Dixie Whittington: The Hamecoming


Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 25 –  Dec 28, 2019

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: four-stars.png
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.: four-stars.png


From the moment when Dixie Whittington (Amy Scott), Captain Cut-Thrapple (Claire Waugh) and Dame Dora Dumplin (Dave Anderson in a wig) came tripping down the aisle through the audience, the stage was set for an hour of merriment and chaos. So began Oran Mor’s 2019 Christmas Pantomime, “Dixie Whittington, the Hamecoming” written and directed by the excellent Morag Fullerton.

The fast moving plot found the naïve young Whittington under the sway of his evil landlord, Skinflint (John Kielty), head full of London tales that never came true, despite the voice in his head telling him to turn again for he would be Mayor of London. And when he was chucked out of his digs, and found himself in a tavern full of drunken sailors, his thoughts turned to heading back up north where his poor old grandmother sat all alone in her lonely flat. When pirate captain Cut-Thrapple offered him and his cat, Fleabag, a passage all the way up to Glasgow –– it seemed like the answer to his prayers.

Of course all Cut-Thrapple and his dastardly sidekick Dame Dumplin the ship’s cook could think of was treasure and cared not for the destinies of man or woman – he had every intention of corrupting the hapless Dixie and leaving him penniless. Was the ship even going to Glasgow? Who knows? The dark tale unfolded with plenty of rip roaring, thigh slapping action, hearty songs and fulsome audience participation. And just when we were wondering how the poor lad would ever climb out of his desperate predicament, enter Inverary Jones (John Kielty again) the shining hero, pushed onstage on a trolley.

With twists and turns too numerous to mention, and with the help of Inverary and a mysterious mermaid called Suzi-the-single-fish, Dixie eventually found his way back to the arms of his grateful granny, who would be lonely no more, much to everyone’s joy – except Cut-throat’s (Boo! Hiss!). And we end with the voices proclaiming that Dixie Whittington, you SHALL be Mayor of Glasgow! Hoorah!

Daniel Donnelly

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Malmaison: Scenes 1-2

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Scene 1: The Fields of Waterloo

The battle is going badly for the French, many of whom are fleeing the field. Napoleon is in discussion with Gourgaud, Darrican and Hulin. Cannonballs and bullets falling around them.

Gourgaud
La Garde recule!

Napoleon
The Garde, ridiculous!

Gourgaud
Stand, Boys!

Darrican
Save the Eagles!

Napoleon
Vive la France!

Enter Hulin

Hulin
The Old Gaurd broken, our hopes are all gone,
The moon uprisen, & the day is lost!
At Papelotte, Hougoumont, La Haye Saint,
The army gives up ground on every side,
Like a thaw it cracks & floats & rolls off,
Flailing in confusions & collisions,
An awful mass of panicking soldiers,
Casting muskets & knapsacks into wheat,
Officers, even generals, ignor’d,
& worst of all the portal of retreat
Is closing every second, Plancenoit
Is lost, our fifteen thousand overwhelm’d
By twice that number, swelling each second,
Only the Chasseurs of the Guard delay
The seizure of the vital Brussels road,
Sire, sire! You have no choice, please extricate
Your person from this scene of acrid carnage.

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Napoleon
What is this mad, malevolent panic,
That like a poison penetrates the lines?
Where are Marshall Grouchy’s thirty thousand?
Where is that vain, reckless romancer Ney?

Gourgaud
He is there, waving tattered epaulettes,
Ordering volleys of comfortless shot,
He is bleeding, muddy, magnificent,
Waving his broken sword as he recalls
& insults soldiers, even as they flee
They are shouting, ‘long live brave Marshall Ney!’

Napoleon
The Bravest of the Brave? The Fool of Fools!
Tho’ frightening the English from their wits,
A cavalry charge without infantry
Is folly of the lunatic kind,
On this terrible day of destiny
My talon’d wildcats transmorph to children,
But if I am to die it will be here
With my men, by their side, sharing the toil.

Darrican
No, sire, you must escape the battlefield,
France cannot lose you, sire, for you are France.

Gourgaud
You must leave at once.

Hulin
Your horse is ready.

Napoleon
Very well, better to be in Paris,
To organise the national defence.

Napoleon is led from the field by the marshalls.
He passes an old soldier who looks at him
open-mouthed, with no love

Soldier
Flee, wet chicken cur, coward recreant!
Leaving infants naked for the leopards –
Across the Earth I followed you in love,
Much more than brothers were we all in arms
Affections spent unearthly, devoted
To your very name; only this morning
I thought it was divine, but now it falls
Like sleet upon my ears, numbing & cold,
Heart freezing tears before the drops can fall
Into into this murd’rous sea of blood & mud.

