has been salvaged from skips and suchlike. Each sometimes stands to make their point with dramatic force. There is real poignancy when the fireman reminds us of the dangers his firefighters faced when they fought a fire for the sole object of saving a building and some artefacts, questioning if it was worth risking their lives.

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The three actors stood as the lights went down, without having come to a conclusion as to whether the Art School building should or should not be rebuilt. This three-point perspective offered compelling reasons for and against but they also found themselves unable to come to a definitive result. Having struck a balance in each debate, in the end it is left to us to decide. It could be done – there is enough of the design detailed on computer to make it exactly as was all those years ago. Whether it would be the same building raises the question of what art is anyway – the design or the building?

If you want my answer, I would wish it rebuilt. It’s intended beauty from the architect is as important to me as it ever was. But you can make up your own mind…

Daniel Donnolly

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What Girls Are Made Of

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Tramway
Glasgow
April 9-13, 2019

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Walking in to the Tramway theatre is always a pleasure with its vast walls and ceilings, and a warm welcome. Smoke swirled around as we took our seats in the auditorium and the set was intriguingly set up to look like a rock concert. And sure enough, when Cora Bisset took to the stage, the story of her rise to fame began to emerge. What Girls Are Made Of is a play written by Cora herself from her own teenage diaries, and reprised here at the Tramway from last year’s smash hit premier at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As the other band members take to the stage, Cora, standing with arms folded at the front of the stage, tells us dreamily “I wanted to sing in a band”. It was all she ever wanted and she had the voice and persona to do it. They were lucky, success came quickly and the band found themselves signing a five-figure record deal and touring with the likes of Radiohead and Blur when they were still only naïve teenagers from Fife, a fact which she never forgot, despite the intoxicants and partying which inevitably goes with this kind of fame.

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Cora shares with us her memories of this time in the early nineties, with herself and the band frequently breaking into song and entertaining us with full blown performances of their own music and songs from the likes of Nirvana and Blur; giving us a taste of the rollercoaster rock star lives they were living. As Cora’s memories unfold, the band members take the part of the various characters, throwing themselves into the roles with gusto, before coming together once again to perform yet another blockbuster.

With the wheels turning at a greater and greater pace, the rest of the world just fell away and we became more and more absorbed, and at times concerned, about the actress/ singer/ writer as she and her band navigated their way through their new found success and all the successes to follow. But their wicked manager was writing too many cheques and all too soon they were broke, with a hefty dept that there was no way of paying. The bubble had burst and what had seemed to be a rosy future gradually fell to the wayside and wound up as though it had never happened at all. With zero money and a large dept, Cora takes us into a darker side of her life where she loses her father to dementia and as she recalls laying him to rest, she lowers her head and weeps.

This play entertains and enthrals you on so many levels, spanning rock music, singing, poetry, tragedy, beauty, gritty reality. Like the story itself it surrounds you, pulls you in and spits you out.  25 years after the event, Cora is in her forties and presents herself self-reflectively to the audience with sincerity, abundance and joy. She is someone who could – and for a short time did – have made it, not because of the business but because she had the voice, style, and sheer heart. As we can witness for ourselves in this masterpiece of entertainment.

Daniel Donnolly

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Lion Lion

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
April 8-13, 2019

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There was a great red lighting effect emanating from the Oran Mor stage as we gathered to take our seats with the venerable pint and pie laid out before us. The title, ‘Lion Lion’, indicated that perhaps the next hour would be taken up with some kind of dedication to those great beasts. And so indeed it proved, as the first scene bore witness when we find Joy Adamson (Selina Boyack), beside herself with grief at the death of her beloved Elsa, the famous lioness depicted in her book “Born Free.”

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Sue Glover’s play had a strong focus on the survival of these animals in the wild today, something which really resonated with me and my own concern for these magnificent creatures that we seem to be hunting to extinction. We watch Joy with George her husband (Keith Fleming) and their assistant Makedde (Nick Ikunda), and the strong bonds they have formed with these wild animals as they work with them and camp out amongst them, dreaming of safeguarding their lives and habitat. But passions were running high and the relationships between the husband and wife was deteriorating. In their stress at losing Elsa, Joy and George argued again and again and the hapless Makedde seems stuck in the middle. We see three greatly different personalities united by their often savage undertakings, with growling lion sounds used to separate scenes. Joy could seem uncaring and unkind, but when she reflected upon her beloved Elsa with such care and grace and love, we had more and more sympathy with this benevolent side of her.

