Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Year of the Horse" - February 2009

Tron Theatre Company, Burnt Goods and Actor/Performer Tam Dean Burn have put together what is effectively an exhibition of the work of illustrator-turned-political cartoonist "Harry Horse". To accompany the fifty two cartoons published in the Sunday Herald, Horse supplied short pieces of text, and these are 'performed' by Burn in front of large projected images of the work. But make no mistake, Burn has ensured that Horse is very much the star of the show - I'm just not sure that it's the better for it.

While Horse's work clearly has considerable artistic merit, I'm afraid I found much of the political content disappointingly blunt. It probably doesn't help seeing cartoons that were published weekly in such a condensed format as the topics and targets quickly begin to feel repetitive. And while in some cases the accompanying text provides context, much of the topicality is diminished by the three years that have passed since publication - it feels a bit like watching old episodes of "Drop the Dead Donkey". But there are plenty of moments of incisiveness - a stinging analysis of David Cameron and a series focussing on environmental issues in particular.

The show is clearly one Burn is passionate about, and in the programme notes he makes a case for the recognition of Horse, but by confining itself to using Horse's text we never quite get a sense of enthusiasm for the work that could carry the audience with it. Burn clearly has the potential to perform a Steve Irwin or David Bellamy type role where he could make his own love of the work contagious and it's to the detriment of the piece that Burn isolates himself from the material. I desperately wanted to hear why each of the works had an impact on Burn, and what he took from them.

And rightly or wrongly, it's difficult for me to isolate Horse's work from the circumstances of his death - particularly given the sense of moral authority inherent in much of the political comment.

"Year of the Horse" is a creative and elegant tribute to Horse but lacks the effervescence required to fully engage a wider audience. The glimpses we get of the charismatic Burn are too restrained and while the intention of focusing attention on Horse is admirable, a little more of Burn would have been to the benefit of both - and the audience.

Year of the Horse runs at the Tron until Saturday 28th February with a 9pm start time


Sunday, February 15, 2009

"My Clydeside Valentine" - February 2009

We gave up years ago on booking a table in a restaurant on Valentine's weekend and suffering dreadful service and overpriced food at a table that has been squeezed in next to the toilets. But I think it was the Citizens Community Company's "My Bloody Valentine" in 2007 that made us realise that Theatre could be the alternative we were looking for. And this year they are back with a 2009 Valentine's week show - "My Clydeside Valentine".

Comprising fifteen short sketches, monologues and songs we get a blend of the comic, the tragic and the nostalgic on a Valentines theme. Over the last few years we've always found the Community Company's shows to been well written and performed but tonight felt even slicker and tighter than in the past, so credit to Directors Neil Packham and Elly Goodman. Yes, there are still some segments and performances that aren't quite as successful as others, but the Community Company is about developing skills over a period of time - not just for a single show.

A prime example of the benefits of this approach is Catherine Chan who over the last couple of years has progressed from playing relatively small roles to this evening where as a very confident young actress she was very much the star of the show -playing central roles in three of the segments. She also wrote "On the Spot" which was a nice moment of theatre brilliantly performed by herself along with William Shields and David Black. The couple's emergence from the audience and dispute with our usher was inspired and certainly had a few in the audience taken in - for a moment at least.

Another self penned highlight was Neil Bratchpiece's "The Wee Man's Date" in which he starred with Noreen Morton, Alan Ward and Evy Vourlakos. The clash of two very different romantic picnics was well performed by all four, and Bratchpiece has a talent for creating mental images that linger much longer than one would wish.

Frances Rose Kelly and Danny McGonagle's "My Clydeside Valentine" musical number was darkly comic and strongly delivered, while the ensemble songs all worked well with the live music being a great addition - particularly in "It Must Be Love". But the quieter moments also work, with Waldorf particularly enjoying "Looking Back" by Rena Hood performed by Patricia Preston and Eddie Donoghue while I was more taken with Anne Marie McLeod's "Beside the Clyde".

There are too many segments to mention them all, but each made an effective contribution to the evening, and Frances Rose Kelly's "The Rollerettes" made for the perfect end to the show with a level of genuinely enthusiastic audience involvement that is rarely achieved.

My Clydeside Valentine has now completed its run in the Citizens Circle Studio
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission


Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Fifteen Minutes" - February 2009

Back at Oran Mor for A Play, A Pie and a Pint, and just as well I arrived early as those arriving later found there was a run on the pies! It's a testament to the quality of their productions in recent years just how much of an institution it has become, and even if this week's installment set at an "X Factor" style audition didn't blow me away, it was always entertaining.

In a 50 minute lunchtime play with the emphasis on fun, there's little harm in allowing your two lead characters to remain as caricatures, but here, in attempting to give them more substance writer Kim Millar resorts to some heavy handed audience manipulation. Admittedly this isn't exactly out of place in a parody of reality TV, but is nonetheless a fruitless exercise - and a pity as I'd much rather have seen the situation play out without the 'startling revelations'.

But there remains much to like about "Fifteen Minutes", not least two very strong central performances. Armed with some exquisite dialogue from Millar, Joyce Falconer as serial auditionee Jacqueline sneers her lines in a gloriously deadpan style, while Sarah McCardie is thoroughly believable as the younger Lynsey starting out on a reluctant first attempt to grasp the limelight. Indeed, McCardie's "audition" was worth the ticket price on it's own.

