Gently does it
Introducing a new style theatre review page, Mark Fisher takes a look at three Scottish plays that prove that playwriting is alive and kicking.
As theatre budgets get tighter. so managements find risk-taking less attractive and. by a logic the reverse ofthat which operates in the cinema. new playwriting becomes ghettoised. Nobody worries that the latest Kevin Costner epic is a new movie. but in the theatre we seem to have affixed capital letters to the term New Play like it was an obscure category alongside Restoration Comedy or Medieval Morality.
lfanyone is in any doubt that this need not be the case. they should take a look at the current crop of fresh young Scottish drama to see that our new plays are easily as challenging. unpredictable and varied as any established work.
Whether it’s the cheeky. sexual subversion of lain Heggie‘sA Night of Gentle Sex Comedies. the creation of a role model for people with disabilities in Tom Lannon's Dougal Graham. or the nihilistic angst of Lance Flynn‘s Inferno! (see review below). our writers are forcing our attention towards issues of contemporary importance. The respective imagination and commitment ofTheatre Positive +. Fablevision and Mandela does these writers much justice.
When Man Act looked at sexuality
-. v .V Mandela Theatre Company in Inferno
in last year‘s The .S'weatlodge. a captivating and mesmeric all-male dance performance in Glasgow‘s Tramway. the prevailing mood was of macho intensity born ofemotional repression. The actors ofTheatre Positive + dress up in similar attire — the smart-suited uniform of urban man — but in Iain Heggie‘s A Night of Gentle Sex Comedies. it is the more frivolous tradition of British humour that they draw upon.
Quite why we should find sex and its necessary social manoeuvrings so amusing— other essential activities like eating or finding shelter rarely raise a titter— is something for psychologists to work out. What is unquestionable is that when invested with l-leggie‘s ironic insight and this young company's irreverent glee. sex. gentle or otherwise. becomes a subject ofmuch entertainment. Bringing together nine plays. most of them new. the production is like an album of literate pop songs. each taking as its theme a different human relationship and each driven by the same primal urges as rock ‘n‘ roll. It is imperative that you see it.
The temptation is to compare and contrast like it was a one-act play competition. but one ofTheatre Positive + ‘s achievements. working with director lain Reekie. is to unify the evening by making the transition from play to play pass smoothly and coherently. On the first night. the emphasis was sometimes too much
on comedy at the expense of
Heggie‘s more sinister traits — they lost much of the tension achieved in the Oxygen House production of Waiting For Shuggie's Ma a couple of years ago. for example — but this is a minor weakness in such linguistically demanding work.
In some of the episodes. l-leggie has trouble knowing quite how to finish — are they plays or are they sketches and ifso do they need punchlines‘.’ — but at their best. they speak volumes about the nature of loneliness. friendship and desire. Heggie shares with Lance Flynn an interest not only in what is said. but also in how it is said. and while Heggie is the more accomplished. both writers demand of their actors an invigorating level ofdexterity. concentration and intensity.
Tom Lannon in Dougal Graham makes a different set ofdemands by writing fora large. mixed-ability cast. It was Fablevision's policy to involve as many performers as possible and director Michael Duke. aided by the excellent Dougal Graham Orchestra. succeeds in creating several atmospheric. Breughelesque tableaux. but the vast numbers involved slow down the production. and I‘d have prefered to see a stripped down production that concentrated more on the poetry of the historical Dougal Graham. a Chapman and messenger for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Nonetheless. Lannon is pioneering an important area of work by and about a neglected group in our society. and giving actors with disabilities a much-needed voice.
A Night of Gentle Sex (.‘omedies, Theatre Positive +, seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Returning to Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Tue 23—Sat 2 7 April.
Infernal, Mandela Theatre Company, seen at Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh. On (our.
Dougal Graham, Fablevision, seen at. RSA MD, Glasgow. Run Ended.
Seen at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. On tour.
Playwright Lance Flynn claims to have written Inferno overnight. It's a script which certainly fizzes with ideas, but very disparate ideas which are only randomly linked, and rarely developed with much subtlety. It’s centred on the intriguing situation oi a foetus in the womb looking at various possibilities its life might hold, with the added complication of a struggle with a diabolic twin. They’re all pretty grim possibilities, including vomit-soaked package holidays in Spain, an early death in Ulster and asylum psychiatrists inducing happiness and conformity.
Even though a lot of this material is cliched and even patronising towards those it depicts, there are some effectively bizarre — and black- comic scenes. The dead soldier chats to his mum and dad, all three side by side in their coffins; or a Blind Date parody
which segues into a bombing raid on Baghdad. But there are too many scenes, too many references, too many themes for any to be handled with real conviction.
Mandela's ‘uncompromising' physical style has its limitations too. Throughout, the three actors use only a couple of props (a torch and a blindfold), and rely only on theirvoices and their bodies to communicate. But there's a lot less variation than you might imagine -the story's told principally through words, with a notable absence of any powerful choreographic or visual statements. Nonetheless, the performers work well together and work hard, and ultimately it'stheir commitment, discipline and vitality that bind Inferno together.
mam— NOISES OFF
- Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow. Until Sat 6
Apr. i We have one ex-Emmerdale Farm, two
ex-Crossroads, one ex-On The Buses and one ex-Basil Brush man. An all star cast? Well, yes and no. With the notable exception of Lynette McMorrough (aka Glenda from Crossroads), who plays a wonderful listhping Poppy, the old troupers in this touring production of Frayn's tarce-within-a-farce are happy to settle into the old routines of soapy TV. That is a drawback in conventional farce, but when you are having to play two farcesin the one play, it is unlorgivable.
Unless, of course, there is a supporting cast of the quality on display here. All are young and have the energy which has apparently been sapped out of their esteemed leads. Alter a nervy opening, the second and third acts fizz with vitality and it is entirely due to the unknowns. Worth special mention is Tina Doyle who takes bimboism to new levels with her portrayal of Brooke Ashton. She is a stand-in but, as this performance proved emphatically, experience is no guide to class. (Philip Parr)
I Long Day‘sJourneyinto Nigthheatrc Royal. Run ended. The fog sweeps over the muted colours of John Gunter's summer house set. beautifully picked out by Mark Henderson‘s lighting. and engulfs the Tyrone family. i dullingitssensesaftera long day's journey into drug and alcohol abuse. Eugene ()‘Neill's play is kept simmering throughout this Royal National Theatre production. but perhaps rises to the boil a couple of times too often to make the final scene truly chilling. Nonetheless. fine l acting. particularly by
i Prunella Scales. brilliantly distracted as the
i dope-addicted mother
determined to show the world an innocent face. (MF)
The Cherry Orchard
I The Cherry Orchard Seen at Church Hill Theatre. Edinburgh. Run ended. Surely a more appropriate choice for the [Edinburgh Civil Service Drama Society would be The Government Inspector. but they nonetheless gave Chekhov a good chance to shine out ofthc blossom-tinted set. It was a play of two casts: the more mature actors occasionally hammed like porkcrs. but a better overall description is ‘bravura'. The youngsters would be better cast as the cherry orchard rather than its owners. Wooden isthc
I Poets Without Pockets Betontanc Theatre. Third Eye Centre. Run ended. Confined to a long. narrow corridor. this young Yugoslav company play games, often at speed. Remarkable timing and co-ordination are matched by beautifully conceived stage images. Hilarious and approachable throughout. darker moments nonetheless hint at torture and death. while the precision can be suggestive of a military operation. An excellent conclusion to this year‘s New Moves. (KC)
50 The List 5— 18 April 1991