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There was no doubt that Joy and George loved each other, even when she leaves him after one argument too many. But perhaps they loved the animals more and this was certainly used as a metaphor to depict our relationship with the environment, something that is becoming more and more important in our modern lives.

Though set in the 1960’s, this was not a piece stuck in any particular time. For Joy it doesn’t end well, for irony of ironies, she was killed by one of her beloved lions. But you couldn’t help question if she maybe thought it was a good way to go. Lions deserve our attention and our love and gratitude in a crazier and crazier environment, where we are more dangerous to them than they are to us. They deserve this hour of passion, passionate writing, passionate observing and passionate interaction, this play did all three and it was great to see it being put on here at the Oran Mor.

Daniel Donnolly

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Aye, Elvis

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
April 1-6, 2019

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When we see anything Elvis we rediscover and find our affection for that iconic 20th century artiste. The stage was set with a blue neon lighting of a famous picture of the man himself and Joan/Elvis (Joyce Falconer) took to the stage fully dressed in jumpsuit and rhinestones for the Ultimate Elvis event to come. So much was packed into this hour at the Oran Mor that it seemed to have entertained us for a much longer time. There were various transformations of the set, changing from the dreamer’s bedroom to the lounge where her mother Agnes (Karen Ramsay) sat with her walking stick, to the club where as an Elvis impersonator Joan performed her socks off.

The applause was loud as the one-liners flew by, and also included appreciation of well performed scenes. Joan’s Doric Elvis character gleamed and endeared from the start, touching your heart as she dreamed of stardom that will take her away from her humdrum and impoverished life. Her mother Agnes doesn’t see it though and tells her beloved daughter to give it up: she will never succeed.

It becomes clear that Joan really loves her mum and tells us that she feels that Agnes needs her as much as Joan needs her mum. But there is conflict because with every chat Joan became more and more certain of a great career in entertainment. In reality, her gigs are karaoke nights at a local, but her dreams, like The King himself, are so much bigger than that.

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Stuck in her wheelchair, Agnes would bang on the floor with her walking stick when Joan was practicing loudly in her room. And when she discovered that Joan had earned £100 she starts to change her mind. Joan tries to hide her wages from Agnes instead buying herself a new laptop, something that means a lot to her as we understand when she has an online conversation with Fat Bob the DJ (David McGowan). Perhaps Fat Bob could be a possible romantic interest for Joan, except that her heart belongs to Elvis.
Joan’s desire to succeed as a female Elvis grows stronger and stronger. We are filled with respect for her sheer determination and even her mother is won over as she makes a complete turn around and encourages her daughter to go for it. Suddenly we see that even this wheel chair ridden tough old Ma can also be an endearing character who could still live a life of riley.

The world of Elvis was and is flamboyant and larger than life, with more than a hint of sadness. Joyce Falconer takes us into that world with the same indomitable strength of perseverance, acceptance and striving personality that was the man himself. A fitting tribute to the great man, the King, and the dreams he has engendered in so many. Like the living man so was she in costume, dance and vocals, singing her heart out “Love me tender, love me true”… You have to see this play, it’s a gem!

Daniel Donnolly

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Dear Europe

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Galvanizers, SWG3
Glasgow
29th March 2019


It was to have happened on the cusp of a very significant day. Living on an island, however, means we all know about delayed departures. Stewart Laing from National Theatre of Scotland was certainly prepared for anything and had asked all the 6 groups of commissioned artists to explore the idea of uncertainty as well as feelings about and relationships with Europe. I had just booked flights and accommodation for a week in Berlin next month, so I was feeling quite the European, and as the capacity audience filled three enormous tables the buzz was helped by drinks vouchers and 99 Red Balloons and similar on the soundtrack. Whatever the current Brexit situation, the show would be a truly historic cultural event, a chance to articulate something through art which could resonate and speak beyond the current fog. I, for one, was looking for some new perspectives.

