THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow. Until 31 Mar.
Paraphrasing Jean Cocteau, director Jon Pope sums up his staging oi Blasco lbanez' serial novel as ‘tango crazy’. It’s an apt metaphor tor the mood ol pre-World War I Europe, but too wild a description tor a production characterised by cool, measured restraint.
The Citizens’ has a soft spot lor the iaded chic oi Europe‘s leisured classes. Hints at Travels With My Aunt and, to a lesser extent, A Tale oi Two Cities, iniorm this production which is all straight backs, controlled poises and elegant tableaux. On Stewart Laing's black and white set, scenes slice swiltly irom one to the other in an orchestration as precise as Adrian Johnstone’s live score.
It’s an exercise in story-telling above all else. The locus otthe original novel shiits irom character to character in a style not suited to theatre, but Pope keeps the action moving to hold our attention, it not our emotion. A Frenchman moves to South America where he marries into money beiore returning to Paris in time tor the Great War. His dilettanle son iiirts around the Parisian hotels and caies, exempt by nationality irom being called up, until guilt gets the better oi him and he enlists In the French army.
iithere's a moral. it is that social responsibility must eventually impinge on sell-centred hedonism, and it there’s an insight, it is into the domestic implications at war. But more than this, it is an interesting story stylishlytold. Enlivened by imaginative use at music and a splendid skirmish sequence, it is an absorbing piece oi stage cratt more than a signiiicant dramatic work. (Mark Fisher)
Seen at Paisley Arts Centre. On Tour. it has to be admitted that these people really can act. Shakespeare is an astonishingly diiiicult playwright to succeed with, and We seen older heads than these come to griei over his courtly prose. There are some iiaws in this production, most notably an intrusive use oi lighting and sound ellects, but these are minor grievances. Overall, the Commonweal Theatre Company do admirable justice to the eternal reputation oi the ‘old bastard’. Shakespearophiies will not be disappointed.
The distinctive ieature at this production is the interpretation oi the play itseli. Historically, Julius Caesar tails between the two most celebrated segments oi Shakespeare‘s career: his early histories and his early tragedies. The play holds enough material for either interpretation to seem valid and most academics accept that the work represents a transitional phase in his development. Commonweal however, have chosen to see the play as a iorerunner oi his tragedies, and as such, have moved the spotlight irom Caesar to Brutus, whose heavily accented moral agonies give him the appearance ol an embryonic Hamlet. Whether or not this is the best interpretation doesn't seem to matter: the play that I saw conveys both thought and ieeling and that, Isuppose, is all that matters.
Iwon't say this is a superb production, but only because I don’t think Julius Caesar is a particularly great play— a kind oi iellow travellertor the really enduring works like Hamlet and Othello. Having said that, i do think that Commonweal draw as much out at it as it could possibly give. Forthe purist this is an exciting production to watch. (Philip Kingsley).
GREETI— SPEAKING FOR MYSELF?
Seen at Traverse Theatre. Now on tour. What an inspired move to team up Jimmy Hanion with Joe In one double-bill. Two monologues concerning older people, both well-meaning, but largely misunderstood by society. Peter Nardinl’s Jimmy Hanion is an ageing Simpleton, the victim at a childhood accident, pushed into convenient corners by well-meaning, but unsympathetic carers. Anne Marie di Mambro’s Joe remains comatose throughoutthe play, but his wile, a middle-aged itaiian shopkeeper, reilects upon the lite at an outsider never iully integrated into a xenophobic society.
Despite the programme’s intimation that these represent ‘new Scottish writing', they are in tact recent plays, having received iirst productions over two years ago irom Annexe Theatre beiore this production by the Byre Theatre. The plays are unquestionably well worth reviving, but it is important to make the distinction in a climate which tends to treat new plays as curious, but suspect novelties.
This is the Iirst time I’ve seen Jimmy Hanion and it proves to be an absorbing companion to Joe, still the richer oi the two pieces. Hanion is ‘a man with a dream and a watch that disnae tell the time’, he also has a speech impediment and an inabilityto read or write. Actor Phil McCall shiits iluidly between his character’s hall-wit exterior and coherent inner-sell, in a touching portrayal at a deeply disastlsiied, but benevolent boy in an old man’s body. The play is slightly weak on dramatic development, but strong on its exploration at a human being trapped by his own body.
