Category Archives: Scotland
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 11 – 16, 2019
As we approach the end of this season’s 500 play celebrations, today’s production took the form of Do Not Press This Button, a new play by Alan Bisset, directed by Kirsten Mclean. The scene was two table’s on a train where Ben (David Rankine) and Maria (Gemma McElhinney) were seated on either side of the four big windows, both looking intent and composed. All at once Ben tried to start up a conversation with a reluctant Maria and they growl at each other for a bit, recognising that they often share the same train journey but had never talked before.
The somewhat abrupt interaction warmed up when Maria hit upon the idea of a game of questions and answers where they each agreed to answer questions from the other. But Maria had an agenda, and her questions become increasingly personal and uncomfortable for Ben. With a smile on her face, she asked which race was his favourite, as in race of people, and the conversation took on an increasingly explosive tone as he tried to evade her probing. It was almost like watching a Shakespearean encounter with Maggie’s intelligence and sharp wit leaving Ben standing. We laughed at the sight of him being put in his place, it seemed that Maggie couldn’t be won over as easily as all that – if that’s what Ben was trying to do…
Enter Terry in his bomber jacket (Cameron Fulton), who became a kind of an innocent third party as the other two discussed him when he went off to find beer. They agreed that they found his demeanour threatening and confessed to feeling relief that he had temporarily absented himself. The contrast between the stereotypes was not lost on us – the two middle class professionals and the working class Terry with his rough accent and casual clothes. But their attitudes and opinions could confound us too, and lead to assumptions being taken to account. Things took on a much darker turn when Terry was reluctantly cajoled into talking with the two about race and Dire Straits, of all things, and he responded by threatening Maria with his fists. It all ended very badly…
This was a wonderful piece of writing and fitted the Oran venue perfectly, with marvellous edgy performance from all three actors. I suppose that if we don’t “press these buttons” we wouldn’t learn anything at all, but the stern lesson is to do so at your peril and know when to stop!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 4 – 9, 2019
500 plays is no mean feat, and every week the Oran Mor seems to improve on everything that has come before. David Harrower’s effort today was a play called Good with People, a calm yet dangerous take on things that seem to sneak up on us. The set looked inviting, offering a green floral wall paper with a reception desk, a door and a bookcase with a painting in the middle, signifying a hotel reception.
The weary and injured Evan, (Daniel Cahill) had come home to Helensburgh. He found himself at the Seaview Hotel arguing with the receptionist Helen (Louise Ludgate). He was not happy with the hotel service thus far as she had refused him entry until officially opening the hotel and bar at 12 o’clock midday. From Helen’s point of view, she’d come across a problematic customer though with every conversation they had she felt more and more curious and even compelling about him.
As each of these dialogues happened the stage would go from black to total light which brought the points being made across all the more assuredly. They almost fell into total chaos on more than one occasion which also held a light to the frustrations which were arising. After these story telling sessions Fastlane was mentioned; the nuclear defence programme, that was also a popular resort destination. But by this time Evan was irate about revisiting the past horrors he had encountered there and in reality really not wanting to return to it.
There was no going slowly for either of these characters, no time for contemplation or even serious concern aloud but instead a despair. Yet even as the whole world tussled they came to quite some endearing agreements as he flashed himself upon her drawing out of her the information he would need to know for the whole play.
This play was a topsy turvy encounter between two voices and humble physical appearance looking into facing things though they may remain too large to really contemplate. Fastlane is a controversial institute in Scotland and is the cause of many a protest. The protest reflected in the play asking us to question things to a far larger degree, because things can look bleak.
If you’re in the prime of life then you might have seen the magnificent Ken Loach film “Kes”. One of those gritty Seventies movies, it was a favourite of English lessons to accompany the book by Barry Hines “A Kestrel for a Knave”. I don’t remember the book much but the film has stayed with me over the years. So how effectively would a stage version of a film, that heavily features a boy flying a hawk, manage to capture the visual poetry of boy and hawk? Very effectively indeed, actually. A credit to the actors in this fine drama. This from now on will be the “Kes” that I remember.
