A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
“All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.” So said pipe smoking, deep thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. But, as is often the case with the philosophically inclined, his advice is for giving, not taking. When it comes to searching for love, failure (or Simone de Beauvoir) is not to be contemplated.
Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are in Paris rehearsing dance routines for the movie Funny Face. They’re giving some serious thought to the nature of the alluring deception that is their chosen profession, when they stumble across a guitar strumming, quote spouting, Jean- Paul Sartre who engages them in intellectual discourse and a bit of existential improvisation. The philosopher’s high-minded musings go out the fenetre, when faced with Audrey’s gamine beauty and he pursues her with Wile E. Coyote determination. Although elegant Fred Astaire is at hand to keep an eye on the Frenchman’s amorous intentions, he needn’t worry; cool, chic Miss Hepburn has the situation under control.
Darren Brownlie’s Fred Astaire taps and sings with boundless energy, aptly demonstrating that true freedom comes, not from theoretical pondering on one’s derriere but through laborious and diligent practice at your craft. Those who are familiar with Brownlie’s work will be pleased to note there is room for some of the broader, physical humour (cue the giant moustache) at which he also excels. In addition to his own splendid performance, he choreographed the play.
Ashley Smith’s Audrey Hepburn is vulnerable yet full of graceful strength. Her scene as a piece of living film, slowed down, sped up, rewound, is a particular delight. She gives us two different faces of Audrey Hepburn, pixie ingénue and tiara lady in the little black dress. Kevin Lennon’s Jean-Paul Sartre is an utterly believable, shameless cerebral chancer prepared to summon whatever words it will take to ingratiate himself with the object of his desire. He is a champagne communist whose redeeming feature is self awareness. He knows for sure that God, if he exists, loves a trier.
The direction in James Runcie’s excellent play is first class with back projections of locations cleverly extending the dimensions of the stage. While the show invites us to enjoy song, dance and wit (and we do) it also slips in a deeper question. Is choosing a role to play and performing it, the ultimate existential act? A great piece of theatre you’d be out of your mind to miss.
David G Moffat
Sep 1-22 (7.30)
The story of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac has been celebrated now for over 100 years. It was written at a time of social turmoil in France, where literature had taken on the character of oppression. Cyrano stands out as being set in a point of history but is an endearing love story that spans the ages, and lends itself well to Edwin Morgan’s feisty Scots translation.
This collaboration between Edinburgh and Glasgow theatre groups; The Citizens Glasgow and Royal Lyceum Edinburgh had a feeling that something happened that hasn’t quite happened before in theatre; an entire play totally dedicated to the very heart of theatre. In the modern world sets are changed without a curtain call and as part of the scene. The great stage at Glasgow’s Tramway – temporary home to the Citizens while their premises are being refurbished – took to this very well in its flexibility and incredibly simple function.
This play is nothing if not spectacular, with its amazing colourful costumes and over-the-top staging, each character being defined by their respective costumes – the more frills, the more important they were. Then we have the entrance of Bergerac himself (Brian Ferguson), a commanding presence immediately, with his thick Glaswegian and his poor appearance. This accent added freshness and life to the dialogue and all of the players delivered their lines with gusto. Jessica Hardwick as Roxane’s full-on Scottish accents sounded masterful, and brought sincerity and great power to her character.
Cyrano’s inspiring wisdom, that he called wit, was so absorbing. He grew and grew through his deeds that felt appealing to our hearts, everything was important. Bergerac in the original, has a famous scene wooing of Roxane offering love words to Christian, played by Scott Mackie, for Christian to use.
Bergerac was torn apart by the idea that she could never love him because of his big nose. As his nose and his love developed, he stole the show, and our hearts, every time, his presence changing as his humility himself grew to the size of his large nose. The poetic and romantic dialogue was coupled with sword fighting, choreography, food, wine, bread. Food that was served by the comic chef in chef whites (checkers) that were a few sizes too big.
The actors’ voices were arresting and travelled far into the theatre, also enhanced by microphones. Bergerac shouted in a fast song about “these are the cadets…” Bergerac’s love for Roxane was a secret to her and the tragedy was touched upon throughout. Her character was the centre of the show, her dresses and her words had the ability, like Bergerac, to convey serious thoughts.
This is a wonderful, joyful production, drawing us in to the complex plot and heartfelt performance by Brian Ferguson, screaming for love as Bergerac. The three hours simply flew by and leave you feeling grateful for having witnessed it. Not to be missed!
