Monday, April 27, 2009

"A Drop in the Ocean" - April 2009

Okay, here's what I gather from the blurb for Dave Anderson's latest musical contribution to "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" at Oran Mor. "A Drop in the Ocean" is essentially a spin-off from his highly regarded "Tir na nOg" which was a sequel to his previous "Flowers in the River" and its prequel "A Walk in the Park". Confused? You won't be.

Given that I hadn't seen any of those I had some pretty strong reservations about attending this week, but after the rather serious set of shows last week I thought something a bit lighter might be just the thing. Yes, it's probably true that those familiar with the previous pieces will get a bit more out of it, but make no mistake, this is perfectly serviceable as a standalone piece.

With this being the 150th play since the start of "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" it's a little different from the usual lunchtime offerings at Oran Mor. Pies and Pints are to be consumed upstairs this week - so don't arrive at five to one expecting to gulp your pie and sip your pint during the play. Another reason to arrive in good time is to catch the RSAMD students that form the show's chorus providing some lively pre-show entertainment. Anyone with mobility issues may also want to have a word with the staff to see about ensuring a comfortable location downstairs - for the usual rows of seats are largely absent leaving many perched on benches or leaning against pillars. Although mostly staged in-the-round, at times this verges on being a promenade performance as audience members standing on the fringes are encouraged to get a little closer to the action.

Set in a bar at the bottom of the ocean the plot may be pure fluff, but Anderson's songs are razor sharp. Particularly effective are a bitesized take on 'Black Watch', a cutting reminder of those cast aside through industrial decline, and a warning of the dangers of searching for solace in a glass. Pauline Knowles, George Drennan, Onur Orkut and Anderson himself give strong performances but much of the energy and joy here comes from the substantial student chorus playing a variety of lost souls and a rather spectacular sea-monster.

A greatly enjoyable 50 minutes that feels as if it could happily be expanded to a full scale musical.

A Drop in the Ocean runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 2nd May.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

INK revisited - April 2009

Back in January we posted about the INK event at the Tron where a group of writers were staging collections of short plays on a theme as rehearsed readings. Tonight we were through in Edinburgh for the last of the current series of INK events so it feels only right we should give it another mention...

Given the format we didn't feel it was appropriate to pass comment on the plays/performances so our January post was really just to highlight its existence as something that may be of interest to others. Since then, we made it along to February's Valentines themed evening at the Traverse but missed out on March's 'Breaking News' themed event back at the Tron as we found tickets were sold out.

We've certainly enjoyed our three evenings at INK and it's been interesting to see works in this shortened format and hear some of the writers' thoughts in the post show discussions. And we'd hope to see return in some shape or form in the future.


"Spoonface Steinberg" - April 2009

Any play centering on an autistic child as she battles cancer is prime material for reducing an audience to tears, and Zoe Thorne's performance deserves to be recognised as one that may just become the stuff of legend. So why were we left unmoved by it?

Despite being in her 20's Thorne is unnervingly convincing as the eight year old Spoonface - but only a small element of what makes the performance believable is her petiteness. What makes the character credible is Thorne's perfectly crafted mannerisms, childlike expressions and the completely unselfconscious way she moves. And once you add in her distinctive use of language the character is unquestionably real.

Lee Hall's play makes no attempt to shy away from the bleakness of the situation or the less palatable elements that Spoonface has to contend with. However, there is also a lightness that comes from the character's openness and her observations on those around her that ensures the tone is not relentlessly depressing.

There were clearly several audience members in the Citizens Circle Studio who were profoundly moved by the evening - but our tissues stayed firmly in our pockets. Admittedly it does take something extraordinary to leave me biting my bottom lip in the theatre, but Waldorf is a soft-touch. So for a show about a desperately ill child not to have her in floods of tears indicates that something has gone wrong somewhere. We discussed afterwards why it hadn't quite 'got to us' and I'll do my best to provide the best explanation I have.