The essential problem is that it simply can't compete with the real thing - or at least the American versions that also reach our UK screens. Nothing here can compare to the fun to be had at the expense of the self-delusional wannabees, the drama of personal traumas being overcome, or the bitchfest and mental breakdowns that only Hollywood Week on American Idol can provide.

A fun way to spend an hour over lunch but, with the exception of McCardie's vocals, instantly forgettable stuff.

Fifteen Minutes runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 14th February.
image by Leslie Black used with permission


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Defender of The Faith" - February 2009

The Tron's Artistic Director Andy Arnold brings us Stuart Carolan's study of an IRA cell haunted by suspicions of an informer in their midst. Set in 1986 at the height of 'the Troubles' it would be easy to dismiss as having little relevance or interest - but this isn't about the politics, it's about the people.

The first act that introduces us to the family at the centre of events suffers from teetering towards "Father Ted" territory as it plays up the humourous interactions between the characters - and the overuse of profanity for cheap laughs doesn't help matters. However, Callum Munro gives an assured performance as younger brother Danny, providing an intriguing insight into the clash of British/Irish cultural influences he faces on a daily basis.

For me, even when Martin McCardie's informer-finder-general arrives the tone remains fairly light and we don't quite get the sense of fear that we should, although Waldorf was more convinced by his quiet menace. But then the play shifts up a gear and for the next forty minutes is finally firing on all cylinders. The informer's confession is handled fantastically well, and the confrontation between father and older son Tommy (Lewis Howden and Martin McCormick) is one of the most tense moments I've had in a theatre for some time. Credit also to fight director Carter Ferguson for what I think was the most sickening on-stage violence I've ever witnessed.

And had the play ended at that point I'm not sure if I'd have sat in stunned silence or given a standing ovation - it had that kind of impact on me (although Waldorf was considerably less taken with the evening). But neither of those things happened. Inexplicably, to my mind, there is one final scene left to play out - the sole impact of which was to diminish the power of the previous scenes.

I'm still grasping for an overall sense of what I thought of the evening and I think it probably comes down to this - a strong production of a not-so-strong play.

Defender of The Faith runs at the Tron until February 28.
Note: In some performances the role of Danny is played by Jan Plazalski.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Tam O'Shanter" - February 2009

Perth is a fair trek for us, so it requires something a bit special to justify the effort involved, and although Horsecross' interpretation of Rabbie Burns' "Tam O'Shanter" had caught our eye it wasn't really in our plans. But how could we not make the effort to see a show whose promotional materials include a Government Health Warning: "This play may contain more than the recommended daily units of alcohol"? And that kind of playfulness pretty much encapsulates creator and director Gerry Mulgrew's take on Burns' classic tale.

Recognising that a simple presentation of the text would be rather slight, Mulgrew has built a framework around it utilising some of Burns' other works for inspiration and throwing in some theatrical in jokes and other delights. While not all of these additions are entirely successful - the puppetry and face mask segments seem stretched - others such as the church and drink ordering scenes significantly enhance the whole.

The eleven strong cast are universally excellent and all bring their own specialties to the table through dance, music, recitation and song. Andy Clark as Tam and Robbie Jack as Rab Ruisseaux both give impressively physical performances including a Delboyesque pratfall by Clark. Claire Benson's dance contribution is striking, Kirstin McLean provides amusement as poor Meg and Brian MacAlpine produces memorable turns as the Minister and others. But these are only my personal favourites - the whole ensemble are superb.

This is a fantastically creative and imaginative production filled with moments of genius - the storm outside, the eightsome reel, the versatile bar/pulpit prop and some inspired 'aerial work'. It's just an absolute blast of energy and inventiveness while serving as a reminder that Burns is more than a portrait on a shortbread tin. No pretensions - just joyfully tongue-in-cheek.

And although it was more than worthy of our journey to Perth Theatre, I would hope that there will be a further life for this production - it certainly deserves one.

Tam O'Shanter runs at Perth Theatre until Saturday 14th February
Image used with permission


Monday, February 02, 2009

"Dolls" - January 2009

We'd debated whether to book up for this production of 'Dolls' that's emerged from the National Theatre of Scotland Workshop programme. In conjunction with Hush Productions and Tramway they've adapted the Japanese film of the same name by Takeshi Kitano into a theatrical piece. We weren't sure if it was really going to be our cup of tea, but decided that it was worth a try. However even sitting in the bar area beforehand I said to Statler that this would have to be not just good but something more than that to grab me after a long week at work. Fortunately it was.

Over the course of 90 minutes we span 35 years in three separate tales of love that are interwoven in their telling, but only minimally in their content. Visually stunning at times with strong imagery; the stories, although captivating, are almost secondary to the look, sound and style of this production. Director Carrie Cracknell has woven together different story telling techniques to make the piece come to life. For instance the story of Jacob and Ruth is almost entirely unspoken and told largely through dance and movement - and no less moving for it. We also have a live band, Zoey Van Goey (accompanied by David Paul Jones), in one corner who not only provide musical accompaniment throughout but take a role in one tale. That's not to say that 'conventional' theatre takes a back seat with strong performances from the ensemble.

Having not seen the film that was its source, I can't say how much of this is original and how much harks back to the film. It has obviously, in some aspects, been translated in time and place from its Japanese inspiration. It does however stand on its own. My one concern is that it was made clear in the post show discussion that they considered it still under development. I hope that in doing the fine tuning it doesn't lose its sense of wonder and magic. The perfect end to a very strong month of Scottish theatre.

Image by Eamonn McGoldrick. Used with permission.