Saturday, February 27, 2010

"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" - February 2010

XLC Theatre Company have followed last year's successful production of Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman" with another of his plays - the Irish paramilitary set "The Lieutenant of Inishmore". But this is no serious political drama - think 'Pulp Fiction' crossed with 'Father Ted' and you'll have a fair idea of the tone here. It makes for a production that people may well have very different reactions to - Waldorf was largely unimpressed and felt it played up the slapstick too much. But for me this really hit a sweet spot with some magnificent performances.

Yes, on occasion, the relationship between Donny (Richard Rankin) and Davey (Iain De Caestecker) strays a little too close to Ted/Dougal but their comic delivery is flawless - at times reducing me to tears. As Mad Padraig, left devastated by the death of his pet cat, Kevin Mains balances perfectly the character's over-the-top moments with a deadpan performance. Daniella Ritchie gives a fine performance as Mairead while Steve Grant, Ian Cameron, Colin McGowan and James Forrest complete an ensemble I doubt I'll see surpassed this year.

Artistic Director David Lee-Michael and Technical Director David Winter contribute much to the production in terms of some beautifully put together set pieces, effective lighting and some well executed gunplay.

And finally a word about the level of 'commitment' shown by the cast. In truth I'm not sure I should be encouraging this, but in the Citizens Circle studio there are no hiding places and in order to make the violence believable these guys really appear to go for it. I'm sure they must be absolutely battered and blue by the end of the run, but it certainly has the desired effect in having an impact on the audience.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore completes its run at the Citizens on Saturday 27th February (today) with a matinee and evening performance.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

"The City" - February 2010

Okay, Martin Crimp, we get it. Writing characters is difficult. If you're not careful the dialogue sounds stilted and unnatural, leaving conversations between characters feeling like they are addressed to the audience rather than to each other. And we appreciate it's hard to avoid creating the same character again and again. Their stories and experiences, even their clothes, seem to bleed into one another. But could you not have just told us that in an interview or programme note rather than prove it by writing a play that delivers a masterclass in bad writing? Was there really any need to waste the time of a talented cast by having them perform it - and worse still, our time in watching it?

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.

The City runs at the Tron until 6th March
Image by Jacek Hubner used with permission


Monday, February 22, 2010

"Heaven" - February 2010

'Heaven offers a glimpse of an encounter in one of those modern circles of hell'
So says the blurb about this latest show at Oran Mor's 'A Play, A Pie and a Pint' (and the first in a series of five plays co-produced with the Traverse in Edinburgh). Damn right it does! Just not in the way writer Simon Stephens and director Dominic Hill intended.

Hell? Hell? I'll tell them about Hell. Hell is...

  • Arriving at Oran Mor to discover that the usual macaroni pie option has been replaced by quiche.
  • Being left unsure if a character is struggling for words or if the actor is grasping for his lines.
  • A play that repeatedly goes off on obviously 'meaningful' tangents without any obvious meaning.
  • Seeing powerful moments from Sean Scanlan and Robert Jack suffocated by an unfocussed script.
  • A story that ends with a whimper just as it starts to look as if it might go bang.
  • A closing musical number that comes completely out of the blue and bears little relation to what has gone before.
  • Realising the 45-50 minute play you expected to see lasted barely 30 minutes
  • Having too much respect and integrity to completely cop-out and just describe it as 'challenging' or 'intriguing'.
  • Going home desperately trying to find something, anything, to say about it that won't get me barred from next week's show.
Seriously, what the hell was that? Answers on a postcard in 'heckles' below please...

Heaven runs at Oran Mor until Saturday 27th and then at the Traverse from 2nd to 6th March
Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Hamlet" - February 2010

Rapture Theatre have relocated "Hamlet" to Glasgow's criminal underworld in setting and design but have retained the Shakespearian text - and it works surprisingly well with intermittent local news broadcasts providing the background context. But "Hamlet" is a long play (even with the alterations applied here) and in order for it to keep an audience engaged it has to maintain an extraordinary level of intensity. And while this production hits some truly marvellous heights, at times it's also in danger of losing its audience.