Billy Casper, a young delinquent and loner, escapes the crushing indifference of school and home by training and flying a kestrel. For him, the wild bird embodies freedom and escape from the ever-nearing adult world of work. His older brother, Jud, works in the coal mines that encircle the Northern town, and Billy, with no means of escape after school, will likely follow him down into the cruel blackness that is so different to the airy light of his hawk’s flight. Danny Hughes makes the character of Billy his own. His South Yourkshire dialect sounds convincing and he has a hang-dog stance down to a tee. The relationship between Billy and his brother Jud, played by Matthew Barker, is the source of the action of the drama, and Hughes and Barker portray this sibling antipathy perfectly. Barker’s Jud is a cocksure, working-class lad, content to live for the weekend, a few too many pints and if she’s lucky, a different type of ‘bird’ than the kind Billy is interested in.
Behind this triangle of brothers and hawk, there is a plethora of other characters, schoolfriends, teachers, shopowners and ‘Mam’. The film version of these characters provided some comic relief and the first screen appearances for actors such as Brian Glover (as a hilariously pompous PE teacher) and Lynne Perrie (Ivy Tilsley from Coronation Street) but here the two actors take up the parts as required. This works well, concentrating the focus of the drama onto the tensions between Billy and Jud, what they each represent, and at the same time allowing the two to inhabit the many really funny moments of this adaptation.
Staging and set detail are used cleverly and evoke that peculiarly British working-class atmosphere of the Sixties and Seventies. Everything, even the school blackboard, is a little bit faded and yellowed with cigarette smoke. It’s fifty years since Ken Loach’s film was made. This adaptation by Robert Alan Evans does real justice to that film and more. It’s one of those one-act plays that you wish had a second act, not because it’s not complete, but because it’s so utterly charming and captivating that you leave wanting more.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 28 – Nov 1, 2019
Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint 500th play year continued with the re-run of another hit production by the popular Stuart Hepburn. Marco Pantani: the Pirate followed the gigantic rise and fall of Italian athlete Marco (Mick Cullen) where he climbed to the very top of cycling which for him was the whole world. With a racing bike hanging at the back of the stage, the scene was set to tell the tale, beginning with conversations with his very supportive family, mother Tonina played by Janet Coulson, who somewhat grimly would always be warning about the serious side of things, and his grandfather Sortero (Tom McGovern) who had complete faith in the remarkable talents of the boy. The bike, it turned out, was unveiled as a present for him, confirming the faith they had in him.
The action jumped between different periods in the life of all three characters, at first focusing on Marco with a bandage on his head having had plastic surgery to fix his ear problem and highlighting how he had always felt different and had been made in a different way to anybody else. But somehow everything faded into the background in the face of his overwhelming dream of making it to the top. You felt that even when his mother was found to be mentally ill and she spoke about her incarceration, he somehow couldn’t quite comprehend anything about it.
The story took us from his first race to when he went on to win the Giro D’Italia and the Tour De France. We watched him mount the bike pretending to cycle hard and fast with a sheer determination that was shocking to doctors and fellow sportsmen alike. He would then go on to celebrate hard with the money that came his way due to these races, taking drugs and hanging around with the kind of people with whom he was better off without, and which led to his downfall.
But to the great excitement of his family, that indomitable spirit led him on to complete many great victories in the cycling world. All his life he had suffered from mental fragility, often casting around in a place of pain and anguish. But to his credit what was inside him flourished for a brief hot while, as he won races on the strength of his hill climbing abilities and triumphantly donned a pirate bandana in recognition of the amazing life that he led; which made his fall from grace all the sadder.
In the end this seemingly simple play was a complex exploration of how a unique man challenged the gods of his sport and achieved his dream, at least for a while, to cycle to the top of the world.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 21 – 26, 2019
As part of its 500th play celebration, Oran Mor is this week reprising Dave Anderson’s play “A Walk in the Park”, starring the said Mr Anderson as an everyman character struggling hilariously with his i-Pad and with modern technology in general. He wanted to write a letter and reflect upon tech literature versus the now old fashioned method of using paper.
