Right to grail
last year’s instalment oi Merlin Tom McGrath is a busy man. it’s only a matter of weeks since he was co- writing a play with students from Queen Margaret College, he‘s just on the final draft of the Traverse‘s Mayfest show, Buchanan, and all the while he‘s been popping in and out of rehearsals at the Royal Lyceum to help with the ﬁne tuning of Merlin — the Search for the Grail. The play is McGrath‘s adaptation of Tankred Dorst‘s epic Arthurian legend, which can run anything up to eleven hours in the original German, but has been served to Scottish audiences in two three-hour chunks, the ﬁrst this time last year and now the second, lan Wooldridge’s parting shot as the theatre's Artistic Director.
‘1 think it‘s easier to follow than the ﬁrst part was,’ says McGrath. ‘I don’t think it‘ll polarise people quite so much. It has a different mood rather than a different style. The elements of the ﬁrst part are all there, but they‘re arranged in a different way. Doing this adaptation I found my sense of what the audience enjoyed was much clearer. The text feels much more shared with the audience. Also it seems that some of the pe0ple who felt shocked by it the ﬁrst time have come around to it.‘
Certainly, last year’s instalment was a departure for the Royal Lyceum. Gone were the drawing-room sets and polite repartee. in was the live music, naked bodies and staggering stage effects. “It feels like one battle has been won and it’s established a conﬁdence about doing it,‘ says McGrath. ever-impressed by Wooldridge‘s ability to work at speed and produce in three weeks what any sane theatre would need months to do. This time round, the director is giving the play a modern setting and no doubt making much play of Dorst's off- beat anachronisms such as having Merlin carry round a photograph of Gawain in a nightclub.
‘The way the emotions of the end of the piece work is quite staggering,‘ says McGrath. ‘And then there’s this ﬁnal section of Arthur’s death which for me has a very calming effect, I feel it’s quite profound.’ (Mark Fisher)
Merlin — The Search for the Grail, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 2—Sat I7 Apr.
More Wonder stuff
There’s an obvious iirst question to be asked oi Louise iiennlson, writer and perionner oi Dob Marley’s Gardener Sold My Friend.
‘Decause it happened, that’s why,’ is the answer. ‘Dld you- see Stevie Wonder Felt My Face? Well that was my iirst show, and that was about the 60s. This one ls a continuation into the 70s, when I went to live in Jamaica tor a while. The title’s a reference to one oi the many unpleasant incidents that happened there.’
I won’t ruin the story by attempting to repeat it here, but suiiice to say it’s the kind oi shambolic, ‘accidental anecdote’ which audiences at her previous show thoroughly enjoyed. ilennison’s reminiscences are iull oi drugs, sex and celebrities (malor and minor), all oi which then possemd a 70s prelapsarian innocence - at one point she describes how she carried a parcel onto an aeroplane without once suspecting the motives oi those who were paying her air iare.
Times and sentencing policies have clearly changed since then, but iiennison has iound that the audience ior her recollections is tar wider than she at iirst expected. ‘l’ve been to some small places and been terriiled at seeing lust grey hair and glasses irom wall to wall, but in tact they were
really open and liked it. I think a lot oi the detail passes by the young people. They’ve heard oi .limi iiendrix but they don’t quite get it - like they can wear the loans but they don’t know what it means.’
Which leads us to the second obvious question oi the interview. ‘lt means you’re a complete prat. You should try wearing them in the rain. Same with platiomts. I’ve nearly killed myseli wearing plationns then so I’m not going to do it again.’ It’s good to know there was a downside to that are too. (Stephen chester)
Dob Marley’s Gardener Sold My Friend, Paisley Arts Centre, Sat 27 Mar.
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V NEW PLAY
Swan step beyond
‘Vle decided very early on to avoid Orville-acting and to try and iind some other way oi doing it,’ says Simon Donald to please the ornithologists among you. Donald has the title role in Elizabeth Egloii’s The Swan, the second production oi the year at Edinburgh’s Traverse and the iirst in- house show in the theatre’s studio space. Set on the Nebraskan Plains, the play tells the story oi a woman who takes in an injured swan only to see it transionn ltseli into a human being, arousing hidden passions, not least oi which is the ilousy oi her milkman lover.
‘lt keeps conironting you with the dilemma oi how seriously anyone can take this,’ says Donald to explain how ior all the play’s poetry and magical vision, it is very diiierent to something VLD. Yeats might have dreamed up. ‘Kevln, the lover, keeps having to pull himseli short at the idea that he’s having to talk to this thing. They can’t answer the question about whether thisisaswan oraman. isltalove
Simon Donald rival or an injured wild iowl? That’s a struggle that they have all the way through which is very iunny, which stops it being the story oi some sort oi noble mythological beast.’
Egloii’s trick is to create a realistic domestic setting and then to introduce the very unreal element oi the transiorming bird. iiot only does this give the play its theatrical edge, but also it lets the writer explore darker themes oi repressed passion, madness and the desire to escape. ‘lt’s got a lot oi darkness in it,’ says Donald. ‘It will be quite hard, quite strong. The swan isn’t cute. it may be iunny every now and again, but it’s a beast. it’s a brute not a pet or a Disney swan. What’s interesting to watch in drama is characters evolving, and this is the biggest evolution you could imagine: irom non-human to advanced human. As an actor, that’s great to attempt, to mark all the places oi discovery.’ (Mark Fisher)
The Swan, Traverse Theatre,
. Edinburgh, Fri 26 Mar-Sun 18 Apr.
9...; Jet ‘lt won‘t be an extension of the Alexander Sisters, but, erm, we look quite similar,‘ says Carolyn Bonnyman. starring with fellow Sister Lynn Ferguson in a revival of lain Heggie‘s one-acter Politics in the Park. ‘It is a play, so it‘s nothing to do with those characters, but the fact that there is a rivalry between them is something in common.‘
A series of comic conversations between two middle-aged women on a park bench, Politics in the Park bears the hallmarks of Heggie’s terse writing style, all misunderstandings and over-lapping sentences, and has been rewritten to give it a more focused outline for this production. ‘lt's a funny play, but we‘re trying to play the characters straight,‘ says Bonnyman arguing that having to play older characters will be exaggeration enough. ‘That‘ll be funnier, we‘re not trying to do whoops banana skin.‘
‘1 really can‘t sing Heggie’s praises highly enough,‘ joins in Lynn Ferguson who is now a regular on the London cabaret circuit. ‘What stand-ups do is take everyday speech patterns and show them up. Heggie uses day-to- day sentence structures, but underneath it all lies this big black thing. I can understand where he comes from when he talks about stand—up comedy because it‘s direct and to the point.‘
Performed by the Whitehill Group as part of a double-bill with The Hostess, a new play by Vivien Adam, Politics in the Park will enjoy a short run in Glasgow and Edinburgh, then returns to the Edinburgh Fringe. (Mark Fisher) Politics in the Park and The Hostess, Stepping Stones, Edinburgh. Mon 5—Sat 10 Apr; Arches Theatre. Glasgow, Tue l3—Sat I 7 Apr.
M The List 26 March—8 April 1993