EEEHEWIIIIIIIIIIII HOW TO KILL
Seen at Traverse, Edinburgh; transfers to Tramway, Glasgow.
On a miniature desert, with scale-model tanks, aeroplanes and guns, a schoolboy’s fantasy—the re-enacted Battle of El Alamein - takes place. Rash bravery, narrow escapes and gung-ho exchanges over the radio make up the narrative, but the essence of this piece is poetry.
Actor and writerAngus Reid has taken his inspiration from the Second World War poet Keith Douglas, killed in 1944 aged twenty-four. Personal reflections and experiences are interspersed with the poems themselves, so that an affectionate and credible portrait develops of the soldier's perception of war.
The trouble is that How To Kill never quite shakes off its schoolboyishness. War poets are inherently dramatic, and have therefore been done before — and better. And there is no overcoming that combined thrill of exhilaration and revulsion which all adolescent boys feel on first considering the realities of war. Even Siegfied Sassoon went in for bloodthirsty heroics now and then.
Reid‘s wide-eyed, staccato delivery is also schoolboyish, lacking a resonance which would benefit the poems' abstract depths. For all this, however, he has sufficient energy and sincerity to absorb and intrigue the audience. The brooding sound effects are a particular asset, some recorded by Gregg Corbett, who recently worked with Test Department, and some produced organically with colliding, shredded oil drums. And when the death of Douglas comes, the loss is tangible, even if we have been touched by so many like it. (Andrew Burnet)
Cumbernauld Theatre. Until 11 Nov. According to Darwin, natural wastage occurs when an animal or species becomes too weak to survive within its own environment. Bouncers, John Godbers ‘one-night-ln-the-life-ol’ caricature of four nightclub doormen, ls fouryears old today. Despite its apparent youth, it must surely be on the verge of extinction. It is both offensive and patronising, and while isolated observations might occasionally hit the
mark, its general tenor is one of mistaken identity.
Nightclubs, we are told, are a cancer.
Perhaps they throw a veil over life’s hard edges, but in return they demand that innocent young teenagers be converted into rampaging, sexist monsters. According to Godber, these institutions are a trap from which there can be no escape. Through the mouthpiece of head-doorman Lucky Eric, he offers his own advice: ‘Go home. Stay safely fucked up in bed.’ Mind the bugs don’t bite. Bouncers probably ranks alongside the Beano as a source of useful social commentary and advice.
The other ingredient of this play is its ‘comic’ elements. These are almost
1 entirely based upon the use of
obscenity; the doormen haggle over a pairofdirty knickers, punters stick their hands down the backs of their pants. Mr Godber is in the business of presenting sexuality as something unnatural and depraved, but still good ioralaugh.
The Cumbernauld Theatre Company is an increasingly reputable provincial group with the power to attract some noteworthy actors. This play was no exception, with some slick performances and imaginative direction. The main difficulty was that they chose to perform it in the first place. (Philip Kingsley)
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh.
Until 18 Nov.
It is exciting to see Bill Leadbitter take the role of Iago so soon after his performance in The Traverse’s Hanging The President in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. He seems to have brought with him the heartless and uncompromising cell-block mentality of that frighteningly claustrophobic play and it suits Shakespeare’s duplicitous villain perfectly. Even his sharply delivered poetry has echoes of the terse, clipped Afrikaner accent of the summer hlt. With shadowy eyes and a tuft of hair sharpened to a point on his forehead, he sllnks through the play planting malicious seeds of jealousy and ambition, calously preylng on the weaknesses of his fellows.
By contrast Burt Ceasar’s Othello is a straight-forward soldier; a soft-hearted giant who lacks the subtlety to suspect his right-hand man and who remains innocent until the last moment. He takes a little time to warm into the role, but gets into stride as he moves from cool composure to the outraged speeches oi a passionate man. This is his tragedy and it strikes home with a blow.
Ian Wooidridge's production cracks along at a brisk pace and holds the attention throughout. The unintrusive set is an appropriately black and white design made temporarily eccentric by a huge sculptured head — looking like Nelson Mandela, but presumably intended as some sort of statement about Othello -that makes a thankfully brief appearance early on to be
replaced, once it has twirled round, by its bright, Mediterranean, stony back. The simplicity of Gregory Smith's design helps place the emphasis firmly on the language and story.