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Jay, a distressed young man in tartan pyjama bottoms and floppy slippers, paces anxiously while awaiting the return of his mother with the milk he desperately needs for his late supper of Rice Krispies. The agoraphobia that won’t let him leave the house is reinforced by a succession of bleak reports on the TV news. What the nervous Jay doesn’t need, is a hand wiggling through the letter box like a horizontal Lady of the Lake, holding not Excalibur, but an automatic pistol that drops with a clunk to the floor. Soon Coco, an apparently aggressive youth is pounding at the door, demanding and gaining entry to the flat – and there’s still no sign of mammy and the milk. Could things get any worse? Well on the plus side, local police officer Kayleigh, who is on a shots-fired case and hungry, can take her Rice Krispies without milk. She does have a few questions though, that both of the guys might struggle to answer.
Christian Ortega’s Jay and Martin Quinn’s Coco are a delightful pair of seemingly mismatched characters that find they have more in common than they think. As they bounce hilarious, perfectly timed, verbal misunderstandings off each other an unlikely bond is built that softens the would-be gangster Coco, and toughens the stay-at-home Jay. Their musings about the possible ways of eating soup without a bowl, straight off the table, is a discussion Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon would have lapped-up.
Katie Barnett’s officer Kayleigh is a good natured, well grounded cop who knows Coco has ‘previous’ and works slowly but surely to unravel the case. Not short on dry humour, she opines that “Nobody should be in a gang that doesn’t have a tree house.”
Chris Grady has written a comedy drama as bright as officer Kayleigh’s high vis jacket. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to keep the audience entertained, the dialogue is sharp and fresh, the characters funny and rounded. A highly entertaining play well worth getting out of the house to see.
David G Moffat
Tue 28 August – Sat 22 September
Throughout this year, Dundee Rep have presented different versions of Scotland and Scottish folk. The urban-rural culture clash of Passing Places and the derring-do of The 39 Steps have given us some entertaining fictional portrayals of Scotland and Scots; from misanthropic Highlanders to dislocated young urban men. The most recent offering from the Rep continues this trend with a lyrical and sympathetic presentation of Scottish travelling people, often reviled by ‘decent folk’ and by definition on the margins of society. The Yellow on the Broom is a dramatisation of the first book of autobiography by Betsy White, a traditional Scottish Traveler, covering her childhood years in and around Perthshire and Angus. This is a revival of Anne Downie’s faithful adaptation, directed by Andrew Panton, and brings a focus on nostalgia for a time and place and ways of living now long gone from Scotland.
Sentimental without being saccharine can be a difficult road to steer, but the Rep’s fine ensemble players manage to get it right most of the time. In particular, Ann Louise Ross is superb as the older Betsy, who narrates the story, and thus holds together the entire piece, through her memories of her younger self, Bessie. There’s a lovely point in the action where young Bessie’s father reaches out for the young Bessie’s hand, and the older Betsy’s hand reaches out for his, only to fall back again as the older Betsy realises that it’s a memory, and instead it’s the young Bessie who grasps her father’s hand.
The young Bessie is played with real energy by new member of the Rep Chiara Sparkes. Sparkes captures the tomboy of the book exactly as one would imagine her. By turns wild and carefree, by turns courageous and forthright, the young Bessie navigates the prejudice and mean-spiritedness of the ‘Scaldies’ (the non-travelling, settled people), learning how to live in the wider world and still be true to her heritage. Bessie survives bullying and taunting from schoolmates as she and her family move from town to town, and she endures her hundred days minimum schooling per year. Luckily, it seems that for every unfair teacher who unfairly punishes Bessie for standing her ground against the bullies, or bigoted policeman who moves Betsy and her family on, there is a kindly stranger who offers the travellers some food or clothes or small charity of some sort. Sometimes, there is even better luck for the family. Comic relief comes in the guise of characters from Bessie’s childhood memories – a gaggle of Glaswegian women raspberry pickers that you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night and a wonderfully eccentric Laird played by Barrie Hunter.
Family is important to travelling people and in Betsy’s case her relationship with her father, Sandy Townsley, seems to have been central to her early years. Sandy is lovingly portrayed by Gary Mackay as a wise, quiet man, ennobled but physically broken by adversity and hard work. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting effects give Kenneth MacLeod’s stark set designs the quality of illustration, especially at the beginning of each act where the stage is one great silhouette. This is an entertaining tale played with real sentiment that avoids sentimentalism and gives an enthralling glimpse of a Scotland and a group of Scots that we have forgotten, in our race to be modern.
