Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Aalst" - March 2007

Based on the true events surrounding a Belgian couple who have killed their young children believing it to be "for the best", Duncan McLean's adaptation of Pol Heyvaert's original for Scotland is receiving a lot of publicity even before tonight's opening performance. With an onstage cast of two, and a disembodied voice, "Aalst" would always be relying heavily on the quality of its cast. Fortunately for this show by the NTS at the Tramway in Glasgow, Kate Dickie, David McKay and the voice of Gary Lewis are more than up to the job, but sadly the material lets them down a little and overall "Aalst" falls short of the hype.

For me the most obvious failing in this examination of the motivations of the parents is actually the soundscore by Das Pop. It doesn't sit well and proves distracting at several points and while the Euro influence is clear, given how much of the play has been adapted for a Scottish audience I think the score would have been much more effective had it reflected this also.

Alone on stage speaking into microphones on stands, Dickie and McKay excel and produce startlingly emotional performances - but there are problems with the tone for much of the dialogue. We start off with the pair answering questions from the unseen inquisitor in slightly stuttering terms or as if reading prepared answers, and although no doubt accurate it doesn't make for great theatre. Just as I had resigned myself that this was the way things would be, we unexpectedly changed to a more natural set of responses - in fact quite gallus, offering an element of backchat. The shift isn't really explained but continues for a good 10 minutes enabling the audience to laugh with (and at) the characters. But then just as suddenly we're back with the halting responses, although the "sharper" responses do make a brief return later. This may be down to the fact that the dialogue has been partly based on court transcripts and reflects differing moods of the individuals, but I can't help but feel that it would have been a better show had we seen the more polished dialogue throughout.

The issues raised in the performance also fall a little flat - okay, so reports show they weren't abnormal people, so they were just "bad"? This doesn't mean the play has a message that any of us could find ourselves in the position of this pair. So what are we saying - that there are some horrible people out there who do horrific things? Welcome to the World.

"Aalst" isn't half as shocking as it thinks it is, and as a piece of "entertainment" it is let down by the stuttering dialogue and poor scoring. But as a masterclass in emotional acting it delivers. Memorable performances, forgettable show.

1 Heckle

Statler said...

And an open challenge for anyone (and there seem to be many) who are heaping praise on the play...

If it is so well crafted and measured, with a high level of valuable social commentary and insight, please explain what exactly the significance is of the rather unusual version of "Jingle Bells". Funnily enough the reviews seem to ignore what is clearly very deliberate choice of "music".

I'll be interested to see how this one fares when it crosses the border for its run in England.