Mark Fisher finds that the Traverse Theatre’s vital and vibrant Bondagers works equally well on an epic and an intimate scale.
It‘s taken a special injection ofcash to do it. but there‘s no doubt that the ‘
Traverse Theatre‘s Bondagers is the
glorious beneficiary of a six-week rehearsal period. Thanks to the LWT Plays on Stage Award. Sue Glover's lyrical evocation of life on the farms ofthe Borders in the last century is performed with an assurance and subtlety ofpace rarely
achieved by the standard three-week
rehearsal. As a result. it is the year‘s first great piece of Scottish theatre. Opening in Mayfest. Bondagers played an all-too-short four-night run at the Tramway and has now transferred to home base in Edinburgh. Ifit seems a preposterous idea to gear a production to two such contrasting spaces- the sweeping fields of the Tramway and the cramped allotment of the Traverse - it has not apparently daunted director Ian Brown. In each space different qualities come to the fore - the patterns ofthe landscape at the Tramway, the human tragedy at the Traverse — and it is a production
sufficiently rich for neither version to
It‘s not just that the play is carried by six women that makes Bondagers a distinctively ‘female‘ play. As in Caryl Churchill’s similarly atmospheric but less satisfying Fen, which is set in the flat farmlands of Eastern England, the lives ofthe women workers are determined by the activities of their menfolk. Unlike Churchill. however. Glover allows no men on stage. concentrating instead on the fabric of female relationships and the business ofwomen's survival through adverse circumstances. Bondagers is concerned less with the
Hair-raising dance in Sue Glover's Bondagers
kind ofconflict that drives most ‘male‘ drama. than with the texture and mood of life outside the male-dominated public arena. It's a play not about events — what story there is has hardly begun by the second act — but about more generalised, subjective experience. The limitation of this approach is that there is no room for analysis or debate - atmosphere and impressions hold out over dialectics. But sooner this than the string of recent plays in which the political argument goes no deeper than what is suggested on the press-release. Glover wisely avoids making a meal of the obvious issue, realising that the iniquity of the bondage system. in effect a legalised form ofslave labour. need not be spelled out. Furthermore, in a society where men‘s experience is represented most frequently, the detailed and faithful representation ofwomen's experience is in itselfa political act. And when performed with the mature. unshowy. ensemble unity of these six superb actors. Glover's well delineated characters pull us effortlessly into their daily drama. With heavenly five-part harmonies. the actors make Pete Livingstone's excellent modern folk score their own. and slip as fluidly into Sue
MacLennan's unobtrusive passages ofchoreography. This came across best in the Tramway. where the actors danced with greater freedom around the coffin-like boxes positioned in precise patterns. as if responding to the relentless rhythm of nature itselfon Stewart Laing’s elemental set.
But ifat the Traverse the production loses a sense of the epic sweep of the landscape, it also becomes more intimate, the characters growing in individuality, no longer such bleak, exposed figures. A sharp strain ofhumour also shows through — much of the lowland Scots dialogue was lost in the cavernous Tramway - and somehow, despite still finishing a couple of minutes after the dramatic climax. the ending is less casual, more poignant. It‘s too much about collective experience, not individual
tragedy, to break your heart, and it’s I
too lyrical to send you out shouting in political anger. but as a piece of sensuous. captivating theatre it is a tremendous achievement.
Bondage/is. 'l‘ruvwzw Theatre, Edinburgh. until Sun 2 June.
( 'ary/ (.‘liurc/zill 's Fen is published in (‘hurr'lii/i Plays: Two ( Met/men
Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 25 May. Tim Rice specialises in unusual ideas
iormusicals andthisis as unlikelya 1 subject tor West End razzamatazz as
you’ll lind. But at course it isn’t just
: about chess. 0n the lace at it, Frederick Trumper(ChristopherCorcoran),the
American world chess champion is being challenged by dynamic Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Maurice Clarke). In tact the championship is beset by East-West suspicion and political one-upmanship, and complicated by
the tact that Trumper’s girlfriend
Florence (Rebecca Storm) is a
Rebecca Storm in Chess
Czech-born detector whose parents were killed by the Russians in the 1968 uprising. lnstinctively hostile towards the Soviet delegation, but equally led up with Trumper’s histrionics, Florence is drawn to Sergievsky. The battle for
I the World championship becomes a
battle lorthe girl.
It you like musicals, you'll love it; the set and choreography are superb, and all the excitement and glitziness ol the genre are here. But it does seem that, ever since ‘Evita', musicals have been tailoring their iemale lead roles for Elaine Page. Rebecca Storm fits the bill admirably. She is physically similar and certainly sounds every bit as nasal. That said, Storm has an impressively powerful voice, she and Clarke are, in tact, the only soloists who manage to keep on top at the music all the time. Still, ilyou can make out 60 per cent of the lyrics in a musical you’re doing well and I reckon l averaged 70 per cent with ‘Chess'. (Miranda France)
The List 17 - 30 May 199153
I Rob Newman Glasgow University Union. Run ended. ‘Talkabout David lcke!‘ challenges a frothy heckler and for one perfect moment Newman holds the audience hostage with a look of utter contempt (for the subject matter. that is). ‘David lcke'?!‘ he bellows and the dormant giggles become roars of approval. And that's it. that'sthc joke. He doesn't need to say anything more.
Not that he has to rely on technique as a prop for his material. lt‘s intrinsically funny even before his quick-witth delivery makes it hilarious. Ilis set isa mish-mash of pacey observations. improvisation and impersonations. culling the best bits from his Mary While/rouse Experience material. and still raising a laugh the tenth time around.
Most advantageous of all his qualities isthat he is totally contemporary. In subject matter he scores with the first recorded stand-upjibe at the obnoxious Chesney Hawsz (he probably threw out his EMFjokes to slot that one in). and as far as appearance goes he'scapturcd the young. trendy and beautiful market, striding restlessly about the stage in his baggy jeans and sports top and rufﬂing his fashionably mid-length hair distractedly. In the future this ‘doing it forthe kids’ approach may become his nemesis. but for now. it‘s entirely fitting that his platform should be a student union.
I Made lrom Glrders: Scotland's Other National Poet Seen at St Brides Centre. Edinburgh. On Tour. This is almost the
play that explains the i phenomenon ofThe ) Great McGonagall l . . . Kern Falconer givesit i laldy as W. .‘v‘lcg. . and l Sally Ilowitt has a moment of tottering glory as Queen Victoria on skates; it's a coherent. energetic and funny production by Annexe 'I‘heatrc. But. like a
painted scene-cloth. the play‘s background is
pretty rudimentary . which weakens the attempted insights Into \s hat actually made the man tick. (iood entertainment all the
same. and worth a trip. j (K(') I