Category Archives: Scotland
15 Mar 2019 – 06 Apr, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Nora: A Doll’s House is Steph Smith’s new and radical re-working of Ibsen’s classic drama, which caused outrage when it was first performed in 1879, with the critics pronouncing it immoral, which was perhaps the response Ibsen wanted. In this version, produced at the Tramway by the Citizens Theatre, the role of Nora is shared by three different actors (Maryam Hamidi, Anne Russell-Martin and Molly Vevers), portraying the character in three different time periods.
Tramway’s multi-dimensional set served to indicate the varying time zones, and also, with its closeness to the audience, to suggest the stifling nature of Nora’s environment and the male dominated world which traps her. As the play begins, on the surface all seems well with the family, with Christmas coming up and a few quid in husband Thomas (Tim Barrow)’s pocket. Things may be looking up as he’s been promoted. But there is an air of sadness about Nora, and a hint of controlling from Thomas, so slight that we are inclined at first to let it go. But we see Nora distracted and nervous; it is painfully obvious that her mind is fragile and desperate. Her musical theme, which recurs throughout the piece, is one of melancholy.
In despair, Nora strives to understand her pain and to find her own lost self through her tortured dialogues with the different manifestations of herself, and with her friends. One is Christine, who she is cautious of meeting, for to complain seemed like a betrayal. And then there’s Daniel, who sees through all the pain to the façade of her marriage, and tells her that she is worthy of love, and worth more than just to be an ornament in the home and subservient to a husband whose attitude is less than savoury. Nora’s point of view becomes more and more clear and we become increasingly frustrated at the restricting predicament that this world seemed to offer her. Such is the multi layered intention in the re-writing of Ibsen’s play that we cannot escape the realisation, when the three periods come together, that this is the struggle women have faced over far too many years.
But with the introduction of an incriminating document, the already fragile Nora comes under the threat of blackmail from Nathan, a former employee of her husband’s. Her persistent fears come to the fore and this seems like the final straw that will destroy her. So low is she brought that she imagines drowning herself in a nearby river and taking her children with her. It’s not clear whether it’s because of the damning document, evidence of a fraud she committed when in desperate dire straits, or her own unfathomable pain which she can never shake off.
In the end Nathan tears up the document, but not before Thomas finds out and almost strangles his wife. Only then does he realise his love for her and begs her forgiveness. But it’s too late, there’s no way out for them. As the stage darkens we are left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and the idea that maybe we’ve not made as much progress in the last 100 years as we would like to think.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
March 19th-22nd, 2019
I returned to the Chandler Studios at the RCS to see a performance of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe’s famous Elizabethan tragedy, adapted and directed by Jennifer Dick for a modern-dress version by students of the RCS’s MA in Classical and Contemporary Text. Sparse props and a backdrop consisting of a huge torn piece of fabric set the scene for the tragedy to come.
The drama begins with one, then two, then a whole entourage of characters invading the stage to set about the terrible damnation of the unfortunate Doctor Faustus. Faustus, a revered astrologer, was persuaded (or does he choose?) to sell his soul to the devil for the sake of a life of power and excess. His scholarly nature is emphasised by his books which feature prominently as a device in the plot, as he argues with the scene-stealing fallen angels, quoting passages from his tomes while they dance and cavort around him. Then comes the thrilling – and chilling – moment when Faustus makes the famous declaration:
“Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer: / Say I surrender up to him my soul,
So he will spare me four and twenty years, / Letting me live in all voluptuousness;
Having thee ever to attend on me; / To give me whatsoever I shall ask.”
Words which still have the same terrifying power as they did five hundred years ago when they were first written, showing that the glory of a play can and does last for hundreds and hundreds of years and still blow the competition away. But Faustus was not alone with the fallen angels from hell. Present too are heavenly angels in amazing Flash Gordon style outfits, who, in their patient way try to persuade the scholar not to choose eternal damnation, coming to blows with their evil counterparts as they tussle for the man’s soul. The contrast between the groups was vast, the good angels quiet and dignified, the fallen ones giving us a glimpse of hell as they exclaim with glee to be returning to their sacred father Lucifer, touching themselves and writhing in a glorious hypnotic display of badness.
Faustus meets the great Lucifer, his presence signified by billows of smoke and the darkening of the room to a deep red, his words expressed through the unison of voices of the closely bonded fallen angels. Faustus proclaims his fear, tries to reason with the presence, to find an argument in his books. But his pleas are ignored – the deal for his soul has already been done. As Faustus’ desires begin to be fulfilled,a he starts to inhabit his new role as emperor and exercises his new found power, mocking the pope and granting wishes to whosoever he pleases. Finally, we are drawn into his emotional turmoil as he inevitably realises his position at the very gates of hell and to his horror is dragged off to the torments of fire and eternal terrifying torture. We weep for his loss and for the heavenly angels who could not save him from his damnation.