The soldier is bayoneted by an English redcoat


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Scene 2: Malmaison, Josephine’s Bedroom

Josephine enters with Napoleon, covering his eyes with her hands.

Josephine
And this… keep them closed… this… is my bedroom

Napoleon
Incredible, those swans almost divine!

Josephine
I like to think we two are one bevvy,
Celebrated by synchronicities,
& mates for life.

Napoleon
Let us make a signet
Or six, & christen these slick, silken sheets,
I imagin’d them just so this morning,
I have a thousand kisses readying,
Kisses for your eyes, your lips, your shoulders,
I am utterly, unboundenly yours.

Josephine
Bonaparte, Bonaparte, be patient please,
Your tour of Malmaison yet incomplete,
Step with me to the window bay to gaze
On grounds Arcadian, much neglected
Since the Revolution, but potential!
Such potential! I have dreamt of roses,
Three hundred acres of woods, lawns, vineyards
& Rueill – see its smoke – a fine village;
Examine all apsects of this prospect,
Just think of it, Malmaison soon could be
Your royal court amid the countryside.

Napoleon
It could, yes, that may be, but let me show
You something, something much more beautiful,
Step gently to this mirror’s length to gaze
On the beauty of Madame Bonaparte,
Do you see?

Josephine
I do… I wore white for you
You love me in white, I know

Napoleon
If it was
To please me you succeed – what beauty dwells
{rearranging Josephine’s flowers in her hair}
In special auras glowing aslant moon
& stars & skies; your almond-lidded eyes,
Like melted amber, by long lashes guarded,
Unleash resistless forces on my soul.

Josephine
Resistless force? That force, I fear, is you,
The brilliant general of our day
Returning from Syria & Egypt,
Who somehow still has energy to spare
For my coiffure.

Napoleon
I am full devoted
To your hair, your body, your everything.

Josephine
Later, love, let us dine tonight, & then…

Napoleon
Tonight! But what passion boils inside me,
The lava of my love for you explodes,
Erupting at the touchstone of your looks,
Your kisses set my blood on fire, your sweetness
Melts my heart, the poet stirs within
Primordial, like a wild animal.

Josephine
Tonight! There is dignity in waiting,
It is time to show you the gallery,
Where paintings you issued from Italy
Bedeck the walls with bounty beauteous.

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Napoleon
Will there be any portraits of yourself?
Between such images & memories
Of intoxicating nights together
I have no respite, incomparable
Josephine, your existence consumes me,
Your spirit overwhelms my heart profoundly.

Josephine
I always want to see the tenderness
In your eyes, as you desire for me now,
My life was ordain’d for your happiness,
Whenever you are sorrow’d lay your hands
Upon these breasts, here salver’d solace yours,
Tho’ we are like the poles – apart in ways,
Entwining we make a perfect planet!

Napoleon
I will conquer countries while you’ll woo hearts,
My own beats testament to your powers,
It is Josephine who inspires my days,
The poets call them muses, you possess
Excuisiteness, decorative darling,
My entire being quickens before thee,
My inner mystic, lain in embryo,
Shaken alive by love so real, so true.

Josephine
Yet so tainted

Napoleon
We shall speak no more of Hippolyte Charles

Josephine
You are the first beholder of my shame,
He is dead to me now, my bewilder’d
State, strange delirium, fuddl’d by fate,
I hated being goddessean object
Of fascination, such adoration,
My spirit unsuited to submissives.

Napoleon
I am more harden’d now, Egyptian heat
Has baked my heart into a brick of clay,
My vanities by Syria were purg’d,
I never should have attempted the East,
Being fortunate to extract myself,
The folly’s karma equalised by you,
Driven into the arms of another,
So very far away, I understand.

Josephine
My indiscretion was an insane play,
Vainglorious succubus swerv’d my brain
Whose dreams are full of you, a scar has form’d,
Smiting conscience with a deep penitence!

Napoleon
All soldiers have their scars, I have mine too;
This thigh reflects an English bayonet,
Delivered as I triumph’d at Toulon,
The other from our wedding day, a bite
From your dog, but the pain is forgotten,
All that remains are feelings of glory
In victories of lovemaking & war,
The memories of our nuptial night
Drop like clear heaven gleaming thro’ a pearl.

Josephine
We share a love, full-form’d, unlike those loves
Of ordinary glaze, speak of what girl
In all the world who’d fail to take great pride
Being the motivating influence
Of martial arms marching unto glory.

Napoleon
Believe me when I say you march with us,
The designator of our providence,
Watching proceedings, blessing bravest feats,
When only as I win my battlefields,
Am I releas’d to hurry to your arms.

LUCKY STAR

Napoleon
You’re my lucky star
You’re my lucky star
I see that you shine for me when I travel too far
You look so amazing, yeah, with your lazar chrome
Whenever you shine for me you’re gonna guide me home

Napoleon
This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes

Jospehine
I have a vision, ascertain
When you’ve gone & lost your way again
Gonna light the night my lovely one
So you can make your own way to the sun

Napoleon
You’re my lucky star
You’re my lucky star
I see that you shine for me when I travel too far
I know you’ll always be with me, where-ever I roam
Whenever you shine for me ya gonna guide me own

Napoleon
This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes

Josephine
I have a vision, ascertain
When you’ve gone & lost your way again
Gonna light the night my lovely one
So you can make your own way to the sun

Napoleon
Living your life aint easy
If you’ve traveled off to far
But when I look up to the skies
I see exactly where you are
Beacause you are, oh yes you are
You’re my lucky star

Napoleon
This star of mine she shines
Only when I’m lost sometimes
sometimes
sometimes
sometimes


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock
Shakespeare off his feffin’ perch!”

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Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

a little space

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Square Chapel, Halifax
21/11/19

Script: three-stars.png Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: three-stars.png S.O.D.: four-stars.png


a little space is a collaborative production (appropriately, they describe it as an adventure) by Gecko and Mind the Gap. Together they lit up a decidedly dark and wintery Halifax. Created by Mind the Gap’s Charli Ward and Karen Bartholomew and Gecko’s Dan Watson and Rich Rusk, a little space is, at its most basic, a group of stories about the residents of an apartment block. However, this production is anything but basic.

It starts before we even realise. As the audience is directed to their seats, a young woman casually steps onto the stage and begins to rearrange the various pieces of furniture in a small apartment room– a table, an armchair, a lamp. She’s clearly enjoying personalising the space – she pauses for a moment to playfully drum her fingers on the table. The joy when she finds the optimum position for the armchair is infectious. You could be forgive for not even realising this is taking place, it’s all so unassuming. It could just be a stagehand making a few last minute finishing touches to the set. And these small series of actions get straight to the heart of one if themes of a little space, how do we carve out our own space in this world?

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The backdrop is made up of a tangle of pipes that wrap around one another before shooting off in their own individual directions. She takes out a wrench and then begins to play a tune on these very pipes as the auditorium explodes with music and the five strong cast creep onto the stage to begin their opening dance. They weave through and around one another, much like the pipes of the backdrop, until they end up in a circle, almost – but not quite – holding hands.

The story, follows three key characters: A young woman moves into an apartment, seemingly on her own for the first time. A young couple, completely in tune and wrapped up in one another, begin to fall apart as one half tumbles down a rabbit hole of addiction as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the television in the corner of the room.

Again, it all sounds so simple, but yet the story is so ambiguous and open to interpretation that it allows a great depth and complexity to unfurl before our eyes. These residents aren’t given character names and they have little to no dialogue. They could be anyone, they could be saying anything. We’re treated to ghostly visitatons and flashbacks that hint at past traumas but these are never explained, allowing the audience to develop their own interpretations and emotional connections. The story is told in a series of vignettes that weave seamlessly into one another with flourishes of choreography and subtle shifts of the scenery as we move from one flat to another. At one moment, the production zooms in on the mundane – the young woman sits at the table completing word puzzles, the couple brush their teeth as they get ready for another day. In an instant, it shifts into the surreal as the floorboards open up and characters tumble through them into bizarre landscapes, of giant shifting tower blocks of lights, of characters navigating their way through a dark and scary world with nothing but a lamp to help them find their way. In a perfect illustration of this striking balance of surreal and mundane, one of the performers finds herself trapped in a miniature version of the set and begins to suffer a panic attack. Another character presents her with a mug and suggests she sits down and has a nice cup of tea, puncturing her nightmares with calming, reassuring normality.

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This ambiguity is what really helps the production to shine. a little space is a veritable Rubik’s cube of a show, with shifting set design and choreography, with ever evolving permutations that set both the head and the heartalight. This ambiguity is a core value of Gecko theatre, using it to both inspire and move audiences and here the balance between emotional resonance and brain food is near perfect. It’s a heady mix that never feels cold and calculated due to the collaborative process, a process that has resulted in an warm, organic and exciting performance.