Taking a walk in the park to think things through, things took on a somewhat surreal tone when he encountered, among other things, a fox and a squirrel (played by Helen McAlpine) along the way. The fox appeared, as bright and orange as the real thing with a small mask of brow and snout. It danced about but went on to join him in his complaints about the real world that we live in today. The fox for him was like a bright apparition which whom he gleefully shared some poetic lyricisms.
The squirrel too gave him an opportunity to think out exactly what was disturbing him, and in doing so, he also managed to create an unexpected bond that gradually begins to do him the world of good. Thus ensued lively conversations between all three characters, both with themselves and between themselves and often directly with the audience. Audience participation being very much part of it all as the three strolled and postured around the stage and up the aisle, to musical accompaniment (piano and song), pondering what they thought of as the horrors of technology.
We were often in tears of laughter with every punchline that came from the actor’s mouth, with his sharp looks and pointed stances. The inclusion of the animals seemed to widen the sense of philosophical exploration, somehow making the smallish room seem bigger as they concluded that they were overawed by the simple statistics of technology as we have come to know it and that being modern might mean that that old traditions may no longer be of any use. It was a message made gently, engaging us completely. When the line “life is not a walk in the park” was uttered, we saw how simple things were really. We were left with a feeling that the questions still remain but we were not alone as we explore them because we all share the same conundrums.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 14 – 19, 2019
This week’s offering at Oran Mor saw the return of Ian Pattison’s play “Divided”, about the iconic psychiatrist, RD Laing. The scene was set in a stylish art deco living room with three comfortable chairs and an extra podium at the front where Billy Mack relaxed and likeable Laing would sit with a whisky at his desk while he talked on the phone. We listened in as he took many calls from various characters, dealing in depth with each.
The play explored the way Laing would constantly come across the then behavioural dysfunctions of mental health treatment, which he saw as not humane. And so, as the action unfolded, these dialogues revealed the universal insights and the great passions that characterised his life. Alongside his work, life was happening for him too. Both of his daughters, Suzie (Sarah Miele) and Karen (Eve Traynor) would want to talk to him, but there was always some sort of barrier that meant that they felt he wasn’t quite there. It was sad to see this side of things, but although there were many arguments you got a strong sense of the family love that existed between them and that always helped them sift through to find the truer meaning – very much the work of the psychiatrist.
Laing was portrayed here as being defined by the huge regard he felt for his family and lovers. There was a dilemma regarding the hard fact that his daughter Suzie was ill with leukaemia and in all reality did not have long left to live. His love for her ‘perhaps’ conflicted with his philosophy; that it is better off to know bad news than to conceal it. After passionate arguments with his other daughter Karen, he decided to adhere to that philosophy causing Suzie to become upset though she later revealed that she was glad that he did so, while Karen too accepted it in the end.
This production had the taste of a fair-minded exploration into what made the great man tick, both positive and negative. It was also a dedication to a time when old walls were falling down and new doors being opened. Laing’s new theories about the doctor patient relationship would go on to change everything; a fascinating insight into a complicated mind.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 30th – Oct 5th, 2019
Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint’s 500th play season continued this week with the return of “Fly Me To the Moon” by Marie Jones, a play that first appeared at the venue in 2010. The stage was set in a cosy looking living room where we meet two care workers, Loretta (Sandra McNeeley) and Frances (Julie Austin) who were there to carry out their duties for their client, Davy McGee. The two had devotedly looked after the 84 year old Davy for the past 12 years, knowing him well and familiar with his habits and routines, such as his love of the horses and of Frank Sinatra and the way he would sing along to “Fly me to the Moon”.
However it was soon clear that today wasn’t going to plan when Frances shot into the room from the bedroom and did a quick couple of turns around the stage, in a panic because she’d discovered that Davy had passed away in his sleep. What will we do, what will we do….? With Francis going out of her mind, the mind of Loretta got to thinking as she realised that the old man had died before he was able to pick up his pension of £80. Not only that but Loretta discovered a betting slip – for once Davy’s horse had won at 100 to 1. Wham the plot to take it for themselves was born.