This performance can only be described as a marvellous celebration of the dramatic arts presented with great creative ability – glorious words, huge themes, mesmerising choreography, stage movement and scene setting; it is hypnotising in its powers and force. Don’t think twice, just go!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
March 18-23 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Walking into the Oran Mor venue, we saw the stage dressed as a humble room with laundry hung up to dry and a very comfortable looking chair. The Scurvy Ridden Whale Men by Steven Dick tells of a 19th century whaling disaster, a tale of tragedy and the loss of the crew of the Viewforth to the icy sea, starvation and scurvy. Mrs Humphrey (Janette Foggo) was a larger than life character in brown brogues who presided over the temporary hospital set up in her home to tend to the only two survivors She settled herself down to tell the grizzly tale with gusto and black – very black – humour.
First up is young Peter (Ronan Doyle), flying high on his own emotions. Mrs Humphry keeps trying to bring him down to earth and bring him to his senses, but those senses have been heightened by the tragedy of the boat that sank at sea. Her words of common sense contrast with his excited dialogue and increasing fixation with the need to find his bible, which has been misplaced. She tries to get him to focus on his need to be looked after, shows him his laundry which has been attended to. As she peels her vegetables, we see a darker side to her as she speaks about the loss of her own two boys, Robert and Donald, whose boat it was that had been lost at sea.
When the black storm that caused the tragedy was mentioned, the room dramatically darkened and a howling gale blew through the PA system. Captain Reid (Billy Mac) is depicted at the at the helm during the terrible storm that killed all but himself and the traumatised youngster. The contrast between the safe warm house and the terrible sea scape served to underline the tragedy that had befallen these characters. It was almost as if they were in different dimensions that were tearing them apart as things go from bad to worse. Captain Reid was increasingly riddled with guilt and young Peter was more and more obsessed with the need to find his bible, for that was his only means of salvation. He becomes more and more sure that Mrs Humphrey had taken it and had hidden it away.
He became further convinced that she had plotted from the outset to get the two fisherman to stay with her in her hospital and becomes more and more fervent in his insistence. Things come to head when Peter pulls a knife on her, a seemingly outrageous act, but one that brings about something of a reversal in the story and we start to suspect that his suspicions might have had some truth in them after all when she mutters that she was never trying to hurt anyone, what has she done? We were left wondering whether her act of kindness might have a different, darker motivation, perhaps something to do with the loss of her two sons? We just don’t know.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
March 11-16 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Cast within the natural limitations of the parameters of a PPP production, some plays often feel void of a certain something – characterization, drama, story even – but not Ring Road. This is a remarkable strike of the match, creating a somewhat quite brilliant flame as it deals with modern issues, & handles them with a sort of fluffy grittiness. Ring Road, by the way, is definitely not one for the school holidays!
“At first I thought you were a snooty cow…” Mark
The set is a hotel room – twin beds -, a consummate stage in which unfolds the key bedsheet of the play, a dangerous slice of extra-marital nookie to be conducted between in-laws. Enter Anita Vettesse, starring as Lisa in her own pencrafted play. Her brother-in-law, Mark, is brought to life with bouncing aplomb by Gavin Wright; while her husband, Paul, turns up only in timely & plot-stirring phone-call soliloquies.
Despite their sordid swaggerings, Lisa & Mark are actually quite like-able characters, with their personal inter-plays & polish’d possessions of an excellent script really helping to raise this play up to be widely praised. There are several levels to the story, all of which are relevant. I especially enjoy’d Mark’s reminiscences of when there might or might not have been some kind of chemistry/sexual tension in the earlier encounters of their lives. That Lisa always shirks an answer shows the depth & talent of Anita Vitesse’s craft.
“We’re attracted to each other, & you’re the double of Paul.” Lisa
All in all a wonderful offering from the Oran Mor, which as I said at the start carries on its shoulders just exactly what PPP is all about – top notch drama from a small cast, mixed with classy & contemporary writing!
Damian Beeson Bullen
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
March 6th–9th, 2019
The atmosphere in the Royal Conservatoire’s Chandler Studio Theatre was dark and murky as we took our seats, set up in a double row on three sides of the stage. The set itself added further intrigue as out of the smoky darkness arose two great hinged planks of wood suspended from the ceiling. There was just time for one more cough in the audience before we settled down to enjoy, at close range, the performance of The Witch of Edmonton, written in 1621 by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford and based, it seems, on real life events that had happened earlier that year. This adaptation is by Mark Silverschatz.