Part of the strength of Zoe Thorne's portrayal of Spoonface is that she endows her with a genuine sense of disconnection. It's a perfect choice for the character but serves to isolate us from her. The Circle Studio is a very small space and with the set against one of the two longer sides of the theatre the capacity was reduced to around fifty audience members. Yet we didn't feel played to. Any eye contact seemed almost accidental and those on the shorter sides of the space were largely ignored - Spoonface did what Spoonface does, and it really didn't seem to matter that anyone was watching. I've seen children (autistic or otherwise) do exactly this when asked to 'perform' in front of a group, so as a piece of characterisation it was spot-on, but it definitely played a part in reducing the impact it had on us. Although as I say, others were visibly affected.

So for us the evening didn't quite have the punch we were expecting, but that was clearly our personal response to it, and we're still not clear as to why that emotional connection was missing. Thorne on the other hand is clearly a talent to be reckoned with and given roles that she can get her teeth into will no doubt have an extremely bright future.

Spoonface Steinberg is a production by Beggars and Kings and completes an extensive UK tour this week with dates in Wick and Inverness.
Image used with permission.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Wuthering Heights" - April 2009

Classic fiction meets Bollywood in this production of "Wuthering Heights" from Tamasha at the Citizens' Theatre. So just how do you transfer a classic, complex tragic novel to an Indian setting with musical numbers? Intrigued by the possibilities this combination brought up we just had to go.

Taking the key elements from Emily Brontë's tale of wild boy and girl, of love declared then lost and turned sour we follow the tale of Krishan (Pushpinder Chani) and Shakuntala (Youkti Patel) to its inevitible end.

The first slight surprise was when we realised from the programme that the singing wasn't live, but in Bollywood tradition it was lip-synched to recordings from playback artists. Although we'd seen some of the publicity material that detail had passed us by. Statler felt cheated by this (this is from the man who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to musicals in the past), but I felt it didn't detract. The whole point of a musical is the complete suspension of disbelief.

And if you go with the intention of having a good night out at the theatre, that's what you'll have. You won't necessarily leave humming any of the songs, but you'll have seen an interesting adaptation with some particular high points. "The Camel Races" scene was classic Hollywood/Bollywood musical, very reminiscent of the Ascot scene from the film "My Fair Lady". And any scene featuring Ayah (Rina Fatania) was shamelessly stolen by her and her philosophy on life's ills being cured by sugar cane juice.

The tale goes along at a nice pace, although the first act does seem a little long. There were also some technical difficulties with the scenery at the performance we saw and at times the dialogue was a little muffled. Statler, watching with a more critical eye, felt a sense of scale was lacking and it wasn't enough of a spectacle. However, don't be put off by the fusion of East meeting West this is more than the novelty the concept might suggest.

Photo by Manuel Harlan. Used with permission.

Wuthering Heights is at the Citizens' Theatre until Saturday 25th April, then moves to the Lyric Hammersmith and subsequently further dates in England.


Friday, April 24, 2009

"The Angel and The Woodcutter" - April 2009

Korean company Cho-In Theatre bring "The Angel and The Woodcutter" to The Tron. Starting off with its roots in a gentle folk tale, a woodcutter and his mother are living in harsh surroundings, but with obvious affection for each other. On spying an angel bathing, the woodcutter is smitten by her beauty and his devoted mother steals her wings and forces her to become his bride. Left there it would be a charming story, but it darkens into an brief history of Korea which disturbs and captivates.

Told mostly non-verbally by weaving together movement, expressions, music and sound; this is an incredibly physical piece which is beautifully executed. The interactions between the mother and her son, and the mother and the angel are particularly well done and are comedy of the highest order. The battle between the two women as they try to set the groundrules of their own relationship and stake their claims to the affection of the man they both love is wonderful theatre.

Abruptly and jarringly Korea's recent history intrudes on this gentle tale. The angel and the mother are left to fend for themselves after the woodcutter is conscripted into the army and is brainwashed into becoming the perfect soldier. We continue down this dark road and by the end you feel as drained emotionally as the perfomers must be physically. It is quite startling as to how complex a story can be portrayed without words.

At almost 90 minutes straight through it does struggle to maintain its intensity at times, but its strengths more than make up for that. One word of warning - although a lot of the publicity of the show mentions its use of puppets, that does not make it a children's show. A lot of the themes explored are very dark and adult, which could make for uncomfortable explanations.

"The Angel and The Woodcutter" continues at The Tron until Sunday 26th April.

Photo used with permission.


