REVIEW I ‘
THE SECOND COMING
St Bollox Locomotive Works, Springburn, Glasgow. Until Sun 16 Sept
Interesting that the two most exciting theatrical events oi the year have been large-scale, impressionistic considerations oi Scottish history, pitting lalsilied images oi national identity against real experiences at community. Test Dept’s The Second Coming is an industrial Jock Tamson’s Bairns; a homage to the workers oi Glasgow and a critique oi the Hamburger Heritage industry that blandly smooths over the past's rough edges ior easy consumption.
And like all vigorous theatre, Test Dept's achievement is rich in rough edges. Defying simple classiiication, it is part a percussive symphony oi classical dimensions, and part theatrical spectacle. Layered on top are lilmic images oi steam engines - ghostly visions in the middle distance - and Neil Ascherson's dryly
bureaucratic commentry, given a cold recital by three narrators in the ioreground.
I have never seen a production make such breathtaking use oi perspective (the worthy attempt in City earlier this year pales in comparison). The vast expanse oi the Locomotive Works
seems to extend ior ever and, while
' downstage, spanners beat a mesmeric rhythm on lire extinguishers and engine wheels, in the tar distance a welder’s sparks ily, an army oi stick men go on the march and giant, blood-red ilags iorm huge cruciiixes.
Like Communicado's Jock Tamson's Bairns, The Second Coming hits you on a sensory, emotional level —the ominous distant rumbling, the relentless intensilication oi the rhythm, the vision oi a clockwork workiorce in traction — and like all the other elements, the real iorce oi Ascherson's script is as texture, not intellectual meaning.
A spell-bindineg original and daring work—see it at least twice. (Mark Fisher)
Seen at Cumbernauld Theatre. How on tour.
Well, Brian, Videoscope is certainly a play oi two halves. The iirst seems to have modelled itseli on the more
patronising aspects oi The Steamie’s humour, with a number oi stupid Glaswegian stereotypes presented lor the audience to leel superiorto.
The play revolves around the stall oi a small video shop: Jonathon the manager, an ex-teacher who has become disillusioned by the education crisis, but iinds himseli little happier in his new career; Netta, a lonely, religious old woman who has sacriiiced her lile to caring lor her invalid mother and Conrad, a YTS trainee who seems incapable oi learning anything and whose whole personality is trapped by his inability to communicate. Joining these are Michaela, a ruthlessly ambitious YTS placement executive and assorted shop customers.
Uniortunately, these characters are caricatured and exploited ior cheap laughs. Every joke is strained to the limit and the plot seems to take iorever to get anywhere until aiterthe interval when the tensions beneath the surlace start to emerge. Hetta has a crisis oi iaith — which is movineg portrayed but never iully resolved -.lonathon iinds himseli drawn to the slowly developing Conrad, and Michaela, iniuriated by his rejection oi her, embarks on a dangerous plan to blackmail him to set her up in her own business.
However, the darkness and potential tragedy which start to emerge, seem incongruous alter light comedy with all the emotional depth oi Take The High Road (which playwright Ann Marie Di Mambro used to script) and, since the acting is capable enough, this must be put down to sloppy writing and a misguided attempt to have something to appeal to everyone. (Andrea Baxter)
Seen at Clyde Theatre, Clydebank. How on tour.
The danger with Wildcat is that you don’t so much review the play, as its political stance. Despite the usual reservations about the company's simplistic style and attimes patronising approach to taking political drama to the masses, criticism oi iorm alone is oiten held back by a general sympathy lor its aims and themes.
This time Wildcat tackles the increasingly topical issue oi privatisation oi council services - not a subject that immediately jumps to mind as a musical play-through the
I loosely plotted experiences at six
women cleaners shocked at being made redundant by a Labour council. The women iorm a co-operative and end up winning the contract to do their old jobs, but now managing themselves.
The dramatic structure is unashamedly weak, however, and the one-dimensional characters are merely books on which to hang jokes and speechilying - the punk YTS trainee, the token Asian, the wimpy Tory, who comes into her own right at the end, the old red activist lumbered with the job oi putting it all in context, and so on. The humour is oiten clumsy and the songs, as usual, grate with their dated, right-on harmonies - though the presence oi Terry Heason, here a swaggering, singing deiinition ol the word gallus, helps allay this.
Nevertheless, Wildcat has much to be commended ior consistently pushing iorward political theatre on uniashionable subjects to wider, older audiences, that will genuinely make people think. The naive and implausible reliance on co-operatives as the best way to gain control over people’s working lives is a ilaw, but as the iinal song says, ‘you’ve got to do something, it’s betterthan doing nothing.‘ (Andrea Baxter).
mum- THE STEAMlE
Seen at King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Now on tour.
Glad to report that The Steamie is still lighting lit and pulling in the crowds. It's a revealing phenomenon that only two days alter the end oi the Edinburgh Festival, one at the city’s biggest venues can still be lull to bursting with a predominantly lemale audience. Tony Roper’s comedy proves not only that contemporary Scottish theatre can be truly popular, but also that despite the gains oi leminism, there remains a massive demand to put women's experiences on the mainstream stage.
Hoper's play, reportedly revived by this cast iorthe last time, is the most successiul oi the recent breed oi nostalgic Scottish dramas. lt knowingly treads a line line between celebrating the sense oi community in Glasgow‘s now deiunct public laundries and criticising the harsh manual demands they imposed.
It's a rich, human mix at sentiment, humour, surrealism and hard-headed reality, interspersed by the songs at Dave Anderson and David Hicks, and
brought to tile by a iirst rate team oi comic actors. It’s a joy just to watch the on-stage ensemble skills at Kay Gallie, Susan Hisbet, Dorothy Paul and Elaine C. Smith, as they ride the laughs, divert the audience into moments at seriousness and punctuate the pertormance with song.
Perhaps it's too much at one level and the songs are oi too variable a quality, but any play to ieature the sustained comic lunacy ol the ‘Galloway's mince' sketch could not tail to be a brilliant night out at the theatre. (Mark Fisher)
HERE!— SHIRLEY VALENTINE
King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 17 Sept.
Many a ilustered lirstmighter on Shirley Valentine’s return to Scotland tlicked through their programme trying to discover who the rest oi the periormers were going to be. And it's a sign oi the great strength ol Willy Russell‘s writing - and the limitation oi the medium oi iilm -that his original stage play can create such a rich and detailed world through one voice alone. I know the iirst time I saw the play on its original Liverpool run, so vivid were the stage pictures that l was surprised when only one actor took her bow at the end oi the periormance.
In this production — one oi those West End shows that keeps on touring irrespective oi cast changes — Kate Fitzgerald (aka Doreen Corkhill) plays
the put-upon suburban housewiie who
not only dares to dream, but also dares to do something about it. She plays the part like it was a stream oi consciousness, like each idea was suggesting itseli iorthe iirsttime. It's a technique that works best on the passages oi quiet and touching contemplation and, while most Dl Russell's sharp scouse wit shines through, her realistically hesitant approach works against some oi the quick-lire comedy particularly in the early scenes.
But what could never be disguised, is Russell's uncanny ability to package a movingly human vision within a continually sell-deprecatory, even cynical, lramework. He pulls you one way with sentiment and then back with a wicked laugh; inspires you, beiore accusing you oi naively. Some oi the relerences are starting to date, but Shirley Valentine remains an achievement oi penetrating warmth and insight, periormed here with dry wit and understanding. (Mark Fisher)
The List 14 — 27 September 1990 57