Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"100" - November 2007

Much to our shame we'd never made it out to Oran Mor in Glasgow's west end for their hugely popular "A Play, A Pie and A Pint" series of lunchtime shows. The lunchtime slot doesn't really work for us and I always seemed to hear about the good shows after the event. But the addition of Wednesday night performances as "A Dinner, A Drama and a Dram" were more convenient, and the series reaching its landmark 100th play gave us good reason to go along.

"100" is a musical written by David MacLennan who is also the driving force behind the Play/Pie/Pint concept at Oran Mor, and sees him collaborating once again with his old mate Dave Anderson from their Wildcat and 7:84 days. Indeed we're firmly back in the territory of that kind of political theatre with "100" as we look at how society has changed since 1907.

The main conceit sees a marketing student on graduation day (Claire Waugh) with her father (George Drennan) transported 'Life on Mars' style to what appears to be a 1907 era theme bar. The first musical number is a powerful one - not necessarily musically but its message as we see the student rejoicing at finally being freed from the confines of education, while her father recalls his appreciation for his own opportunities and their 1907 waitress (Pauline Knowles) tells of her own aspirations. It's very effective in making an audience think of how we view education these days. And it's not alone among a series of strong numbers - a lovely explanation of the purchasing choices we face before breakfast and a brief history of protest being the highlights.

These are interspersed with Anderson providing an insight into events of 1907 and Allan Tall performing Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" (written that year). While enjoyable in themselves, they are really a bit of a distraction from the focus of the show and I'd rather have seen the main story expanded.

The performances were all strong, although I was a little disappointed by the acoustics which did make some of the lyrics difficult to catch, but the real strength of the piece is in MacLennan's writing and its interesting perspective on the advances made and the failings of the present day.

All in, a great evening out and at £25 for a show, a lovely two course dinner and a whisky it's good value, and I'm sure we'll be back. And I really will need to make more of an effort to see some of the lunchtime shows as well.

'100' runs until Saturday at Oran Mor at 1.05pm


Sunday, November 18, 2007

"The Soldier's Tale" - November 2007

The Soldier's Tale at The Tron didn't initially feature in our plans for this autumn. To be honest I don't think either of us actually read anything about it, just saw it was classical music and moved on. A strong recommendation from Bluedog made us take a second look, and we decided to step outside our comfort zone. A production by the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields, this also featured Anthony Marwood as the eponymous lead. He's apparently a big deal with a violin (is our ignorance showing yet?)

The tale itself is simple. Boy goes to war, ends up making an unwitting deal with the devil and wealth doesn't bring happiness but love does. If it stopped there it would a be pretty familar tale, but it doesn't. Humans are never happy with what they have, and they always push things that little too far in search for just a little more 'perfection'.

What makes this extra special is the way in which it's told - through perfectly balanced acting/narration, dance and music. No element overwhelms, and they're woven together to form something that is greater than the sum of its parts. You wouldn't think a stage could be filled with just 4 actors, but it certainly is here. The ensemble of 7 musicians at the side interacting beautifully with the action in the centre. The usual way of presenting this is to have an actor miming the violin playing, whilst the violinist in the ensemble provides the actual music. Not in this production as having Anthony Marwood in the role puts the violinst centre stage - though not at the expense of the quality of the music produced.

There's not a wasted moment in this hour long piece, as the tale unfolds. Agnes Vandrepote as the Princess and Iain Woodhouse as the Devil deliver strong dance and physical performances that balance the music out, whilst the narration by Walter Van Dyk holds the tale together. You get the impression that every element of this has been given loving care and attention with beautiful small touches like the light from the book (see photo), the highly effective use of confetti and playing cards and the devil's whipping of the horses. Often productions can be let down by neglecting an aspect of the staging, but a strong but simple set, lighting and costume design meant this wasn't the case. This was close to perfect and the cast and musicians richly deserved the 3 curtain calls.

As someone who went knowing nothing of the tale, and whose knowledge of classical music is poor I thoroughly enjoyed this and came out grinning.

Photo by Nobby Clark - used with permission.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"St. Nicholas" - November 2007

The prospect of this tale of a drunken theatre critic who finds himself falling under the spell of Vampires in contemporary London had possibilities, and the Citizens offer of £6 tickets on a Tuesday night proved sufficiently tempting.

In the small Circle Studio with no set, props or soundtrack with only lighting to set the mood, Peter Dineen holds court, providing an insight into his untitled character's life as a miserable theatre critic who neither receives nor gives much joy from his theatregoing or reviewing, and little more from his family life. Drinking appears to provide his only pleasure.

The story moves forward as after a reviewing 'incident' he leaves Dublin behind for London. Due to a series of events he finds himself in the company of a group of Vampires and the second act looks at his time with them. The play's actually a bit of a mess really with rather enigmatic metaphors, fairytales and parables which if I'm honest left me puzzled and frustrated more often than not (including the apparently absent relevance of the play's title).

Fortunately Dineen has the ability to keep the audience sufficiently engaged. Just. The audience want to pay attention to him and in the second act in particular he comes very much to life but Conor Macpherson's dialogue doesn't do him a great deal of favours - relying on rather tiresome swearing for a cheap laugh or two. There were moments when he appeared to struggle a little with the in-the-round staging, playing too much to one side and then remembering to do a quick twirl now and again, but he seemed to be more aware of this as the show progressed.

I'm unconvinced that the staging/direction really worked with the piece, and it could have been better delivered from a comfortable leather armchair with a glass of brandy in hand rather than the constant pacing of the performance space. Indeed some of the most effective moments of the evening were those when Dineen took a seat amongst the audience. It's also difficult not to make comparisons with Mike Maran's Don Camillo or Tam Dean Burns in Venus as a Boy both of which created much more energy. Of course those productions benefited greatly from both live music and use of props, and I feel St Nicholas would have too.

It's a little strange re-reading this post as I appear to have been influenced by the lead character's negative disposition, as despite all the issues I've highlighted this was an enjoyable enough evening - certainly worth my £6 although I think I might have reservations had I paid the £12 ticket price for another night.

St Nicholas runs at the Citizens until 17th November.