Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Black Watch" - March 2008

Black Watch was coming home - and to Fife the prime recruiting ground of the regiment. So we couldn't resist re-visiting the production, and headed up to Glenrothes for the day.

All we really want to say is that it's still bloody good. There are some minor cast changes from our Glasgow visit, most noteably for us the writer/sergeant (we'd really enjoyed Tom Smith's performance). When we saw it before Brian Ferguson was cast as Cammy, and Paul Rattray his understudy for that role. However that night, due to Ferguson being elsewhere, Rattray took the lead that night very successfully - and he now deservedly has the role in his own right. The piece is still as jawdropping, exhausting and emotional as ever. We probably did prefer Glasgow though, simply because of the added ambiance of the Old Fruitmarket which Rothes Halls just couldn't match.

Glenrothes has sold out (although there were definitely empty seats at the Saturday matinee). However it's off to the SECC for a week mid-April, before heading to England and in particular London, so if you haven't already seen it you have no excuse. This is probably its last time in Scotland and it really is a must see.

Even if you saw the TV film of the play it doesn't match up to seeing it live, as you're not immersed in the action. The one thing tht irritated me about the TV version was it was quite closely edited at various points so you didn't get the sense of the way the action shifts.

As the woman next to me said when I asked if she enjoyed it: 'I don't know that it's something you can say you enjoy, but I wouldn't have missed it'.

Photo by Pavel Antonov. Used with permission.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

"The Wall" - March 2008

I went along to Borderline's production of D C Jackson's "The Wall" at Cumbernauld Theatre having very much enjoyed his "Out on the Wing" last week at Oran Mor. We'd also been impressed by the performances of cast members Kirstin McLean and Scott Hoatson in previous NTS Young Co productions such as "The Recovery Position" and by Gregory Thomson's direction in "Molly Sweeney". But it's always a danger to go to a show with high expectations.

Before seeing the show I'd described what I expected the show to be as "Gregory's Girl without the football bits" and I don't think that's far off the mark, but there's more than a little of the feel of "The Breakfast Club" in there too. We meet a group of teenagers stuck in an isolated village as relationships amongst them, and with unseen family members, build and change over a few days in the school holidays.

Scott Hoatson's Barry and Kirstin McLean's Michelle's fledgling romance suffers ups and downs as (well signposted) secrets are revealed and we also meet Barry's younger sister Norma (Sally Reid) and local 'bam' Rab (Finn den Hertog). All four give fantastic performances getting the most out of Jackson's well crafted comic moments, but they also manage to silence the audience at times as the mood switches - far more successfully than "Little Voice" managed last week. There are a couple of moments when it comes close to making a point too forcefully but they are few and far between. For the most part this is all about the funnies - and they are very funny.

Reid makes Norma almost Catherine Tate-esque without ever becoming irritating, while Hoatson and McLean are a delightful double act of subtle looks and glances displaying perfect comic timing. Fin den Hertog's Rab is gloriously performed as pure cliche, but Jackson cleverly manages to provide even him with an extra dimension.

At times some of the 'scene' changes were a little laboured but I felt the pace of the action itself was well considered. I'm not generally a fan of what is largely a series of two handed scenes but they were all short and sharp enough that I never felt it drag - even at a longer runtime than I had expected of a full two hours. I'm not sure I'm quite prepared to buy into "The Wall" as a social commentary of youngsters today, or even its 2005 setting, but for well written and perfectly performed comedy I'm not sure I'll see better this year.

The Wall is nearing the end of its tour but still has dates in Eastwood, St. Andrews & Dundee.

Image by Douglas Robertson used with permission.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Out on the Wing" - March 2008

Although we'd been to Oran Mor's 'A Play, A Pie and A Pint' season before for "100" that was for an evening 'dinner' performance rather than the 'proper' lunchtime shows. But how could I resist a show based around a Glasgow radio station's football phone-in? Surely a setting that was bound to provide fantastic material for D C Jackson's "Out on the Wing"? And it certainly lived up to expectations.

We meet football pundits Rab (Barrie Hunter) and Phil (Stewart Porter) along with their producer Lindsey (Louise Ludgate) as they prepare for their final show. Phil is off to bigger things while Rab's career prospects are less certain, but first they have to get through one last show on the night a Scottish football star has been 'outed'. The plot is simple but effective (as it has to be in a 50 minute show) and works to make characters more than two dimensional stereotypes. The differences between the characters' 'on-air' and 'off-air' personas are really interesting and it's nicely ambiguous as to where our sympathies should lie.

