Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Love But Her" - August 2009

It’s easy for us to rattle on now and again that we treat all performances equally and that we make no allowance for youth or inexperience, but sticking to this policy must make for posts that are at times unpleasant to read – they can certainly be unpleasant to write. And despite strong performances, so it may be here I’m afraid. SYT Production's revival of Lara Jane Bunting's “Love But Her” will certainly get pleasing rounds of applause and comments about what ‘these young people have achieved’, and it would make for a perfectly passable church hall show at the Edinburgh Fringe but no one is going to rave about it...

My heart sank during the opening moments of the show as the cast paired up for an awkward shuffle straight out of ‘social dance’ classes at school. From Scottish Youth Theatre's “high profile, high quality performance group" I was expecting something either safe but brilliantly done or something with a real edge to it. This was neither, and comes across as a conflicted piece of theatre – unable to throw off a seeming need to incorporate Burns’ work, despite its inclusion damaging what could have been a powerfully dark examination of our national poet. And it’s such a pity because the show definitely has its moments.

Katrina Innes as Burns' long suffering wife Jean brings the tragedies of her life, including loss of several children, sharply into focus, while convincing the audience why she still loves her wayward husband. It’s a stirring performance with some beautiful vocals. Phil Napier as Burns is a brooding presence and his interactions with Innes are where the real interest lies. His moments of tenderness are rare and the contempt and frustration directed at Jean would meet many people’s definition of domestic abuse. And with Napier’s intense performance he really gives the impression he might well send Jean flying across the room with the back of his hand. But not to worry, we’ll soon a have another song or bit of humorous banter with the neighbours.

On their own the moments of humour work well too – particularly from Anna Schneider and Craig Steele. Kirstie Steele does well as daughter Betty and provides much of the show’s vocal accompaniment while Nathan Byrne as Davie Wilson provides an interesting dynamic with his unrequited love for Jean. The show has several set pieces that really hit the mark – Jean’s fears for her dead children’s plight in hell is a real tug on the heartstrings and the moments when Jean and later Burns are haunted by voices from the past make for striking theatre. But the play never gels as a whole.

I try to avoid comparing shows but having seen Nonsense Room’s brilliant (if slightly red, red rose tinted) tale of the life of Burns and his women only last week at the Fringe it’s impossible not to. “Ae Fond Kiss” created a wonderful feeling of charm while not ignoring the harmful impact Burns had on many of those around him. It incorporated some of his work in a manner that felt cohesive rather than here where it’s often interrupting the narrative flow. I’d urge all those involved in “Love But Her” (and anyone else who wants to see a great show) to get across to see “Ae Fond Kiss” before it ends its run. I suspect it’s exactly the ‘safe but brilliantly done’ show the SYT were aiming for – and if not, it should be. But if they are aiming for the edgy, and there’s enough in “Love But Her” to suggest this, they need to commit to it wholeheartedly. Not merely hints at the darkness, tempered with light. The cast have shown they are capable of delivering in challenging roles – it’s up to the SYT to select higher quality material for them to work with.

"Love But Her" is on at the Brian Cox Studio in the SYT's Glasgow building on Friday 21st August, and then has dates in Irvine and Stirling the following week.