Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Blue Hen" - May 2010

Des Dillon's new comedy set in a Coatbridge housing scheme, follows two men who, finding themselves on the scrapheap of unemployment, attempt to secure a better future through breeding hens. And if that brings to mind echoes of "The Full Monty", tonewise you're not far off the mark.

Charles Lawson and Scott Kyle make an entertaining pair as John and Paddy, and there are some very funny moments. But there's also a heavy reliance on using expletives to buy cheap laughs, and that's a pity, as it overwhelms the more sombre moments of the piece. It also suffers from a lack of clarity at times - in discussing the show afterwards, Waldorf and I had very different understandings of a significant plot element.

But I'm prepared to put that down to the distraction of what I could charitably call the 'lively' audience at Cumbernauld Theatre. Less charitably I could detail the three ringing mobile phones (that rang and rang and rang), the talkers in the second row, the attempted heckle and the numerous toilet-goers (5 minutes after the interval for heaven's sake). I really can't face writing another 'badly behaved audience post', however, I do have to note that I felt the 8pm start time and the full 20 minute interval were contributing factors. We appreciate bar takings are an important element for theatres, but I'm afraid it's something that will be a factor when considering to see a show at Cumbernauld in future.

Waldorf suspects that we're being theatre snobs and that anything that gets an audience through the door is a good thing, but I really don't care. My enjoyment of the show was significantly impacted by my fellow audience members and I think I'm entitled to be annoyed by it.

I do however apologise to NLP Theatre and the cast for not providing a fuller response to the show. I've sat on this piece for a week, but in the end I've concluded that I simply can't attribute how much of my disappointment last Saturday night was due to the play and how much was due to the external factors. I think the fairest I can do is simply to note that many in the audience were clearly enjoying themselves.

Blue Hen tours Scotland until 12 June.
Image by Daniel Goganian Ania Winiarska used with permission


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"The Grapes of Wrath" - May 2010

Staging a production based on John Steinbeck's classic novel of America's dispossessed in the Great Depression is ambitious for any theatre company. For the Citizens Community Company to take it on in the form of this adaptation by Tim Baker is beyond ambitious. Particularly so, when their sole professional performer, Citizens Actor Intern Mairi Phillips, is age/gender bound to play a relatively small but crucial role - leaving community cast members to carry the production squarely on their own shoulders.

A great deal of that responsibility falls on Patricia Preston as the matriarch of the Joad family and she proves to be entirely convincing as a strong, driven woman, but one who knows her existence is hanging by a thread. Equally impressive is Chris McCann as her son Tom, with a well pitched balance between naive optimism and a determination to fight those contributing to their hardship. John McNeil provides strong support as emasculated Pa Joad while John Speirs makes former preacher Casy three dimensional instead of the plot device he could easily have become. Full time performer Phillips gives the Joad's pregnant daughter a beautifully light touch in her early scenes which makes her devastating final moments all the more effective.

With an extended Joad family and an abundance of characters to encounter on the long journey from Oklahoma to California, there's plenty of opportunity for the ensemble making up a cast of almost forty to each have their moments to shine. But the acting is only half the story here, as the production makes fantastic use of song and on-stage musical accompaniment, managing to avoid scenes of vastly differing tones feeling in any way disjointed.

In keeping with our approach of considering all performances we see to a professional standard, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that there were a few lines that we struggled to hear. However, the overall impression is one of an immensely slick and well drilled production. Co-Directors Neil Packham and Elly Goodman move the show along at pace and it rarely feels anything like its two and a half hour run time - with only an extended barn dance overstaying its welcome.

Baker's adaptation makes the Joad's situation clearly relevant for both the current financial climate and the tensions that can arise from (im)migration. I did find it a little heavy handed at times in repeatedly hammering home its economics lesson but Waldorf happily accepted this as simply illustrating that the Joads just 'wouldn't be told' that California wasn't the land of milk and honey they had been cruelly lead to expect.

Once again, the Citizens Community Company has delivered a high quality and relevant piece of theatre - we look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next.

The Grapes of Wrath has now completed its run at the Citizens
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission


Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Address Unknown" - May 2010

I've taken a couple of days to mull this one over as I suspected my initial response to it had been too strong. I feared that my immediate enthusiasm for the play would quickly diminish once the 'high' of the satisfying ending began to wear off.