While Loretta started making plans for a trip to Barcelona, Frances fretted about the fact that what they were doing could be fraud, and with the strains of “Fly me to the Moon” in the background, they discussed the rights and wrongs of the situation. The arguments went to and fro, but whenever Francis complained that they were doing something wrong, Loretta would persuade her that it was both of their ideas to which Frances always came round. But their careful plan fell flat when they realise that the time of death would not concur with the time of cashing the pension. But they did it anyway, justifying themselves on the grounds that they had been working for years on minimal wages. We can understand from the stories that blended into their conversation that no matter how hard they both worked, they have money troubles that won’t go away.
With lively dialogue and thought provoking issues, this was a play that challenged you. You can’t just dismiss the temptations the women are subject to as despicable without also considering the role of society which expects them to perform work for the vulnerable while not paying them a living wage. It’s good theatre that raises these conundrums and makes you think.
Sep 25 – 28, 2019
Having done a fair bit of hillwalking in Scotland and further afield, I was intrigued by the premise of this work – in 25-plus years of trudging through rain, hail, sleet, snow and the occasional sunny day, I’ve never exchanged passing greetings with a black fellow-hillwalker. I’m not sure how that fact plays out statistically-speaking, but I guess it is true that black people are under-represented amongst the Berghaus brigades.
Three titular black men meet once a month to walk and talk and relieve their urban stresses. But this weekend, as they stumble through heavy weather they find themselves confronting much deeper than their workaday problems. There’s Matthew the GP (played by Patrick Regis) who’s having marital problems, and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu), a Ghanaian man living in the mental exile of an absent father, and Thomas (Ben Onwukwe), a busted flush with a history degree from Huddersfield, who has been a little unsettled recently. Losing themselves in the deepening fog, they encounter Ayeesha (Dorcas Sebuyange), a streetsmart young woman who provokes the men to consider how ‘British’ culture swallows up their blackness like the fog, erases the mark of black peoples’ footprints on the landscape, from prehistory to the present day.
There’s a lot for an audience to consider in this work by Testament, the writer and musical director Andy Brooks. “Black people were walking here before Anglo-Saxons” remarks Thomas, who gives the group a peripatetic history lesson in the hidden, ‘whitewashed’ history of these islands. There’s some philosophising to – from black identity and the theories of W.E.B. Du Bois, the American sociologist and founder of the NAACP, to the political activism of rap music. The reality of modern racism is never far, it rises continually like a Brockenspecter, or the crunch of a boot on gravel, just out of sight. The most powerful testament to this is delivered in the pistol-quick spoken word pieces given to Ayeesha. Powerfully delivered with sass and charm by Dorcas Sebuyange, these interstices that punctuate the walking are the most powerful parts of the work. It’s a sobering reminder that, aside from the prejudice de jour of islamophobia, British black people have suffered and continue to suffer under the homogenous whiteout of casual racism.
Walking is a great democratic invention. Rich or poor, black or white, it’s only requirement is the ability to put one foot in front of the other. If you can do that, then do. The next time I go walking, I’ll be giving a thought to the history, the hidden history, that I might be walking through. Eclipse Theatre Company presents Black Men Walking as part of Revolution Mix (www.eclipsetheatre.org.uk/revolution-mix), a series of plays, radio dramas and a forthcoming film, by Black artists, with the aim of “placing Black narrative at the heart of British Theatre”. It’s a powerful, promising start for a worthwhile and timely project.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 23 – 28, 2019
The fabulous 500 play celebration year for Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and Pint continued with Peter Arnott’s masterful play, ‘The Signalman’, a monologue starring Tom McGovern. McGovern played one Thomas Barclay, the eponymous signalman, and concerned his memories of 40 years before when he worked as a signalman at the tender age of 24. The action started on a simple set on which was just a few chairs and a coat stand on which the actor hung his railway jacket as he quietly entered. It all somehow endowed the stage with a feeling of depth and sincerity.