We witness a town meeting in which all sorts of townsfolk take part – a real crowd scene, with the characters, both rich and poor, comfortably attired and seeming to be happy with their lot in life. Cheerful uproar ensues as plans for the further development of Edmonton are approved. But this blissful state does not last for long: with each subsequent town meeting and encounter the subjects become more and more disruptive and disingenuous as it becomes clear that everyone is really only thinking of themselves and nothing else, even to the extent of cold blooded murder.
We start to see the true nature of the town when the haggard figure of a woman, Mother Sawyer, crawls on to the scene, totally distraught after being accused of witchcraft by the townsfolk. A terrible judgement that would reap terrible outcomes for all involved. Especially when a new character, a black dog called Tom leaps on stage, crouching behind the accused woman and offering her the revenge she so badly desires after her unfair treatment by the town. In order to reap this revenge, she makes a bargain with the devil, for that is the true identity of the dog.
Then follows a complicated intertwining web of subplots involving various characters; starting with love, bigamy and treachery, and progressing to murder and the way the devious mind can work to avoid being captured. At every turn, the devil dog Tom is always there, lurking and manipulating everything, unknown to the protagonists who cannot see very far beyond themselves; a source for great frustration and a genius opportunity for crowd participation.
The play casts a spotlight upon human weakness, whether prompted by the devil or not. It does not shy away from grim and graphic confessions of sensuality, rape and cruelty. Love tries to hold out with a wistful dialogue between earth and heaven, but it is as if the world beneath them is shaking like a vision of hell. We are drawn into the tragedy, held together by fragments of speech between the many and the few. At one point, in mourning, they huddle cross legged in the freezing cold, only to be woken again by further grief.
The devil must be paid and leaves only tragedy in her wake; the ‘witch’ who seems no better off than when she started and a population that seems only good for servitude and slavery. The play grabs you by the proverbials and doesn’t let go until it is finished with you, a feeling enhanced by your proximity to the action. Strong stuff!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Mar 4-9, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
‘Coming clean; Barbara’ is a solo piece written by the award winning writer Alma Cullen, this being the fifth in a series written for Oran Mor. Wendy Seager as Barbara takes us on an intense emotional journey, conjuring up a whole series of conversations as her story unfolds. The set, neat and professional with a desk and a hat stand combines with her smart blue jacket to give us an idea of her smart lifestyle and acquaintances. In sharp contrast to the emotional turmoil that is about to be revealed.
The show opens with Barbara opening her heart to the audience, her voice full of emotion and despair. The momentum never flags as she recalls one dialogue after another, piecing together the catastrophe that has happened in her life. The lights would dim as she comes to the end of one section, only to immediately light up the solitary figure again as she recalls something else. Even the moments of silence afford no respite, just a moment for reflection before we are yet again reeled in. When she converses with her husband Andy, a senior policeman, and her son Gavin, she reflects on love, kisses, fondness, despair, reality. Things were good before they went very awry. She becomes sadder and sadder, focusing all her energy on events that seem to have become too much for anyone to bear. Events that, as a wife and mother she can only watch from the side-lines as life becomes surrounded by the law and the consequences of breaking it.
Her lawyer, Mr Maxwell is almost her salvation, at times breaking through her grief, but ultimately failing because it seems limitless. The priest Eric is no comfort and drives her to go over and over the case by herself. We follow her conversation with Andy as she manages to talk to him in a clear voice and takes us in the imagination to the courthouse where he is convicted of a sexual offense and sentenced to 3 years in jail and a permanent sex offender licence. She falls apart; her voice growing high and urgent as she becomes more and more upset and breaks down before us, weeping on her knees. Barbara tries to hug Andy’s memory close, to remember the scent of him. But in the end her anger and despair only grow as she comes out with all the revelations of what happened and acknowledges the personal sacrifice she has been asked to make. Coming clean indeed. This is a wonderfully sweet, concerning, in-depth piece of writing and acting. Yet another reason to turn up at the Oran Mor on a Monday and sign on for an hour on the roller coaster of entertainment.
Ishy Din’s new play, Approaching Empty, is blowing into Scotland next week… The Mumble fancied a wee chat about it all!
Hello Ishy, so what’s your new play, Approaching Empty, about?
