Next time a film buff asks you why you reckon that theatre's such a big deal, just tell them about Merlin.
Tell them how it excites, how it surprises, how it bewilders. Tell them how it’s hilarious, bizarre and eccentric. How it challenges, provokes and teases. How it comes to you on its own terms, vulgar, coarse, spitting and naked; sublime, mysterious, luxurious and beautiful. How it reminds you what your imagination‘s for; to move sideways, abstractly, back-to-front
Tell them that to say it‘s better than anything the Royal Lyceum has ever done is to demean it, to set it against a league of which it has no part , to imply that it is not theatre of a world-class standard. Tell them how you tried to buy a ticket for a second sitting the moment you walked out.
And if still they raise an eyebrow, tell them that, yes, there is one qualiﬁcation - that it lasts only three hours. not the eleven of the original German version. And that if the Royal Lyceum doesn’t complete the project next year. it will be seriously letting us down. (Mark Fisher)
Merlin, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 18 Apr.
Pope’s sex romp
Shock! Horror! Scottish stage rife with sex and death! Mark Fisher investigates.
Lulu does it too much. 'l‘herese Raquin kills for it. And (‘asanova remembers when he did it an awful lot. ()ne way or another they all die ' for it. Yes. it's nothing but rumpy-pumpy. non-stop sex action at the ('itizens‘ and (‘ommunicado. with corpses aplenty and licentious gropings to boot.
Lulu. directed by Jon Pope at the ('itz'. tops the X-cert chart asJulic Saunders in the title role charms her way through a long string of willing men who have a convenient tendency to do themselves in. just as she's getting fed up. Frank Wedekind‘s play. the best part oi'a century old. is strikingly contemporary in its detail ofchild abuse. drug abuse. prostitution and AC DC sexual activity. Jon Pope. who also designs. emphasises the fact with a stark. airy. black and white set (rather dated as an idea of modernity. but you get the idea) which is spliced from time to time with a huge sheet of Bacofoil and then graced amusingly. if for no good reason. with the battered wreck of a bright red car. Saunders balances Wedckind‘s astute characterisation ofa psychologicallyabused young woman with remarkable ease: independent. wilful. sexy and strong one minute. vulnerable. clinging and
Siobhan Sidney aim Tristram .lllieklli Citizens’ Cessanova Undone
pathetic the next.
This beingJon Pope. sound and lighting are ofparamount importance. llis long-time collaborator Adrian Johnston provides a score embracing moody keyboards and breezy percussion which repeatedly fades in mid-scene as an integral part of the prmluction. not as decorative after-thought. It sometimes introduces an uncalled for element of melodrama. but more commonly the music adds texture. not to mention the odd jolt of surprise. to the long and unwieldy drama. Likewise. the lighting self-consciously plays tricks with the stage picture. throwing shadows this way and that or suddenly casting a sharp silhouette. It'scharacterislic
Pope - even the dry ice gets a look in - applied with swagger and imagination. but I can‘t help feeling that his techniques only disguise a relentless production in which too little delineation is made of Lulu‘s lovers and one in which. despite a disturbing finale. we feel little sense of loss.
Sound. set and lighting are similarly vital to the atmosphere of (‘ommunicado's adaptation of Zola's Therese Raquin; Jeanine Davies's typically restrained lighting teases at the muted malt greys of Nick Sergcant’s rhomboidal set. while lain McUregor's score ironically (or maybe plain
inaiipropriately) suggests a jollity that is nowhere to be found in Zola's bleak novel. This morality tale about a secret affair ofsuch intensity that murder and overpowering guilt are 3 its only expression. is transferred to' the stage with lucidity and fluency by adaptor Stuart Paterson and director Jennifer Black. While we‘re spared some of Zola's unforgiving gloom. which can become tiresome on the page. we also lose much of his character insight (not to mention a couple ofentertaining secondary characters) and consequently some tension from the drama is dissipated.
