Frankie Cosgrave and Juliet Cadzow in The Odd Couple
THE ODD COUPLE
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 7 July.
Nell Simon’s unusual decision to rework his celebrated script (most lamously realised by Matthau and Lemmon on celluloid) ior women in the mid-19808 was not, we are told, very well received on Broadway. in times when women are still poorly represented in the theatre, it’s a laudable decision to stage this version at the Lyceum. While there’s a temptation to imagine what a suitable pairing oi Scotland’s male comic talents might have made oi it, there can be no major complaints about what’s oliered here.
The well-known story oi siobblsh Olive playing increasingly reluctant hostess to prlssy Florence when the latter's marriage breaks up is played on Dee Sidwell's elegant, lived-in and pedantlcally detailed (it rather blandiy coloured) set, which ingeniously suggests the city outside through the use-oi towering, skyscraperish ilats. The supporting actors are well cast and energetic, and lan Wooldridge's directorial hand is iorthe most part commendably invisible. But like any play oi this sort, it stands or ialls by the charm oi the two central actors.
Frankie Cosgrave’s Olive and Juliet Cadzow’s Florence do not disappoint. The latter in particular is an inspired and wholly rounded personilication oi tight-assed sell-repression. Their relationship is well judged, and both women extract humour irom their roles without surrendering truth.
The only signiilcant criticism to be made 01 this show is that it isn't always very lunny. Simon has worked hard to replace the masculinity oi his original version with a dramatic tone that works tor women. While the result is-to my male ears, at any rate-credible, it seems to have lost some sparkle in translation. And although 19805 phenomena like Trivial Pursuit have been worked in, some oi the humour seems distinctly dated, most glarineg in the second act, when the routines involving Florence’s dishy Spanish neighbours border on racism. This is not, however, the lault oi a production which is always competent and intermittently terriiic. (Andrew Burnet)
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THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY
Arches Theatre, Glasgow. Run ended. it is not that surprising that the Arches Company should choose a Brian Friel play as their lirst lull-scale production, since Friel's great talent lies in his ability to tell a good storythat is lull oi humanity and lnlormed by serious considerations at its political and philosophical implications. What is more surprising is that they chose The Freedom Ol The City, which tells how
I * three unemployed Catholic Civil Rights protestors stumble into the Guildhall ln ;
Derry in 1970, alter a meeting has been broken up with tear gas, only to emerge some hours later to their deaths, shot by security lorces as terrorists. Yet playing in Glasgow in 1990, the play resounds with relevance and deep ironies. A culture oi poverty like that which sparked events in Derry 1970 still embarrasses the municipal worthies promoting Glasgow 1990.
Since we know irom the outset that the three are killed, the play is an investigation oi the reasons ior the deaths, and also oi the dillerent accounts oi them that subsequently emerge as ‘acceptable narratives’ tor each side. These are rendered through a number 01 precise and well observed periormances, by Grant Smeaton in particular, ol various people at the oliicial inquiry, a sociologist, a priest and a ballad singer.
it is in the portrayal oi the three central characters, however, that the humanity oi the play should emerge, but not all this young company are equal to the task. Marie Claire McGuiness gives a well judged periormance as Lil, long-sullering mother ol eleven, but her two companions tail to establish lully the tensions that should exist between the soberiy respectable Michael and the anarchic Skinner. Nonetheless, the strength at the writing still emerges.
To many, the Arches represents a sanitized version oi the people's story. Friel castigates the aspirant Oerry middle classes ior lorgetting those at the bottom in their drive to respectablity. Hopelully this company will likewise continue to question the Glasgow event at the heart oi which they lind themselves. (Tom Magulre)
THE FERRY PLAY
Starting at Binks Car Park, South Oueenslerry. Until Sun 1. it is a noble idea tor the people oi Oueenslerry to commemorate the Forth Rail Bridge‘s centenary with a major, community-oriented event. A large number ol people have invested many hours, and sponsors have been generous. it's therelore depressing to report that the results are highly disappointing.
