If you’re tired of Edinburgh’s cliques, in-jokes and cabaret routines go and see
this Glasgow double-bill at the Gilded Balloon. This strangely compatible pair ought to revive the most jaded palate.
Opening his show hunched up in a chair, staring moodin at the floor, sombre Oscar McLennan seems anything but a stand-up comic. His tale of a sadistic Zen Buddhist grandfather is closer to drama than to comedy and most of the humour is of the dark variety. Familiar sit-com targets such as awful relatives and false teeth become distorted and macabre. ‘My dreams were filled with flying dentures. . . walls of tobacco-stained ivory pushed me into the depths of drooling rotted gums.’
The power of McLennan’s language and the strength of his visual imagination are immediately striking. On a bare stage he recreates the atmosphere of decaying tenements and their gloomy cluttered rooms. Moreover, he is a superb storyteller, always building up tension with bizarre interludes and unexpected changes of pace.
A former punk-musician, council worker and fruit-picker from Govan, McLennan says he got into the cabaret scene ‘by accident‘. A few years ago, in Cold Turkey he gained a certain notoriety for appearing in nothing but a pair of red and white leg-warmers. The show, like his others, gleefully smashes taboos and was based on his memory of a family Christmas dinner during which a tipsy 70 year-old aunt loudly broadcast her sexual desires and was hurriedly excused from table. McLennan candidly admits to loving nervous laughter— ‘when I hear that I know I’m on the right track.’
Arnold Brown is equally skilled at manipulating his audience — if a little more conventional. Although he strolls about with a microphone , smiles a lot and concentrates on one-liners, there is little of the usual fast patter. His style is so laid-back that he almost appears in danger of drying up. Yet he never loses control.
Born a Glaswegian Jew on Crosshill, Southside, Brown driiy advertises himself as ‘two racial stereotypes for the price of one.’ Four years ago he gave up his accountancy job to perform and write for radio, after a successful UK trip with the Comic Strip.
After McLennan’s intense surrealism, Brown’s subtle ‘off-the-wheel’ humour, based on everyday encounters, comes as welcome relief. He does a nice line in bathos and in on-the-spot confessionals: ‘Sex isn’t a problem to
me — it’s just when other people get involved. ’
(Lucy Ash) Arnold Brown and
Oscar McLennan, Gilded Balloon, 233 Cowgate (venue 38) 225 4463. 8—30Aug, 10—11.30pm. 13.50 (£2) [F]
ROCK ’N’ ROLL CIRCUS
Ifcertain visitors to this year’s Fringe have their way, running offtojoin the circus will once again be a popular thing for kids to do. Circus Sense, already a big hit in London have set themselves the daunting task ofbringing this particular form ofentertainment into the 20th century. Producer. Maggie Pinhorn of Alternative Arts says that circuses have got ‘tired and boring‘ and need to be given a shaking up. ‘What Circus UK aim to do. amongst other things. is make circus in Britain as respected as it is abroad, they look upon their performers as real artists, whereas we don’t seem to rate ours at all.’ She says that music, lighting and sound are equally important; from the moment the curtain comes up there‘s some rock ’n’ roll music and stunning lights and dry ice and everything — it‘s more like a music promo video than the old fashioned idea ofa circus.’
The performers of Circus Sense come from circus backgrounds and West End theatre productions. There are acrobats, juggling, wire walking and clowns, although Maggie says they are more like ‘silent movie stars like Keaton and Chaplin’ than traditional clowns. Set amidst the audience rather than in a traditional ring, Circus Sense hopes to bring the audience closer than usual to the performers. ‘We want to make you go home saying to yourself, “I’ve seen something different and fun”.’ Circus UK— Circus Senso, The Dome, Pilrig Park, offLeith Walk. 9—30Aug (not Mons) 6.30pm. Tickets: 225 5756. £4 (£2.50) Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) £10. [F]
Communicado, the Scottis international theatre company, with two Fringe Firsts under its belt (for Carmen in ’84 and The Hunchback of
| i l E i i
presenting Desire, a theatrical
version of a short story by R.L. Stevenson written and co-directed
by Stephen Jeffreys. The idea for the
up-date came from the driving force ' behind Communicado, Glaswegian
Gerry Mulgrew, who as usual both
acts and directs.
Set in the South Pacific, Stevenson’s original story has a Faustian theme and although the idea ofan unearthly power tempting humanity with promises ofearthiy riches is retained, Mulgrew and Jeffreys are at pains to point out that
i Desire is very much a twentieth 1 century play.
‘We began to conceive ofthe island
on which the play is set as not so
much a tropical paradise as a junk civilisation, a Third World island, like an American colony.’
The play clearly has political overtones although Communicado are keen to avoid any hint of theatre as mere agit-prop. Mulgrew: ‘lt’s allegory that really appeals to me. This is a story which works at a tangent to people’s lives but everybody can feel a resonance in it. In part it’s to do with the style in which we work, using live music and visual ideas which can work in any context and be performed for any kind ofsociety’.
The use of live music (written by Steve Kettiey) suggests an obvious comparison with Scotland’s radical theatre companies Wildcat and 7:84.
Stephen J effreys believes Communicado has a different approach, one which does not involve turning the play into a rock concert. ‘The way Communicado uses music is that the music is mobile, someone picking up a trumpet or violin, for example, so that the musicians are part of the action, not just outside of it.’
This kind of integration seems to be a key to the way Communicado works. It’s obvious, for example, that the old hierarchial structure in which directors, actors, designers, writers etc. know their place, is anathema to Mulgrew. ‘I like to think of it as a community of people working together on a piece of art, a community that makes something.’ (Dave Conway) Desire, Communicado Theatre Company, Theatre Workshop, 34 Hamilton Place (venue 20) 11—23 Aug (not Suns) 9.15pm. £3 (£2) Tickets: 226 5425. [F]
' One ofthe hottest tips for Festival
goers of all ages and persuasions is
the Brass Band — whose name is the j only straightforward thing about
5 them. These five brilliant musicians ; are back this year with a new
production called Bent Brass which, ifit is anything like the last, will be — well let’s just say unpredictable! Nothing is too bizarre for them to wear, no music too sacred for them to tamper with, and nobody in the audience is too far away to be excluded — so don’t think you’ll be safe in the far back corner. You may
5 die, but you’ll go out laughing!
(Hattie Evans) BentBrass, The
Brass Band USA, Music Hall, Assembly Rooms (venue3) 54 George Street 226 2427/8. 8—17A ug, 9.30—11pm. £4 (£3.50). [F]
Event Group’s The Grey Plague is one ofseveral plays appearing on the
‘ Fn'nge, each one reﬂecting different
sides of this urgent social issue. Lionheart Gay Theatre of Chicago bring Antibodies, another investigation ofthe subject, while Binary Theatre Co. present Marital AIDS which looks at the effect of the disease on a heterosexual marriage. The Grey Plague Event Group, South Side Centre, The Pleasance (venue 82), Tickets 668 1115. Aug 11-23 (not Suns) 3.30-4. 45pm £2.50 (£2). Antibodies L. G. C. C., Lesbian Gay Community ofEdinburgh 58a Broughton Street (venue 159) Tickets 5572625. Aug 15-] 78.30-10.30pm. £2. Marital AIDS, Binary Theatre C0., The RoyalScots Club, 30
A bercrombie Place (venue 5 7) Tickets 556 4270. A ug 11-23 (not 17) 12 noon-1.15pm, £3 (£2) [F]
Notre Dame in ’85), is this year
The List 8— 21 AugusE