7 waves decanters with reckless
abandon and lectures ad nauseum on , ‘grasping the moment‘ and ‘ensuring
DOUGLAS Citizens‘ Theatre, Glasgow.
Douglas is staged throughout on a graveyard set (designed by Stewart Laing) crammed with towering monuments to the dead. Fora while I thought the Citizens‘ were about to make at one and the same time a wickedly iconoclastic statement about John Home's 18th century Scottish play and a subtle comment on changing tastes and the inability oi second rate artto ‘last'.
Once Douglas was, we are told, a hugely popular play. What evidence is there lrom this production to explain its popularity? The characters in the Citz production people the play as it they are themselves ghosts— mere shades olthe ligures that must in theirtime have whipped up the audience with their melancholy melodrama. This production seems to have been deliberately distanced by the direction. There is one key scene that takes place behind one ot the tombs on the stage, with our ghost like actors audible but notvisible to the audience. Even Angela Chadlield as Lady Randolph, the motherwho linds the child she thought was lost to her only to see him taken again trom her, lails to communicate directly with the audience, choosing instead to give a quite complete but inwardly contained perlormance.
The production is short— short enough perhaps to justify making a point about the way that the passion and lorce at an old play can be trapped in its own time. But it this was what was atthe back at the mind oi director Robert David MacDonald, it‘s not lorcelully enough communicated. Gradually, it became clear to me that we were apparently to take the sub-Shakespearian plot and dialogue at lace value. But by then it was too late. (Nigel Billen)
Tramway Theatre, Glasgow
From the misty dawning oi the Scots nation to the smoky post-industrial present, North Britain has been continually subject to every torm ot attack—military, political, social— lrom its supposed allies to the south, and now laces cultural extinction. Such Is the contention at John McGrath‘s
. on the same row oi benches as the politicians concerned.
‘ nowhere more ellectively than in the
play, which leaves no doubts as to his position and makes lence-sitting
, distinctly uncomlortable.
This is the lirst Scottish production to
' take place in the Old Museum at Transport, and McGrath has used the space inventiver to create a huge,
spectacular pageant which involves the audience not merely by presenting a sequence of colourlul and entertaining
scenes, but by doing so in our midst. lt ; is hard, lor example, to distance
oneself from the consequences oi the 1707 assembly which dissolved the Scottish Parliament when one is sitting
This is not audience participation in the style of pantomime, but an attempt to make us leel an allinity with our ancestors, share in their betrayal and
' shame, sympathise with McGrath‘s
anger. And when it tires the imagination sulticiently, it works:
linal stages, which translate the 20th century‘s struggles into a lootball match, and conclude with an address by Thatcher herselt— at first ridiculous, then horribly sinister.
There are weaker points: tor example, the lirst lew scenes proceed so rapidly that the history lesson contained in them is obscured; and one ; could raise complaints about caricature, over-simpliﬁcation and preaching. But the tact is that Border Warfare covers a lot oi ground, and makes a statement which has not been made so comprehensively before.
It’s agitprop; but it’s also eitective theatre. There is some very strong, heartlelt acting and singing; the stage management copes admirably; and the design is lavish, ingenious and continually surprising. Finally, the show is accessible and very enjoyable. Its sources are diverse, but the whole is consistent, witty, moving, almost never— despite its 3-hour running time - slow, and tar anyone not above righteous indignation, a genuinely rousing experience. Don’t bother saving up to pay your Poll Tax: you can spare the ticket price. (Andrew Burnet)
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (Reviewed at The Drama Centre, Glasgow) Howard Brenton‘s Bloody Poetry starts irom the premise that a poet's lot is a many-splendoured thing. To have been a Romantic, Brenton suggests, was even more thrilling still. History says different, as any luckless groupie who ever went on a tavern~crawl with Wordsworth would no doubt testify. A good dose at reality, however, is scarcely able to prevent Brenton lrom tollowing a well-worn path and he accordingly paints Byron and Shelley with the luminescence usually accorded to these martyrs manqués. As viewers ol Ken Russell's Gothic will attest, this means they get to do a lot at hand-wringing and shouting at the ceiling. Byron (played with a worryingly authentic air at dissolution by Henry Lennon) drags his club loot around with gallant awkwardness,
damnation‘. For his part, Neil Herriot's
1 Shelley worries the lino with much ' lrenzied pacing, leels up every dame within reach and gets exceedingly
angrylor no apparent reason.
Theirlemaleloils are equally coniounding and historically oli-the-mark. Clare Clairmont, for instance. In reality a persistent underling smitten and impregnated by the heartless Byron, she here becomes a wily dominatrix, courtesy oi Sally
Howitt’s menacingly coy portrayal.
