Oran Mor, Glasgow
Sep 16 – 21, 2019
Oran Mor’s year of celebration continued with a revival of Morag Fullarton’s take on the Mack the Knife story about the period leading up to the production of what eventually became The Threepenny Opera. There was great upheaval at this time in between-the-wars in Berlin just before the rise of the Nazis, mirrored in the action onstage which was carefully choreographed to contain all the vivid, comedic activity. The entourage on stage included 4 actors, with some having double roles; Keith Fleming, playing Lotte Lenya’s, husband, doubling up as the delectable MacHeath and also playing guitar. The dialogue kept up a fast and furious pace, interspersed with frequent songs that grew in passion and significant the further we were hurled into the plot. Bertholt Brecht (George Drennan) came on – a larger than life character sliding the four of them together in theatrical style. All of which lead to Lotte auditioning for a show in Berlin. She was almost faced with the three men conspiring about her, all in the name of the show. The story stuck very well to the original style of the 30’s song by Kurt Weill who wrote it with Bertholt Brecht writing the lyrics. The comedy flew faster than a speeding light as did everything else, in a whirlwind and exuberant spectacle of dance, song and enticing comedy.
The said Kurt Weill (Kevin Lennon) was also big personality, stealing the show in every conversation and standing out in his showy, not to be ignored outfits. With Lotte on the verge of stardom the show crept ever closer and behind the scenes things were far from peaceful, with problems coming on all sides at Brecht who did well not to fall apart. In the end, the show finally became the Threepenny opera and when the song Mack the Knife was performed it was immediately loved by audience after audience, performance after performance, and word spread about how brilliant it was. But other forces were in play, as we saw when our four characters onstage were called to be part of the darkness in Berlin at this time. An officer dressed as a Nazi had the three in line questioning them about their lives as artists, leaving having decimated the show. Lotte was placed in a useful Jewish section of the world but their lives had already been thrown apart. Except that in the end, as we listen the strains of Mack the Knife at the end of the show, we were reminded that this great song was too well liked to just disappear. It seems appropriate to revive this musical now, at this time of turmoil in our own politics.
The Mumble love the PPP at the Oran Mor – cutting edge theatre & a decent scran – its a winning combo. BBC Scotland are about to broadcast several plays – so folk can get their pies & their beers from the local store & watch from the comfort of their own home
The team at Oran Mor is justifiably proud of A Play, A Pie and A Pint, the distinctive lunchtime productions which year by year have grown in fame and popularity ever since their launch by founder, the late David McLelland, in 2004. And 2019 is a celebration year for PPP, marking as it does the 500th play, not to mention recognition of their achievements in the shape of the award for “Contribution to Scottish Culture”. All of which has generated the interest of BBC Scotland who will record and screen some of the plays for a new series.
Oran Mor’s proprietor, Colin Beattie, himself a huge supporter of PPP, is “ ..more than pleased that A Play, A Pie and a Pint is at last being featured on national television… A lot of dedicated people have contributed to Oran Mor’s success… I have no doubt our founder, David McLennan is also pleased his legacy is being aired on the BBC.”
The excitement is shared by Artistic Directors April Chamberlain and Morag Fullerton who are keen to point out that having the TV cameras present won’t change anything – they’ll stick to their tried and tested formula for the live events and hope that the series will give a wider audience the chance to experience this unique “little lunchtime phenomenon” for themselves. Chamberlain points out that it will also afford an opportunity for “the fantastic writers, directors and performers that we work with the chance to engage with audiences on a wider scale.” “It would be fantastic,” she adds “if writers who haven’t worked on television before went on to be picked up for something else, and hopefully this will encourage everyone involved to take risks.”
Amen to that!
PPP is famous for showcasing both new and existing talent and I look forward to catching up with some of the best of the shows in the comfort of my own home – though I’ll have to supply my own pie and pint! Go to the i-Player to find “Ring Road” and “Chic Murray: Funny Place to Put a Window” as well as other productions which are scheduled to appear throughout the autumn. I can only agree with April Chamberlain when she states “It’s obviously different from the live experience but if it helps to grow an interest and an appetite for audiences, it could be the start of a great thing”. Cheers!
Ring Road by Anita Vettesse.
BBC Scotland: Sunday 8 September 2019, 10pm.
A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity by Douglas Maxwell
BBC Scotland: Sunday 15 September 2019, 10pm.
Toy Plastic Chicken by Uma Nada-Rajah
BBC Scotland: Sunday 22 September 2019, 10pm.
