What’s the difference between a gag that’s 263 years old and one that’s 16? Ken Cockburn finds out.
The Beggar‘s Opera. John (iay’s parody-opera of 1728. belongs to an often-overlooked English tradition that‘s anarchic. subversive and isn‘t hung up about sex. It's easy to see why it appealed to Brecht and Weill. who based their Three/Jenny ()peru on it.
Pen Name‘s director. David MacVicar. has assembled a strong cast for this touring poroduction. and although their acting styles are sometimes mismatched. their control is admirable. The characters they play are little more than caricatures. yet the performances have a subtlety to them. with some early scenes between Pcachums pa. ma and errant daughter being especially deftly handled. Musically it‘s strong too. my only quibble being that some songs seem over almost before they‘ve begun. And it‘s very funny: the jokes may have been around for 263 years. btit delivered well. they still work.
Yet. despite these undoubted pleasures. l have to say I left unconvinced. There’s something unengaging about the production. perhaps something too comfortable. Brecht updated it. sharpening it on
Comedians the foibles ofthe roaring 20s. While the original is still barbed enough to be played as written. this production doesn‘t focus on those satirical elements within it that could make us. in 199l.laugh and simultaneously cringe with horrified recognition.
Comedians. from 1975. belongs to another era too. with its references to Women‘s Libbers. Willie Whitelaw and Crossroruls. Beyond that. [an Wooldridge‘s new production is hardly played as a period piece: the all-male cast of
eleven tackle it with a seriousness befitting its subject. the art of comedy.
Between the bingo sessions. six would-be comics perform in a tatty Manchester club. They‘ve been schooled by a music-hall veteran who urges them to look for a truthfulness in their work. and they‘re performing for an agent for whom any laugh is a good laugh. no matter at whose expense. We watch them prepare. watch them perform. watch the recrirninations afterwards.
Here it‘s the comedians as a group who are central. whether firing off pointed jokes in the classroom. or indirectly bouncing off each other in their acts. The club scenes are great fun. and while Kern Falconer‘s manneredly batty compere almost upstages everyone. a hilariously botched pseudo-yentriloquism routine played by Simon Sharkey' and Stuart McQuarrie steals the shown
The beauty ofGriffiths‘ play is that it presents acts using different types of humour. with a context in which to watch them. This doesn't make lrish jokes unfunny. but does give laughter pause for thought. The problem with the play is that. after the acts. Griffiths doesn't allow the audience the honesty of their responses. He has to tell us which act was best. and why — in this case a rant of venom and hatred by the teacher‘s favorite but rebellious pupil. (iethin Price. But it's simply not as shocking as we are told it is - as perhaps it was in 1975. l’erversely. Price‘s anti~authoritarian yell is enclosed in a play which. with its own authoritarian strategies. is telling its audience how to feel. (Ken Cockburn)
The Beggar's Opera, seen (u The Traverse. Edinburgh. On (our. (.‘omedrans, Royal Lyceum Theatre. Edinburgh. Until 5a! 19 Oct.
V DRAMA j I HEDDA GABLER 1
At The Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow until 26 October.
What a set. The crimson curtain is
drawn back to reveal a scarlet I drawing-room replete with opulent bay ' windows reaching all of twenty feet into the air and a portrait of a colonel that bears an uncanny resemblance to
Robert David MacDonald! Absolutely sublime elegance and ten out of ten for designer, Julian McGowan. Now iorthe rest of them.
Robert David MacDonald, stand up and be counted; as translator, adapter and director, there’s no escaping this one. Atterthe gasp at the set has subsided, it’s sighs virtually all of the way in the stilted production. One can only presume that MacDonald had a grand design that revolves around the fact that Hedda is a hyperactive neurotic. But MacDonald clearly feels that this would not be obvious enough to us. To emphasise the fact, the rest of the cast play their parts soporiierously — providing an unambiguous contrast to the twltchy Hedda.
This may work it we were able to see
the piece as a fusion of the bland and the volatile with each side balancing the other, but what we have are the two separate and distinct elements on the same set. One minute Joergen Tesman and Sheriff Brack (Brian Deacon and Patrick Hannaway) are iuliing us to sleep with their ponderous dialogue and the next Hedda (Anne Lambton) explodes onto the stage and flutters around like a trapped sparrow. Each aspect oi the production is as irritating
as the other. The only relief comes from Debra
' Gillett and Andrew Wilde as the bizarre
pair of demi-iovers, Thea and Eilert. No
; extremes for either otthem, and they prove that none are necessary to make
Ibsen interesting, if not invigorating, theatre. it's a shame that everybody else involved did not have the courage to let the script do the talking. (Philip Parr)
I Fool for Love Arches
Theatre. (ilasgow. Until g Sun 20 Oct. The Arches ! Theatre ('oriipanyekes out every last grimy detail of Sam Shepard's modern American one-act drama. from the stained motel-room walls to Benny Young's unwashed hairand oily denim. lt'sa pretty depressing scenario. Young and Deirdre Davis. as the incestuous half-brother and sister. playing up to the play"sbitter-sweet demands w ith hard-nosed brutality \ oung in particular turns in a swaggc ring. unpleasant. dangerous and utterly convincing performance as a man — hell. a guy - driven by an adolesccnt passion of classical intensity. Andy
sloppy performance as the ghostly father. for has ing directed an othcryy isc compelling piece of theatre. (Mb)
I Of Mice and Men Seen at UM Athcnacum 'l‘heatre. (ilasgoyy On tour. Appalling accents. narration that syy rugs between hamniy and worthy . and half-hearted charactcrisations are made palatable by the strength ofJohn
in this first public production by “I: group ()pcning Acts. I'm told the company didn‘t feel comfortable in the formal spaceoftheUld Athcnauem. but frankly they don't look comfortable yy 1111 each otheroryytththeir characters and there is little evidence of Robin l’eoples‘dircctorial input. Steinbeck's noycl transfers surprisingly smoothly tothc stage»
(I C(itlpleoltotichli'lg moments. notably the exchange between Fiona Bell as ('urlcy 's is ifc and David Findlay as the hallyyit Lennie. Butl spent too much ofthe
the unconvincing cross-dressing and weak acting in supporting roles to recommend it with any conviction. (Mb)
I Muscle Voicel 'l‘ramway. (ilasgoyy. Run ended. (Muscle Voice ll until Sat 13 ()ct). Muscle Voice 1 was; Wendy Houston — gently entertaining with spasms ofenergy and acute confrontation; Ishmael lloustonJones- a voice In the Dark telling delightful tales of frustrated film camcramen; and Horn —- the evident muscle of Dorfman and Froot. heavenly saxophone riffs while executing astonishing lifts. Dance enthusiast or not. wear your thermals for next week's triple bill. (TU)
The List. 1 1:3: bctober lé‘ll 49
Arnold is only forgiven his
Stcrribeck's classic tragedy
performance sniggering at