But two nights later, I'm more impressed than ever with the layers of subtlety displayed here and the direct questions it raised for me. As a byproduct of this, what I'm about to say here will include significant plot points that we would not normally disclose when posting our thoughts on a show. If you've stumbled across this because you are planning to see the show or read the short story on which it is based, it's probably best you read no further.

The Tron's production of Katharine Kressmann Taylor's tale is part of their Mayfesto season of what I will crudely label as political theatre and takes the form of an exchange of letters between two German friends in the early 1930s. Max and Martin jointly own an art gallery in San Francisco, but Martin has recently returned home to Germany, leaving his Jewish partner Max to run the business. Through their letters we witness the impact the rise of Nazism has on them individually and the toll it takes on their friendship.

The text used here has been edited for the theatre by Frank Dunlop and is magnificently crafted. After only the first letter is read I believed in this friendship entirely and as the exchanges develop they always ring true, remaining anchored by those first moments of affection. Of course, a large part of that credibility is due to Benny Young and James MacPherson as Max and Martin giving immensely powerful performances which downplay any moments of melodrama.

For a while I felt the ending was too self-satisfying and that neither the subject nor the audience deserved to be left on a (relatively) positive note. But actually, I think for me this is the greatest revelation and salutary lesson of the play. I'm now horrified by how content, even pleased, I was to see a man being taken, presumably to his death. And more than learning anything about the characters and their circumstances, I've gained an invaluable insight into how easily influenced I could find myself in the right (wrong) situation. I don't think I've ever been quite so personally disconcerted by a play as I was by this.

A truly powerful and memorable piece of theatre.

We received our tickets for the show through our membership of the Tron's Patrons scheme which we thoroughly recommend for anyone who is a regular attendee at the Tron.

Address Unknown runs at the Tron until Saturday 22nd May
Image by John Johnston used with permission.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland shortlist

Congratulations to all those on the shortlist for this year's Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) which was announced earlier this week.

Sadly it seems we missed out on seeing some of the best theatre in Scotland last year as we don't appear to have seen many of the shows nominated. But then again, we weren't wholly enthusiastic about some of the shows on the shortlist that we did manage to see.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Sunday 13th June. Tickets to the event are now on sale.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Open.Stage Voting Opens

Back in October last year we noted the Tron's new playwriting competition Open.Stage was inviting entries - with the winning play to receive a full commission and production later this year. In February a panel of judges narrowed down almost 300 entries to a shortlist of three: "Zurich" by Rob Drummond, "Sea and Land and Sky" by Abigail Doherty and "Plume" by J.C.Marshall.

Each of the these have since received further development and 'trailers' have now been created and posted on the Tron's website, where it will now be for the public to vote to determine the winner.

The contest certainly appears to have produced three interesting ideas and I think I'd quite happily go along to see any of them.

Voting is open now and closes at 5pm on 21st May.

Vote Now


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"The Event" - May 2010

While probably not a good choice for anyone making their once a year visit to the theatre, for those who love theatre as an art form and knowingly clever theatre in particular, "The Event" is an absolute delight.

To say more would spoil much of the fun, so just trust us for once and don't read any reviews or even the blurb for the show - just clear a space in your diary before the run ends.

Written by John Clancy and performed by David Calvitto, The Event runs at the Citizens until Saturday 8th May
Image used with permission


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"The Woman from the North" - May 2010

With our increasing elderly population and incidence of those suffering with dementia, Bernard MacLaverty's play is dealing with a very current issue when it introduces us to Cassie who is spending a period in residential care. But despite a hugely impressive central performance from Eileen Nicholas, it somehow feels like a piece from 20 years ago.

Back then, this would have been a window into a hidden world that wasn't spoken about, but now few people are left untouched by these conditions either in their immediate or extended family. There's little to see here that most audience members won't have experienced first hand - and Cassie's situation is very much at the gentler end of the spectrum.

I'm not advocating a sensationalist approach to a serious issue, but there are aspects that could have been focused on that would have given the piece something current to say - the financial burden of residential care, patients refusing medication, standards of care and conflicting wishes of family members among others.

But while lacking an incisive edge the play is beautifully executed and director Liz Carruthers provides some delightful touches. It's a shame much of the Oran Mor audience failed to pick up on a fantastic pre-show piece of scene setting taking place in front of their noses.

The Woman from the North runs as part of A Play, A Pie & A Pint at Oran Mor until Saturday 8th May.
Image by Leslie Black used with permission.