Oh, and that light? It’s almost certainly a character all of it’s own, as an assortment of lamps, torches and light boxes abound, helping to steer through the shifting atmospheres, at times horrific, eerie, adventurous, hopeful and joyful. It’s visually striking and places the control of these lights into the hands of the cast, allowing the lighting to be an extension of the own characters, as though cast and lights are extensions of one another.

No matter how surreal the production can be, at its core it is thrillingly human. The five strong cast of Paul Bates, Lorraine Brown, Alison Colborne, JoAnne Haines and Charlotte Jones are all equally superb. Their enthusiasm is infectious, steering us deftly through their humble but emotionally resonant adventure that is at times sad and at others delightfully hilarious. Their choreography is both abstract and emotional, their quiet interjections that sit just beneath the music are increasingly affecting. As one character reluctantly moves into her new apartment, she pauses amidst the drama and gasps, ‘Can’t!’ It’s a tiny, but powerful moment of vulnerability that provides a sharp insight into another of the production’s themes – in this busy world of high rise blocks and interlocking lives, we are always alone but together, always together but alone. At moments, this is a source of huge joy, but at others – such as here – it’s a startling jab of pain.

Fortunately, it doesn’t end with pain. Those hands that never quite held one another at the start of the performance? Ultimately, that’s the central conflict at the centre of a little space. We’re watching the inner and outer turmoils of characters who live together but feel alone and disconnected with the rest of the word around them. Will they finally connect and hold hands? I’ll leave that for you to find out. However, on my way home, Mind the Gap and Gecko had lit a spark in my chest that left me feeling compelled to stagger out into the world, to breathe in it’s beautiful light, form new connections and hold new hands.

Steve Bromley

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Cranhill Carmen

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 18 – 23, 2019

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars


Oran Mor’s 500 Play season came to a glorious finale this week with a welcome return of “Cranhill Carmen”, Benny Young’s outrageous Glaswegian version of Bizet’s Carmen, complete with versions of all the best known songs, gustily performed by the gutsy cast who first appeared at the venue in 2018 as part of its Mini Musicals series. Reprising their original roles are Charlene Boyd (Carmen McGurn, the eponymous factory girl), Ewan Petrie (Donald John Macneil, the god fearing policeman from the islands) and Jason Harvey as Glesga Millio, the Glasgow hard man come matador.

We first encountered Carmen rather the worse for wear as she stumbled up the aisle in her high heels and frilly red skirt, and finds a suitable spot on the pavement to use as a toilet. Just the moment when PC Donald came upon her and, deeply offended by the depravity of the act, held forth on his fears for mankind and his unwavering faith in God, both for good inside and out. When he took out his notebook in order to charge her with indecency, Carmen employs all her wiles to persuade him not to book her for her minor misdemeanour. He found himself drawn towards her, enchanted by her glamour and her clever wit. The two engaged in a highly charged philosophical game and he was completely captivated – he’d give up his life for her.

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Enter Glesga Millio, resplendent in full matador kit, going all out to impress the lovely Carmen. In complete contrast to the gentle Donald, this was the bad boy, taking command of the stage with his deep bellowing tones and overpowering flavoursome self. His wooing was rough and full of innuendos about what he’d do to women like her, but Carmen loved it and succumbed to his charms.

Dripping in sin, the lovely Carmen revels in the attentions of the two men in turn, laughing at their male competitiveness and transcending what seemed like horrific circumstances into something that it was a joy to behold. Of course the music helped, with all three belting out Bizet’s marvellous tunes with true operatic gusto and heart wrenching feeling. When the finale arrived it was Carmen who emerged victorious, declaring that both men just want to control her and she’s not having any of it. She deftly informs them that she’ll soon be leaving the country anyway.

This play is full of sheer flamboyance, reaching great heights and depths. When in the end Carmen left as she had come, disappearing back up the aisle with neither man in tow, we can’t help but smile.

Daniel Donnelly

five-stars

Do Not Press This Button

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 11 – 16, 2019

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars.png 
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D: three-stars.png


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…

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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!

Daniel Donnelly

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Good With People

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 4 – 9, 2019

Script: three-stars.png Stagecraft: three-stars.png 
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D: three-stars.png


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.

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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.

Daniel Donnelly

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Kes

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Perth Theatre
2 November – 16 November 2019

Script: five-stars  Stagecraft: five-stars
Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:five-stars


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.

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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.

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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.