There are excellent comedy moments here for those who know their football, with the 'punctuation' debate over a Tartan Army favourite song amongst the highlights. In general it takes a fair bit to make me laugh out loud but there were at least half a dozen moments here that got me going. But it also has serious points to raise about attitudes to homosexuality and the subtle comparison with the sectarian divide raises interesting questions. At times this feels like a well established sitcom and I'm sure there would be potential for more of this, which makes the inclusion of a completely unnecessary 'toilet humour' scene both disappointing and bewildering. But that's the only aspect of the show that didn't hit the mark for me.

Porter, Hunter and Ludgate all give great performances with Porter making the most of the comedy material. Hunter does a brilliant job of portraying Rab's unease at the position has found himself in, while Ludgate manages to avoid making Lindsey's voice-of-reason too self righteous.

This is a great wee show in a great wee venue and I'm determined to get along to a few more of these lunchtime shows in the coming weeks. And we've also got D C Jackson's other current play - "The Wall" - to look forward to at the end of the month.

"Out on the Wing" runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 22nd March.

Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


"Six Characters in Search of an Author" - March 2008

After our recent 'experience' with 'Waiting for Godot' I'll admit to being a little concerned about seeing this Citizens/Lyceum/National Theatre of Scotland co-production. The 'blurb' about "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and its surreal elements and influence on theatre had previously piqued interest but now engendered dread. Would this be another 'great work' that we just didn't get?

I'm not sure I can speak for Waldorf as she had her own issues to contend with this evening, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This production of David Harrower's version of Luigi Pirandello's play may be overly wordy at times and seems overlong even at just 1 hour 45 minutes, but it has strong performances, some lovely moments and gave me something to think about on the way home. I'm not sure I can really ask much more than that from a night at the theatre (especially when using the Citz £6 Tuesday night ticket offer!)

I think this is probably one of the fairly rare occasions where a brief summary would be of benefit... Essentially the play takes place over the course of a day as a group of actors and production crew in rehearsal for a play find their space invaded by a group of six characters who demand that they get the chance to tell their story instead. What follows is a great deal of drama as their story unfolds balanced with humour as the characters interact with the actors to play them.

With a cast of 16 there's plenty of good performances here, even if many find themselves underused and left standing around a lot of the time. Particularly poor Andrew Scott-Ramsay who seems constantly sent to a darkened corner of the stage, although he does get his moment in the limelight. John Dougal as the 'Director' has all the play's best lines and provides all the knowing theatre gags, and I really enjoyed his performance. Ron Donachie as 'Father' has some of the play's most dramatic moments and acts as the Characters' spokesman for much of it. His speeches about the Characters' right to exist are at times over-written but the delivery is full of passion. I thought much of Amy Manson's portrayal of 'Stepdaughter' was excellent and had real presence, however the manic laughter pushed the wrong buttons in me and crossed into irritating. I'm not quite sure Una McLean's cameo as Madame Pace quite worked for me but I suspect that was more down to the ridiculous costume than anything to do with her performance.

As for it giving me something to think about, well it didn't leave me wondering about the fates of discarded characters but it certainly left me considering the ways we turn real life people into characters. How much responsibility does an author have to a real person on whom a character is based? How much can be changed? Does it matter if locations, events, dialogue are altered? It's one thing putting words in a character but it's another when you are affecting other's perceptions of a real person.

While positive on the whole, I do however have a few quibbles about the production. Firstly the decision to add a raised false stage at the Citizens seemed a bit excessive just to add some understage lighting and resulted in quite dramatically altered sightlines from the first several rows in the stalls (and a lot of noisy clumping about). The 'pond' was... em.. different and the pianola unnecessary. There has obviously been a fair bit of money thrown at this - I'm just not at all sure that it added a great deal to it.

'Six Characters in Search of an Author' runs at the Citizens until 29th March.

Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.


Monday, March 17, 2008

"The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" - March 2008

We travelled to Perth Theatre hopefully, but I always knew this could be a love it/hate it moment. On the plus side we'd seen the play only last year and enjoyed it immensely, and had also previously been impressed by a serious side to Andy Gray. On the negative side of things it's an incredibly difficult role to fill, and I'm not a huge fan of the 'Pure Dead Glasgow' humour that Elaine C Smith and Gray can often find themselves involved with. But the advance press had suggested a darker tone to their production - which is much more my kind of thing.