Review: Mark MacKenzie
Photography – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
TOURING TO MACROBERT ARTS CENTRE WED 26 – SAT 29 SEP
The Pleasance Courtyard
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Forth venue at Pleasance Courtyard is a wonderful space and was filled to capacity in anticipation of this 50 minute show. The words “The Song of Lunch” were projected onto the back wall, looking like the sign of a café. The action begins with Robert Bathurst’s silhouette on the screen as he launches into dialogue with the audience that was somehow calm but manic at the same time. With his “…imagination peeled…” he refers to TS Elliot and describes with gusto his taste for the written word.
His lunch date, with an old flame, came in the shape of Rebecca Johnson who looked fabulous, an observation he shared with the audience as he thought out loud poetically and ravenously. He set a high bar of comedy “…under new mismanagement…” and had us agreeing to it with laughter. Yet he wonders if his pursuit is in vain, “…was the shadow world to welcome him”? He danced lightly around while pouring the dialogue from his mouth in torrents and swash-buckling precision. They meet for lunch.
The silhouette mocked him laughingly as he sang an interlude melody. We watch as he compares his memories of her with the current reality and finds his heart gladdened and his sensibilities heightened. Drinking more wine than her in his nervousness, his head tells him that he has a speech to deliver now that he is in her company. At the same time, he finds he wants to amuse her too, so he tries both.
They physically circle each other, in a birdlike dance, winding up by standing side by side in an easy movement, slipping back into conversation. The physical interplay has them at one moment close to caressing and the next moving a great distance apart, all the while with him lyrically describing to us everything that was happening. The silhouette scoured the room and showed us a shadow dance on the screen. He tells us that this gives him an almost youthful delight.
Rebecca stands in front of him and they move the two chairs to sit down for lunch. We see everything in great detail, mirroring his heightened feelings. His nerves are pushed to the point of destruction as he excitedly drains the bottle of wine while she is still on her first glass. “Could this all go horribly wrong?” he asks himself. There’s a change in the dynamic as the chairs are moved and he takes her hand in an intimate way and sensually describes it. We watch with rapt attention as the action builds to a crescendo. It’s all done very lightly with clean, tight direction and simple tricks like Robert laying himself on her lap, showing the depth of his feelings.
Robert strides up into the audience, moving from one side of the stage to the other and taking centre stage by lying on the floor as an antidote for all of life’s ills. We laugh as he hilariously takes a trip to the loo to take a pee – was it “…will power or wine…?” As the silhouette spans the screen he doesn’t know whether to weep or sleep – nudge him, he says, and he’ll crumble. He expresses the underlying joy he feels at this reunion in an adorable deprecating manner, funny and touching. This is a thoroughly delightful 50 minutes of entertainment – it would be great to see these characters in further dramas.
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Whew! Men seem to be getting a bad rep at this year’s Fringe! I left this show with the chills and feeling just a bit shaken at what I’d just watched. Was this a spot of the “Me Too” movement taking place in the Pleasance Dome? How Stuart Law’s rom-com set in deep space, managed to take it’s audience from the plot-thin standard fare of fringe comedy to a stunned silence at it’s denouement was very clever indeed.
Will Brown and Phoebe Sparrow play Adam and Kate, who find themselves in the hothouse of a new relationship, made even hotter by the fact that they are together twenty-four-seven on a spaceship headed into the depths of space. Comedic charm soon turns toxic and we watch the couple lose their lustre for each other. In orbit around this story arc there’s a lot of back history about Adam’s previous partner, also Kate’s sister, who seems to have gone a bit off the rails. Poor Adam makes a lot of appeals to the audience for understanding as this new relationship rapidly seems to be spiralling into a similar chaos. The pressure builds to an explosive and pretty unexpected climax. Without giving too much away, expect to have your allegiances shattered.
There are some laughs along the journey. Zero-gravity and men’s untidiness don’t seem to mix well in a cramped shared cabin. The comedy, well-populated at first, does become more remote as the characters begin to drop their pretences. There’s much more to this play, however, than Red-Dwarf meets Love Island, it just all seems to come on one all of a sudden. The whole gravity of the situation comes down on the two characters and like Scotty in Star Trek would say “She just cannae take any more captain! If I give her any more she’s gonna blow!” Fireworks ensue….