Mark Mackenzie

five-stars

Marco Pantini: The Pirate

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 28 –  Nov 1, 2019

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: four-stars.png
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.: four-stars.png


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.

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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.

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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.

Daniel Donnelly

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A Walk In The Park

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 21 – 26, 2019

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Performance: three-stars.png S.O.D.: four-stars.png


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.

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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.

Daniel Donnelly

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Jadek

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York Theatre Royal
16/10/19,

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York Theatre Royal’s studio is a pretty small performance space and tonight it was laid out in such a way that, as the audience filtered into the room, we had to walk across the set and through the lives of the characters we were yet to meet. In a way, the sight was quite shocking – we passed the skeletal ruins of a sofa, cardboard boxes and discarded items across the floor. And then, as we passed a coffee table, there lay the body of a young woman, positioned in such way that we had to step over or around her to reach our seats. This set up raised questions in our minds that we hoped would be answered, it forced us to take a walk through the lives of the characters of Jadek and enabled us to form an instant connection with them.

Jadek is a production by Leeds-based Imagine if Theatre Company and was written and co-directed by Francesca Joy, the very body on the floor over which I had just stepped. She plays Tasha, a young woman who lives with her grandad, played by Piotr Baumann. Tasha has just moved in with her blind, 94 year old grandad, who is still struggling with his memories of Poland in World War 2. In between caring for him, she also deals with a publisher who is looking to publish her first children’s novel.

The structure of the play is fairly loose, and follows the burgeoning bittersweet relationship between the two. It’s an intimate affair that lends us an insight into their daily lives – grandad continually berates his granddaughter when she’s late home from the shops, Tasha fixes the boiler and insists that she won’t blow up their home despite his protestations, and grandad learns the finer details of how to use his Alexa device in order to hear the weather forecast. In Jadek, we watch a very small slice of the world, but despite its subject matter, this play is no mere niche concern. The honesty and humanity on display deal with universal and relatable themes, be it caring for an elderly relative, dealing with past trauma and the whether we should merely “play the game” to get by in life. Both Joy and Baumann feel completely natural in their roles and they lend the proceedings with a gentle comic touch as the two bicker affectionately back and forth. Baumann’s performance, in particular, is breathtaking as an elderly man who carefully and painfully shuffles around a house he cannot see. His switches between frailty and stubbornness at a moment’s notice and, as harrowing as his story can be, it is a pleasure to spend time in his company. Despite feeling so off the cuff and authentic, the writing is very deliberate and clever enough to drop seeds throughout the course of the play that suddenly and unexpectedly bloom into surprising revelations for both the audience and the characters.

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Providing a counterpoint the natural feel of the main narrative, the play is punctuated by a series of jarring sequences. At points the stage darkens and the soundtrack swells as Tasha contorts into a series of positions, equal parts suggestive and tortuous. Heavily treated recorded dialogue plays over these sequences and we hear one sided snippets of conversation as Tasha speaks to a man/ a series of men. In these sequences, we see another version of Tasha as she sells her body by the hour, a version of Tasha that only very briefly bleeds over into the main narrative. It’s a darker, even surreal subplot that provides a chilling parallel to the story of the sale of her novel – she finds herself in a situation where needs to perform sex acts to survive, just as she must agree to her publisher’s increasing demands to change central aspects of her cherished novel. As the story further teases out the details of grandad’s dreams, his horrific past provides further parallels, and granddaughter and grandad both begin to question whether playing this game is the way they should live their lives.

The whole play is accompanied by wonderful sound design that adds depth and emotional resonance throughout, from bright melodic bubblings to the eerie soundscapes that inhabit the play’s darker corners. A speaking clock breaks the play into segments and Alexa interjects at key moments, at one point malfunctioning and spewing out a stream of questions that have been asked by grandad throughout the play.

But the real appeal of the play lies in the tiny details, the nuances in the performance that gently reach out and grab the audience by the throat. At one point grandad finds himself tending some plants in his garden, speaking to his unseen neighbour, Mark. As he spoke, a member of the audience suddenly found himself included in the performance and began to assume the role of Mark as he engaged in conversation with grandad and Tasha. This small, off the cuff moment served to formalise the connection between performers and audience that had begun with our miniature tour through their world before the play even started. It generated an emotional spark , and a fitting climax to the performance. There are lofty themes at work throughout Jadek, however what stands out most is one simple word: connection. Connection between audience and performer. Connection between two very different generations. Emotional connections to support and enrich one another’s lives. Jadek will be going on tour throughout November and December and is a connection worth making.

Steve Bromley

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