l’inncchin. ( ~iti/L'nx'. ( ilgixgtm.
‘You‘ve caught me on one ol my enthusiasms l‘m atraid,‘ says Giles Havergal, having talked at great rapidity and almost without pause tor a good halt hour. The enthusiasm is not quite what you might expect. however. One mightanticipate ﬁnding the spectral, black-clad Havergal — ot all the Citizens‘ three directors the most grave and ascetic-looking —ta|king animatedly about Proust or Beckett. Butthis passion is tor Christmas shows. Havergal directs the Citz' show almost every year. and lartrom tinding it a chore, falls to it with evident glee.
The Citizens‘ was one at the tirst Scottish theatres to purvey the ‘alternative' Christmas show— rather than the big panto with scanty story but lots 01 bits and business. ‘We were beginning to tind that the real interest tor children lay in the three- dimensionaltelling ota story.‘ explains Havergal. “They‘re not interested in anything extraneous or any digressions.‘
tn the light olthis, the theatre has a long-standing relationship with writer Myles Rudge (ot ‘Right Said Fred‘ tame), collaborating to adapt stories lorstage. ‘lt‘s taken very seriously.‘ says Havergal. ‘We start work in April and we spend probably an inordinate amount oltime discussing things like
shows that work on one level tor kids,
buton another. more psychologically E analyticaltoradults.Thisyear‘s, .' Pinocchio, has the potential to do so
whetherthe mouse can come out 01 the
hole at that point and say that.‘
The time taken is probably worth it- as Havergal points out, children are quickto spot inconsistencies, have embarrassingly sharp memories, and will be irritated by characters who appear illogically, without being woven into the story. They also easily become bored it the narrative lacks clarity orthe pace begins to tlag. Havergal welcomes the prospect 01 these stern taskmasters when he is rehearsing: ‘It is actually quite hard to get the right sort ot discipline. The essential problem is the dilterence between pace and speed. You can‘t go too last, but you have to keep the pace up without a gap because you must keep their attention — a bit like keeping a balloon in the air. You also have to be really ruthless about cutting out things thatdon‘twork.‘
In previous years, the Giles and
Myles team have managed to create
too: ‘Pinocchio is a marvellous story about growing up. At the preview it was interesting to hearthe kids really willing him to grow up, and I think he discovered a very telling image —ot the puppet with strings. then without strings, then the real boy.‘
But while the Christmas show might do away with some aspects of the trad panto, at the Citz they do often incorporate traditional business— chases, songs, catch-phrases—and they always have a wholesome moral ending. ‘I don‘tthink itshould become like a Salvation Army Meeting,‘ says Havergal, gravely. ‘But I do thinkthere should be a moral story— as Miss Prism says, in OscarWilde: “The Good ended happily, and the Bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means“.‘
Pinocchio at Citizens‘ Theatre, Glasgow. See Panto A—Z.
THE SNOW QUEEN
We were sitting in a swish cottee bar. An ABBA tape came on in the background and Savourna Stevenson cringed, a look 01 badly supressed. it tairly mild. horror creeping across her lace. We were talking about the music she has composed lorthe Royal Lyceum Theatre‘s production at The Snow Queen, and the contrast between the music she had just been playing in a sound check at the theatre and the pap on the tape deck was clearly one thatgrated.