With Gary McNair as MC, Tam Dean Burn was up first with Aquaculture Flagshipwreck, featuring music from fabulous mermaid and harpist, Rachel Newton. Up and down we were taken through a routine of standing and sitting to words from a Singing Kettle song after scrunching up pages from the FT to throw at the Mythical Wild Salmon dangling from the roof. Next a rather marvellous Scottish (Mexican) wave. Some vague jokes got vague laughs, but we rather enjoyed ourselves amid learning and repeating unpalatable information about salmon farming. Soon it was time for Tam Dean Burn to finish with a quote from Tom Leonard’s Flag, To the infant the sucking blanket/ To the adult the flag. /Salute.

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We were underway and with a quick up the revolution Tam was off. But you don’t forget quotes like that, nor indeed invocations to revolution, however solitary. The audience were then split, half going upstairs to watch the dance performance whilst the rest saw moving through shadows, a film by Nima Sène and Daniel Hughes. I see I scribbled down a bit of a hotch potch just before the penny dropped that this was the beautiful point. Soundtrack of traffic, scenes within a Nigerian shop in Poland gave a warmth and reality to Ifi Ude’s story of the rich cultural synthesis which goes on when people travel and stay to create a new home. This should resonate with all of us time, if not cultural, travellers, living through change. And it did, especially as the performance slipped from film to live singing from Ifi herself. Having just flown in from Poland that afternoon, her singing was gorgeous and generous, both literally and metaphorically like a lamp in the dark. She sang a melancholy song from the Warsaw uprising and after this, who would not want to follow her to hear more Polish music, and find out more about the Haitian connection with Poland and the worship of the Black Madonna/Erzulie Dantor . Two stand-out quotes from this piece were, firstly from the film, It’s not home I miss, but belonging to the place, and secondly from the song Cię jutro Warszawo ma!/ Warsaw has tomorrow, one of the many calls to face the future which came throughout the evening, though one born of much more physically desperate times than these.

Some might say an alternative strategy could be to continue to face backwards and concentrate on controlling our borders. Leonie Rae Gasson’s piece, Death Becomes Us began with the mass distribution and instruction as to how to use headphones and blindfolds. Suitably sorted we heard urgently whispering voices, including Theresa May’s, telling us to take back control. What are the rules? The rules of origin, repeated again and again was our unsettling reminder of the ultimate foolishness of fixing all concepts of home in the past and for valuing backward facing visions above those facing forwards. Another gorgeous musical commentary followed orders to remove blindfolds and headphones with stunning singing and performance from Beldina Odenyo Onassis and a community chorus of women and non-binary European migrants who owned the resonant space they created and completely won over the audience.

By this stage (well OK, a lot was retrospective) I felt that important things had been said, and emotionally we had moved forward, but there was still a vagueness and a lack of a feeling of relevance. Two people changed all that, Louise Ahl and Ruarì O’Donnabhàin with their dance piece (created by Ruari and Nic Green) d’tùs maith is leath na h’oibre/ A good start is half the work. Their performance together was such a good example of the power of art to embody complex situations simply and powerfully. They were two dancers with a chair each which had been sawn in two but which they still had to use to sit on, balancing it with difficulty, changing position on it with tortuous care and manoeuvring with an awkwardness that was completely mesmerising. It seemed entirely fitting, and here was the proof that Dear Europe really was speaking to our times.

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In contrast Cadaver Police in Quest of Aquatraz Exit was the entertaining, predominantly yellow, tee-shirt flinging, dystopian sci-fi creation of Alan McKendrick, and it rather passed me by, but was undoubtedly done with great panache and was well received. The band and actors were great, I just didn’t engage with the substance of the piece much though I did despite myself, really enjoy it.

So it was left to Second Citizen from Angus Farquhar (which he rhymed with darker, NB Garry McNair) to end the evening. The first half of his piece was as lucid, straightforward and ever so slightly dull as the Cadaver Police had been out there, elusive and exciting. Angus recounted his family’s European story, how WW1 had devastated many of its lives and ended several. He told us how he himself survived violent experiences of bullying and ostricisation, how, with the help and support of like minded people, he set off travelling, making music of great energy and edge at the same time. And it was his music that he left with the audience who could only wish that such inspirational energy could be directed where it is needed.

But one thing at a time. It had been a unique and memorable evening and it was late when the house lights came up and the audience went out into the dark to find their ways home.

