FROM GLASGOW T0 SATURN
Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow. On Tour.
The theme oi Edwin Morgan’s poems is wide-ranging and, while TAG has subtitled its show ‘a science-ﬁction iantasy’, it includes generous helpings oi poems about Glasgow and those marvellous sound-poems to complement his science iiction work. It's aimed at school classes and adult audiences, and works both as a lively introduction to and a trash reilection on Morgan’s work.
There is little attempt to act the poems out: rather they are danced — movement complementing the rhythm oi the words - or used to inspire tableaux that are held tor a briei moment beiore dissolving. The lirst part at the show is a kaleidoscope at some twenty poems, a collage oi image, story, emotion and texture. it begins with a group oi astronauts deciding to sever communications with their base and travel into the unknown, placing their trust in themselves, their spacecraft and in space itseli. Later, the everyday setting oi ‘In a Snack Bar‘ echoes this, as an old blind man relies, without lalse expectations, on the benevolence oi a world at sight.
The second bait is an adaptation oi a single work, ‘Memories oi Earth’. Words are interspersed with dance sections, the pace is slower, grander, the locus tighter. Four space travellers, sent to investigate lite on earth, experience it in inconsequential ilashes— a concentration camp, a boat
Compass Theatre in The Merchant oi Venice.
Eric Tessier, Tom Smith and Christine Douaney in TAG's From Glasgow To Saturn.
adriit at sea, a ritual sacriiice. Their emotional reactions to these sights compromise their report, but they stay loyal to them.
This theme oi recording with emotion comes across as central to Morgan's work, a balancing oi the need tor impartial examination with the need ior personal involvement. It's also reilected in the staging, which transiers the poems successiully into the theatre, while allowing them to speak clearly in their own voice. (Ken Cockburn)
THE MERCHANT 0F VENICE
Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow. At Cumbernauld Theatre until Fri 22 Feb. There’s an awlul lot oi spitting in Compass Theatre Company’s interpretation oi Shakespeare's tale oi the over-generous Christian and the vengeiul, money-lending Jew. Even the audience oi school students, ior whom gobbing is presumably a daily reality, seemed thrown by so much ilying phlegm. And the reason iorthis, is that like much oi the production’s incidental detail, the idea is sound, but the execution inadequately rooted in the action.
This is more true oi the comedy in the play. Director Neil Sissons has recognised a need to enliven the production with material other than Shakespeare's verse. But rather than introducing a motii oi, say, suit-centred romantic 50s ballads, he dishes out the comedy piecemeal, a helping oi Nat King Cole here, a serving
oi caricature buttoonery there. Instead at developing a rhythm tor the comedy, he throws it in erratically, so that however good the idea, it is nearly always extraneous.
What the production has on its side - and the area on which the company has concentrated most oi its attention — is a clarity oi diction and expression. Avoiding both the plumminess oi much standard English Classical acting and its debased coloquial alternative, Compass conveys Shakespeare’s language with lucidity and understanding. This is a particular ieat given that the play is shared between only six actors smoothly doubling and tripling their way through quick
' changes and a toll-length text. It it
means that the characters are not always iully rounded, the company only occasionally slips into the playing oi blunt character-types and Nick Chadwin, tor example, plays an unmemorable Lorenzo, but then makes a good stab at Shylock as a small-time chanceL
Slowed down by unnecessary pauses at the end oi each scene and passages oi unilluminating stage business, the production comes into its own alter an uneven lirst hall, when the sustained debate oi the court scene brings the drama and the play’s themes into iocus. (Mark Fisher)
REDEM— wmmo FDR oooor
Seen at The Tron Theatre, Glasgow. On Tour ‘Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awtul.’ That one line, slipped surreptitiously into Waiting For Godot, sets its author apart. You can’t help thinking that Beckett knew exactly what many at the earlier reviewers were going to say at his play and, simply, pre-empted them. How many other writers can have such a dispassionate view oi their own work? Beckett was also probably aware that what he had written would, in later years, be held up as a watershed in British theatre and be treated with reverential worship. Such an attitude does not suit Waiting For Godot ior, oi course, primarily the play is a comedy (ii a very searching one). lithe comedy is not delivered with the timing and accuracy oi Laurel and Hardy, then the piece collapses around the actors’ ears and we are leit with nothing save lor Beckett's own, seli-damning, analysis. Luckily, this production by Compass Theatre Company has two lead actors in Nick Chadwin and David Westbrook who are not airaid to couple slapstick and vaudeville with Beckett's raw silk dialogue. The mix works splendidly and Vladimir and Estragon remain consistently intriguing characters. Waiting For Godot is one play where the periormance oi the leads can carry the rest and so it is here. The oddly charasmatic Pozzo, when portrayed by Peter Bailie, reverts to being purely odd -a shouting, bawling contradiction. Some oi Beckett’s linest comic moments are reserved lorthis eclectic aristo and whilst Bailie
occasionally raises a laugh by sheer eiiort, he lacks the subtlety oi delivery which is essential to the role. Ultimately, though, the prowess oi Chadwin and Westbrook means that Beckett’s table is interpreted with panache. Thankiully, there were enough people around in 1958 who ignored the author’s prompt and saw Waiting For Godot in its true light- as an elegantly written piece oi philosophical comedy. (Philip Parr)
THE MASSACRE 0F TRANENT
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh. Until Sat 23 Feb.
A new play among the Willy Bussells and the Bernard Shaws in any small scale repertory programme is a thing to be welcomed. Without the inllux oi new material, the imagination, challenge and liie oi a theatre is seriously under threat. Better the risk oi an untried drama, than the torpor at an over-worn ‘ciassic'. That said, the nature at risk is to widen the margins oi protit and loss, and Raymond Boss’s re-creation oi a little known East Lothian uprising oi 1797 is a gamble that doesn’t pay oii.
Not that it is a play without ambition. ‘The Massacre oi Tranent' gives weight and import to a subject matterthat could easily have been treated with parochial cosiness. Caught in the poverty trap oi Iegalised slavery, the collier seris oi Tranent react with bitterness when the London government tries to conscript them tor a potential war against the French. The consequent murder at twelve people may have taken place just a few miles away irom the Brunton Theatre, but Ross argues that the events are signiiicant in terms at social oppression, English domination and the cause at human rights world wide.
The play’s primary stumbling block is that instead oi being set in the present tense where events untold dramatically beiore us, it makes use at an unconvincing Judgement Day device in which the iacts are dealt with retrospectively with cool reilection. Furthermore, despite generally committed acting and Charles Nowosielski's moody direction, the play is seriously lacking in adequate characterisation. John Caddell is a pompous iaird, Captain Price is a callous soldier and the seris are put-upon martyrs: watered down ingredients in a predictable battle at good versus evil drawn too crudely to sustain dramatic interest.
Boss aspires towards poetic grandeur in his writing — iaint echoes oi Shakespeare in the iinal drawn-out speeches- but too often he lapses into cliche while spinning out simple ideas to unnecessarily coniusing length. We no doubt that the Massacre oi Tranent (otherwise known as the Tranent Massacre the programme explains helpiully) is an event worthy at such ambitious treatment but, without considerable rewriting, Boss's play ialls to do it justice. (Mark Fisher)
48 The List 22 February — 7 March 1991