Saturday, April 12, 2008

"They Shoot Horses Don't They?" - April 2008

In a similar manner to last year's "Ice Cream Dreams" The Citizens' have put together a large scale, main stage production with a cast made up from one professional actor along with members of the Citzens' Community Company, the Citzens' YOUNG Co. and new recruits from charity Turning Point Scotland. As always, our thoughts treat the production the same as any other - no allowances are made for how those involved came to be on stage.

Based on Horace McCoy's novel and adapted by Ray Herman, "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" is set at a marathon dance contest in depression hit America between the wars. We meet a number of the competitors and watch as they fall by the wayside with their dreams of winning shattered. Despite attempts by the contest organisers to portray it as quality entertainment it soon becomes clear that those involved are participating out of desperation.

The play is well written and holds the attention, although the second act does drag a little. The sole professional actor George Drennan as organiser/MC 'Rocky' does an excellent job of controlling much of the action and brings out what humour there is in the piece. There are difficulties catching some of the dialogue from cast members but for the most part it was clear enough and all made an effective contribution to the show's well choreographed dance numbers. Some are more comfortable on stage than others and my own favourites included Barbara Ann Gray as Ruby and Neil McKellar as her really rather intimidating husband James; John MacNeil as Sailor; Alan Ward as Rollo and Semra McHale as Jackie - but all the cast do well in their roles.

Then we have three of our main characters, and for the show to succeed they have to work well. Debbie Findlay as Alice had a couple of moments that were a little quiet but she also has several very powerful moments and it's a very effective performance overall. John Speirs succeeds in making Robert's extreme actions seem almost acceptable and it's a performance that wouldn't have been out of place in any of the professional productions I've seen on the Citz main stage in the last year or two. Cindy Campbell goes even further and I think her performance as Gloria was as good as any I've seen up there for a long time. It's a powerfully emotional but controlled performance throughout and her final scene really hits home. Every line and movement is honed for maximum impact and it really delivers - one of the most genuinely haunting moments I've seen in theatre.

There are other aspects here deserving a mention - a stunning set by Neil Haynes well lit by Stuart Jenkins, and a great on stage band led by musical director Sally Clay. Congratulations also to director Neil Packham for getting such impressive performances from his cast and managing so many on stage at one time.

Due to the nature of the show it perhaps isn't one to 'enjoy' or even leave you feeling 'entertained' as such - and that's one of the few problems for the show. It's a mood killer and as a result no one's going to leave buzzing about how great it was, but I hope they all agree that it was certainly impressive.

"They Shoot Horses Don't They?" runs at the Citizens until Saturday 12th April with matinee and evening performances on the 12th.

2 Heckles

Anonymous said...

Hi Statler,

I'm one of your regular avid readers and think you've pretty much hit this one on the nail.

Visually, the production was stunning, from set, lighting, costume through to movement and blocking - but there really isn't much interest in the story itself to entertain or otherwise distract you, and at times I found myself starting to zone out (I wasn't even tired, honest!). Some great performances from a less-experienced cast, I too though Cindy Campbell gave a very marked and considerate performance right up until her charged death scene. John Speirs suitably underplayed his role and I felt genuine empathy for Robert as he carried out his tragic role in the proceedings.

Some top-notch music in that atmpospheric setting - I couldn't help but think I'd love to go to a big-band night somewhere like the Citz.

I went from the matinee of They Shoot Horses to the evening performance of Black Watch at the SECC, and was surprised to find that Ryan Fletcher had hot-footed it from Oran Mor's lunchtime performance of An Advert for the Army to reprise his role as Kenzie in the evening at the SECC, as the boy playing the part had taken ill or had an emergency or something like that, I forget the exact reason they gave. The full cast were superb as expected (mostly the same actors as last year's tour but with a slight reshuffle in casting).

All-in-all, a most excellent day at the theatre!


Anonymous said...

Thought this was a great piece of entertainment. Would see it again. Some of the performances were teensy bit lacking in terms of vocals, presence, intention etc, but it's community theatre, that's gonna happen. That said, some of the performances were as I'd see in a professional show. It might be a bit unfair to name names, but just in case anyone's reading. I'd pick out George Drennan, Cindy Campbell, John MacNeil, Barbara Ann Grey's song, and Eleanor Capaldi's simpering Ruby Keeler.

Set was amazing, music was very good, the desperation and exhaustian of the dancers was conveyed well.

Can't wait for the next show of this kind, don't say it's going to be a whole year away?!?!