The realisation of the opening scenes are simply magical - quite possibly the cleverest piece of theatrical trickery I've seen since the 'pool table' moment in "Black Watch". And long before a word is spoken, the silent exchanges at Old Hamlet's funeral give a sense of what the cast and creative team are capable of delivering.

And then we meet Grant O'Rourke's Hamlet and much of the energy and creativity built up is quickly dissipated. While later in the play O'Rourke puts his stamp on the role, his early scenes lack any defining approach. He's also frequently left very static on stage, which is less than conducive to keeping the audience engaged. My usual response to the character of Hamlet is one of sympathy tempered with frustration, but here I found myself irritated by a sullen teenager in the way I usually am by Romeo and Juliet. It's very difficult to envisage this Hamlet as a man loved by the people. It isn't until after the interval that O'Rourke really brings the character off the page, but when he does, it is to great effect.

David Tarkenter makes an excellent Claudius, giving him a sense of steely hardness that convinces both as traitorous brother and gangland criminal. Ali Craig's portrayal of Laertes shares that element of danger while he also successfully creates a refined Rosencrantz. Emily Jane Boyle's take on Ophelia didn't make much of an impact until her breakdown, but this was handled well and she also gave a delightful turn as one of the gravediggers. There was strong support from the rest of an impressive cast - with Dave Anderson particularly shining as Old Hamlet and the chief gravedigger. As you'd expect, many roles are doubled up and for the most part it works well, but the decision to have Alan Steele play both Polonius and Ophelia's doctor was baffling when several other cast members would appear to have been available for the role. His return to the stage so quickly after his 'death' without even a white coat to signify his new role resulted in several puzzled whispers in the audience.

As well as the magnificently stylish opening scenes, director Michael Emans has other ingenious set pieces up his sleeve including an entertainingly rhythmic card game, the suggested use of an online CCTV system to eavesdrop on Hamlet's conversation with Ophelia and some nice touches with the soundtrack. We also get some lovely additional emphasis given to the banishment of Glaswegian Hamlet to England. But there are also moments which let the production down - two of the most obviously pulled stage slaps we've seen in a long time and a disappointing foil fight.

The flashes of brilliance and strong ensemble lift this above a standard performance of the play, but it needs just a few more of them, and a Hamlet that delivers a more instantaneous impact. Then it would be something a bit special.

Hamlet has completed its run at Eastwood Park Theatre where we saw it. It continues to tour extensively throughout Scotland until March 17th.
Image used with permission


"Company Policy" - February 2010

I'm a big fan of writer D C Jacksons work. "The Wall" & "The Ducky" are brilliantly funny, yet touching pieces of theatre; and "Out on the Wing" is one of the best comedies I've seen at Oran Mor. But I'm afraid "Company Policy" was utter drivel.

Set in the unisex toilets of Jiffy Co., we follow office workers Dex Sexington and Randy Burley as they compete for the affections of new girl Sally Mallow. But amusingly (???) Randy has contrived to make Sally believe he is all round good guy Dex and Dex is notorious office sleaze Randy. What follows is 45 minutes of unfunny dialogue frequently repeated in a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. The cast battle bravely, and there is some nicely executed physical comedy, but there's little can be done to salvage a script that provided me with one solitary chortle (which was the "Randrew" gag for the record).

And despite the play's setting and title, neither has a particularly significant role - the toilet setting could equally have been a store room, and the only company policy of importance is the one that decrees there should be unisex toilets. I did think at one point Jackson was about to pull the rug from under the audience by taking a sudden dark and serious turn with references to sexual harassment, but this was short lived. And I found it uncomfortably underplayed considering that what we see occur on stage is more sexual assault than harassment - if not bordering on attempted rape.

In the interest of fairness I should point out that much of the audience seemed to enjoy it and Joyce McMillan gave it a rave review in the Scotsman - but it does seem to have divided opinions in the audience comments on the A Play, A Pie & A Pint website. For me it was a horribly unfunny and pointless play that I'm going to do my best to erase from my memory.