The elements are promising enough: a pageant oi live short plays about the town's history, devised and periormed by local residents, lollowed by a
‘prolesslonal' periormance oi Bridging The Gap, specially commissioned irom Oueenslerry's most prominent theatrical resident, Hector Machllan. That the live short community plays are inconsistent is readily iorgiveable: they are the work 01 tour dillerent writers, and most oi the periormers are very inexperienced. And there are certainly moments when it works - the human snooker match (in honour oi Stephen Hendry, another celebrated resident) is a surprising success, and there are strong periormances here and there.
But although a large number oi locals are involved, the extent oi their involvement is limited -the Ferry Crossing section, lor example, comprises a song played and sung by musical director Warren Wills, while the other periormers stand waving banners and cut-outs. (Incidentally, the design is a saving grace; colourtul and imaginative throughout). Collective creativity involving large numbers oi non-prolesslonal theatre workers is not easy, but Glasgow’s City project proved it can be done well.
The real disappointment, however, is Bridging The Gap. it’s hard to imagine that the man behind The Sash and The Funeral could have written such dire material. Plays about the theatre always seem to me a non-starter. Theatre is inherently sell-aware and seii-reierential: this does not need emphasis.
Bridging The Gap is a play about some people mounting a play about some people mounting a play about the opening oi the Bridge. Because each actoriis playing an actor playing an actor, characterisation and plot are coniusing. This, ol course, is deliberate, and is even relerred to in the script. But both characters and plot are pitliuliy thin, and the humour, such as it is, can only be called puerile.
The actors- at least two oi whom I have seen excel in happier circumstances-are to be commended ior their uniailing commitment to a greatly overlong and underwritten script, but my dominant ieellng is that Machllan and director Paul Elkins have tailed Oueenslerry rather badly. (Andrew Burnet)
HERE!— WELFARE MY LOVELY/THE PURSUIT or ACCIDENTS
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Bun ended.
The lirst double bill in this year’s Spinning A Line season —the Traverse’s platiorm ior up-and-coming playwrights— had a common theme oi ghosts. This second combination otters a pair oi punning titles (the second requires some thought), and a joint— ii disparate - vision oi abused power and underhand dealings.
Anthony Neilson’s Weliare My Lovely, as its title suggests, is moulded on a pastiche oi lllm nolr. The central character is a naive cinema enthusiast who iuiiils his lantasies and avoids llnancial ruin by taking employment with a shady private
detective. Naturally, the work is rather less glamorous than anticipated, though it does bring him into contact with the mysterious blonde without which such stories cannot operate.
Although we're on iamiliar territory with the genre, Neilson has serious matters in hand, and Weliare My Lovely turns out to be a painiully uncomlortable critique oi the ever-growing gaps in social provision, which can torce people into employment they detest, or into prostitution and worse when the housing beneilt lalls through. it also touches on the notion ot dignity in sullerlng, one aspect oi the Scots psyche which increases its vulnerability to exploitation.
Smartly directed by Benjamin Twist, with strong periormances irom all three cast members, Weliare My Lovely ls conlidently written. in a style which revels in Chandleresque eplgram. By contrast, Peter Mackle Burns’ The Pursuit Oi Accidents makes altogether less appealing use oi language, blunting it to the point where most sentences are berelt at their implied opening words.
Carr in The Pursuit 0i Accidents
This is, however. quite appropriate in the context 01 a rather brutal piece detailing the suppression oi truth among tour lntransigently deceitiul characters. The plot centres around a discreet deal between a cycle salesman and an aspiring politician, involving dodgy bicycles to be given away during the election campaign, and repaired under a pre-arranged contract. Things almost go awry when a girl dies in a collision between one at the bikes and the politician’s car, but moral weakness and tight-lipped pragmatism win the day, leaving us to reilect on the mutual dependence between power and corruption. 2
Donald MacLean's simple design makes the most at bicycles as visually ; complex symbols oi precarious balance, and directorAndrew Farrell keeps the production brisk and simple, using only spinning rear wheels as atmospheric llourlshes. The overall eliect ol the evening is a nasty taste in
the mouth, sweetened somewhat by the pleasure oi seeing strong work given uncluttered exposure. (Andrew
62 The List 29 June —12.iulyl990