In the first act Gray, and particularly Smith (as promoter Ray Say and LV's mother Mari) go all out for laughs. Not smart laughs, just every cheap gag thats going. To be fair, it's done well - it just isn't to my taste. The audience clearly enjoyed the knockabout fun, and if that was the tone for the whole show it wouldn't be a problem. But it's so strongly comedic that it swamps the more serious elements hinted at in the first act. Then, when the play takes its dark turn towards the end, the audience are so conditioned for the laughter that many continued to laugh at moments that should be heartbreaking. And it's such a shame because Gray and Smith really do get their teeth into their characters bitterness and cruelty.

Debbie Saloman as LV gives good performances as Garland, Bassey, Piaf, Monroe etc but they do come across as performances/impersonations - it's undoubtedly impressive but lacked a true 'wow' factor. I enjoyed her acting performance once the 'worm turned', but at times her LV came across more as a stroppy teenager than a timid victim of neglect and abuse. Similarly Jim Webster-Stewart's Billy was a little too sociable and didn't really meet the image of a soulmate for LV. Peter Kelly's performance as Mr Boo is crippled by an appalling stand up routine that fails to be sufficiently funny - or even corny enough to induce appreciative groans.

If you want to see Elaine C Smith and Andy Gray do their much loved panto turns out of season - "Little Voice" will fit the bill. But for me, perhaps unfairly, I can't help feel this was a missed opportunity for them to show how much more they can do. As we were leaving the theatre there were plenty of people around us saying how 'good' it was - but done well this show shouldn't be 'good' - it should leave audiences absolutely blown away.

'Little Voice' continues in Perth until Sat 29th March and then tours Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Kirkcaldy, Glasgow & Stirling.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Medea" & "Trojan Women" - March 2008

A second group of QMU's students made their way to the Citizens to bring us the second part of their 4 Greek Tragedies season - following on from last week's "Oedipus" & "Electra". This time featuring Liz Lochhead's adaptation of "Medea" and Charles Mee's version of "Trojan Women"

"Medea" was, quite simply, wonderful theatre. In the small Stalls Studio, Sarah Annakin's Medea was at turns manic and maniacal - and absolutely owned the performance space. I've rarely seen a performance with such conviction and the bitterness was all too believable. The chorus of Donna Griffin, Charlotte Massey and Chloe Thorpe worked incredibly well and dealt effectively with what is undeniably an awkward performance space. Gemma McElhinney was impressive as the Nurse drawing the audience into the performance and then later as Glauke making her character sympathetic. And while largely on the fringes of the action Paul Luebke made Jason's frustration and then horror frighteningly real, and Andrew Dyer had his moments to shine - particularly when portraying the troubled Kreon. "Medea" was my clear favourite of the 4 productions - partly due to the relevancy Liz Lochhead's version has for modern day relationships but mainly due to the performances of an excellent cast.

I'm really not sure where I stand on "Trojan Women". I loved the first half with it's powerfully personal tales of the victims of war. In the hands of McElhinney, Massey, Thorpe, Griffin and Ellie Nixon what could have come across as cliched, emotionally manipulative tales became genuinely distressing. And then as Hecuba, Nixon takes centre stage defending her women from their fates. It's an engaging performance and really held the audience well, but for me at times it was just a little overpowering for the small space and could have benefitted from having the volume reduced a notch or two. And then there's the second half where the action shifts to a strip club (brothel?) where we find Aeneus seduced away from his promise to return and avenge Troy. And at that point it lost me, and I'm unsure what I was meant to take from it - it was much like being back in 'Waiting For Godot' all over again. A rather frustrating and disappointing end to a piece whose first half I'd very much enjoyed.

It's been really nice to see some of the work from the drama students in Edinburgh making it through to Glasgow and I hope it's something we can see again - despite the obvious problems indicated by the same post show speech we were given last week. And I can't finish without commenting on the Stalls Studio - it really isn't suitable for Acts longer than 45 minutes or so as the heat gets almost unbearable. The noise leakage from the Circle Studio above is also a problem at times. It's great to have this third performance space but it needs careful consideration as to what productions it can comfortably accomodate.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Caesar" - March 2008

We've got a good track record with GCNS productions so I figured it was worth squeezing an afternoon performance into what's been a very busy week. But what I didn't realise was that this wasn't quite going to be the "Julius Caesar" that Shakespeare had in mind as his play had been adapted by Thomas Gemmell (whose work with Theatrefusion we had previously enjoyed). While much of the dialogue remains, the plot is tweaked and the scheming has been relocated to a US Presidential style setting. And it works very, very well (think 24 without Jack Bauer to save the day).

