Monday, May 26, 2008

"Call it Sleep" - May 2008

This week's production in the "A Play, A Pie and A Pint" season at Oran Mor is "Call it Sleep", written and directed by Brian Pettifer whose acting had impressed us in "The Drawer Boy". Here he has written a genuinely entertaining piece that the lunchtime audience clearly enjoyed, but it's also hugely flawed.

The setting is a fourth floor flat on Hogmanay as mother and daughter reminisce about the past. The focus is mainly on the questioning of Susan (Kim Gerard) about the previous boyfriends of her mother Rosie (Juliet Cadzow). The problem is that what we essentially get is Susan simply acting as a spark for Rosie to rant humourously about the men who have come and gone in her life. Cadzow gives a strong performance full of energy and edge, but Pettifer's direction that much of her delivery is at the audience, combined with his gag-a-minute writing, makes it seem much more like a stand up routine than a play. The approach to comedy here is really full-on, throwing absolutely everything at the audience, and much of it is very funny and also includes a couple of I-can't-believe-she-just-said-that moments. While some jokes miss the mark there is more than enough momentum to keep the laughter going until the next one hits home.

Unfortunately the consequence of going all out for laughs is that the plot and characters take a back seat. Susan is largely the straight man to first Rosie and then later Mike (Sean Scanlan), and it's a shame that we never get beyond that as Gerard's excellent performance hints at there being much more depth to her. In fact Susan is the one well-defined character in the piece as both Rosie and Mike are more caricature than anything else. Scanlan takes over delivering the laughs when he arrives and it's very much in a similar direct manner as Rosie. Again, it's performed well but it's all so forcefully comic that I was constantly expecting rimshots.

Of course there is nothing wrong with aiming for laughs - especially when you hit as often as Pettifer does, but it's clear he was also aiming for something else. Indeed the play's title comes from a 60 second section of the show where for once the laughs stop. But it's *so* out of step with the rest of the show that it has little impact and less relevance. It isn't just that questions go unanswered here, it's that many of them go unasked - characters' motivations for life changing decisions simply aren't considered.

If you go to this hoping to have your brain stimulated then I suspect many will leave unsatisfied, but if you go into it wanting to be entertained you won't be disappointed. I'm sure this will keep them laughing at Oran Mor all week long and it deserves a life afterwards - with a little more work it would sit perfectly on the theatre/comedy border that can prove so popular at the Fringe.

'Call it Sleep' runs at Oran Mor until 31st May

Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"The Last of Us" - May 2008

Pamela Carter's "The Last of Us" as part of Oran Mor's 'A Play, A Pie and a Pint' programme puts an interesting new spin on 'staying together for the sake of the kids'. It presents us with 'Chew' and 'Ming', potentially the last two Yangtze river dolphins in existence and asks us to consider their competing responsibilities - to themselves and the future of their species. On paper it sounds a bit 'out there' but it works surprisingly well.

It's helped by a rather differently set up Oran Mor than usual. Staged in-the-round with a catwalk style raised platform in the centre it allows the play to be almost as much about movement as dialogue. An effective soundscape reminds us that we're underwater, although it could benefit from a little more creative lighting.

David Ireland's cautious and intellectual 'Chew' has been alone for some time before he meets Mary Gapinski's 'Ming' who although low in self esteem has more of a sense of adventure. Both Ireland and Gapinski do well in portraying their dolphin characters while also cleverly allowing the mask to slip at times revealing more familiar human relationships.

It's more wry smiles than laugh-a-minute material but there's plenty here to entertain, and the dolphins' sense of superiority over pandas is a genuine highlight. At around 40 minutes it's shorter than the usual 50 minute plays that form Oran Mor's season - perhaps it could have done with an added 10 minute final scene giving the slandered pandas a righty of reply.

"The Last of Us" runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 24th May

Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Scottish Theatre Awards shortlists

The winners of the 2007-2008 Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland aren't announced until mid June but today sees the release of the shortlists for each of the ten awards. Despite our invite to the discussions obviously being lost in the post, we're pleased to see recognition for many of the shows we've enjoyed in the last year... but we still don't understand the fuss about "Peer Gynt".

We managed to see three of the four nominations for Best Male Performance - Tam Dean Burn (for "Venus as a Boy"), Michael Glenn Murphy (for "Shining City") and a shared nomination for Keith Fleming and Gerry Mulgrew (as the younger and older versions of "Peer Gynt"). Murphy's inclusion here is the second year running Rapture Theatre Co have had one of their lead actors receive a nomination, so well done to all there as they have been one of our favourite companies over the last few years. The big surprise here for me is the omission of Alan Cumming (for "The Bacchae").

In the Best Female Performance category I enjoyed seeing Amy Manson (in "Six Characters in Search of an Author") and Sally Reid (in "The Wall"). I'm also delighted to see "The Wall" receive two other nominations for Best New Play and Best Ensemble. For Best New Play it's competitors include "Educating Agnes" which we also really enjoyed and for Best Ensemble they include "Peer Gynt" (which gathered 6 nominations altogether).

The Lyceum's "Wizard of Oz" rightly received a nomination for Best Production for Children and Young People, although given the reception it got at the time I'm surprised it didn't feature in more categories.

