' course, though any production that
Mark Fisher looks at the I serious side of Bed and I Breakfast, hairdressing and German oompah
Overtly political theatre has been relatively thin on the ground for some time. but just now there are three Scottish productions attempting to deal with topical home-truths. For Scotland Matters. 7:84 commissioned a batch of playwrights to come up with nine short sketches which. in all their eclecticism. would sum up the state ofthe nation. An impossible task, of
tackles sectarianism, education cut-backs, homosexuality. pacifism and hairdressing even before the interval is at least heading in the right direction.
Like its precursor, Long Story Short, the production entertains simply because of its fragmented nature; even the most inconsequential contributions — and two or three are very unclear oftheir purpose - are too short to outstay their welcome. Iqurmeet Mattu’s The Giftie Glen Us, wisely saved till last, is the only one to address the question of nationhood head on, neatly balancing an allegorical love story with a typically 90s marketing campaign, it follows no less perceptive pieces by Peter Nardini, Ann Marie di Mambro and Iain Heggie (who admittedly disappoints by turning in an old play). The TV-studio framing-device is handled rather clumsily and some stage business seems rushed, but generally it’s a bright and breezy evening that makes up in diversity what it lacks in hard edge.
It’s no accident that C.P. Taylor’s play about the insidious rise of the '
Scotland Matters: lacks hard edge Nazis is called Good. Throughout the play, that same word crops up again and again, each time carrying a different shade of meaning. Is the good man who joins the party so as not to draw attention to himself, the same good man who argues that the Jews have only themselves to blame? Is the good family man who cares patiently for his senile mother, the same good family man who advocates the ‘compassionate‘ killing of the elderly and infirm? The shock ofTaylor’s play lies in the way it resonates beyond the obvious horror of Hitler’s regime to connect with our own lives, our own feeble compromises, our own self-seeking survival mechanism which grabs for quasi-credible reasoning to justify anti-social behaviour.
It is this broader implication that makes Taylor’s play so watchable. Of course, we must never forget the evil of fascism, but it would be a dull play that did no more than remind us of the fact. Taylor presents the accession of National Socialism not as an abstract aberration, but as a clearly explicable, potentially repeatable and ultimately human phenomenon. We are politically stimulated because Taylor avoids
crude didacticism — for him, the opposite of good is not evil, but not-quite-so-good.
Michael Boyd’s production has a supreme grasp of the fluidity of Taylor’s writing, playing on a neutral space before the ﬁve neo-classical doors of Graham Johnston’s splendidly-balanced stripped-pine set. These doors conceal a continually-changing and deftly-executed series of tableaux, from the oddball German band of musicians to the ominous
book-burning bonﬁres. I’d have liked to have seen Conrad Asquith’s Halder, the central role, wrestle more emotionally, less cerebrally, with the play’s constant moral dilemmas, but generally he, like the rest of the company, turns in a solid, controlled performance that brings stature, if not ﬂair, to Taylor’s compelling play.
I quite commonly see bad plays with good plays itching to get out, but it‘s unusual to see a good play with a bad one squirming inside. Such is the case with John McGrath’s Watching ior Dolphins, a monologue with musical interludes performed by Elizabeth MacLennan. The bad play is a domestic tragi-comedy obsessed, in themanner of the worst amateur dramatics, with the minutiae of daily living: baking cakes, roasting lamb, tidying up— theatrically dull detail performed without wit and adding nothing to the play’s substance.
By the time it reaches the Citizens’ Theatre, I hope McGrath and MacLennan will have ditched the props, the bookcase, the table and the cupboard, cut the laboured jokes (or at least made them funny), and started to concentrate instead on the good play, an emotive political history taking us from 60s activism — the ‘we’ of collective student revolt — to 90s apathy — the ‘I’ of a lone bed-and-breakfast landlady. At a time when the Left is in urgent need of a new vision, McGrath’s contribution is to be welcomed. He holds back from giving solutions, reminding us instead of our recent past, jumping back and forth between personal experience and public events, in an effort to rekindle the burning passion of socialism. Tighter direction, a less low-key performance and a rejection of the
; TV realism could turn this into a
dramatically as well as politically engaging performance.
