Sunday, March 21, 2010

"The Miracle Man" - March 2010

Saturday 8th November 2008. That's the last time I had as much fun in a theatre as I did last night. Not since the magnificent "Midsummer" have I seen a play deliver laughs so strongly and consistently. We drove home with Waldorf scanning the scriptbook for the lines that had amused us the most - and discovering new ones we'd missed because we were laughing too much.

Created and presented as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's 'tfd' season of 'shows for young people', Douglas Maxwell's "The Miracle Man" appeals far beyond its stated audience. While set in a school with all it's associated girl/boy issues, the core of the piece is more about PE teacher Ozzy and his ill father than the pupils. Avoiding any sense of preaching, if there's a message for the 'young people' to take away it's that life can be pretty damn hard for adults too, and that they are every bit as capable of screwing things up as you are.

Maxwell throws plenty of issues into the mix - religion, race, death, loneliness, purity rings, body image and the weight of parental expectation. Some are treated with more depth than others and on occasion it does feel an issue is there to serve the comedy rather than vice versa but they all feel integral to the play. Maxwell also delivers some truly heartbreaking moments as he drip feeds us fragments of Ozzy's story.

Keith Fleming gives a wonderfully quiet and subtle performance as Ozzy, in sharp contrast to a riotously comedic portrayal of the school's headmaster by Jimmy Chisholm. Charlene Boyd, Shabana Bakhsh & Ross Allan are uniformly excellent as the students while Sally Reid shows here that she's capable of producing an impressive performance in a more serious, adult role than we're used to seeing her in.

With a run time of 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval) it amazed me how short this felt. It's beautfully paced, both in Maxwell's writing and Vicky Featherstone's direction and complemented by Georgia McGuinness' fabulous set and Natasha Chivers' lighting design. (And special thanks to those responsible for the revelation that there's more to "The Go! Team" album on our iPods than 'Ladyflash'.)

An outstanding piece of theatre for teenagers - and anyone who used to be one.

The Miracle Man has completed its run at the Tron and now tours to Musselburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.
Image by Eamonn McGoldrick used with permission.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Empty" - March 2010

'Empty' by Cathy Forde, National Theatre of Scotland 'tfd' season.
Draft Review v1.0

Epic Fail.

'Empty' by Cathy Forde, National Theatre of Scotland 'tfd' season.
Draft Review v2.0

tfd? OMG WTF? POS!

'Empty' by Cathy Forde, National Theatre of Scotland 'tfd' season.
Draft Review v6.0

Yes, there are plenty of reasons why it's our fault we didn't enjoy this show. What with us being 30 plus, having seen it all before and having a developed sense of humour. But we don't buy that - we reckon it's much more to do with it being a pointless, cliched, unfunny and unsympathetic portrayal of a teenage house party gone wrong with heavy handed emotional trauma shoehorned into the mix.

The characters are completely unbelievable as a group of friends (with the exception of Lilly & Fiona) and there was more amusing teenage banter being exchanged in the Tron foyer pre-show than there was on stage. The cast do their best but the plot and dialogue is beyond redemption.

Vicky Featherstone's direction adds to the production's woes by having the cast visible in the wings providing sound effects when not featuring in the action. It's a decision that serves only to distract the audience and highlight the distinct lack of any genuine party atmosphere. The show is also in desperate need of a jumping soundtrack and the 75 minute runtime seems more like two hours.

Really, just go watch the DVDs of "Gregory's Girl", any John Hughes bratpack film, or "Dawson's Creek". Alternatively wait for a revival of DC Jackson's plays "The Wall" and "The Ducky" or go see the next show from the Citizens Young Company who have shown that when given the right support the best people to write 'for young people' can often be themselves.

Of course, maybe our little blog will shortly be filled with 'heckles' from hundreds of young adults telling us just how wrong we are...

Empty has completed its run at the Tron but shortly tours to Musselburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.
Image by Eamonn McGoldrick used with permission.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Battery Farm" - March 2010

A shorter than usual comment on Gregory Burke's contribution to this season's 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' as I think giving too much away would be to the detriment of anyone planning to see the show.

Set in a futuristic care facility for the elderly, Alan Bissett and Denise Hoey play up the comic elements beautifully as care assistants James and Kate, while Andy Gray is in his element as one of the residents.

As well as generating plenty of laughs, Burke has several targets in his sights for more serious points, and more often than not he hits the mark. But with so many issues to pick off we've quickly moved on to the next one without following up the initial hit with a killer blow. David MacLennan's direction keeps things moving along at a pace and provides two delightful moments as Hoey and Bissett get a little closer to the audience.

An entertaining piece of theatre from a writer with something to say, performed by an impressive cast at the top of their game.

"Battery Farm" is a co-production between Oran Mor and the Traverse. It runs until Saturday 20th at Oran Mor and then at the Traverse from 23rd to 27th March.
Image by Leslie Black Photography used with permission.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Backbeat" - March 2010

Despite anything you read to the contrary, "Backbeat" is not about the Beatles. Set mainly in Hamburg, and pre-Beatlemania, it is about the relationships between John Lennon (Andrew Knott), reluctant bandmember and promising artist Stuart Sutcliffe (Alex Robertson), and Stuart's German girlfriend Astrid (Isabella Calthorpe). Everything else is pretty much incidental.

Adapted from the film of the same name, "Backbeat" is a large scale production with clear ambitions for a life beyond this run in Glasgow. And while it certainly deserves to have one there's still a fair bit of room for tweaking. Much of the banter amongst the band just isn't sharp or funny enough and the selection of tracks played by the band could be improved.

There is a huge amount of energy and vibrancy on the stage, but somehow in that two foot gap before the front row of the stalls it dissipates almost entirely for much of the show. Despite the powerful delivery of the band and having the dancers mere inches away, the audience remained very obviously static - with barely a foot tapping or head nodding in time to the beat. I suspect this may vary on a daily basis, but on the Thursday night I attended it didn't bring the audience to life until the show was all but concluded.

Of course, the other factor acting to restrain the audience is the knowledge of the fates in store for these young lads. But what also didn't appear to help was the decision to play an applause/crowd track through the theatre speakers at the end of each number by the band. Rather than adding to the atmosphere this seemed to me to have the opposite effect and in fact discouraged the live audience from adding their own applause.

To be fair, it's a very fine line to tread as 'pumping up' the audience would risk lessening the impact of the quieter scenes that form the emotional core of the show. And these are so beautifully performed by Calthorpe, Robertson and Knott that it would be unforgivable to allow them to be overpowered. While the music may not have elicited much of a response, the final scenes between Stuart and Astrid certainly did - provoking audible sobs.

It's fitting given Sutcliffe's passion for art that the show is as much about its visual style as its musical one. Writer/Director Iain Softley captures the essence of coolness, and makes one of the best uses of video elements I've seen on a stage.

The final band medley where the audience are encouraged/allowed to cut loose feels a bit of a cheat to provide a much needed upbeat ending. And it raises a serious question mark over whether it is possible to make a 'feel good' show when so many of the endings are unhappy ones.

I've struggled to get a handle on this show and my response to it, but I think I've finally got it. I saw two great shows last Thursday night - one an upbeat tale of a hungry young band on the verge of worldwide fame, and the other a tragic tale of love won and lost. I did enjoy the evening but I'm left feeling that the whole was somehow less than the sum of the parts.

Backbeat is a co-production between the Citizens Theatre and Karl Sydow and has now completed its run at the Citizens.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission