Shock of the nearly new
Mark Fisher checks out revivals of Pinter,
Stoppard and Beckett plays.
No doubt it’s a statistical fluke. but there looks to be something of an Absurdist revival brewing up before the true surrealism of the pantomime season is upon us. In Glasgow. the Citizens’ Theatre is presenting the enigmatic existentialism of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days and the menacing, hyper-naturalism of Harold Pinter‘s The Birthday Party. while in Musselburgh. the Brunton Theatre is showing the studiedly cryptic Tom Stoppard double-bill of After Magritte and The Real inspector Hound. All distinct and individual
dramatists. ofcourse, but they share
an interest in forms of theatre that
step aside from convention to give an arguably more telling insight into the ‘
At the Brunton Theatre. Artistic Director Robin Peoples attacks Stoppard with mixed results. The first play, After Magritte. is a cryptic crossword clue of a piece that opens
‘ with a seemingly inexplicable scene —
a woman lying flat on an ironing board. a man with his hand up a lamp-shade, a policeman staring through the window - and proceeds to provide some rational answers. It could never be an endearing play, but its smart calculations can be engaging and there is a rich vein of humour which, on the strength of the
first night, the company hasn’t got
the measure of. Stoppard’s seemingly disconnected dialogue is actually tightly orchestrated, and when. as is the case here, puns and word-plays are missed, both the sense and the nonsense of the play are confused.
Perhaps the idea of a parody murder-mystery is more easy to get to grips with. because The Real Inspector Hound is altogether more
successful. Stoppard‘s audacious
trick is to get you to sit through a
f third-rate play by setting it in an
ironic frame. His skill is to get away with it for just long enough to introduce a brilliant twist in which the ‘real‘ world ofthe audience merges with the on-stage drama. Robert Paterson and Don Crerar are particularly good as the theatre critics unexpectedly drawn into the action, bringing authority to their petty-minded. self-interested and
g pretentious concerns. In terms of
parody, it’s been bettered by Acorn Antiques. but it's nonetheless a daft and dizzy show.
It‘s difficult to know how to criticise a production of Happy Days when the precision of Beckett’s stage directions leaves such a narrow corridor of interpretation open to the director. designer and actors. When the main performer spends all of her time buried first to the waist, then to the neck in sand — or on this
The Birthday Party
I case , plaster of Paris — and when the ; supporting actor isnearly always ' concealed from the audience, the
ﬁner points of the production are very fine indeed. Suffice it to say, 3 then, that Anne Myatt as the luckless l Winnie performs (recites?) with l control, verve and vocal variation, 5 Rossa Maggiora’s white-on-red set i looks a treat, and that the whole 3: production is as funny, bleak, ! touching, radical and bafﬂing as you ; might expect. } And so to Pinter’s first full-length i play, The Birthday Party, stripped by ‘ director—designer Antony I McDonald of its naturalistic ; trappings and exposed for the comic, 3 unsettling and sharply-observed play ! it is. Free from the academic l self-consciousness of Stoppard or the 5 poetic profundities of Beckett, l Pinter deals out simple, terse but ' perfectly measured dialogue that ' captures the essence of communication in all its inadequate and sublime glory. McDonald’s direction is as simple and clear-headed as the writing, with a made-to-measure cast turning in marvellously underplayed performances, rich in surpressed emotion and precise in comic timing. The Birthday Party, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sun 6 Dec. Happy Days, Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat21 Nov. Stoppard Double Bill, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, until Sat5 Dec.
‘ mamm- ‘THECDNSULDF s BUTTERFLIES
' Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh. Until
Sat 28 Nov.
' Earlierthls year, the Citizens’ Theatre
3 put on a play called Casanova Undone
by ch Edwards. It gave the impression
of having more substance than it
actually did, but it was a lively and
lusty piece that took an amusing look at what happens to a notorious
. womanlser once his sexual energies
are depleted. Bernard Da Costa‘s The
Consul of Butterflies, given its world
- premiere by Fifth Estate, shares the
same central conceit, except that the
: dandy in question is Beau Brummell.