In addition to the change of setting, we have a number of film clips as part of the production - some as if security footage, others diary style or even documentary style. The inclusion of video in theatrical productions is always a risky one but here it's used to add to the production and doesn't act as a distraction.

The other instantly noticeable change is that Cassius is female, and it makes for a hugely interesting dynamic between her and Brutus. Jamielee McPherson makes her Cassius wonderfully engaging and charismatic - it's not difficult to see how persuasive she can be. McPherson seems perfectly comfortable on the stage and makes the complex dialogue clear and meaningful, and is always acting.

David McNay's Brutus is a very restrained and considered performance with every movement counting while Sharon Rooney does an immense job portraying his distraught wife Portia. Chris Kennedy makes the most of his surprisingly brief role as Caeser and Brendan Breslin makes Mark Antony's grief believable. But this is an ensemble piece and the whole cast can be pleased with their performances - they all handle the complex dialogue well and manage to convey the meanings rather than merely spitting out the words. My one quibble is that at times the cast have to contend with a noisy heater/fan/air-con and they could do with taking it into account and raising the levels of their vocals when required.

Lastly, "Caeser" is a sophisticated and complex work, and I'm not entirely sure it's suitable for a performance such as this. Not that it was a problem for the talented cast, but for a student performance with an audience of mainly friends/family it won't always get an audience who will appreciate it as much as it should.


"Macbeth" - March 2008

Back at the Citz student season once again - this time with Reid Kerr College's "Macbeth" in the Circle Studio. This was a fairly late addition to our schedule as Shakespeare in the hands of students concerned me, but then we were made aware of the involvement of Melissa Deans who had seriously impressed us in a previous production. So we made space in our schedule to attend - well I did - Waldorf missed out as I got the last ticket for the show.

Although, as it turned out there was plenty of room in the small Circle Studio as it appears one of the school parties who had booked later cancelled. As a result it was only two-thirds full which was a shame as although the cast got a good response from the audience, they deserved even better. The performance opened with the three witches moving to the stage from their seats among the audience. Wildly dressed in black and red with feathered hands they didn't look entirely out of place amongst the school party who did attend - okay, maybe not the feathered hands bit. Rebekah Aitken, Heather Roberts and Rebecca Johnson made for fantastic witches and made their scenes some of the highlights of the evening.

The ensemble cast all did well, although there was a tendency at times by some to rush through lines rather than deliver them meaningfully. It's understandable given the unfamiliarity of the speech but it makes it equally problematic for an audience trying to grasp meanings. But for the most part the delivery was perfectly acceptable and all shaped their performances to suit the performance space. Iain Bernacchi's MacDuff and Alan Stirling's Duncan were particularly good at delivering their lines with depth and meaning, while Euan Rider's porter provided marvelous comic relief.

But any production of "Macbeth" will stand or fall on the strength of it's two leads and Stephen Bisland as Macbeth and Melissa Deans as Lady Macbeth more than measure up. Bisland gave a towering performance and commanded the 'stage' with great presence. His moments when tortured by Banquo's ghost were stunningly portrayed. While Melissa Deans linguistic delivery was perfectly pitched, that wasn't what made her performance a bit special - its strength came from being a beautifully subtle performance. Able to convey emotion with the slightest movement or look, her unspoken reaction to being dismissed by Macbeth was incredibly powerful. Bisland would not have been out of place in a major role in either of the productions of Shakespeare we've seen in the last year ("Othello" at London's Donmar Warehouse and the Citz' own "Hamlet") and Dean's performance was head and shoulders above the female leads in either of those.

Special mentions for an impressive sword-fight between Bisland and Bernacchi (choreographed by Peter Pringle) - incredibly brave in such a confined space, and also for some fantastic costumes that would have done many professional main stage productions proud. All in all a hugely enjoyable evening, which is really quite impressive for such a dark and demanding play.

"Macbeth" runs at the Citizens until Saturday 15th March (inc Thursday matinee) and operates a rotating cast for some roles.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Oedipus" & "Electra" - March 2008

Queen Margaret University drama students are staging double bills of Greek tragedies last week and next in the Citizens Stalls Studio, and tonight we caught the final night of the first of them - "Oedipus" adapted by David Greig followed by "Electra" adapted by Tom McGrath.