Monday, April 20, 2009

"Too Clever By Half" - April 2009

Here at View From The Stalls we genuinely try to steer away from flippant remarks and waspish put downs. Our aim is always to try to give an honest response to a production that is very much our own considered, if at times uninformed, opinion. But every so often a writer puts words into the mouth of a character that just perfectly sum up our thoughts on a piece, and when these words are sufficiently repeated that they find a foothold in my head it can prove too strong to resist...

Especially when, as with Andrew Dallmeyer's contribution to "A Play, A Pie and a Pint", the play does little to merit further thought and the production is technically problematic. So, in what will hopefully be a one-off departure from our usual attempt to provide constructive criticism, I'll simply quote from today's dialogue - "Dismal to the end. Save your breath. No need for words."

"Too Clever by Half" runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 25th April.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Interiors" - April 2009

We'd planned on catching this last week at the Traverse, however due to illness were unable to use the tickets we'd booked. Fortunately, we could still get tickets for when it reached MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling, and even though we ended up paying double, it was worth every penny. In fact my only regret is that we didn't get to see the show twice, because "Interiors" is a truly elegant piece of theatre that would benefit from multiple viewings.

The action is contained within Kai Fischer's stunning dining room box set. Solid on three walls, the fourth is glass/plastic that allows the audience to see in, but prevents sound from inside escaping - leaving us watching a silent dinner party (at least until the music gets turned up). What's impressive is just how effectively the cast communicate their situations and emotions - even before we get the assistance of our initially unseen commentator providing an insight into the guests at the table set before us.

Now, it would be fair to say that I'm a fan of shows with narration/voiceover and internal/external monologues so this was always going to be very much to my taste - and so it proved. Frequently hilarious, always compelling, the performances are impeccable. Elicia Daly, Sara Lazzaro, Myra McFadyen, Andrew Melville, Aurora Peres, Davide Pini Carenzi, Barnaby Power and Damir Todorovic make for what will surely be one of the finest ensembles Scotland sees this year. There are so many details to the characters and so much going on simultaneously that it's almost impossible to appreciate just how good they are in a single viewing - or to unravel the complexities of the characters. (Why doesn't Damir drink his shots?)

And right there is probably where anyone involved in the show may wish to stop reading... for much as I loved the show I can't help feel that it flatters to deceive. Strip away the narration and give the characters back their voices and I suspect we'd have something resembling a mediocre BBC sitcom. And I'm not sure that I should be quite so impressed by this form of theatrical alchemy - and just a little scared I might find myself tempted to try watching "My Family" with the sound muted. I'm also reluctant to reward the rather blatant emotional manipulation of the audience that comes as the evening reaches its conclusion. I don't mind having the rug pulled from under me but this smacked of overkill.

But there's no denying it makes for fascinating theatre and I was completely entranced by it. In the final moments our narrator/observer suggests she will move on to view other windows - the real shame is that we can't join her. Although, I'm finding myself more and more inclined to try and fit in a second helping when the show reaches the Tron.

Interiors is a co-production between Vanishing Point, Napoli Teatro Festival Italia, Mercadante Teatro Stabile di Napoli and Traverse Theatre. It continues its tour to Aberdeen, London, Glasgow and Naples.

Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission.


Monday, April 13, 2009

"Djupid (The Deep)" - April 2009

The world of deep sea fishermen should be prime territory for drama – confinement, danger, family bonds, not to mention the whole man vs nature aspect. But sadly Graeme Maley's translation of Icelandic playwright Jon Atli Jonasson's “Djupid” does little more than hint at these.

In part its limitations come down to just how much can be realised in a forty minute monologue. Liam Brennan does well to give his lost colleagues a sense of being present, but it can’t match meeting them in person and witnessing the relationships and banter between them. As a result we don't really feel much attachment to any character other than Brennan's unnamed trawlerman who finds himself the last survivor when the boat goes down.

What didn’t help my enjoyment of this was that I spent the first half of the play mentally screaming “Please stop shouting” and looking for the volume control. To be fair to Brennan it was almost certainly a character choice rather than a misjudgement of the space - but it was nevertheless painful.

