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's x ‘4' '3 a] I The Resistible Rise of I Arturo Ui Seen at St Bride‘s . Centre. Edinburgh. On i
There‘s always a danger that modern directors will get weighed down by Bertolt Brecht's heavy canon oftheory instead of I just getting on with his plays. Not so Roanna Benn who, in 7:84‘s production of the exiled German writer‘s Hitler parable. has sufficient theatrical freedom both to impose her own style and to remain faithful to the spirit of Brccht's ideas about keeping the audience at an emotional distance.
Making a virtue ofa small cast. Benn creates a self-consciously stagey version of The Resistihle Rise of A rturo Ui. The actors plaster on their stylised white foundation in full view ofthe audience. before elambering onto or underneath Rae Smith‘s excellent installation-like end-of-the-pier wooden stage. True to Brecht. we have little reason to empathisc with any of these grotesque gangsters played with cartoon exaggeration by a cast all playing more than one role — Ashley Jensen. with the aid of a ventriloquist’s dummy, even plays two at once.
What the production suffers from — andI suspect I saw it on a slightly off night — is an uncertain pace, which muddies Brecht‘s precise plot development and weakens much ofthe play‘s humour. The scene in which Ui mutatesinto Hitler with the aid ofa hammy actor is as failsafe as the Mechanicals scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for guaranteed laughs. but here it repeatedly misses the mark. It‘s not until the more chilling implications of the second half that the play begins to hit home.
Nonetheless. there are two very strong performances from Tom McGovern as Ui and the ever more accomplished Ashley Jensen as Dogsborough. who could teach the cast of Of Mice And Men a thing or two about how to play elderly American males. Not a perfect production. but there's plenty going for it. L (Mark Fisher)
Mark Fisher listens to Irish stories, gets a panto premonition and sees Chicago moved to Glasgow.
One of the most warm-spirited
evenings I’ve had oflate was at the opening night ofthe third Scottish
Storytelling Festival at Edinburgh’s
Netherbow Theatre. Like puppetry,
7 storytelling in this country tends to . be an activity aimed exclusively at
3 children. All well and good for ten-year-olds, but I don’t see why the
rest of us should allow ill-considered prejudice to constrain our imaginations. At the Storytelling Festival they certainly don‘t.
In a two-week yarn-spinning marathon that brings together tale-tellers from the Highlands and Islands to Guyana and Illinois, I can‘t say how typical the first session was. but I‘ll be surprised ifthe warm and enthusiastic atmosphere ofAn Irish Welcome is not sustained throughout. Hosted by Scottish traveller, Duncan Williamson, who chipped in a couple of his own splendid stories and will return elsewhere in the festival, the evening was made up of a selection of Northern Irish poems, jokes and lullabies recited by Liz Weir, Tom McDevitte and Billy Ritchie.
Ifthe earlier part ofthe performance threatened to become a cosy echo of Ronnie Corbett’s shaggy-dog stories — Liz Weir even attributed one amusing account to Dave Allen — the evening gradually aquired a lyrical twist that moved the emphasis away from the instant
omiic Gnt as Asian i The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
gratification of the punchline and towards the art ofcreating a vivid narrative. The irrepressible McDevitte, over 80 years old and no sign of flagging, specialises in corny jokes endearineg told. while Ritchie’s poems, reminiscent ofA Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, and Weir’s fables, timeless and touching. have much resonance.
The first night was all but sold out; do try and get along to one or more ofthe sessions in the final week. If nothing else, you’ll hear a more erudite standard of heckling than the average cabaret gig.
In Hamish Glen’s production of American Buffalo for Winged Horse (not a Scottish premiere as the publicity would have you believe), David Mamet‘s distinctive Chicago idiom has been transposed to the Scottish west coast. Preferable to bad American accents, ofcourse, and Glasgow patter is as good a substitute as any, but Mamet’s dialogue is precisely located and you miss something when his exact rhythms are denied. This could explain why, despite vigorous
performances, the characters seem rootless and lacking in magnetic attraction.