"Oedipus" was a well put together show featuring powerful performances from Gregor Firth as Oedipus and Christopher Hill as Creon. Firth is particularly effective when addressing the audience directly as if they were local citizens - he has a strong stage presence and his questioning genuinely felt like he was demanding answers. Equally effective was Hill's portrayal of Creon making a case for his innocence - a lovely written set piece delivered perfectly. The rest of the cast performed well but truth be told there really wasn't a great deal for them to get their teeth into - it's an entertaining enough play but I'm not sure it really works as any kind of showcase piece.

"Electra" was more of an ensemble piece and gave each of its cast a fairly substantial chance to contribute. Anneka Harry was a strong Electra who like Firth made the most of her chance to speak directly to the audience. She succeeded in making Electra sympathetic enough to overcome any doubts about the merits of her actions. The cast all get their moments to shine with Laura Sullivan's Clymenestra really making an impact. But this is very much an ensemble performance and also features some wonderful movement/chorus scenes, and a memorable opening set piece courtesy of some very effective make up and lighting. It was also very cleverly directed by Rachel Drew in that the cast largely remained on stage even if not featuring in the action - saving a lot of entrances/exits.

Finally, the drama wasn't complete at the end of the performances. We then had a production member address the audience to make a short statement about how the cast and crew had been limited in their ability to put together the shows - in particular in relation to costumes and sound, and that they felt let down by the lack of support from the university. Now I have mixed feelings about this - firstly, they have nothing to apologise for as I thought the costumes, sound and everything else about the productions was perfectly fine. Secondly, even if it had an impact I'm not entirely sure how professional it is to make it public, but another part of me says that if they feel it is a good way to bring pressure for better support then they should do what they feel the need to do.

"Oedipus" and "Electra" have now completed their runs but the second set of performances ("Medea" and "Trojan Women") run at the Citizens from 12th to 15th March.


Friday, March 07, 2008

"Animal Farm" - March 2008

Before the show there was a fair amount of speculation about how Glasgow College of Nautical Studies drama students would portray their characters in Ian Woolridges's adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm". Were we in for the full 'pantomime horse' treatment or perhaps they would modify the characters/setting? As it turned out what we got were 'half-face' masks, which while very effective did pose some problems of muffled dialogue - particularly for Waldorf.

The cast all performed well in their roles, often playing multiple characters, with my particular favourites being John Irvine's 'Squealer' , Louise Redden's 'Clover' and Alison Crowe's 'Benjamin'. Pamela Shaw was believably charismatic as 'Napoleon' if a little quiet at times; Samuel Wojenski succeeded in making the fate of 'Boxer' suitably tragic and also delivered a very impressive (and no doubt painful) pratfall, while Sean Reid was particularly good in a number of roles including 'Major'.

Stephen Cafferty's direction produced some very strong moments such as the opening torch-lit scene and the 'interrogations' but would have benefited from a few more stylised scenes as the rest of the play was fairly 'plain' in comparison. The strobe lighting fight scenes were done technically well but both were overlong to the extent of being uncomfortable.

Unfortunately the decision to use fixed masks didn't just result in sound problems, it also had the effect of putting a fairly substantial distance between the audience and the cast - not something that's easy to do in the Citizens small Circle Studio. The performances did lose a little from not being able to see the cast's expressions or even their eyes, and I think without the masks there might have been more of the sparkle required to lift this from an enjoyable evening to a memorable one.

Last year's group of GCNS students gave us the enjoyable Teechers and then progressed to deliver one of my highlights of 2007 with Lysistrata, and there was enough here to suggest that this group could be capable of giving us something similar - so do drop us an e-mail with details of future shows.

Animal Farm runs at the Citizens until Saturday 8th March.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Waiting For Godot" - March 2008

Tuesday's performance at the Citizens Theatre was undoubtedly the best production of "Waiting For Godot' I will ever see - and I can say that with absolute certainty. Not that it was good you understand, but it was such an excruciating evening that nothing could persuade me to see another production of it. Ever. To be fair, the performances were fine - it was the play I just didn't get.

This may be the moment when we at View From The Stalls lose all credibility as the play is clearly highly regarded elsewhere. And of course the rest of the audience absolutely lapped it up throughout, giving it a great curtain call at the end. But us, we struggled to make it back after the interval. In the play one of the characters says - "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful" Yep, pretty much. In fact, so much so that I can't even bring myself to spend any more time thinking about it. Sorry.

Normal service will hopefully be resumed with "Animal Farm" later in the week. And if anyone wants to try to persuade us of the merits of "Waiting For Godot" feel free to heckle...

"Waiting for Godot" runs at the Citizens until Saturday 8th March.