The music torThe Snow Queen is, in keeping with Stevenson‘s own playing, eclectic in its origins. ‘There is a strong Alrican element in what I‘ve done this year. One otthe two songs in the production is being sung by Sidney Cole. who plays Bhima, the Lord otthe Sun, and it‘s a kind of Alrican chant; Sidney sings a line and there is a response lrom the rest at the cast,
tollowed by another line lrom Sidney, and so on.‘ Hardly yourtraditional panto music then? ‘No. The other song in the panto is the world‘s worst song ever. we came up with a deliberately bad one. though it‘s a very good bad song. The rest of the music is quite a lot like a tilm score in a way; there are little musical signaturestorthe major characters and themes 01 the play, so the music underpins the action rather than being wheeled out wheneverwe think it‘stime lora song, and there‘s certainly none at that sing-along stutt with a tairy pointing at a blackboard. Apart from anything else, lthink a lot at children don‘t really enjoy that kind ol thing.‘
It is quite a novelty tor a harpist to be involved in pantomime. though Savourna won‘t be playing the music herselt because hertirst child is due in the middle 01 the panto‘s run, and I wondered whether she thought that the harp might be too limited an instrument to cope with the range of expression required in panto music. ‘Not atall. The Small Scottish Harp is a very versatile instrument, even when it is played acoustically, and its dynamic qualities can be expanded by using electronic ettects such as pitch shitting. People thinkthatyou can only play folk music on it. but the music I write has all sorts ot influences. a lot 01 jazz. tor instance.‘ It is to get away from the idea of its being purely a tolk instrumentthatshe calls itthe ‘Small Scottish Harp‘ rather than use its more usual name ‘clarsach'. which is too redolent ot the tradition which she sees as. in many ways, a hinderance to the development of the instrument.
Has pregnancy hindered the development of the music torThe Snow Queen? ‘You mean apart from being all lat. aching, getting very tired and my lingers swelling up? No. not really.‘ (lain Grant)
The Snow Queen at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. See A—Z.
THE SPICE 0F VARIETY
‘l thinkthis will appeal to bolshy, cynical, couldn‘t-give-a-damn teenagers,‘ reckons John McKay about his new play for the Traverse — the theatre‘s first Christmas show since going public. ‘lt'll also appeal to the 18 to 25 group looking tor an enjoyable evening out and to the 45 and up age range. For some reason my jokes always go down well with the over 453.‘ We speculate brielly about the chances of irate 32 year olds watching the show with total contempt, but I conclude that this too is a little unlikely. McKay, whose Dead Dad Dog recently transterred to London, is brilliantly adept at drawing on traditional forms 01 popular entertainment and repackaging them in a modern way. A Christmas show— although not a pantomime— is the perfect opportunity tor the ex-Merry Mac to let rip with the sort of tun and boisterousness that you’d normally associate with Variety shows. ‘Doing this is like coming home,‘ says McKay, ‘When I was 11 and 12 l usedto go and
see people like Rikki Fulton, Una McLean and Stanley Baxter. It‘s an odd sensation to come back to that Scottish comedy tradition. I love that rapidity where nobody has time to get bored and the tact that you can throw in local jokes)
The play concerns a very straight tamin called the Homes. Father is an acting Provost, Mother a respectable society woman and son Rod is 15 or 16 and so hates everything. (Cue bolshie teenage audience). The ion starts when long lost daughter Helen returns home behaving inexplicably well and having an unusual inlluence on the behaviour ot the others. McKay has taken the idea at a Family Show one step further by actually presenting the tamin on stage. ‘Parents normally take their children to the pantomime to shut them up tor a tew hours,’ says McKay. ‘But at a time 01 year when so much emphasis is put on the tamily, lwanted them to be able to watch themselves.‘
Where Dead Dad Dog had a lively musical soundtrack spanning 7Ds soul, Country and Western and TV themes, Hell Bent On Christmas is being spiced up with the hot tropical rhythms 01 Latin cha-cha. McKay who always has a strong say in the choice at music tor his plays. was keen to avoid the tackiness at your average Christmas song. ‘People like music in plays,‘ he says. ‘And it can give the actors a great opportunity to caper around. I can never be a DJ. but as a playwright I can play my tavourite music to people that way!‘
As the show nears production the script is being improved all the time. ‘l‘m a homework writer,’ McKay admits. ‘I like to hand it in and torget about it. But I did spend one morning oil in rehearsals to rewrite a scene and when I came back the actors had added some really good lines to a particularly hard section 01 the play.‘ And with a strong Scottish cast 01 Anne Myatt, Alastair Cording, Caroline Paterson and Stuart Davids working underthe direction at McKay's old Merry Mac administrator Ben Twist, all the signs are pointing towards big trouble at Yuletide. (Mark Fisher)
Hellbent on Christmas. Traverse
The List 9 — 22 December 198813