It’s about two lifelong friends and a business deal. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well for them. It’s an examination of post-industrial northern towns, Asian communities and the male Asian experience. It’s part of a trilogy of plays I’m writing for Tamasha. The first was Snookered, which I wrote a few years ago about young Asian men who were born in this country. It felt like there was more to be explored within that community, so this is the second, which is about middle aged men who came to the UK when they were 12or 13 years old.
How did you come up with the idea?
The themes presented themselves coming out of Snookered; friendship, family, community. I had the title, Approaching Empty, because when I was trying to keep the wolves from the door I did a bit of cabbing. The operator would ask us, “Where are you?” and, if you were nearly finished, you would say “I’m approaching empty”. I thought it was a great phrase.
How much of this play is fed by your cabbing experience?
I think it gives an authenticity to that world. It all unfolds in this dingy cab office somewhere up north. That, I knew really well. The coffee, the dartboard, the endless TV. Sitting around waiting for a job, Tuesday night, 1 o’clock in the morning in Middlesbrough, feeling the whole place is shut down.
It’s set at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Why was that important?
I can trace a line back to the 1980s from today. When people say the phrase ‘working class’ the image that comes to mind is one of hobnail boots and flatcaps, but since the 1950s the working classes have been really multicultural. People came from all over the world to be part of the working classes. For the Asian community, our raison d’etre were the factories. Margaret Thatcher closed them down. For some people it was the opportunity they needed and they went off and became successful. But for many people, it was a devastating blow. I think, in some ways, we haven’t recovered from that. We became isolated within our own communities. Over the years that’s grown because, especially up north, it feels like we’ve been left behind. You think “What about us?”
Do you think enough is done to bring working class and Asian communities into the theatre?
I think there’s a great will now to open up the types of stories being told and the different voices being heard. But I think we need to demystify theatre. If people don’t come to a theatre, it’s theatre’s obligation to go to the people. We need to get out more into social clubs, into community centres, into churches, and say “We tell stories, come and tell us yours” and within that we will find incredible writers and directors. The arts is a £70 billion industry. It’s Britain’s second biggest export. Why aren’t we saying “There are jobs here for you guys.” We’ve taken away one industry, why aren’t we encouraging another industry to pick up the slack. If you’re involved in creativity, it’s good for your confidence, good for your anxiety; it can lead to careers and all sorts of things. I think there’s a fear: “What happens in there? Will I fit? Am I allowed?” These sort of questions that people would ask before going to the theatre. If we can demystify it, people will be much more confident to come in.
How important is it, then, to tour Approaching Empty around the UK and in the north in particular?
I think it’s really important, but touring on its own is not enough. We need to get the marketing right as well. People aren’t going to pick up brochures to see what’s on at the theatre if they have no inclination to go to the theatre. So we have to change how we market it – where do we go, who do we tell, how do we encourage them to come along and say “You’ll enjoy this, this will be something that you recognise.”
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
It’s amazing. You sit there together and you see this thing unfolding in front of you. There’s something beautiful about all those characters going through their journey’s right there in front of you. It’s different every night; it has a different energy. It’s a shared experience, so we laugh together, we gasp together and we leave together talking about what we just experienced. Over the years Tamasha has done so much to encourage people to get involved with theatre. They’ve created work from East is East right up to Approaching Empty, and everything in between. It’s a truly great company.
by Ishy Din | Directed by Pooja Ghai
Tron Theatre, Glasgow: 5 March;
Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh: 8 – 9 March.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 28th-Mar 5th, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
“Spuds” is the third show in Oran Mor’s 15th anniversary year, and one that had made a previous appearance at the venue in 2017. The charmingly simple, almost sketch like, set – red seat, window, desk – established the tone for what was to follow; a hilarious take on drug trafficking in a mini musical. The cast comprised Darren Brownlie, Richard Conlon, Dawn Sievewright with Gavin Whitworth accompanying the show, written and directed by Andy McGregor, on the piano.
The “hero” of the piece is one David MacGonigle, in a funk after the death of his wife, with his life collapsing about him. McGonigle accidentally discovers, in a mouldy chip, a new designer drug, Spuds. With theatrical extravagance, the story plays out, opera-like, in music and song. In one farce-like scene McGonigle finds solace in a bottle of Irn Bru which is held up like a revered trophy.
The Glaswegian characters – neds, drug dealers, hard bitten gangsters – sang in their own thick accents while outrageously and hilariously debating the predicaments encountered by the accidental, and very successful, drug lord. The facts were laid bare – the world he was entering was one of vast conceit. But nothing could stop him as he could only think about making a lot of money. The cost of which was personal to him in the end.