It's a good tale well told. but little more than that. and it doesn't justify (‘ommunicado's current fixation with adaptations when many an eager playwright — no doubt Paterson himself— is waiting in the wings with original ideas.
Back at the (‘itz‘. not a place known for new writing. Die lidwards's original idea is to look at that Parisian icon. ('asanova. at a time of life when reputation. not sexual prowess. is all the great lover has left. Robert David MacDonald‘s production of Casanova Undone is sexy in an intelligent kind of way. Kenny Miller's set is typically opulent in spite of the size of the studio stage. and Edwards's play is witty and discursive. But somehow it doesn't quite add up. as if the play can't make the leap from the particular to the universal. Like Lulu and 'l'lti‘rcsc Rur/uin. it's well worth seeing for the way it is done — the classicism of'l‘ristram Jellinek‘s (‘asanova against the plucky pragmatism of Roberta 'l‘aylor's assistant. ('osta — but as with the other two plays. there is little food for thought to take with you beyond the theatre.
('us‘mmru Malone and Lulu. ('ilizcns' T/ll’llll't’. (I/us'grm'. (mil/Sill I8 Apr.
'l‘ltcres‘e Ruquin. ('mmmmii'mlu, (m l()lll'.
BERM- THE PELICAN
Citizens‘ Theatre, Glasgow. Until Sat 18 Apr.
The last place you‘d expect to lind an echo at Robert Lepage’s Tectonic Plates, which once tilled Tramway with a huge scaltoiding structure and a swimming pool for a set, is the Citz’ tiny Third Theatre. The last person you’d expect to direct on such an inevitably cluttered stage is someone from the world of dance. But sure enough, guest director tan Spink sets Strindberg’s one-act drama in a murky pool oi water which laps at the upturned period iurniture and soaks the logs tor the tire.
It’s a nice effect, even it its relevance is tangential. And it does help to disguise the iact that Strindberg’s play is at heart a two-dimensional rant against a woman who hasn’t looked alter her children very well. At the beginning it promises to develop into a rich lamin tragedy; the tact that it doesn't is only made palatable by its brevity.
There are on the way a couple oi
compelling, charged scenes, both involving Matthew Whittle who invests the part ot Frederick, the dissillusioned and wasted son, with nervous, detailed gestures, bulging eyes and controlled twitches. Similarly Helen Baxendale as the daughter, Gerda, spends most of the play with every muscle in her lace and neck taut to snapping point, her eyes wide and alert, letting everything in and nothing out. But the scenes of conlrontation, which smash through the period restraint, ultimately amount to very little and the play appears as an extended sketch rather glibly rounded oil. (Mark Fisher)
YOUR TURN TO CLEAN THE STAIR
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sun 19 Apr, then on tour.
Rona Munro's new play strains to say big things, but tails loul at its ambitions. As a series of character portraits, Your Turn to Clean the Stair works beautifully, complemented by some excellent pertormances, but Munro's analysis oi the tenants’ complex psychology trips over itseli
' with reasoning that is simplistic at
There are live lives, but only three at them count; the other two— the male characters- merely serve to illustrate the shortcomings oi their sex. The depth ls reserved tor the women, whose condition is presented as one of cause and etiect. A good deal oi this is related to sex and sexuality, but ultimately Munro is dealing with vulnerabilities and defences, epltomlsed by Mrs Mackie's obsession with cleaning the stair, to the point where reality loses all sane proportions.
That’s all very well, but to suggest that the men, hall-baked imbeciles that they are, shoulder much at the responsibility, is to reduce complex issues to trite simplicity. By trying to lind reasons ior Lisa’s sexual encounter with Kay, turthermore, Munro appears to be ignoring the most obvious: that it is simply more enjoyable. There is plenty oi soul in Munro’s play, but she needs to support her touching portraits oi three very dltlerent women with something more substantial than gut teellng. (Aaron iilckiin)
42 The List 10- 23 April 1992