Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Promises Promises" - February 2010

'Bless us Father for we have sinned, it has been almost two months since our last trip to the theatre...' But on Friday night we made a start on our theatregoing in 2010 with a short trip to Cumbernauld Theatre for "Promises Promises" by Douglas Maxwell.

The central question Maxwell raises is a strong one - to what extent should a school indulge cultural/religious beliefs that may be harmful to a child? Miss Brodie is placed in a situation where a Somali child in her care is to be subjected to an exorcism to drive out the evil spirits believed to have rendered her mute. Of course the example here is an extreme one, but one wonders if the same principle applies to less obviously damaging beliefs - in particular in faith based schools. But rather than highlight the more everyday dilemma of indoctrination, Maxwell takes the play firmly down a sensational and grotesque route. And while it does work in a "Tales of the Unexpected" kind of way (apart from being not exactly unexpected), its attempt to shock blunts any sharp point it may otherwise have left at the forefront of the audience's minds.

It also feels like a short story that's gained a theme or two too many. Miss Brodie's backstory is too cluttered with influences and it all seems a little overpowering - father, sister, sexual history, lost 'close friend', religion, alcohol, racism, Scottishness. I felt it could have lost two or three of these without it significantly impacting on the play - and it would have benefited from losing 20 minutes from the run time.

Joanna Tope gives an excellent performance as Miss Brodie - and all the other characters that feature in her tale. Anyone with friends or family in the teaching profession will likely recognise many of the tones and mannerisms she gives the character - particularly when speaking to the unseen children.

Johnny McKnight's direction, Lisa Sangster's fantastic set and Tim Reid's video elements give the production a firm sense of place but at times Dave Shea's lighting seems a bit forced and jarring. Maxwell and Random Accomplice (in association with the Tron) have created an entertaining piece of theatre but I'm left with the nagging feeling that given its core idea, the play should have spoken to me much more directly than it did.

Promises Promises is on an extensive tour of Scotland and also visits London
Image by Dave Pablo used with permission