The problem with basing a play on the
ugly, sickly, bad-tempered and waning
: years of a man‘s life is that it’s very
difficult to show signs of the
? charismatic appeal he might have
possessed in his youth. The Citizens’
Casanova overcame this with a zest
: between the bouts of illness and
§ senility that is quite lacking in Fifth
Estate’s Brummell. Andrew Dallmeyer
i in the lead role - hardly off the stage for
two and half hours— plays an irritating
and irritable character lrritatingly. His
shrill monotone bearly lets up as he
nags, complains and selflshly whinges
on about his impending old age,
* insulting the men, groping the women
‘ and generally being unpleasant.
If any of this was off-set by the ‘witty and acerbic comedy’ that director Sandy Neilson claims lorthe play, or even a more convincing hint at the style
and panache for which Brummell made his name, then we might feel
something other than annoyance towards the central character. As it is,
for all the standard Filth Estate I qualities otsolidly-bulltdrama,The
Consul of the Butterflies makes for a tedious and unenlightening night at the theatre. (Mark Fisher)
Seen at Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh. Arches Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 25-Sat 28 Nov.
Black pallets ionn a staircase from stage to balcony; candles flicker behind the chorus of white-clad women; Mother Ireland stands in a tricolour dress in the comer. Unfortunately, it isn’t until Act Two that we learn that the eponymous duo
earned their historical footnote by ; helping Engels study the poor of ' Manchester, so it's surprising that such
initial tableaux succeed as a sort of enigmatic poetry when swamps of structureless obscurity threaten all
The dream oddyssey through past and future lreland in which the pro-Engels girls engage is certainly a bold and aesthetically stimulating
; ioumey, but so unlluctuatingly
é heartfelt is their expression of sorrow
for the tragedy of that nation that it's
; something of a relief when the girls
finally become Engels’s bits of tame
5 Irish rough.
The production as a whole suffers
T from a surfeit of unrealised good ideas; i the effect of the Brechtlan stage
, curtains are diminished by being held
’ together by all too visible Velcro, and
: the ethereal chorus becomes more
earthy when it stomps off with the volubllity of a student troupe. You are constantly tantalised by scenes and effects which are almost powerful, or
which should be successful were it not
for one or two inadequate component elements.
There are some uneasy moments too, created by indifferent acting and a general slack pace, but for all that, the music-filled two hours pass without the briefest glance at a watch, and as a student production, it holds its own against accomplished professional work. it also offers the most convincing on-stage fellatio you’re likely to see this side of Amsterdam. (Stephen Chester)
mm- DEATH AND DANCING
Seen at CCA, Glasgow. At the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 21 Nov. If I choose to llounce the streets in a
2 frilly white frock, does that make me a
| paragon of pure femininity? No. But it will attract the worst elements of greasy, macho beeisteak like flies to a jam tart. And if I choose to slouch happily in ‘practlcal' workaday denim and cotton with cropped hair, does that make me a hardcore dyke? No. But the building site labourers won’t be a problem.
If what I wear doesn't define my personality, then why should it define others' perceptions of me? This is only a fraction of Claire Dowie’s argument in Death and Dancing, 3 play which i uses the loosest ol storyline sketches. Two homosexuals, one male, one . female, both called Max, meet at } university, become friends, seem to i spend every waking second exploring : eitherthelrsexuality orsoclety's ' clolstered sexual attitudes, unbecome
friends, and meet up again years later.
The synopsis is incidental, though it’s
significant that Dowie takes the
traditional romantic plot and gives it a
severe sexual re-orlentation.
The medium is the thing. Dowie and t partner Mark Pinkosh spend as much ! time in dialogue with the audience as i with each other. The densely-scripted g observational humour lends the place i the air—and the intimacy—of a stand-up gig. Their double act is the perfect vehicle for challenging awareness, avoiding the stuffy academia of late night TV debates but barely uttering a syllable that doesn’t contribute to the overloading debate. 0n the whole, the production delivers a neat right hook to the conscience, but not all of it sticks, and often the fragments that do, stick more readily in
the gullet than in the brain. (Fiona l Shepherd)
List 20 November — 3 December I‘ll): 49