Friday, October 20, 2006

"Geeks, Greeks & Party Myths" - October 2006

This show by the Citizens Young Company is described on the Citizens website as "An original piece of theatre drawing on classical Greek myth and teenage panic - what would you do if Medusa had just crashed your party?" The description was certainly enough to get our interest but we really had no idea what we were walking into. Even after seeing the show I'm still not sure... but I do know I enjoyed it.

The cast generated a quite electric atmosphere with their energy and with a large cast in the small Circle Studio their obvious fun was seriously contagious. Anyone who remembers the house parties of their teenage and student years will quickly recognise that this production has absolutely nailed what it's like to be part of it. And I guarantee every audience member left recalling their own tales of parties and 'Yellow Pages' moments.

The characters do at times tend towards caricature but that's all part of the fun and not at all out of place. The numerous "mini-tales" are well held together and all are entertaining in their own way with some of them very funny indeed. Performances are all good, but this is very much an ensemble so there aren't any I'd single out.

There are problems though. Although it does add a couple of nice touches, the "Greek" thing is a bit of a red herring that could do with either being expanded or dropped. Some of the dialogue struggles to be heard above the (admittedly excellent) soundtrack but I guess that just adds to the authentic party experience. At under an hour, although it doesn't feel incomplete I do think there was definitely room for expansion into a 90 minute plus format here.

But enough quibbling... this is a great piece of entertainiment and really conveys a mood and feeling across to the audience. Hell, even when I was that age I hated going clubbing, but by the end of the show I'd almost have been up for a night on the town myself. Great fun.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Yellow Moon" - October 2006

As a novel and entertaining way of telling a story, this performance by TAG really hits a sweet spot, but the story of teenage runaways doesn’t bring us anything new or any surprises along the way. And while it claims to raise serious issues such as self-harming and celebrity obsession we aren’t given any real feel for the impact or resulting consequences. They seem to be dropped in as “issues” without the play really having anything to say about them.

But none of this detracts from an entertaining 80 minutes or so where the format of dual narrators really drives the pace along. This works marvellously well when used in a “Crime Reconstruction” style commentry, although not quite so well when used to convey the internal thoughts of our runaways Lee & Leila. All 4 cast members perform well and succeed in bringing about a good level of tension as the play reaches a critical “will he / won’t he” moment. They also do remarkably well to perform in the Citizens Circle Studio with full lights up making it even more intense than usual.

Kudos to the writer for avoiding the temptation of an obvious potential plot twist which I won’t spoil here, but which is tired and overused. But I can’t help but feel that the writing lets the side down a little here - but it’s not a problem with the dialogue, it's back to the “issues” again I’m afraid - they just don’t add anything and I’m sure the play would be better dropping one or two of them and doing the remaining ones in more depth. Great performances and direction make this work but its despite rather than because of the writing.

Oh, and it was nice to see a number of the cast of “Mary Stuart” which is playing on the main stage in to see the performance.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Mary Stuart" - October 2006

When I first heard of the creation of National Theatre of Scotland last year I had fears of it being a stuffy organisation of luvvies putting on all too serious traditional theatre that no-one would choose to go and see. Fortunately our experience of "Roam" quickly opened our eyes to the full range of shows the NTS had planned for their first season - and stuffy or traditional didn't form any part of it. Reviews I'd seen of some of their other shows only confirmed this. But for the first 10 minutes of "Mary Stuart" I was concerned that all my initial fears weren't entirely without grounds.

The show opens with some fairly slow and heavy sets of one to one dialogues delivered in an earnest fashion, and I quickly found myself focusing on the marvellous set. Fortunately once we get into three way dialogues things quickly improve and as soon as Siobhan Redmond appears on stage as Elizabeth things are raised to a different level entirely. I've always liked her television work but she really has stage presence here, so much so that it's difficult to reconcile the way some of the other characters compare Elizabeth unfavourably with the younger Mary. It's a strong supporting cast with excellent performances from several - especially Phil McKee as Leicester and Robin Laing as Mortimer, but Redmond remains a clear head and shoulders above anyone else here - Helen Mirren or Judi Dench wouldn't get a look in. Catherine Cusak gives a good performance as Mary but she doesn't have the same material to work with as Redmond is given.

There are a couple of scenes which will evoke memories of "Yes Minister" style farce and wordplay but for me they don't sit quite right with the tone of the rest of the play. They are however very well done, and do provide some much needed lighter moments.

The only real quibble I have is with the way the death scene is portrayed - the dialogue just seemed forced and it would have had more of an impact for Mary just to have been lead into darkness.

Despite a running time of around 3 hours the show passes quickly and never drags - but you might want to think twice before going on a schoolnight. Contrary to my initial concerns at the start of the evening, I think this was an excellent addition to the NTS list of productions as it isn't something that would likely make an appearance otherwise and it had just enough nice touches, including the costumes of the male characters, to remove any hint of luvvies and that kind of theatre...

If tickets aren't already running low for the show's run at the Citizens followed by the Royal Lyceum, they will be when the reviews get out - Book NOW while you can.


Monday, October 02, 2006

"Self Contained" - September 2006

More than 24 hours after the event and I’m still not certain on my thoughts about this devised production by the NTS Young Company. The concept of a small group isolated after a national disaster isn’t anything new but the staging certainly takes the concept beyond the ordinary.

At a running time of around an hour things move along quickly as we are introduced to our five characters who remain nameless throughout but who I mentally tagged as “Kelvinside Lady”, “Little Girl”, “Astronomy Guy”, “The Boss” and "Mother". We learn a little of their backgrounds and the events that brought them together but much remains untold.

The performances had me really concerned for the first five minutes as they seemed overcooked, and I’m still not sure if they got better or if I just grew into the show and found the portrayals appropriate to the characters state of mind, but given the later inclusion of a song and dance number I think that the tone of the performances was actually a pretty good fit for the piece.

The reveal comes quickly and can be a surprise to few, and many like me probably anticipated it even before the start of the show. I just didn’t buy into the idea that the events of the show would bring about the final confession.

The company made the most of the claustrophobic nature of The Arches venue and there are nice elements of audience participation. It’s fairly rare for this kind of show to have any long lasting impact on me, but this one did, as it has introduced a new phrase to our household which will no doubt be in use for many years to come - “...and there was no F****** milk!”

I think my uncertainty about the success of the show is due to the fact that although it was definitely enjoyable, I’m just left feeling that it could have been so much more. It was just too traditional - for a young company being given support from the senior NTS and obviously with a lot of talent and directing experience I’d have liked to see some more thinking “outside the box”. There were hints of it - the leaflets handed out to the audience giving emergency instructions, the initial taped dialogue, the musical number but just not enough to really lift the show to a higher level. I’ll be interested to see if they can make their next production a little more different, because we will be back.