Meat Market by Chris Grady
BBC Scotland: Sunday 29 September 2019, 10pm
Crocodile Rock by Andy McGregor
BBC Scotland: Sunday 29 September 2019, 10pm
Oran Mor, Glasgow
September 9-14, 2019
Today’s play, pie and pint offering was a three-hander intriguingly entitled No 1 fan, by Kim Millar and appeared at the Oran Mor as part of a tour of Scottish cities. Joyce Falconer took to stage as Jan in a striking red dressing gown, soon to be joined by David McGowan as Andy her husband. From the first it was clear that Andy had found himself a younger lover less than half the age of his long suffering wife. So poor Jan was in turmoil from get go, not only trying to deal with her husband cheating on her, but with someone so very much younger. The script was sharp and pointed as Jan energetically tore strips off her errant husband about the age of her rival, not to mention the moral issue of older men coupling with far younger women.
But Jan had a plan to get her own back. She would pick up a gentleman of her own. A darker side emerged when she revealed that in fact she was going to target a specific gentleman, a journalist named Jack (Callum Cuthbertson) whose newspaper column habitually degraded older women. Jan lured her victim to the house, where he appeared in a cravat and adopted a rather arrogant stance as a darling of the business. Until she slipped something in his drink causing him to regain consciousness slumped against a radiator with Jan standing over him holding handcuffs on a chain in an almost cabaret-like spectacle. At first he thought he was going to be in for some sexual shenanigans, but as Jan chains him to the radiator she made it clear that what she wanted was for him to write a column retracting his previous attitudes.
This play featured very strong performances from all three actors. Joyce Falconer totally over the top and dangerous as Jan, railing against the way older women are treated. David McGowan as Andy, trying to justify his infidelity, but coming in the end to remember what older women have to offer and asking for forgiveness. Callum Cuthbertson as Jack the charming journalist whose swaggering persona was perhaps hiding a feeling that he could be knocked off his pedestal at any moment.
In the end I found this quite a touching piece about the power struggle between the sexes, making its points with humour and absurdity, but coming in the end to some kind of resolution. When Andy asked for a second chance, Jan magnanimously replied with a toast to second chances as the lights went down.
From the tectonic pressures of rehabilitation and recovery
A theatrical diamond has been born
Hello Farley, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Although I’ve lived in a few other places briefly, I was born in Hollywood and raised in the Los Angeles area of California, and I still live here. For better or for worse, I say… but It’s a great place to be an artist.
When did you first develop a passion for the stage?
I fell in love with theater at nine years old, when I was first cast in an original musical version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was a local children’s theater production, and I had only one line, but I was hooked and never recovered, you might say.
What is the theatre scene like in Los Angeles?
Well, it has changed significantly over my lifetime, as there are only a handful of large professional theater companies these days. I think what Los Angeles has become known for, over the last few decades, is the 99-seat theater scene. There is a lot of innovative and original work being done here. On any given evening, dozens of shows are pushing the boundaries of the art form all over town. However, my true love is musical theater, and I perform more commonly in the large professional houses that have the budget for the sets, costumes, and glitz of the broadway style shows.
Your performance skills are a bit of a (tasty) soup – what are the ingredients?
I am a seasoned musical theater performer which is definitely the soup base. My wacky sense of humor is the unexpected spicy cayenne pepper, perhaps. Plus, a squeeze of lemon is my big bright versatile voice. The new ingredient these days is my vulnerability, a secret spice one might say, that makes my new show different from my past work.
You’ve got three famous actors, dead or alive, coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Judy Garland, Katherine Hepburn, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It makes me laugh just imagining those three together. And Kate Hepburn would be in charge of the menu. She would run that dinner party, I have no doubt, and I would let her!
You’re bringing a play to the United Solo festival, can you tell us about it?
In December of 2017, just before Christmas, I had a stroke which affected my speech, reading, hearing, and comprehension. I felt deeply lost, hopeless, frightened, and helpless during my illness. With STROKE OF LUCK, I have crafted a way to tell the story, going back and forth in time, in monologues and song.
When did you realise you wanted to turn your experiences into a play & why?
After my stroke I wanted so badly to simply return to being my ‘old self’, but my brain just seemed broken. Well, it was. Nonetheless, I dug deep into my rehabilitation and recovery. With the encouragement of my friends, I gave myself the big crazy task of telling the tale of what happened to me and transformed my life… out loud… with music… to an audience! When the idea of STROKE OF LUCK was born it was a ridiculous idea – as I could barely read or write, and speaking was quite difficult! But I’m a performer – what else could I do? Believe it or not, the show premiered in Los Angeles last year, just 10 months after my stroke. The miracle of that is not lost on me.