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Aug 27 – Sept 1st
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Newspapers, especially the local variety, have been under the cosh for some time now as circulation falls and advertising moves from printed paper to pixelated screen. It would seem, with publications big or small, the medium is the message or as a succinct blogger might put it, Gutenberg … 0 Berners-Lee … 1. This is certainly the case with the Avondale Advertiser where Derek (Gerry Mulgrew) a stressed-out, old-school editor, is under pressure to boost digital ratings and avoid staff cuts. The 34 year veteran of journalism prowls his office despairing at the inaccuracies that litter his publication. With the newspaper’s owners, Mental Mickey the local junior football team manager and possibly Kim Jong-un on his case, he is a man with a strong-tea habit, feeling the strain.
Perhaps salvation lies with his second in command Susan (Louise Ludgate) who started journalism in the days of clattering typewriters and fag-fug newsrooms. She’s been working for some time on an exclusive involving a politician’s dodgy expenses. Could a financial scandal be the big story that saves the wee paper and secures jobs? There’s more than a hint of arrested development in the third member of the team, young Barry (Martin Donaghy) who hurtles to work on a BMX bike, headphone-cans clamped to his ears. He’s a broad-strokes, funny-photo sort of journo, with little idea of the consequences of getting the facts wrong. Yet might his youthful insouciance and social media savvy, trigger the online hits his paper needs or is his ‘Deadpool’ T-shirt an ominous prediction of the fate awaiting the press in all community newspapers?
Alan Muir’s play takes an amusing look at the troubles facing traditional journalism when it has to compete with wacky web content for site hits. Although free online material is an issue, the main problem this fictional newspaper seems to have, is the incompetence of staff who fail to notice the numerous errors and mix-ups that pepper the publication. Injudicious quotes, misplaced adverts, wrongly captioned photographs; these faults are not caused by internet rivals. Maybe that’s the message – lower the standards of traditional journalism far enough and you get the equivalent of what dubious cyberspace has to offer.
Not a headliner but a fair start to Oran Mor’s new season of lunchtime plays.
David G Moffat
Aug 25027 (17.00)
It’s always a pleasure to be back at the Pleasance Above venue, with its high seats and sloping design. The stage took up half of the room, promising powerful performances. Strictly Arts have worked with award winning writer Camilla Whitehall to create the Freeman extravaganza. The subject is crying out for our attention, perhaps impartial attention; the wilful shooting of black Americans, the aftermath, the police acquittals. It begins with silent story-telling, a silent yet deafening explosion of physical posturing involving all six actors, a scene where they were all tossed high and low, almost throwing each other around. It was very impressive, introducing the plot loudly and proudly.
They were all dead, killed by the police. In the after world they compare their horrifying deaths and the identity and life so brutally taken from them. We had William Freeman who died just before his retrial In Auburn, August 1847. He was beaten and tortured so savagely by the Police that he couldn’t recognise himself or his mother. And Sandra Blaund; after she was beaten by the police she was found having apparently hung herself in her cell. The stories go on well into the night (so to speak) and much was made of every case, told by the victims of each atrocity.
The play flowed in music, song, dancing, using tricks like shadow dancing for effect and acrobatically balancing on top of each other to depict cars and other artefacts. Each one of the 6 deaths, tragedies that gave us a sickening feeling in our guts, were thoroughly explored from every angle. At the same time examining the human condition, showing us something that was complex and cruel. The subject turns to mental illness, where people were considered mentally unstable and consigned to bed for 21 years as some inane idea that it would be good for them. “Rage against the dying of the light” (to quote Dylan Thomas) they boomed with the full force of six voices. In 1949 someone stowed away on a boat and found himself in the rock n’ roll era. When the stage turned into a magnificent dance hall of the American 50’s, they all danced and swung. It was around that time that use of electro therapy was used to solve these problems with blatant disregard as to the effects thereof. The horror continued.
The Male Caucasian was put on trial to convey the privileges he had compared to Africans. Negros, fellow human beings, were kept in a submissive state, “a condition of the mind…” Needless to say this was achieved by means of whipping. The accused stood there and sang about the favours of whipping and how pleasant a good whipping would always be. An image of blood ran down the screen at the back of the set, that was roof to floor, they all died again and a pitch fork stabs a rice bag for effect. When Sandra Blaud was stopped by police, irritating her, she argued with him and things escalate into a heavy handed scene where she was brutalised and degraded. The officer, explaining that she resisted arrest, pins her to the floor and declares that she deserved it. She was devastated and sits there weeping loudly in grief. She takes out her phone demanding the right to film. The films we sometimes see on Facebook are but a glimpse into the worrying unease at the heart of American law enforcement. Being brutalised for a failure to indicate seems absurd.