And with his character's re-telling of the final moments of the film “Titanic” for cheap laughs, any hope I had for the play sank beneath the waves. That said, there remained moments when it fights for one last breath and Brennan's description of his escape from his cot as the boat upturns is genuinely compelling.

But essentially his situation is largely irrelevant as the play disappointingly turns into a simplistic reflection on “If I just had one more day…” and then fails to bring any novel thoughts or attitudes to the table. There are few of his wishes and regrets that wouldn't feature on most people's such lists.

In the end, ironically, what the play lacks is depth.

Djupid (The Deep) runs at Oran Mor daily at 1pm until Saturday 18th April as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Citizen Y: Nighthawks" - April 2009

This latest offering from the Citizens' Young Company allows the audience a glimpse into the secret world of teenagers on a night out. We join their search for the mythical 'Nighthawks' nightclub - where only the elite make it past the door staff. As with all youth/student or amateur productions we comment on, we make no concessions - if they look for an audience and charge for tickets we treat them all the same. So please keep that in mind when I tell you that this production absolutely rocked the Citz Circle Studio.

Described in the programme as devised by professional playwright Peter Arnott and the Company and scripted by Arnott it perfectly captures several aspects of teenage life including the fleeting and shifting nature of friendships. The dialogue is blisteringly funny and rings entirely true to the characters created, but there's plenty of social comment here too - consumerism, families, restricted opportunities and a rumoured approaching apocalypse all feature.

Apart from a few lines delivered into the floor that don't quite reach the audience, the performances from the large cast are all strong. In "The Lads' Tale" Chris McCann's Pan-like Wittgenstein impressively commands the space and plays his comic relief wonderfully straight while Scott McKay's Kevin is a bundle of frustration and disillusionment. Keren McGill effectively leads "The Girls' Tale" with a convincing performance as abandoned birthday girl Karen. Other highlights include James Harkness as local tough guy Gary and a deliciously show stealing turn by Kelly Love as the club's 'Lifestyle Consultant'.

Neil Packham's direction keeps the action moving and there's some clever use of projection for a casino scene, but I'm not convinced that the soundtrack added quite as much to the piece as it could have.

In a small theatre space it would be easy to dismiss the hugely enthusiastic response of the audience as one of invited family and friends but I don't believe for a minute that to be the case. This is a quality piece of writing, performed by a cast full of talent and energy - and it deserves a wider audience than this short run can give it.

Citizen Y: Nighthawks completes its run at the Citizens on Saturday 11th April.
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission


Monday, April 06, 2009

"Cabaret" - April 2009

A combination of some Theatre Tokens burning a hole in our pocket, and a relative who had been hooked on BBC's "I'd Do Anything" (aka the "Nancy Show" in our house) meant a family outing to the Theatre Royal. Especially since Bill Kenwright's Production of "Cabaret" featured our relative's favourite from "I'd Do Anything", Samantha Barks as Sally Bowles.

Set in the seedy side of Weimar era Berlin of the early 30's, "Cabaret" follows aspiring American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Henry Luxemburg) and his encounters with the sexually liberated denizens of the Kit Kat Klub. As musicals go, "Cabaret" is definitely on the darker side with its adult setting and its look at the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jewish people and other "undesirables".

Despite the promotional material focusing on the casting of Wayne Sleep as the Emcee and the aforementioned Samantha Barks, the strongest performances come in the side story of Fraulein Schneider (Jenny Logan) and Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) and Jenny Logan's delivery of "What Would You Do?" far outshone the big numbers of "Money", "Willkommen" and even the title song. Whilst "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" by the Company was both beautifully sung and sinister at the same time.

So what about the leads? For me Wayne Sleep's performance suffered from a lack of clarity during the songs. I'm not sure if the levels were off, but I struggled to make out the lyrics during a lot of his numbers. The connection to the audience seemed lacking at times, although there was a nice mention of the Theatre Royal's sister theatre and a strong final scene from Sleep. Samantha Bark's as Sally Bowles has big shoes to fill as Liza Minelli is always in the back of your mind. Her delivery of the musical numbers was good, but she lacked the charm and the steel as Sally that would have made her relationship with the sexually confused Bradshaw seem plausible.

Some impressive dancing by the Company, especially leaps from the staircase and a very strong last moment rounded off a mixed night for a production that was just a little too uneven.