COCTEAU DOUBLE BILL
Glasgow Arts Centre until 24 Nov. French Institute, Edinburgh, 1 Dec. The Human Voice and The Sound of Silence explain succinctly the plots of : these two one-act plays by Jean Cocteau. In the first, there is an eminently human voice in the form of a spurned lover pleading with her rejector over the phone. In the second, Faroque Khan plays the ultimate strong, silent type. He’s strong (we know this because he throws his woman across the floor) and he’s so silent that he doesn’t utter a word throughout the play. The said flying woman sallies forth with a tirade about his inconsiderate behaviour (he likes clubbing it and roughing it with tarts, apparently).
No defence was required from the aloof one, because his woman (and she is portrayed as an object) is as weak as the charcter in The Human Voice. Both of these roles offer a graphic illustration that no matter how exciting and innovative the French avant-garde of the 40s and 50s was, it hadn't quite come to terms with feminism. In the world of Cocteau, women were intelligent, creative and imaginative, but once their man became disinterested, their world crumbled and all successes were swamped by the ultimate failure of rejection.
It must be nearly impossible for 90s women such as Maggie MacRitchie (The Human Voice) and Sally Howitt (The Sound of Silence) to portray these pathetic creatures and that considered, both turn in outstanding performances. MacRitchie’s role especially could have degenerated into rampant histrionics had it not been handled with sensitivity.
The underlying themes of both plays therefore create a sense oi unease. However, some of the imagery which Cocteau creates is the work of genius. The Human Voice features a technically primitive telephone system which is continually cutting off the ex-lovers. The final conversation, though, is concluded by the man hanging up lorthe first and Iasttime. Tremendoust powerful but, as throughoutthe plays, it only Cocteau
Maggie MacBltchie in The Human Voice.
70s throw-back in Stags and Hens.
had had that bit more vision to allow his heroine to say ‘Sod the bastard’ these could have been classics instead of period pieces. (Philip Parr)
REDEV— sers AND HENS
At The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh until Sat 24 Nov.
Der's dis Scottish theatre company doin' Willy Russell's Stags ‘n’ Hens an’, like, sum of it’s dead sound, but den sum of it isn't.
There are equal pluses and minuses to setting a Russell play in its original environment— Liverpool. The main bonus is that there are none of the problems of translating the specifically scouse humour to another region — Russell’s bawdy phrasing can be blasted out without appearing incongruous. The overriding drawback is that virtually nobody is able to mimic a Liverpudlian accent without sounding like a Birmingham exile who has been living in Wales for the past decade (to natives of Liverpool, there is no greater insult than that).
Charles Nowosielski's production of Stags and Hens gains all of the benefits of the Liverpudlian setting, but equally cannot avoid any of the drawbacks. Several of the actors have such an obscure twang that it is difficult to concentrate upon what they’re saying. The phrasing helps to pull down the quality of a show which also suffers from several cringe-inducing over-acting performances.
However, Nowoslelskl plays his trump card (of setting the proceedings in the 1970s world of brown-flared suits and hotpants) very well and gains many laughs by skilful direction of some of the more peripheral characters—the cameo part of the roadie is wonderluly vulgar Then there is the script which, in spite of Its mauling by several of the actors’ tongues, shines through in this production. Finally, Jlmmy Chisholm as the threatening Eddy and Sharon Brlttaln as Bernie both give ideal performances and make the play pop with its essential vitality.
Overall, an enjoyable evening was had by all and, thankfully, further evidence
was given of the enduring appeal of Mr Russell. (Philip Parr)
mam— THE wrrcues or POLLDK
Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Until Satf Dec.
In the Witches of Pollok, playwright Anne Downie has gone back to 1677 Glasgow to unearth a little-known case of bewitchment that led to the burning of five probably innocent people. The majortwist in Downie's treatment of this material is her suspicion that something genuinely inexplicable, a real example of witchcraft, might have taken place. Sadly, it is a slant that fails to give sufficient energy to invigorate all too familiar material.
It's not that Downie's play is derivative, rather that the shadow of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible casts itself so wide that it is impossible to avoid comparison. And where Miller makes a clear, bold, intellectually challenging analysis of the nature of mass hysteria, how it can seep into every corner of a vulnerable society, how it can override previously rational thought, Downie is able only to present a diluted version of essentially the same ideas.
Because the idea of witchcraft, white witchery, magic orthe supernatural is never properly investigated by Downie, her own question of whether someone is or is not a witch doesn't seem vital to the plot. The central theatrical excitement in both plays comes when innocent people are forced to detend themselves from prejudiced and weighted accusations. it’s an inherently dramatic situation that automatically arouses our sympathy and it shouldn't matter whether the accused is ‘guilty' or not.
Whatwe're left with is an unremarkable, although sometimes absorbing, exercise in storytelling. Director Michael Boyd does his best at jazzing it up, making use of much extraneous fol-de-rol dancing and music and placing a lot of the action silhouetted behind a curtain. Bosaleen Pelan brings a suitably other-worldly qualify to the ‘witch’ Janet Douglas, not unlike the recent St Joan at The Brunton
3 Theatre, while the large cast makes a j convincing job of a creaky plot, . notwithstanding the odd lapse of ‘ conviction. It’s difficult to dislike strongly The i Witches oi Pollok, yourtime in the l theatre passes quite painlessly, but the l abrupt, unexpected conclusion ! suggests that even The Tron could see ‘ little point in it. (Mark Fisher)
' THE JAMMY GIRLS
Kelvingrove Art Gallery East Balcony. Next performance, 24 Nov.
performance art in which they react with their environment. in this piece, which is performed during the Treasures of The Holy Land exhibition,
lots of dust.
Presumably drawing on the Biblical tale of Jesus washing the dust-covered feet of his disciples, The Jammy Girls have decided that the Holy Land is a
and extremely slowly, up one of the magnificent Kelvingrove staircases, covered from head to foot in a layer of grey dirt. After the five-minute arrival has been successfully completed, there is 45 minutes of, well, posturing. Movement is kept to a minimum with obvious Holy Land tasks such as picking berries, eating berries, picking some more berries and giving birth, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. More than anything, the whole piece brings to mind the ‘living sculptures' which hung around on several gallery walls last year. Then, the question, ‘lt’s interesting, but is it art?’ was asked repeatedly. Ditto, The Jammy Girls. The performance, though, is strangely hypnotic and it is difficult to walk away, mainly because one is convinced that, eventually, something dramatic must happen. Naturally enough, itdoesn’t. I'm also tar from convinced that this is anything other than a very superficial interpretation of the Holy Land based on the Collins Illustrated Bible and a few guide books rather more than real experience. But it affords a quite surreal distraction from the exhibition and certainly kept many under-lives in the audience more intrigued than the more static exhibits. (Philip Parr)
Hilary MacLean in The Witches ol Pollok.
pretty dusty place. They arrive, dustily,
The Jammy Girls, we are told, produce
for ‘environment' read ‘dust’. Lots and
60 The List 23 November — 6 December 1990