You describe the play as containing universal truths…
Well, of course, not everyone has had a stroke, but most people have been touched by this illness because of a close family member, co-worker, or friend having had one. Many people die every year from strokes or never fully recover. But even bigger than that is the question of how you deal with any significant illness. The fact is – being severely ill strips your identity away. It is profound and painful. Who you are, or thought you were in this world, is gone. The loss of identity is a big theme in the show. Also, the loss of one’s “voice” is a very vulnerable thing that I think really resonates with people.
How is directer Kirsten Chandler handling your creative baby?
Kirsten is not only a well respected Los Angeles director, but also a dear friend. She is one of many special friends who came to visit me right after the stroke happened. She knew me before, during, and after the stroke, so she had a true understanding of what I had been through. She helped me craft the humor of the show, and most importantly the “stroke moments” I recreate, in the most powerful way possible. I also could not have done this without the wisdom, friendship, and steady hand of my producer, Dion Mial. His input is incalculable.
What is the last thing you do before you step out on stage?
I need some silence really. I need a quiet moment or a little serenity before the madness of putting it all out there on stage for 90 minutes. It takes all of me, every last bit of me, to do this show.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell your play in the streets of New York…
I’ll make you laugh, I’ll make you cry, and you might just learn something about life, too. I know for sure that you will never forget it.
Friday, October 11th, 2019
United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
A mercurial talent is bringing his personal twist on Goethe’s darkest tale to the United Solo Festival, New York
Hello Glen, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I live in New York City and travel and perform all over North America and Europe, especially Britain and Ireland.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
My mother says I started acting when I was two. Then I tried to organize neighborhood children to put on plays. I did a lot of children’s theater and community theater as well as school plays.
Can you tell us about your training?
I trained at The Juilliard School, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and in Michael Chekhov’s approach to acting. I’ve also done a movement training called Spacial Dynamics.
Can you tell us about Anthropos & your role?
Anthropos is my touring-production company. It received its name in 2010 to acknowledge the spirit of what my colleagues and I present and the impulse to create and perform stories and plays of unusual scope and humanity. Anthropos is the Greek word for human being. We seek to uphold and celebrate what is truly human, through the arts of theater and storytelling.
You’re bringing a play to the United Solo festival, can you tell us about it?
Friday, September 20 at 9pm. Beat the Devil!
(the WHOLE story)
by JW von Goethe and Glen Williamson
(his drama, my words)
It’s the story of a guy who makes a bargain with the devil, but Goethe gives it a twist, so the devil gets more than he bargained for. It’s purely theatrical storytelling that fills the stage. And it’s relevant, timely and timeless.
You have also toured North America in The Refugees’ Tale, based on Goethe’s Green Snake parable, so what is it about the greatest German poet that makes you tick?
As a consequence of the horrible tragedy of the 20th century, much of the depth and spirit of middle European culture has been lost or debased. It’s part of my mission in life to bring that spirit to life. Goethe, the greatest of many great German poets and philosophers, was also a scientist who laid the groundwork for reuniting western thought with spiritual reality.
Where & when did the idea for Beat the Devil! originate, & is the reality fulfilling your vision?
When I was 21 I was sent through an exchange program to work as a stage hand for the full production of Goethe’s Faust in Dornach, Switzerland, and I fell in love with the story, the characters, the ideas, the imagery and the poetry. Then in 1999, I was asked to perform a solo story version in honor of the 250th anniversary of Goethe’s birth, for the Anthroposophical Society in New York. I’ve been performing it fairly often ever since. It has gone farther and affected far more people than I had ever expected.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
This story touches something deep in us about what it means to be human in the face of evil.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Make sure my fly is zipped. Then as I begin, I have a moment to think of the people who guided me to this story, including J. W. von Goethe himself.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell your play in the streets of New York, what would you say?
This is one of the greatest works of world literature. I’ve condensed it into 90 minutes. I’ve been performing it for 20 years all over North America and Europe. It’s won two awards off Broadway. And I would love to share it with you, whoever you are.
September 20th, 2019
United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Direct from it’s Off-Broadway run at the Soho Playhouse in Manhattan, Martin Dockery’s award-winning mind-bending comedy Inescapable makes it’s Vancouver premiere. The Mumble caught up with Martin & the play’s director, Vanessa Quesnelle
Hello Vanessa, first things first, where are you both from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Vanessa: I’m from Ontario, Martin is from Brooklyn, NY, and Jon is from many, many places in Canada.