This packed hour was a classically brilliant, vibrantly modern comedic take on the miseries of one man as he is taken high and low, too pumped to recognise the journey he was on. The play was filled to the brim with theatricality that had at one moment an entourage of twenty or more people queuing for those fries and at the finale singing in unison of a world that lacked safety and a future where no-one was safe. A piece of well worked theatre, expertly delivered.
19 February – 9 March, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Jemima Levick directs an accomplished cast in Miller’s tragic drama of the moral bankruptcy of post-war American paternalism. Miller’s moralising can be heavy-handed at times, especially for an audience cynical of authority. But beyond the clash of father and son, this production shows us a mother, paralysed by grief, desperately trying to mitigate the impact of a truth bursting to reveal itself on a family already lost to each other.
Joe Keller is the model of a self-made man. Everything he has, he has worked hard for. He had two sons. One son, Larry, went missing-in-action in the war and the other son Chris, an army veteran himself, is set to inherit the family business. Powerfully played by Barrie Hunter, Joe is the embodiment of American masculinity – hard-working, respected by his peers and self-assured. But he is concealing a secret. He made a mistake. During the war, pressured by the military hawks, he was responsible for allowing faulty aircraft parts to leave his factory. This led to the death of twenty-one airmen. At the government inquiry he knowingly let his business partner Steve take the rap for his failure. His partner went to prison, leaving Joe scot-free.
Chris (Daniel Cahill), Joe’s idealistic son, has invited Ann (Amy Kennedy), his missing brother’s sweetheart, back to the family home. He intends to ask her to marry him. However, Ann is also the daughter of Joe’s jailed business partner. Ann’s arrival sparks a series of explosive revelations that will not end well.
At the centre of the action is Kate Keller, Joe’s wife and Chris’s mother. Irene MacDougall gives an outstanding performance as the matriarch of the group. At times wrapped in grief, at others trying to take charge of a situation spiralling out of her control.
Alex Lowde’s design is stark and restrained. The back-yard of the Kellers, where all the action takes place, is a sterile space surrounded by dead trees, even in August it seems. Atmospheric, almost ambient sounds by David Paul Jones deepen the feeling of sterility and mournfulness that pervades the production. The oppressive atmosphere builds with the approaching climax: as Chris and Joe confront each other once Joe’s truth breaks out, the storm that’s been rumbling off-stage breaks into a torrential downpour, cooling the August heat that’s been brewing in the Keller’s garden.
Dundee Rep’s production of All My Sons, like most of Miller’s theatre is never light drama, but it’s like the Ancient Greek tragedies that it nods towards – a cathartic experience that goes with you, long after you walk away, satisfied and a little wiser.
February 21-23, 2019
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There seemed to be a sense of magic in the air as I arrived the Tron Theatre at Glasgow Cross. I had come to see Linda Marlowe present “Berkhoff’s Women”, celebrating some of the magnificent woman in the early works of Steven Berkhoff, a show which she herself premiered at the Edinburgh Festival 20 years ago, and which came from her own association and friendship with the playwright himself. To be honest, I hadn’t come across the piece before and didn’t quite know what to expect from the evening’s performance. That, coupled with a personal liking for this venue, served to heighten my senses. From the moment when Marlowe, dressed in a trim sexy black dress, launched herself with shocking intensity into the first role, the whole audience was hooked.
A large square of red material served to further grab our attention as she folded and unfolded it, adding yet more depth and significance to every profound and poetic utterance. Attention which never faltered as she wove together the extracts from the playwright’s work, in a continuous stream of honesty, passion, certainty, absurdity. She embraced each character fully and with gusto, holding a torch to the sensibilities of the playwright and his work.
Nothing was held back; strong shocking language expressing and emphasizing strong emotions. Her bond with the audience built steadily as the performance reached its climax. Charged with ironies and terrible conundrums, her voice filled with the words and gestures of her performance caught your very heart sometimes without mercy as she cajoled, then shimmering forth with the look and the message of love to the depth of understanding as a woman who was delivering lines written by a man.
There was a Q&A session after the performance and Marlowe shared some of her feelings about performing this piece again after 20 years, and perhaps a slight nervousness at such an undertaking. Things had, she agreed, changed in that 20 years, both personally and in society. That’s why it is perhaps important to revisit such a work, to process the changes.
Quite simply, Linda Marlow shone in this performance, a single performer portraying a complex cast of characters telling forceful yet sensual stories; universal truths. Her own persona, inspired, sensual and honest, seems to perfectly typify the strong women she depicts here, Berkoff’s women. All in all, one is left with a swelling sense of love for each other, told in poetic tales of devotion and dedication from a strong (yet universal) female point of view.