Aiyxis Oaiy’s broad smile as she takes her curtain call speaks volumes about the emotional journey through which dl Mambro's play takes her. Like Shirley Valentine (the play). Joe paints a whole world with one voice, subtley blending description, sensitivity and wry humour. More sombre than I remember it, the play is touching without being mawkish, humorous without being patronising. it scores slyly poignant political points through its credible humanity.
Too low-key to be plays at earth-shattering import, this double-bill nonetheless provides a gentle evening at heart-warming characterstudy. Recommended. (Mark Fisher)
KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN
Seen at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. Now on tour.
Don't believe Theatre Workshop’s advance publicity when it claims Its stage version at Manuel Puig’s South American modern classic Is a ‘Physical Theatre interpretation’. Allowing dancer Lyn Oenton to till about at the stage’s periphery In between scenes, might make lor casually Interesting interludes, but a production needs to be intormed by something more substantial it it Is to lay claim to a style which the Theatre Workshop itsell has championed in groups like The Kosh, Theatre de Compllclte and, more recently, Teatr Bllk.
Kiss ol the Spiderwoman is not physical theatre, but a conventional production broken up by ineltectual dance and Pete Livingstone’s excellent music. The main interest lies in the relationship oi the two Buenos Aires cell-mates, Molina (John Cobb), imprisoned iorthe homosexual seduction oi a minor, and Valentin (Stewart Ennis), locked up ior revolutionary activities. What Peter Clerke’s production misses is the brooding tension and sexual uncertainties that any two men would experience living round the clock in close coniinement. The men’s cell is less the lrightening expression at a morally bankrupt authoritarian state, than the iriendly meeting place oi a men's discussion group. The relationship at Molina and Valentin develops irom lriendship to love where it should go irom distrust to acceptance.
But while the actors are too understanding at each other, they do at least give endearing periormances that put a believable lace on their characters. Valentin's passionately held Marxist philosophy takes its toll
on his emotional tile, as Molina's knowingly camp lilestyle sidesteps some more painlul realities. Cobb and Ennis work comiortably together- perhaps too comiortably — exploring Valentin and Molina's ditierences and similarities in what is a iascinating study at relationships within the private and public spheres.
The production works primarily because oi Manuel Puig's strong, subtle story-line, but the author has plotted a richervein oi tension, irony and insight than Theatre Workshop gives him credit lor. It will no doubt mature over Its month-long tour but, as it stands, this production only does partial justice to a powerlul, important play. (Mark Fisher).
REVIEW LOOK BACK IN ANGER
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Until 31 March.
One at the ieatures ol Ilat sharing is the inevitable explosive argument over some pressing issue like the ownership ol the Scottish Cheddar and, more importantly, who was guilty at eating It. Ol course the quarrel is never really about the cheese, but rather the many irritations caused by living at close quarters. The cheese Is merely a convenient scape-goat.
in John Osborne's bedsitter- where was that kitchen sink? -we get plenty oi ranting and raving, but too lew clues as to what the luss is actually about. A quarter at a century on, Look Back In Anger does not articulate the mood at ourtlmes. Too much cheese, too little insight.
Even Kenneth Tynan in his celebrated review at the original production suggested that its appeal was to those “between the ages at twenty and thirty’. That was in 1956. in the absence at a shared experience at post-ration book angst, the play now appears as a tiresome and indulgent display 01 semi-adolescent emotion. it is a long rant which throws up ideas without ever bringing them into locus. What nihilistic despair it does express is summed up much more concisely and precisely in Beckett's Waiting For Godot, a year older, but a lar less dated contender tor the title ot Play oi the Decade.
That said, the Royal Lyceum gives the play a typically solid, period rendition. Phil Smeeton’s toothy grin and sing-song delivery make him too genial a Jimmy Porter, but he settles into many an acerbic speech alter an irritatineg Iidgety start. Stuart McOuarrie’s Clili Lewis is coniidently appealing and thoroughly believable, a calm centre ol a violent storm. Apart irom some stilted dialogue courtesy oi Osborne, Rosaleen Pelan and Candida Gubblns are similarly convincing as Jimmy Porter’s wile and lover.
For holding our attention over a long evening In the theatre, director lan Wooldridge can be congratulated. But this is a play oi 1956, its time will no doubt come again, but in 1990, even at its best, it’s an argument over the Cambazola rather than the Scottish Cheddar. (Mark Fisher)
The List 23 March - 5 April 1990 51