Company Policy has now completed it's run at Oran Mor.
Image by Leslie Black Photography used with permission


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"The Government Inspector" - February 2010

About an hour into the show tonight I'd already drafted my post about it: "The live musical interludes during set changes were very entertaining. The play? Not so much." And that was going to be it. I couldn't summon up enough enthusiasm to give it much more thought, and making an escape at the interval was a definite consideration. But then, one single, brilliant, visual gag about a card game convinced me there was enough potential to stick around for. And I'm glad I did, as the second act was much, much more to my liking.

Rather than the satire I was hoping for, and as described on the Tron website, the first half felt firmly in the realms of farce - with plenty of exaggerated performances and physical comedy. Of course, I should really have expected as much from a play based on a case of mistaken identity. Only in the moments when the characters broke the fourth wall to address the audience in much calmer tones did there seem to be much subtlety to the script. To be fair, it was generating a good amount of sporadic laughter in the audience, but equally I felt I wasn't alone in being distinctly unamused.

After the interval, the show rallied greatly and just seemed... well, smarter. Perhaps due to an increased amount of asides to the audience or a more apparent willingness to update the text with current references, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But even then, it felt as if it would have benefited from an even more liberal approach - not to mention a considerable amount of red ink through the script. It's a big ask for any show looking for laughs to carry a run time of 2 hours 45 (including interval) and I couldn't help feel that Gogol's original, or this adaptation by Adrian Mitchell, were crying out for an Oran Mor 'classic cuts' style paring down to an hour and played with a cast of 3 or 4.

Director Gerry Mulgrew does bring several nice touches to the production including a fabulous troika ride, but there aren't the same bursts of creativity I enjoyed so much in his "Tam O'Shanter" in Perth last year.

For me, John Bett's performance as the local governor terrified his corruption is about to be exposed was over-the-top, but I'll freely admit that's down to personal taste - I almost always prefer my humour played straight. Andy Clark was excellent as the chancer who makes the most of the townsfolks' mistaken belief in his importance, while Gerda Stevenson & Kirstin McLean share some great moments as the governor's wife and daughter. But for me the most impressive performance of the evening was Alasdair Macrae's wonderfully dry delivery as the "Inspector's" manservant Osip (and also as the town's postmaster).

Given the general tone of it, I don't think this was ever going to be a show that really worked for me, but I suspect those who enjoy a good farce will love it.

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.

The Government Inspector is a co-production between Communicado and the Tron. It runs at the Tron until 27 February and then tours Scotland.
Image by Kirsty Nichol used with permission


Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Crunch" - February 2010

For some of those escaping from offices during lunchtime last week to catch their regular Play, Pie & Pint at Oran Mor, "Crunch" may have come as an unpleasant surprise. Is there anything that fills an office worker with more dread than walking into a room set up with a powerpoint presentation and a flip chart? But while at times it's just too close to the real thing, Gary McNair injects a lot of fun into the proceedings.

McNair sets out the reasons societies have created money/currency and then urges us to take a step back from the financial system. Any drier moments are livened up with entertaining audience interaction that does ask us to question our beliefs and values. How much will we risk for a potential gain? What value do we place on our things/ourselves? Why do we fritter/waste so much of it? Most revealing was the general sense of uneasiness as McNair reminded us that a £10 note is simply a piece of paper like any other. While there were no takers to join him in his final demonstration during Saturday's performance I'd be interested to hear if anyone participated in earlier shows. Had I had a five pound note in my pocket I may even have been tempted myself - but there was no way I was volunteering the £20 in my wallet destined to pay for last night's takeaway!

"Crunch" is one of the few shows that has left me with something to think about - and the more I've thought about it, the more I've liked it. And perhaps I'll give it some more thought the next time I'm given a five pound one pound note in my change.

Crunch has completed its run as part of 'A Play, A Pie & A Pint' at Oran Mor
Image by Leslie Black Photography used with permission


"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


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Now Booking / Coming Soon - Spring 2010

We've still not managed to sit down and sort out dates in our diaries let alone book tickets for most of these shows, so our plans are still a bit up-in-the-air, but these are the shows that have caught our attention so far...

At the Tron we'll be seeing "The Government Inspector" (also touring, including the Traverse), "The City" and if we don't leave it too late to get tickets, the National Theatre of Scotland's short runs of "Empty" and "The Miracle Man" (also playing in Musselburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen) The Tron is also host to some touring productions that we may catch there or elsewhere - Theatre Modo's "Sick" and Random Accomplice's "Promises Promises" by Douglas Maxwell which is a 'darkly comical' thriller. Full details of the Spring Season on the Tron Website.