Review: Catherine Eunson

Photography: Drew Farrell

 

Gaslight

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Perth Theatre
Thu 21 March – Saturday 6 April

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Kai Fischer’s Perth Theatre production of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 melodrama serves us a reminder that mental abuse in marriage is not a new phenomenon. In the psychologically claustrophobic setting of a Victorian era parlour, we watch husband Jack Manningham assert brutal control over wife Bella, who’s mind is crumbling under his suffocating and sustained attempt to undermine the foundations of her sanity. Bella appears to lose trivial everyday objects, bills, jewellery and has begun hiding things around the house. This infuriates Jack, who, near the end of his tether, has threatened Bella with the asylum if she doesn’t stop. But Bella can’t stop and what’s worse, when Jack goes out at night she has begun to hear strange noises coming from the unoccupied rooms upstairs and the gas lights dim eerily only to brighten when he comes home. She’s lost control.

Esme Bayley plays a suffering Bella with an air of hand-wringing paralysis. At times she stands, ghostlike, at the side of the stage and comments on the action of her husband, as he toys with the churlish maid, Nancy, played by Ruby Richardson, and it seems like she’s resigned herself to incipient insanity. That is, until Rough, a retired policeman enters out of the smoggy London evening to turn her life around. He’s been watching the comings and goings of the house for some time and knows about Jack’s attempts to derange Bella. Meg Fraser’s Rough is a breath of fresh air into the stifling gloom of the Victorian parlour, infusing spirit into Bella and the resolve to reclaim her sanity. Having the ageing constable played by a woman works wonderfully, suggesting that in the face of abuse like this, it’s women who must confront abusive male greed and coercive power with the liberating truth, concern and right.

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With Bella’s dawning realisation, Jack’s true nature is uncovered. Robin Laing portrays a thoroughly cold and cunning Jack, who treats everything as his to be used. A snake in a suit, he’s outwardly respectable and charming but oozes corruption self-interest and greed. I’ve not enjoyed disliking a character so much in ages. Needless to say, the ending of Gaslight is not a little satisfying. It’s an interesting thought that laws recognising emotional coercion or “gaslighting” (yes, that’s where it gets the name) as a crime only came into effect recently. Yet the behaviour, clearly, is not new. Gaslight left me wondering just what does go on behind ordinary everyday closed doors, when the curtains go down and the lights get lit.

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Review: Mark Mckenzie
Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic

Chic Murray

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
March 25-30 2019

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Oran Mor’s Pie, Pint and Play never fail to entertain and this week’s offering was no exception. The set had an arty feel about it with a stained glass window, some grimy London underground style tiling, a green couch and a piano to one side. Chic Murray: Funny Place for a Window is Stuart Hepburn’s affectionate musical tribute to the well loved comedian whose career took him from engineering all the way to sell out concerts at the London Palladium. This three-hander first appeared at this venue in 2018 and I welcomed its return as part the special year when Oran Mor celebrates 500 productions.

From the moment when Chic (Dave Anderson) comes onstage and declares, in typical Chic fashion, “funny place for a window” the quips are continuous and the audience helpless with laughter. Chic and his wife Maidie (Maureen Carr) were reminiscing, together with various other characters played by Brian James O’Sullivan.

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IMG_9630i Dave Anderson, Maureen Carr.jpgThe music tied up the action in the same clever way that the play itself was written, moving easily from dialogue to music numbers with the piano and an accordion. Maidie seems happy enough as she reminisced on the high points in Chic’s life and had a loving attitude to his failures but in the end she had had enough and left him before his untimely death in 1985. In his life, Chic had found a loving wife with whom he shared his sense of humour and wit. She always found him endearing, even when her cajoling was met with comedy and humour, which seems to be Chic’s larger than life response to everything.

The three performers come together as thick as thieves, engaging the audience completely and accompanied by roaring laughter and applause as we lapped up the jokes that came at us thick and fast. But the writing goes well beyond the bounds of comedy, instead writing as if Chic himself were somehow brought to life again after his death that was announced in the final scene and all became clear when the loose ends were tied up through the simple biographical dialogue of the life of this man.

As we come to the end of this vibrant production, we pity Chic his fate and wonder whether his smiles were real or some kind of defence mechanism. But I suppose that’s the punchline he took to his grave with him, leaving us with a legacy of side-splitting comedy that will never fail to raise a laugh.

Daniel Donnolly

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