THE OONOUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.
The fact that unemployment is one of the contemporary western world's most important social issues poses a problem to the playwright sensitive to topical dilemmas. Even if you avoid being overly worthy or stating the obvious — ‘unemployment is a bad thing' — how do you go about dramatising a condition that by definition is inactive and uninteresting? ; The more you make your characters do, J the less horrific you make unemployment seem. Fortunately the problem is not insoluble ' and in one of the most powerful plays on I the subject since Alan Bleasdale‘s Boys ] From The Blackstuff, Manfred Karge i makes a subtle and humane plea to end i the insanity of the dole queue. The Conquest of the South Pole — Karge's follow-up to last year's Traverse hit show, Man To Man — centres around
four long-term unemployed men whose method oi escape from the emptiness oi their lives is to venture out into a world of fantasy. Under Stephen Unwin’s uncompromising direction, the men’s imaginary attempt on the South Pole, while hardly venturing from their homes, becomes as courageous as it does pitiful, and if Karge‘s script was
not tinged with bitter humour, the play would be an immeasurable tragedy. Where Man To Man was physically disturbing, The Conquest of the South Pole is emotionally unsettling. Alastair Galbraith as Seiffert begins the play
with his head in a hangman's noose
and, further into the play, Sam Graham as Braukmann is found half hallucinating on the kitchen table in the dead of night. in his most accomplished performance to date, Alan Cumming as ' Slupianek, frightening in black
leathers, leads his pals into their make-believe world with a vicious intensity that belies his own sad desperation. Like Bleasdale‘s masterpiece, it is only the comic absurdity of it all that lets us cope.
The play is rich in characterisation and Karge cleverly uses the fantasy sequences to stoke the volatile tensions 1 within the group. On Lucy Weller's deceptively simple set, director Stephen Unwin is able to charge his actors with the kind of uncontrolled energy that the writer's brutal dialogue demands. But it is an unlocussed ' energy and when faced with Rudi, a cruel neo-fascist (played with uncomfortable accuracy by Simon Donald) the men are initially incapable of making any response at all. It takes the self-humiliation of Rudi‘s wife, Rosii (played with perfect understatement by I Hilary Maclean) coupled with the encouragement of Braukmann's wife (a a resilient Carol Ann Crawford) for the men to deal out the only form of persuasion they know. in this one scene alone Karge has enough material for a whole new play.
With The Conquest of the South Pole, Karge has proved himself again to be the articulate and richly inventive writer we first saw in Man To Man, while the
' audience‘s benefit: this hackneyed
1 herein lies its deepest purpose — both to
theatrical counterparts. (Andrew , Burnet).
' Mandela Theatre, Edinburgh. Run
Traverse has justified its discovery with a production that is confident and moving. See it now before it is mobbed by hordes of Fringe goers. (Mark Fisher).
WAITING ON ONE
Wildcat. Crawford Theatre, then touring.
Anne Downie’s new play, set in a bingo hall, is a little like the game itself: compelling and socially significant, but often disappointing. Among its strengths are the texture and sensitivity of the writing: well-observed, naturalistic dialogue laced with sharp patter (‘She's a suicide blonde - dyed wi' her own hand’); believable, affectionate characterisation; and a perceptive eye which quickly penetrates and reveals the heart of the subject. Several performances are outstanding: Irene Sunters’ lovingly portrayed lonely widow, for example, and Terry Neason's irrepressible Jinty/Fairy Snowball.
The weakness of Waiting on One is in the gratuitous elements Ms Downie seems to feel compelled to include. Of these, the most intrusive is the sociologist Ruth, 3 character whose function is to question the bingo-goers and analyse their answers forthe
device is quite unnecessary, since the dialogue has already proved itself a capable medium for such exploration. The mini-pantomime in Act Two is entertaining, but drifts rather from the central theme. There is also a longer-than-appropriate discussion of such Wildcat favourites as unemployment and nationalism. The feeling is that Ms Downie has covered so efficiently and has been forced to pad out.
Songs, by Dave Anderson and Dave MacLennan, are occasionally a further intrusion, but some of them are amongst their best yet, and both cast and musicians perform them well.
The show is given a slick and unfussy production by directorAndi Ross. Despite jarring ingredients, the end product is entertaining, insightful and moving, and will quite clearly appeal -
bingo cognoscenti and to their
THE ANATOMY OF DOCTOR DEAN
Fly On The Wall Theatre Company, The
Ended, but returning to the Chaplaincy Centre in the Fringe.
Sex and death have always been the obsessions of black comedy and Harry D'Neill makes no exceptions with his new play for Fly On The Wall Theatre Company. The Anatomy of Doctor Dean is a surreal tale of multiple murder, bestiality and misogynism. In fact just about every taboo of the liberal minded thinker is flaunted in suitably bad taste. ?
