Sunday, November 16, 2008

"The Dogstone" / "Nasty, Brutish & Short" - November 2008

The second event in the National Theatre of Scotland's 'Debuts' season at the Traverse is a double bill of new plays directed by Dominic Hill. There's nothing like a fun night out at the theatre... and this is certainly nothing like a fun night out at the theatre...

Kenny Lindsay's "The Dogstone" is a two hander told in flashback comprising scenes that take place over a period of years between alcoholic father Danskin (Andy Gray) and his son Lorn (Scott Fletcher). Known for his comic performances, Gray may be seen as a surprise choice for the role, but after seeing glimpses of it in previous performances we've been very keen to see him in a darker role - and it was worth the wait. He's entirely convincing in the many elements of the character - doting father, unpleasant dunk and pathetic human being. And while Fletcher may be a newcomer to most, his assured performance came as no surprise to us having highlighted his potential in his student performances of 'Teechers' and 'The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet' in recent years. But I don't think even we expected to see him in such a commanding role on the Traverse main stage quite so soon. Yet he appears to be absolutely in his element here portraying the character between the ages of 8 and 17 and is impressively engaging when addressing the audience directly as the older Lorn.

However, despite the strong performances I'm not entirely convinced by the play. It just lacks a reason to exist - it's simply too bleak to offer much entertainment and offers little in the way of wider message. I'd be perfectly happy to read it in a collection of short stories but attending the theatre requires more effort on my part, and the reward here simply isn't enough - even as part of a double bill.

Which brings us to "Nasty, Brutish and Short" by Andy Duffy centering on troubled teenage couple Luke and Mary Jane (James Young & Ashley Smith) and Luke's older brother Jim (Martin Docherty). Like "The Dogstone" while the cast do well in bringing its intensity to life it's just not got a great deal to say for itself and seems to want to be unpleasant for the sake of being unpleasant. And it's hampered by a soundscape that's more irritating than anything else and a completely pointless and distracting set that leaves the cast performing in three inches of water. There are also a number of references that seemed so incongruous to the characters that I found myself frowning at them as I watched (Liberace, Schrodinger & Rod Stewart). Sadly there's just nothing here that you can't get from reading the papers or watching the news.

The Dogstone / Nasty, Brutish and Short have now completed their runs.
Image by Pete Dibdin used with permission.

2 Heckles

Andy said...

Hello there.

I’ve been reading your blog for some time now, and while I often disagree with your opinions, I don’t normally feel the need to post a response. But then you’re not normally talking about my play (“Nasty, Brutish and Short”).

When I go to the theatre I like to be challenged. I do not appreciate being spoon-fed “big” ideas. There is nothing for me to do as an audience member but listen. I want to use my brain. “Nasty, Brutish and Short” asks the audience to bring a certain amount of knowledge and active intelligence to it. And while I don’t expect every reviewer to have read Leviathan (the Hobbes text from which “nasty, brutish and short” is taken), I do expect them to at least have some awareness of what the title signifies. Even ten minutes on Wikipedia beforehand would have helped you take a lot more from the piece.

You didn’t like my play. No problem. But please don’t equate a lack of effort on your part with a poverty of thought on mine.

Hope you like the next one better.

Cheers.

Statler said...

Hi Andy

Thanks for responding to our thoughts on your play. You make a fair point about reviewers doing a bit of research in advance of seeing a production, and while I would tend to agree where we are talking about an in-depth extensive academic analysis of themes and motifs, if you’ve been reading our posts for some time you’ll have noticed that isn’t really what we do. Our aim is simply to give the honest response of typical theatregoers who will give a piece their full attention. We don’t see shows to review them, we just happen to write about the shows that we choose to see.

But whatever expectations you may have for some effort on the part of reviewers, are you really entitled to expect the same from your audience? And if not, then who are you writing for? Of course, you should be able to expect a basic level of knowledge and understanding but I’d suggest that social philosophy is setting the bar a little on the high side without a few more pointers within the play (or even the programme/script book). If you choose to place your work at that level then you have to accept that a considerable portion of your audience simply won’t have the framework in place to decode your meaning.

All that said, as it happens I did do a quick Google of the title in advance of seeing the show to pinpoint exactly where it had come from. And funnily enough, both Waldorf and I had (in a previous lifetime) a passing academic familiarity with legal philosophy (I was always quite fond of Rawls’ ‘Original Position’ myself). While we freely admit our lack of theatrical knowledge, I think we are fairly confident in our wider general knowledge. If between us we couldn’t cobble together much meaning from the play I suspect we had plenty of company in the audience.

And unfortunately it’s such a downbeat and draining tale to watch that it’s really quite difficult to summon up much enthusiasm to give it any deeper further thought. In the week of ‘Baby P’ and the trial regarding the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews do we really need theatre to remind us how shit people can be to each other?

But we always like to follow how new writers develop, so provided we are still welcome, we’ll happily give your next play our full attention.