Mary Shelley. on the otherhand, switches trom winsome wilieness personilied into a stern libertine, able to give even Byron a run lor his money in the Damnation Ensural stakes.
As a play, Bloody Poetry says lar
I more about the literary tastes at
Howard Brenton than it does about
1 English Romanticism's prime movers ’ and, while Strathclyde Theatre Group’s
production (under the direction ol Leslie Finlay) used its limited space
imaginatively, the overall ellect was
one ol propaganda-lag. (Allan Brown)
UNDER THE PASSING STARS
; This, the linal play in Edwin Stiven's
trilogy exploring Celtic mythology to be presented at the Brunton Theatre, is a melancholy and depressing allair in many ways. Set 2000 years ago in a war-torn lreland oi rival clans (the contemporary parallels are too obvious to need stating), Stiven retells the classic legend oi Daerdra, the Celtic lemme latale who has intrigued along line at lrish writers including Yeats.
Stiven tells, ratherthan shows, the tale in an earthy lowland Scots, cutting up its chronology and linking itthrough the narrator Iigure ol Laevorcham, Daerdra‘s wise guardian. Breaking with tradition, Stiven somewhat perverser marginalises his heroine, presenting her as a pawn in the crude power politics ol the male leaders— which is a pity, because it is the symbolic complexity oi Daerdra‘s individuality, a potent mix at sexuality and willpower, that is the core otthe myth‘s dramatic lorce. As a result, there is too much time given overto the posturing oi the warriors and not enough to the contradictory but inseparable resonances oi romantic idealism and sell-destruction contained in the legend.
In his programme notes, director Charles Nowosielski makes bold claims tor both Stiven‘s writing and the production style, neither of which are lully substantiated by the show itself. Writer, director and composer (Richard Cherns) have created a collage ol music, movement, design and language which only littully catches the poetic intensity at the tale. Though Cherns' elegiac score complements the rough musicality ol the play’s language, the cast move awkwardly in Nick Sargent‘s design at cairn, stone circle and blasts lrom the smoke machine, and look ill at ease with the sporadic bouts ol choreography.
. and writer seem to shy away lrom the
The basic problem is ultimately an excess oi modesty. Though the style is deiiantly anti-naturalistic, the production doesn’t quite sustain a coherent theatrical language with which to explore the narrative‘s rich blend ot psychology, poetic symbolism and political allegory - both director
powerlul and irrational lorces which have confronted all those who have explored this story. Rather than individual periormances, it is a sense oi an inspired but under-nourished poetic vision oi theatre that stands out most clearly. (Simon Bayly)
JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK
Theatre Royal, Glasgow.
It is difficult to know whether or not to be gratelul that another jewel ol lrish playwrighting, unlike Waiting lor Godot last year, manages to survive its National Theatre treatment. Juno and the Paycock is generally recognized as D'Casey‘s masterpiece, yet Peter Gill's production goes out at its way to make things ditlicull lor itselt.
The play‘s originality lies in the way it blends the rough vitality at music hall and melodrama in its 19203‘ Dublin tenement rags-to-riches (and back again) formula with a linely balanced construction and powerlully realistic seriousness, reminiscent oI Ibsen. Gill seems determined to play down the ebullient, holiday postcard mood oi the lirst hall and in doing so upsets the text's own rhythmn. Instead ol the pain and anguish emerging organically lrom the rapid turnaround at events, they hang over the Boyle lamin from the
outset like a deathly paIl that looks more like sell-pity than anything else.
There is precious little warmth or laughter in the constant exchange at insults and wry banter that lills the Boyle household. Linda Bassett‘s Juno is solidly believable but tetchy to the point oi shrewishness, while her daughter Mary (Rosalind Bennett) appears at times as little more than a spoilt brat. This is a genuine imbalance and leaves the Boyle/Joxer doubleact with more work than it can handle. Tony Haygarth and Tom Hickey imbue this pairing with a welcome Laurel and Hardy style energy, but Gill doesn‘t let them make much at the tarcical proceedings as they try to avoid both work and Juno.
So just as the Boyles’ world really begins to collapse, the production runs out at mood with which to plumb the depths of despair. The demise ol the mentally and physically wrecked Johnny at the hands of his IRA comrades provides momentary drama but is only part at D’Casey's wider concern —the sutlering ol the poor— and Juno’s linal speech on the subject sounds mawkish and contrived.
Sadly, it is the production‘s overly earnest intentions that diminish the play's true seriousness. Though the tour central perlormances (by English actors) are adequately authentic, it is tempting to agree with the parting declaration at one punter: ‘They're better all leaving it to the lrish.‘
24 The List 10— 23 March 1989