Set in the surgery and the abattoir ; (yes, abattoir) of the over age Dr Dean (3 reactionary pedant played with mannered conviction by Neil Harrison), 3 the play concerns the attempt by aserious crimes squad officer to solve
the mystery behind the disappearance of some 300 people, all of whom had Dean as a doctor. Meanwhile, Mrs Dean attempts to find the sexual satisfaction which her husband has never provided and the doctor himself attempts to bump off anyone who happens to make his life less simple.
We are presented with a gross cartoon world where individuals have persued their obsessions to their logical and disturbingly funny extremes. Compromise doesn’t come easy and conventional morality is suspended.
Unfortunately, what starts off as an amusing idea begins to wear thin and become repetitive. The piece has a lot of funny lines which could work much better with sharper delivery and the play suffers by not having one director
to ensure that the pace keeps to the sort
of manic relentlessness that makes black comedy work. Hopefully, by the Edinburgh Festival, the company will have grown more at home with the play, strengthened some of the characterisation and developed a slicker rhythem. (Mark Fisher)
FIVE PAST EIGHT SHOW
Tron Theatre. Glasgow.
Outside of Mayfest and the Edinburgh
Festival, local cabaret entertainment has been thin on the ground recently. But things are starting to look up as more venues, such as the Kinooziers Club, seem willing to give it a go. The latest place to join in the fun is the Tron Theatre where the legendary Five Past Eight Shows have been revived after a gap onD years.
An impressive list of musicians. comedians and dancers have been lined up to entertain the main theatre nearly every night this month. And
rather than bemoan the fact that quality
variety acts are not exactly plentiful in Scotland just now, the Tron has made the inspired move to commission existing actors to try their hands at stand-up routines.
Thus, on the first night, Myra McFadyen was given the chance to
develop the comic spark that she hinted 2 at when playing - amongst other things
- La Corbie in Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots, and Forbes Masson was allowed to indulge his flare for character comedy with a new creation called Rodney the Sex Machine.
2 McFadyen‘s was a lively and well r observed set drawing on her
experiences as an actor, but still
. maintaining a broad appeal.
' Meanwhile, ‘Hot Rod‘, as he claims to
i be known, is a wimp with appalling
* dress sense, convinced that he is God‘s gift to women and who has to wear
asbestos underpants on account of his flaming passion. Masson’s confident understanding of comic performance — undoubtedly something he has learnt
. as one half of Victor and Barry-will
hopefully mean we’ll be seeing more of Rodney in the future.
0n the same bill we were given Wray Gunn and the Rockets who played their skiffle cover versions with gusto, anne Marie Timoney giving a note-perfect imitation of Marlene Dietricht, the eccentric Fabulous Rotating Dancers
who do just that, and Steve Nallon‘s amusing, but soft-edged impersonation of Margaret Thatcher. Topping the bill was Craig Ferguson (aka Bing Hitler), whose energy and , charisma reflect not only on his own * comic instincts, but also on the long period he has spent developing his act in front of live audiences. Ferguson stole the show, but it would be nice to think that the revival of a cabaret or variety circuit in Scotland will give more scope for development for the new talents that the Five Past Eight Show is nurturing. First night nerves aside, the Tron is to be commended for breathing new energy into this once world famous institution.(Mark Fisher)
THE VISION OF A MAN/THE EPIC STORY OF MANKIND.
Mandela Theatre, Edinburgh. Run ended.
If the Mandela's Community Theatre has one thing on its side it is audacity. What else could motivate a new company- some with no previous experience —to attempt to stage a 30 minute summary of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and a history of mankind in the one evening? Not modesty for sure.
The notion is so preposterous that you can’t fail to have a good time. The castdisplays such wit, imagination, enthusiasm and above all lack of inhibition that it makes little difference how accomplished individual performances are. This is a company effort and it is endearineg unpretentious.
The Vision Of A Man, the adaptation of Crime and Punishment, is the least successful of the two plays. There is only room within the allotted time to keep the most basic of plot lines and the cast seems uneasy in showing so much intense emotion in so short a span. However, they do succeed admirably in finding a theatrical form fora very literary idea. A haunting chorus becomes both the conscience and the subconcious of a student who is 5 induced to murder an unpopular money lender and who then suffers Macbeth — style guilt until he confesses to the authorities.
The second play, The Epic Story Of
Mankind, was devised by the cast who
5 each chose a character from history
who they would like to play. The end result is a bizarre meeting of Karl Marx.
: Guy Fawkes, Adolf Hitler, Mary
Poppins and a caveman, on an early
twentieth century Edinburgh stage
(complete with actors), all presided
over by a Buddha—like director. This
cocktail is mixed with a surreal
' imagination and shaken with some
; vigorous drumming and gives rise to an anarchic and very funny performance.
j Hitler. it seems, is now into knitting
j and Guy Fawkes never did like fire.
Afterthe precedent set by their first
production earlier this year an evening
; with the Community Theatre isn‘t
I complete without a sing-along. And
j what betterthan ‘A Spoon Full Of
E Sugar’ to make their rather peculiar
2 medicine go down? (Mark Fisher).
_- _. .. .-J I hc I.l\I 23 Jul} J .'\u§_'u\t I‘).\.\ 21