Hello Martin, so when did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Martin: My British great-grandparents toured America as actors in a theatre troupe. Their daughter then went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then HER daughter (my mother) went to SUNY Purchase in New York for acting. I myself have an MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. All which is to say, it seems the passion for theatre is in my very DNA.
You two have just had a baby girl, hows that going will she be coming to Vancouver too?
Vanessa: Martin and I are very fortunate that we can travel and perform together – a real balancing act, as you can imagine. Our baby is 15-months-old now and it’s already her second summer on tour. Luckily, she’s a pretty easy-going baby who loves being out and mingling with other people. There’s no real model for how this is supposed to work and so we’re just figuring it out as we go. There’s a great network of traveling artists and supportive locals without whom this would be SO MUCH MORE difficult – if not impossible. But having a baby on tour has led to all sorts of beautiful moments with strangers and friends. After ten years of traveling without a baby, it’s a refreshing way to reengage with the fringe world.
Can you tell us about your training?
Vanessa: I’ve been acting since as long as I can remember. All my training has been hands-on, as I’ve been in countless productions in every capacity imaginable, both on and off-stage.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Martin: I want every show I make to feel like an Experience. Capital E. I want people to be lifted out of their every day world. It’s what I’m looking for when I attend a piece of theatre. A visceral experience that transcends the reality of simply sitting in a dark room with other people.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Vanessa: Theatre remains the one form of entertainment that you cannot get ‘on demand.’ It happens in a specific time and place and if you’re not in the room for it, then it’s gone forever. The theatrical space exists in the same space in which we exist; time passes the same on stage as it does in the audience. It is as three-dimensional as we are. The actors are breathing the same air as the audience; they are feeling the same energy. When theatre works, it is unlike any other experience in its immediacy. It’s a shared experience with other people both on and off-stage, all of whom are together buying into an alternate reality that both reflects and reveals our own.
Can you tell us about RibbitRePublic and ConcreteDrops, & of their merger?
Martin: RibbitRePublic has consistently been making work for the fringe since the 1990’s, if you can believe it. ConcreteDrops has been doing likewise every year for over ten years. Safe to say, we’re all pretty committed at this point. When you join forces with another group, you want to make sure they’re going to be around for a while, so that the show itself can have a good, long life. Also, we like each other – so why not do a project together?
You’re bringing a play to this year’s Vancouver Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Martin: Like an episode of The Twilight Zone as conceived by M.C. Escher and written by Samuel Beckett, Inescapable is a fast-moving comedic thriller that plays with both our sense of time and identity. When two old friends find themselves trapped at an annual holiday party, a lifetime of secrets and betrayals are exposed just as quickly as the duo’s inability to remember them.
So Vanessa, as the play’s director, what are you bringing to the table?
Vanessa: Well, hopefully, I’m bringing what every director brings to the table, so to speak: an eye towards telling a story clearly. Not so easy in the case of Inescapable. With its inherently cyclical nature, it would be easy for the larger picture to get muddled and lost. And so my job, I feel, is to maintain a clear through line within the eddies and whirlpools of action and intent, so that even as the characters find themselves trapped in an ever-repeating moment, there is a rising momentum towards a clear climactic finale.
Where & when did you first get the inspiration for Inescapable?
Martin: After Paterson made the suggestion that we should do something together, I spent a few days mumbling to myself while walking around Bellingham, where I was performing at the time. The show just sort of came out, pretty much fully formed. If you see it, you’ll see just how bonkers this must’ve made me seem – mumbling this intense dialogue to myself while inadvertently weirding out Bellingham in the process.
Can you tell us about Jon Paterson, his role & how he is doing so far?
Vanessa: Jon is great to work with. Always game for trying things out. Rehearsals have always been super fun. As an actor he is capable of a wide range, from a sort of goofy amiability to something unhinged and menacing, both of which make him perfect for his role in Inescapable.
Inescapable won Best Script at the Orlando Fringe & Best-of-Fest at Minnesota… does that bring you any validation?
Martin: Well, yes, of course, it’s always validating to win an award or two – how could it not be? But more so has been the reaction of the audience as they are experiencing the show. It’s quite a theatrical ride, I think.
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting the play together?