Scotland Matters, seen at Old Athenaeum Theatre, Glasgow, on tour.
Good, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sun 24 May and in Edinburgh International Festival.
Watching for Dolphins, seen at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh, I appearing at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 26—Sat 30 May.
MACWIZARD FAE 02
It’s Christmas time. ‘Oh no it isn't,’ i hear you cry. But it’s certainly panto time down Clyde Unity way. This version oi the Wizard oi Oz with a twist has a hissable baddie, taunting oi the audience, and every other trad panto element you could think oi.
Being Clyde Unity, though, there’s also a gay lion whose ambition is to try on Dorothy's ruby red slippers, a tin man alter anything in a skirt and Judy Garland ilounclng around the stage demanding sympathy lrom her director and yearning lot a vodka and coke. Unconventional and occasionally hit-and-mlss, MacWizard keeps every kid in the audience entertained and
most adults worried about awkward
questions post-curtain. A nice balance. I (Philip Parr)
Emmi— EIGHT TO THE BAR
Why does Wildcat produce anaesthetised, anodyne, bland shows like this?
It could be laziness, it could be over-work (tor a touring company it does produce a large amount oi new material), but this is a company unrecognisable lrom the one which triumphantly presented The Steamle. The plot, such as it is, has an old dear and her husband at their Golden Wedding bash, getting all nostalgic about the war. Well, not completely nostalgic. But the iact that Anderson
and MacLennan have included the occasional ‘but it was like living . through a nightmare’ cliche to tag onto the hearth-lire optimism and Andrews Sisters songs, makes the whole scenario even more embarrassing.
The picture is completed by some sledge-hammer subtle politicking. The old dear’s husband needs an operation, there is a twelve-month waiting list, so they persuade him to go private. Plenty oi room tor making comparisons with the optimism alter the war, and Wildcat clumsily wades in, waving its socialist and nationalist principles high above its head. “It's always darker beiore the dawn’ and other tired old slogans are chanted out like there was no tomorrow. Much more at this, and there won’t be, ior Wildcat. (Philip Parr)
I Corky and the Juice Pigs Seen at The Counting House, Edinburgh. After the Doug Anthonys, all colonial/music/manic/ , comic groups must bend the knee and bow the head, but the Corkies considerably less than most. Plenty of improvisation gives the proceedings a dangerous edge which few could achieve, and roughly half of the songs are classically funny- the rest ﬁllthe gaps well enough. A case of second best still being pretty exceptional. (PP)
I The Loneliness oithe Long Distance Runner Seen at the Arches Theatre. Glasgow, on tour. Stamp stamp, crunch crunch. Sweat, tears and the pounding of feet are the components of Alan Sillitoe’s dark Northern tale. Colin (Neil Packham), a young offender remanded in Borstal, discovers a talent and a love for the solitude ofrunning. Keeping one step ahead of hisjailers who treat him like a ‘prize racehorse’, he exacts a fitting revenge on them and their establishment. Minimally yet imaginatively staged and confidently performed, Golden Age Theatre’s production is a funny, furious and passionate piece of drama. (BC)
I City Lights At The King's Theatre, Edinburgh until Sat 23 May and on tour. This isn‘t real theatre, of course. This isTV spin-off theatre, easy meat for critics and aesthetes alike who can pontiﬁcate to their hearts’ content about lack of subtlety in the characterisation and over-simplistic plot development. The only drawback is that actors Gerard Kelly, lain MacColl and Dave Anderson, writer Bob Black and director Ron Bain have produced a show which is funny, airy and thoroughly entertaining -— a show which puts plenty of real theatrical comedy to shame. (PP)
The List 22 May — 4 June 1992 43