As he looked back into the past, Barclay’s memories transported him back to the terrible night so many years before when it had been his signal that had sent the Edinburgh train on to the Tay Railway Bridge which collapsed taking many lives. We saw Barclay in turmoil as he turned over the events in his mind and in his long spotlit scene’s, reliving the subsequent inquisition he’d undergone from his powerful supervisors, an inquisition which mirrored his own doubts and feelings of responsibility. It was not hard to sympathise with him when he began to question his own sanity – no wonder…
The music in the piece took on quite a grave, ghostly character as the man went through torrents of suffering and plunged into the depths of despair, haunted as he was by visions where he was left all but a ghost. He had been so proud of his life and career, so when faced with this devastation it came all the harder. We followed each line to tremendous heights and then equally tremendous lows, and were affected by each spontaneous outcry as in the end he wept openly. We were left in no doubt about the impact of having your world turned upside down in this way.
This story was a tremendously moving tour de force, holding nothing back as we were taken on a rollercoaster of emotion, focussing on how one terrible event can deeply affect one individual, posing questions about how responsible we are for the things that happen to us and seeking all the time to find meaning for our lives. Take hankies!
The Brunton, Musselburgh
September 20th, 2019
Since inception, Rapture Theatre have tunnelled a catacomb of fine memories into the minds of the Scottish theatre-goers. Their latest cave of delights is called Clybourne Park, a spin-off from Lorraine Hansberry’s ever-enduring 1959 Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun. The latter play tells of a black family’s real estate experiences in “Clybourne Park”, a fictionalized Subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. The New York Drama Critics’ Circle named it the best play of 1959. A half-century later, a spin-off was penned by New Yorker, Bruce Norris, & just like its mother-ship won hierarchical awards such as the Pulitzer for Drama & the Olivier for Best Play. Side-by-side, the two plays have morphed into a soap opera, & there is no reason why the Raisin mythomeme could be a standard locale for future dramatical socio-dissections of 1950s America.
Clybourne Park is divided into two halves; the first telling the story of the house purchase from that of its owners & the busybodying locals trying to keep the neighbourhood white. So this is racism, of course, but its comedy racism, looked at with a kinda sympathetic pity thro’ mileusean eyeglasses. After a sophisticaed screwdrill-whirring session in the interval, we find ourselves transported to an assimilationistic Noughties, when its all a little bit more grating, with a dash of false-flattery. Are we moderns really like these people on the stage reduced to fencing dodgy jokes like weapons of prejudice. Luckily, the play was saved by the cast-inflating reintroduction of the house-buying back-story, & in essence Clybourne Park flows thro’ 4 quarters – plus an astonishingly well done ending – the first half is all good, the second half starts slow & becomes excellent. The whole, I must add, is held togther by leibmotifs which bounce from half to half & also into Raisin with subtle but enlightening alacrity.
The play exposes the hypocrisy, particularly of educated, middle-class people who will happily uphold the principles of fairness & equality – unless & until those principles impinge on their own ideas & interests.
Michael Emans (Director)
Watching Clybourne Park’s “progressive community” in 2019 is a curious, indemnified affair. The racism which Norris remoulds in the second half is that of an American people trying to redefine its attitudes as they dwell among social landscapes very much shaped by centuries of racial subjegation & oppression – all while living under the tacitly legislated safety of father Obama. Clybourne also shows how people shun the pursuits of deeper understanding by the donning of fake armour – ‘how can I be racist when I’m gay.‘ A soreiety of the minorities. Although attitudes are similar in 2019, ten years is a long time in world progress & things are changing / have changed – Clybourne Park is already on its way to becoming the time capsule that is A Raisin in the Sun.
I can only heap as much praise as I’ve got to heap upon the acting – extremely realistic, their accents were impeccable & they teleported me without (visible) effort into 1950’s suburban Chicago. Having such a deliciously drab set helped inestimably. In the second half the troupe takes on new roles; instigating & ensuring a dipping of my suspension of disbelief. The joy I felt toward the end when the 1950s actors returned to the stage, beyielding my spirit unto a child-like joy, made me realise that as entertainment Norris would have been better off staying in the 50s, but to win awards he needed to make it contemporary as well. The awards were won, yes, but the piece then becomes imperfect as timeless drama. Still, if you have a good company involved, then Clybourne Park gives its actors a chance for something meaty, something pleasantly performable, & Rapture were simply superb at it.
Damian Beeson Bullen