Vanessa: Well, the biggest obstacle has been the fact that Jon lives in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, while we live in Brooklyn, NY. And so rehearsal itself has been a creative affair. Luckily we’re at many fringe festivals together and so we’re able to put some time aside. At this point, though, we’ve been doing the play for a number of years – it’s in our bones and not much more than a refresher rehearsal is needed.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Vancouver…
Martin: Do you like the Twilight Zone? Black Mirror? Puzzles? High energy, mind-bending, comedic thrillers? Well, then, I dare say you’ll love Inescapable.
Sept 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Aug 26–31 , 2019
It was great to be back at Oran Mor where the year celebrating 500 productions of A Play, A Pie and a Pint launched into its autumn season with Crocodile Rock, a new one-man musical by Andy McGregor. Darren Brownlie plays 17-year old Steven McPhail who introduces himself in song from his makeshift music studio. But this joyous beginning is something of a false start as young Steven found that life at home on the Isle of Millport was tedious, empty and downright boring. The stage was strewn with piles of boxes containing his possessions, giving you the impression of someone who was trying to make decisions about his life and how to live it. By the way, the music in this show was top notch, ably supported by the 2-man backing band of Gary Cameron (keyboard) and Gavin Whitworth (bass and guitar).
As the stories unfold in song, we learned about Steven’s adored mother and rather straight-laced father. We saw him going down to the beach to stare at Millport’s eponymous crocodile rock, which just reminded him of how detached he felt from his surroundings, and how much his soul longed for something different. All his ups and downs were expressed in the music as well as a large cast of imaginary characters. In places the show seemed almost operatic in its production and lyrical quality.
Out of the blue, and to our great delight, along came someone new – a drag queen from a larger world that Steven met by chance and found awe inspiring right from their first encounter. As we watched he seemed like a little boy being led into a new world of wonders he had never dreamed of – a world where at last he felt at home.
But he sang of great heartache as well. Having plucked up the courage to tell him, he loses his father’s approval and finds himself actually disowned. In tears he shouted “I won’t apologize for being who I am”. He had come onstage dressed as a woman, with long blond hair and a tight sequinned pink dress. Now the joke becomes serious, symbol of a great expression of overcoming. With every leap he took us with him, his songs becoming bold, and his world that little bit happier as he realised the true nature of his identity, the real Steven in full frock and make-up. This show was put together to make us laugh and cry, and it did that in spades. It also brought joy out of the heart of despair as we shared the quest to be your real self whatever it may be.
“It’s about feeling alive”. Music is a great many things to different people. For two aging and forgotten rockstars, it’s a chance at redemption, to set their lives back on the right track. Venture Wolf’s third production at the fringe finds the special effect that music has, and runs with the idea, allowing for some pretty strong emotions to surface. But with a confused script that feels more like a clash of ideas than a successful jam session, Vinyl Encore misses that special connection it was aiming for.
One morning, a guitarist for a modern hit-making band, Kieran Kurtz, finds himself in the house of 70’s cult rocker King A. The previous evening, the two had come together on a night out, both trying to chat up a record producer. As the haze of the morning clears, the producer’s promise is revealed – he’ll release a record for both of them, so long as they record it together. Instantly the battle of age and style is clear.
Playing King, AW King is completely believable as a rock star. He is a punk rocker whose lyrics are like psychedelic poetry. Kurtz, played more straight laced by Paul Vitty, is insecure about his talent as a guitarist, keen to play far more than just three chords in a song. The dream to work together is about as madcap as they come, but as the jamming begins the possibility starts to look quite attractive. Competent musicians, at first King’s lyrics don’t quite fit Vitty’s improv guitar, but there is a spark of something. Aping the heavy guitar rock sound of the White Stripes, and highly reminiscent of DIY punk, there’s potential here for excellence with some polish.
The problem with Vinyl Encore’s production is that it promises the two will get over their differences and end up creating something harmonious and unique, but they never do. The music never quite reaches brilliance, and the other elements of the script echo this. Unstructured, the dialogue can feel a little too improvisational sometimes, meaning that the lines crash into each other as much as the characters. Both musicians are clearly going through more personally than just a career slump, but the story beats don’t combine in such a way that the emotion can be felt. It’s not that they are unlikeable characters, in fact, they are quite relatable. It’s just that the convoluted and sometimes absurd nature of the script doesn’t allow for sufficient empathy to build.