The awards are presented at a ceremony at Glasgow's Oran Mor on June 15th and tickets are available for £15.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Upcoming plans

Although this time of year tends to be a little quieter for us (a chance to catch our breath before the mayhem of the Edinburgh Fringe) we've recently booked up for a few things that are worth highlighting...
Oran Mor's "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" season has a couple of plays remaining with "The Last of Us" (review now posted) starting on Monday 19th May and then "Call it Sleep" (review now posted) starting the following week. The second of these was written by Brian Pettifer and if his writing is half as good as his acting it could be a treat.

We'll be back at the Tron in June for Mull Theatre's "Swindle & Death" which is also on tour. The Tron is also the new venue for the Scottish Youth Theatre's Summer Festival production - "Oh What A Lovely War" at the start of August. These are always popular productions so book early if this interests you (and when I say 'early' I mean book now).

We're still a while away from the launch of the Fringe programme but the Edinburgh International Festival announced it's programme a while back. We're not quite ready to delve into the foreign language productions but the National Theatre of Scotland's "365" written by David Harrower grabbed our attention.

Back in Glasgow we hope to fit in a show or two from The West End Festival from 13th to 29th June (especially if we can borrow a dog from somewhere!) and Shakespeare in the City Festival at The Arches.

And looking a little further ahead the National Theatre of Scotland have announced their July 08 - Jan 09 programme which has several new shows we plan on seeing. We'll post in more detail nearer the time, but before then the NTS are also giving those in Aberdeen, Inverness and New York the chance to see Alan Cumming's magnificent performance in "The Bacchae" in June/July.

Oh yes - one more thing for those of you in or around London: Don't forget to book up for Black Watch at the Barbican between 20th june and 26th July.

And of course we'll be posting our annual Fringe Preview of the shows that have caught our eye sometime in mid June.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Zarraberri" & "Limbo" - May 2008

This week's "A Play, A Pie and A Pint" at Oran Mor is a departure from the usual format in that it features two short plays of just under 30 minutes. They are by Spanish authors - Maite Perez Larumbe (Zarraberri) and Victor Iriarte (Limbo) and both pieces have been translated by Chris Dolan. The results are somewhat mixed.

"Zarraberri" sees John Kazek as Alfonso, trying to persuade the residents of small town Zarraberri to accept an iconic new building - and to come up with a tourist attraction to fill it. But the locals represented by Simon Scott and Ros Sydney may have their own plans for the building. Unfortunately the whole piece falls rather flat - the Spanish setting/characters really don't work with the Scottish language and it feels like a decent 5 minute sketch extended far beyond it's capacity to entertain. At times it's more like a successful improv session than a play that's been carefully crafted - it did get some laughter in the audience but it was pretty subdued and I only managed a single chuckle myself.

Fortunately "Limbo" is very much a return to form and Iriarte and Dolan have created something which despite retaining it's Spanish 'setting' doesn't overplay it and reaches out with themes familiar to it's audience. This time Kazek finds himself recently deceased and being evaluated by administrators (played by Scott and Sydney) to determine his eternal fate. It's cleverly written with some very amusing dialogue at the expense of the Catholic Church (although there's plenty to go around other religious groups too). It's bright, sharp and pacy, and despite an ending that's a bit of a let down, it's certainly entertaining.

"Zarraberri" and "Limbo" run at Oran Mor until Saturday 24th May

Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"The Drawer Boy" - May 2008

I'm not long back from the Tron and to be honest I'm a little reluctant to write about "The Drawer Boy". I have a horrible feeling that in doing so I'm going to burst a bubble. I really enjoyed it, but I'm pretty fuzzy about why I enjoyed it so much, and if I think about it in detail I'm worried I'll lose the bigger picture. So, before I start, and for the record - this was a wonderful piece of theatre.

With a runtime of two hours writer Michael Healey should by rights be testing how far what is a fairly gentle piece can be stretched - but it never comes close to feeling its length. His tale of a young actor spending time with a pair of farmers in Canada as part of his research for a play is quite simply beautifully told. The comedy is gentle but clever, the relationships between the characters come across as genuine, and the structure works well. Add in some theatrical humour and a farm setting with sufficient authenticity to impress our friendly neighbourhood farmer and theatre blogger and it becomes more than it seems.

And of course the three excellent performances from an impressive cast help add a little something as well. As the young actor Miles, Brian Ferguson brings a subtlety that keeps the audience unsure about the balance of his relationship with the farmers, while Benny Young's Morgan is beautifully deadpan in his dealings with Miles but shows great depth in his relationship with the damaged Angus. But it's Brian Pettifer as Angus whose performance really resonates - impeccable timing and delivery both for comic and emotional impact.

This might not be theatre that's going to change the world and yes, by next week it will probably be a vague memory of having had an enjoyable night at the theatre, but right now it feels like I saw something special tonight.

The Drawer Boy runs at the Tron until 24th May

Image by Douglas Robertson used with permission


Friday, May 02, 2008

"Othello" on the radio... and other news

Just a short post to highlight the fact that BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting a version of "Othello" with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor at the Donmar Warehouse. At the time there was a lot of discussion regarding it being seen only by a 'select few' so hopefully this will reach a wider audience - if not quite in the same way. The broadcast is on Sunday 4th May at 8pm and is part of the 'Drama on 3' slot.

And on a vaguely related note we're now planning our next London visit for May 2009 having managed to get some very nice tickets for "Madame De Sade" with Judi Dench. We will of course be making a weekend of it, so any suggestions for other shows around that time will be welcome.