The Citizens has a season very much to our taste, starting with "Backbeat" - based on the film of the same name and looking at the pre-Beatles days of the band. And we'll also try to see "One Million Tiny Plays About Britain" and "My Name is Rachel Corrie". Having loved XLC's take on Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman" last year I'm really looking forward to see their production of his"The Lieutenant of Inishmore", and hopefully we'll make it along to Dialogue Productions "Neil LaBute Triple Bill". We'll certainly be booking for "The Grapes of Wrath" from the Citizens Community Company. And later in the season we're hoping to fit in NLP's "Blue Hen" written by Des Dillon who also has his own show "Des Tells Tall Tales". Other visiting shows that have caught our interest include Northern Broadside's "Medea", Absurdum International's "The Event", and "The Glass Menagerie" from Shared Experience and Salisbury Playhouse. As always the Citz have a series of student shows which we've often enjoyed in the past, but as we've seen most of the plays recently I'm not sure we'll catch any this time round. This year the Citz are also hosting events as part of the Magners comedy festival including Stewart Lee and Des Clarke. Full details of these and all the other shows at the Citizens on their website.

Perhaps it's just due to their new look website giving much more info on the upcoming plays in Oran Mor's "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" season of lunchtime play, but it looks stronger than ever with works by Daniel Jackson, Gregory Burke and Simon Stephens. I didn't make it along to the first play of the season which started on Monday, but I hope to get along for as many as I can over the next few weeks.

At Tramway, we're hoping to get along to "Clutter Keeps Company" (also touring).

The Arches have cleverly turned a difficult situation into an opportunity and due to works taking place up above in Central Station they have decanted with a series of 'off-site' events. I'm not sure we'll manage to see any, but they include "Birds and Other Things I Am Afraid Of" (staged in a shed) and Andy Field's "Motor Vehicle Sundown".

In Edinburgh, the Lyceum's production of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (also by Martin McDonagh) is on our list but the rest of their programme hasn't grabbed us. Similarly the Traverse programme hasn't anything that absolutely screamed "must see" at us, but we'll try to get along to "What We Know" (part of the Traverse Too scheme that brought us "Midsummer") and "Any Given Day". They also have a selection of plays transferring from Oran Mor in a lunchtime slot. Full details of the extensive Traverse programme in their Spring Brochure.

Staying in Edinburgh, site specific specialists Grid Iron are collaborating with Lung Ha's Theatre Company for a look at genetic engineering in promenade piece "Huxley's Lab". This is a short runs and tickets will go quickly - if you think this will be of interest don't waste any time in booking.

Up at Dundee Rep, "Equus" doesn't really appeal but we'll be looking to make the trip to see their version of "Sweeney Todd". I would have been keen to see "Proof" at Perth Theatre but having seen the film version fairly recently it would lack the sense of a story unfolding.

We really don't 'get' the idea behind the National Theatre of Scotland's "Wall of Death: A Way of Life" (at Glasgow's SECC, Aberdeen ECC & Edinburgh's Royal Highland Centre) at the moment so we'll wait until the reviews come out for that one. Later in the year they bring us their version of "Peter Pan" which tours Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and London, which we do hope to see somewhere.

Rapture are a company we have a huge amount of time for, and they always seem to be able to attract impressive casts, but I have to admit my heart sank when I heard their next show was to be "Hamlet". Even set in the Glasgow underworld I think I'd normally give it a miss, but Rapture have earned our trust over the years so we'll be fitting this in somewhere (it's currently running in Greenwich and then touring throughout Scotland).

And a mention also for a show I've heard enough about to be intrigued by - "Say You Love Me" from Punch Productions. A colleague is involved so I don't know if we'll comment on it here, but it sounds a little different.

And looking much further ahead, we've already booked for "Aladdin" at the Clyde Auditorium in December - the involvement of John Barrowman was enough to overcome our general dislike of panto.

As always, do let us know if there's anything else we should be seeing...