An ominous knock at the door propels this production towards its conclusion, with a sense that something more slick could have achieved a far greater effect. Both Vitty and King bring the required emotion to their respective roles, and their passion for music is so clear. But in the end, they don’t quite manage to articulate why the music made them feel so alive.
theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall
12th-17th August 18:05
19th-24th August 19:05
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Festival
21 August 2019 to 24 August 2019
Let’s face it, the bastion of baffling pretention known as ‘Interpretative Dance’ is at the very pinnacle of the pyramid of thespian charlatanary that are the Edinburgh Festivals. Interpretative Dance tackling the, ahem, laugh-a-minute Norn Irish ‘Troubles’ sounds like a ‘Legitimate Target’ or at least a fleg up for a spot of recreational rioting. However, and I can’t believe I’m writing this (I’m as surprised as you), Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer’ is one of the best fifty minutes I have ever spent in a theatre outside of the bar.
Full disclosure. I’m from Belfast (and Hard as Fuck). I arrived with a mouth full of sarcasm and a hipflask full of whiskey. I left in a daze, genuinely and deeply impressed by what I was sure was going to be a load a ballax. Gobsmacked by a piece of work which at one level is just punters prancing about on a stage but on another is an eloquent understated yet (gulp) powerful physical drama.
That David Holmes, top-end Soul Techno Gay House DJ producer, soundtracker to Hollywood, proper Belfast Boyo and all round good egg himself provides what is termed the ‘soundscape’ doesn’t hurt. The whine of paranoia and choppers, the unmistakable whirr of the tyres of the armoured cars on the streets, samples of various Spides and Millbags (ask somebody from Belfast), sweeping electronica, the music (soundscape my arse) sets light to some great dancing and a genuinely poetic portrayal of the daftness of the last forty years telescoping from the personal to the political.
A Belfast Prayer doesn’t just avoid cliché, it dingies it altogether. (Love that word)
Nobody gets done, nobody sings about Colleens or dogs or some Boyo on a horse that fucked off years ago because he clocked you were a psycho and fifty texts a day at least. No-one glosses over the barbarity. And praise be to St Michael Alec Joey Van Barry and the lord Georgie Himself nobody bores anyone to death about the alleged politics. Amazing. Just one gripe ‘Soundscape? Really Davy…. Soundscape?… aye dead on mate… yer from East Belfast for fucks sake. Have a wee word eh? Plus it was a bit smoky in there, alright? Up The Hoods!
Aug 21-26 (17:05)
In my role of reviewer, I always like to take the most objective route possible, to preferably not know anything about the play I am set to see. In the case of ‘Genesis: The Mary Shelley Play,’ however, this would be impossible. Half a lifetime ago, in 1998, I found myself busking in Pisa, composing a poem entitled ‘The Death of Shelley. ‘ This was my turf, & whatever the play did, it had better do it bloody well. The story’s core comes from the creative furnace that was the meeting of poetical minds at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in 1816 – as canonized in English literature as the Shakespearean plays. Following the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, the year of 1816 had no summer, & thus kept inside by the constant rain our poets & their entourage resorted to telling ghost stories. From it came Frankenstein & also the modern version of Dracula – from Byron via Doctor Poliodori, who was also present at the villa & is in the play. This, by the way, got off to a terrible, terrible start. A cluttered, fairly insane rush to get all the characters on stage, chitter-chattering their back-stories so we all knew what was going on. Far better to have them listening to Coleridge’s Christabel or those German horror novellas which were the true seed-spirations for Frankenstein. They were never mentioned at all, a fatal flaw – but we did get to see Clare Claremont’s naked buttocks.
Things evolved a little better, I must admit; a series of set-piece scenes which showed our troupe to be fine, fine actors. Where many plays taper into the wind after the start, Genesis actually managed to gather itself together & keep us interested until the end. The Byronic portrait was the best part, I think, & done quite well. The Allegra sub-plot appeared, sprinkling in a little of that scandalous gossip which followed Byron everywhere, while the subtle foreshadowing of Shelley’s Leghorn disaster was a clever touch. But the real damage had been done right at the start, & I found myself lolloping on to the finale in the same way I watch a cartoon film with my kids; out of duty really.
Like I said, the actors were good, pristeen even, but they didn’t look like the avatars they were meant to be playing. The Diodati Summer has become part of our folklore & is recreated very much like the mystery plays of Kerala & Tamil Nadu, where scenes from the Mahabharata are acted out village to village. Imagine the disconcertment of a South Indian audience when they gaze on Vishnu & discover he looks more like Ganesha. There was also very much a lack of any real ‘fear,’ a bit of LSD-hysteria & a couple of Hammer Horror lightning bolts. But of course this play was too busy cramming in far too much biographical detail to worry about entertaining us.
Damian Beeson Bullen