The emotional heart of the production lies in the sterling performances of Gerda Stevenson as Dthello's put-upon wife, Desdemona, and Ann Louise Ross as herservant, Emilia. Stevenson’s delivery is lively, clear and natural as she takes us with herto suffer Dthello’s inexplicable wrath which leaves her sitting on the stage crumpled and distressed, lost, vulnerable and confused. Her emotional vitality is ably supported by Ross who stands by her until the end, even when it means betraying her own husband, Iago.
There isthe odd moment of melodrama and Paul Spence as Cassio has difficulty restraining his more flamboyant tendencies, but forthe most partfhe Royal Lyceum plays it straight and does much justice to Shakespeare. (Mark Fisher).
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh.
Until 11 Nov.
in the sober light of history it's difficult to imagine how a whole nation could have been gripped by the warped philosophies of the Nazis. The ideas were surely too crude, the methods too brutal, the whole operation too transparent to seduce the mass of the people for long. Forty years on, even the swastikas that hang above the Brunton stage hold shocking resonances of absolute evil. Yet it did happen, ordinary people were sucked into the Nazi machine and it took the combined might ofthe Allied Forces to putan end to it.
C.P. Taylor‘s play addresses this question. It doesn'twaste time trying to debate the immorality of fascism, although it does give a platform to Hitler’s ideas. Instead what it does is look at one man's slow sequence of compromise upon compromise until his own socialist opinions have swung full-circle to those of National Socialism. In Taylor’s vision, Hitler has become a part of the German consciousness, seeping god-like into every action and decision of daily life, poisoning friendships, crippling the imagination.
At the centre of Good is Johnny Haider (played with increasing assurance by Anthony Cochrane), a. professor whose writings inadvertently concur with Nazi thinking and who, through domestic and professional pressure, becomes complicit in the supremacist programme. But this is no abstract dilemma. Taylor’s theatrically sophisticated play is not all smart uniforms, jackboots and barbed wire. He brings this distant setting closer to our own experince by cleverly weaving in a more familiar tale of sexual hang-ups, an affair and an elderly mother desolving into senility. Through Halder’s ordinary problems and simple self-deceptions, Taylor exposes universal human vulnerabilities.
Charles Nowosielski builds his
:xv’ , a . 1 «5 production to a powerful climax before the interval and it takes some time before the focus is restored in the second half. But eventually the tragedy of a man whose thoughts and ideas have been hijacked and abused to the extent that his own loved ones must suffer, strikes chillingly home. The production makes well-timed use of concentration camp imagery-only ocassionaliy over-stated — and the deceptive, well-performed backing of German cabaret music lends a bitter
. irony to the main-stage action. A
courageous and challenging play that rewards the trip to Musselburgh. (Mark Fisher).
THE DUCHESS 0F MALFI
Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 11 Nov.
Lisa Baraitser’s production of John Webster's dark tragedy for Edinburgh University Theatre Company is a cool, laid back affair that takes place under dim lighting in shadowy corners of the stage. It begins with the cast sitting round a long banquet table bedecked with fruit and wine, the first of a series of striking theatrical images with which Baraitser peppers the production. Later on she employs the cast to create an eerie echo or to drum ominously on the Bedlam’s wooden walls. The strangling of the Duchess is done in similarly graphic style.
But for all the neat ideas and smooth movement through the play, the cast have come to terms neither with the difficult 17th century poetry nor Webster’s characterisation. None of the acting is bad - indeed Amanda Aldred as the Duchess is very good - but too much of the delivery is blurred or unclear and there are too many serious, scowling faces for us to be dramatically engaged with what is taking place. It is difficult to differentiate the male characters or to trace the flow of the passions which lead to the play's climactic gruesome murders. Perhaps if the production had begun on less calm a note it would have been easier forthe performers to build to the dramatic outbursts that create the tragedy.
it’s a fast-moving, often entertaining production that holds your attention, but doesn’t involve you in its tragedy. There's some fine dulcimer playing by someone called Neil to compensate. (Mark Fisher)
50 The List 10— 23 November 1989