Anger caused William Freeman to kill four people, the system called him insane and lobotomised his memory, he couldn’t recognise friend from foe. He struck out in rage and anger. Good old fashioned racism means that names get forgotten. Remember our names they whisper as the stage darkens. The power and emotion of this performance will stay with you for a long time. It will send you home rightly raging against injustice, determined not to forget.
Until August 27th (15:40)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The Pleasance Courtroom is among the larger venues at the Fringe, high and echo-ey, a perfect setting for The Extinction Event. This brand new show from David Evans and Simon Aula follows on from The Vanishing Man, which I had just attended. It’s good to see both shows, with the theme of magic running through them, but they each stand alone and both take us to the heights of good theatre. In The Extinction Event, we were told that every hour a species becomes extinct, an alarming figure that also shows that this world is a big place to be able to afford to lose so much. For the opening line we were asked to clasp our hands together with our pointing fingers up and parallel to each other. The fingers moved together and we couldn’t help but laugh.
“Magic”, they said, “is a hard thing to do in front of an audience – it’s a place where you need to learn, try things out and make mistakes, all in the interest of improving the show”. They asked how can you repair that which is broken – even using magic it can’t be done, or can it? We were shown an elastic band trick where it appeared to pass through itself and were told that the eyes see everything. We were being led into a place where the two played with our imaginations and turned it into improvisation – a fantastic leap. The double act was an integral part of the show with the continual interaction paving the way for our understanding and appreciation of magic and science
Following the original theme, the possibility of control over evolution itself was characterised as a dangerous magic, akin to the trick of catching a bullet in your mouth. We were told that the famous magician Chung Ling Soo died while attempting this superhuman feat. Very often Magicians blame their mistakes on their assistant. In hypnotism they claimed that they can help with programming a human brain. There was one instance apparently where a person was hypnotised for 8 months which I found impossible to believe. We watched as, with a touch of the shoulder and a head hung down, hypnosis was performed, but only as a joke. This was all leading up to an exercise in Improvement to show that we were all under some kind of sway, under the influence of the most complex thing in the universe – the human brain. The trick to do with mind reading was the one where you pick a number to take you to the page, another number for the paragraph and another for the word. The magician would say the phrase from the other side of the stage, displaying “true magic”, which seemed utterly believable.
We were asked to think about the process of retrieving our memories and mastering them, even going so far as to raise the dead. And again we are brought round to the trick of catching a bullet in your mouth which is intended to be about death, to achieve the ultimate of cheating it in front of a packed audience. It seemed as if the whole show was leading up to the moment when at last they did the trick. Bang, the gun goes off, David falls to the floor, there’s blood, he screams. What had happened? Had they really gone and done it…? Magic is enjoyed across the globe. Countless finely tuned tricks have audiences in awe and believing the impossible. The idea is to know what to believe – and if you get yourself down to the Pleasance you may find out, and be thoroughly bamboozled, intrigued and entertained in the process.
Until August 26th (12:10)
The Fringe festival is so varied, with so much on offer, that every single niche is surely covered somewhere. Thus, if you are a grandfather of a certain age, & you wanted to see a show with your grandchildren of school-age – in particular your grandson(s) – then Just William’s Luck is the more-than-perfect choice. I’m not saying no other groups would enjoy the play – I did immensely – its just I can really see that particular grandfather & grandson combo becoming rather passionate about this strangely deranged performance.
Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories are irreproachable classics, & are brought to life by Shedload Theatre’s convenial genius, with the help of Richmal’s great-great nephew Jonathan Massey. They’re like a pantisocracy of art are this lot, whose quite daring retro theatre is a joy to watch. The story is this; William Brown & his pals – the self-acclaim’d Gang of Outlaws – want to put on a play, using sets & props cobbled from kitchens & cupboards. Tomfoolery is the watchword, as the tale of Arthurian adventure is played out via a torrential sympathy towards the antics of the Goon Show.
With an acute sensitivity to the original, born clearly from Massey’s familial respect, Just William’s Luck is a mimicking masterpiece, full of slick touches, which as art perhaps transcends the books themselves. William Brown is now flesh & blood & his world is full of living colours & breathtaking vigour. There is also the arrival of precocious six-year-old Violet Elizabeth into the mix, played by the superb Lousie Waller, whose annoying mischief-making is the star-turn. Witness on your haunches spectatorship – you never get a chance to relax & philosophize about events unfolding before you. The best way to describe the experience of seeing the play is seeing five balloons blown up to bursting, then released into whizzing bat-like inspirals at the same time…