Thursday, July 28, 2011

"The Pitmen Painters" - July 2011

At first glance, the basis of Lee Hall's play seems a simple one - a feel good tale about a group of miners in the 30's discovering they have a talent for painting. Before seeing it, I'd wondered where exactly the 'drama' or 'meaning' was going to come from. I'm not sure I've ever been more wrong. Two days later I'm still struggling to crystallise my feelings about the issues faced by the characters and the questions asked about our society - both then and now.

The play is filled with clashes of values and ideas - the individual v the collective; price v value; patronage v patronise; and whilst the focus is on art, the arguments apply across many aspects of society. Although at times in the second act it can get a little wordy, things never feel forced or heavy handed. As Hall has his characters learn, the message in art (and in theatre) reveals itself through the a combination of the creator, the object and the observer. This is very much a play that rewards thought and reflection. The waters are also muddied by a shifting balance of power between characters, and motivations that are often left ambiguous.

Of course, many of the themes of the play have a particular resonance for us - particularly Oliver Kilbourn's repeated pleas to be told if he was truly gifted as an artist or just 'good for a miner'. Despite a stringent policy at View From The Stalls of holding all productions to professional standards it's an issue we are very aware of when commenting on amateur or youth theatre.

Almost the definition of an ensemble piece, the entire cast deliver impressive performances, but Trevor Fox as Kilbourn deserves a special mention for the subtlety he brings to the character in his later scenes with Lyon. Max Roberts' direction is simple but hugely effective at evoking time and place; his use of projected images allowing the audience to see the paintings 'up close'.

The gentle banter makes for an entertaining evening, but it's the quiet thoughtfulness of the play that will stay with me.

"The Pitmen Painters" runs at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Saturday 30th July and then continues on a national tour.
Image by Keith Pattison used with permission.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Come on Glasgow - "The Pitmen Painters"

Just back from seeing "The Pitmen Painters" at Glasgow's Theatre Royal and we're very disappointed in Glasgow. Yes, we've had some lovely summer weather, and yes, we don't get that too often. But come on, this is a high profile show with a strong reputation that has been well received wherever it has played. It deserves a theatre that is more than half full. We've had a quick check on the ticketing website and it looks like most of the performances currently have similar ticket sales.

It will be tomorrow night before we get the chance to write up our thoughts on the show (now posted here), but we just wanted to quickly highlight that this is a high quality piece of theatre - and maybe encourage a few more people to get along to see it. It would even be worth some of those from further afield making the trip through (Edinburgh people - we're looking at you!).

"The Pitmen Painters" runs in Glasgow until Saturday. Tickets available online or by phone on 0844 871 7647.


Monday, July 25, 2011

A 'Thank You' to The List <blush>

On Thursday morning I returned to my desk in the office to find a post-it, which simply read "Have you seen The List?". I'll admit to being a little concerned that I was about to be escorted out the of the building for having spent too much time reading the Guardian theatre blog. So I was relieved when my colleague pulled her copy of "The List" from her drawer and flicked to their article on "Scotland's Best Websites - The top 30 websites made for and by Scots". And there we were - right at the very top of the page. Okay, it was in reverse order, so we were No. 30 - but we were there. We're flattered, shocked and a little amused - so a big 'thanks' to the folks at The List for thinking us worthy of a mention.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Casablanca - The Gin Joint Cut" - July 2011

While there is plenty of theatrical silliness in Morag Fullarton’s cut down version of Casablanca, told with a multi-tasking, quick-changing cast of three, what struck me most was how much respect is given to the original. Despite the fact that I’ve never seen the film, I’ve absorbed enough of its cultural impact over the years that I’m familiar with its most iconic moments, and as writer and director, Fullarton ensures these are played almost entirely straight. In fact, it’s straight enough to make me think I’d quite happily watch a full length, full scale, ‘serious’ stage adaptation of the film.

The cast have been set a Herculean task – having to bring both the characters and the film cast to life. Gavin Mitchell and Clare Waugh are not just Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund – they’re Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund. Jimmy Chisholm has been landed with the most demanding set of multiple roles and carries each off with brilliance – including one moment where he seems to exit the front of the stage and almost simultaneously re-emerge as another character at the rear of the stage. And on top of all that, they also have to play ‘themselves’ and several more characters in the B Movie and short films that are an inspired ‘additional featurettes’. (A comparison of published running times suggests the ‘Fringe Version’ may not include these ‘additional featurettes’ so if you can get along to the Tron it’s probably a better option).

Fullarton's direction drives the show on at considerable pace and the comic momentum built is simply irresistible - crammed full of visual, aural, physical and theatrical gags with each and every one hitting the mark. Barry McCall's sound design also adds greatly to the show - both in atmosphere and with a number of perfectly executed sound effects.

'Casablanca' is one of those very rare shows that I have no hesitation in recommending to absolutely everyone and I'm certain it will be a huge hit at the Fringe. I simply can't imagine anyone coming out of this without a huge grin plastered all over their face that will last all day long.

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.

Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut ruins at the Tron until 23rd July and then at the Pleasance Courtyard from 3rd to 29th August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Image by John Johnston Photography used with permission.