Not that it‘s a dull evening. Mamet‘s volcanic script erupts and cools. alternating between vitriol and near-surreal humour. as three small-time crooks bungle a house-raid before getting past the planning stage. Vincent Friell is particularly frightening, though maybe too little restrained, as the volatile Teacher. switching from reasoned, if idiosyncratic, argument to outbursts of physical violence. His energy is neatly offset by the cautious diplomacy of Ronnie Letham‘s junk-shop owner, Donny, and the dim-witted vacancy of Brian O‘Malley‘s Bob, Donny's assistant. Ifwe knew whether we were in Glasgow or Chicago, the production would add poignancy to strong performances.
At Musselburgh‘s Brunton Theatre they‘ve declared a very early start to the panto season with an adaptation ofThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which includes buckets ofsnow. a guest appearance by Santa Claus and lines about the joy of Christmas presents. And it only takes a couple of minor on-stage mishaps for the cast to start throwing in improvised panto one-liners. Yes, it is the middle of October. None of this seems to trouble the largely school-age audience which laps it up at face value. even ifsome careless blocking means that faces are one thing you often can‘t see. But it’s a lively enough production of a captivating modern fairytale — what it lacks in control, it makes up for in energy.
The Scottish Storytelling Festival, Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh, until Fri] Nov.
American Buffalo, seen at Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh, on tour.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, until Sat26 Oct.
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Seen at St Bride's Centre, Edinburgh. At Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 29 Oct-1 Nov.
Good Company’s cast of three threads together a solid selection oi Brecht's poems, songs and scenes from the plays. The poems and songs are clearly enough delivered, If occasionain a little staid, though a reticent Edinburgh audience did nothing to enliven the atmosphere. The play extracts are more inventive - watching the gods from the Good Person of Sezuan ascend to the heavens provides a welcome visual counterpoint to what is mainly a verbal presentation. It’s intriguing to compare this playing of Arturo Ul with the current 7:84 production (see review). Perhaps the dramatic highlight though, is Brecht’s appearance at the McCarthy hearings in the 50s, splendidly toiling his aggressive questioner.
What’s most striking is the lasting vision oi the man. Enmeshed in the politics oi his day, he nonetheless saw
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I f i; . g e‘ ‘ i“ * = t i - " L L? - beyond them. After 1989, socialism may be discredited, but Brecht’s perceptiveness in the struggle against exploitation and war rings too many bells in the New World Orderto be easily dismissed. (Ken Cockburn)
JOHNNY 3. HAPPY
Seen at The Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow. On Tour.
See the phrase ‘special needs production’ and you know what to expect don’t you? Do you? This new play by Strathclyde Orchestral opens with one oi the vilest neo-punk songs I have ever heard sung by a certain Johnny B. Nasty (Scott Johnston). Instantly, the action shifts twelve years
forward and we are told that aiterthe performance, a lighting rig fell on Nasty's head turning him Into Johnny 8. Happy— a man who is disgustingly nice to everybody.
Until, that is, Johnny confronts his sinister uncle (Gordon Dougall) and promptly blows him away with his own gun. He also gets clean away with it; the Glasgow police seeing it as a gangland killing (a little too topical for comfort that). This profoundly dubious morality is further compounded by the fact that Johnny’s father’s gambling debts are paid off as a result of a bank fraud perpetrated via a computer by Johnny's seriously handicapped brother, Moon (Mark Rowland).
In spite of reservations about playwright Rod Stewart's ‘gun-Iaw’ tale, the performances are excellent, as is Michael Marra’s music (performed by able-bodied and special needs musicians). or special note is Anne Orwin who not only has to say some frankly strange things about the mystical power of Jimi Hendrix, but also had to step in at four days notice after the withdrawal of Maggie Bell. (Philip Parr)
48 The List 25 October — 7 November 1991