Sick off the mark
Beatrice Colin sees the current crop of shows at the Citizens’ Theatre.
‘It's the survival of the sickest.‘ says a character in The Pitchfork Disney and following this strand. all three productions at the Citizens' Theatre look into the nature of the sick, either mental illness or sickness of spirit.
Set in a psychiatrist‘s surgery. Orton‘s What the Butler Saw is a hilarious. outrageous and provocative farce. The plot is a tangled mire of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and splintered taboos; when the witless Dr Prentice‘s efforts to cover up his attempted seduction of Geraldine Barclay (who he is interviewing for the post of his secretary) go wrong. havoc ensues.
Giles Havergal and Kenny Miller. as director and designer respectively. have graced the production with a pristine set and mannered. camp choreography.
What the Butler Saw
Gerrard McArthur as Dr Prentice is as twitchy as Basil Fawlty. while latte Bertish as his wife complements him with a dry. brittle performance. The result is polite. almost coy, as Orton's irreverant poke in the eye to the stuffiness of the post-war society of the late 60s is given a slick early Sunday evening TV-style treatment.
Yet the play occasionally shocks. even after twenty years. as the question of
who is more mad, patient or doctor, and the illumination of the lines drawn between decency and indecency. hetero and homosexual sex. and respectability and debauchery, as purely synthetic. still ring true today.
Preparadise Sorry flow was first performed in the same year. 1969. and Fassbinder‘s short. brutal work is equally political. Using snapshot delivery, where scenes act as chinks of a broader picture. a shifting portrait of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. the Moors Murderers. is sketched.
()n to a mound of earth littered with condoms and old shoes. Kenny Miller’s set is pounded by a cast of live. Dressed in dust-caked black suits. they assume a musical-chairs-like pace. dropping into scenes from 20th century Britain which illustrate racism. sexism. sado-masochism and cruelty. and revealing the way in which groups of people gang up on the individual. The pace lessens as two of the actors assume the identity of Hindley and Brady. and we are offered a docu- drama of the events leading tip to and surrounding their crimes.
By putting the murderers into this context. the logic of Brady's madness and obsession with Hitler slips uncomfortably into place. Directed by Robert David MacDonald. this is a swirling vortex of a production. disturbing. violent and excellen
“Elli!- N0 MEAN FIGHTER
Cat A Theatre Company, on tour. Exciting, entertaining, theatrical, authentic and passionate political theatre. That is Cat A Theatre Company’s play about prison and prisoners in a phrase. Overtly political, but not party political, the Fringe First-winning iio Mean Fighter tells the story of the imprisonment in 1916 of John MacLean, the great Marxist Glydesider, for alleged sedition.
MacLean claimed his prison food was poisoned, and that was just one of the means used to try to break his spirit. He did not break, but the official papers on his spell in Peterhead Prison will not be released until well into the next century. I wonder why?
The play posits a diary written and hidden by Maclean and found by a prisoner serving there today. iiothing seems to have changed since 1916. Victorian values never died. They are alive and well and living in our prison system.
Using music, speech, action and dialogue in a fast-moving but not superficial style, the play draws parallels with the past. The treatment of prisoners, the problems of their wives and families are sharply and accurately delineated. Authenticity is guaranteed by the participation of inmates in the writing team. Wives, relatives and friends helped with research. And the play originated in the Barlinnie Special Unit in Glasgow.
The sharp and economically written text finds room for iiugh Macnairmid’s poem to the Great John Maclean as well as a contemporary poem by a prisoner. The words are brought to energetic life by a young and talented
. team of actors and a singer/guitarist L___
who give themselves to the material without reservation. The production is fresh and inventive and never sags. The piece is not without humour and has an ironic edge to it.
it is a reminder that our prisons are the most highly populated in Europe. Overcrowded and understaffed, they are a scandal and a disgrace in the so- called caring 905. Cat A Company is making an important contribution to the debate about prison culture. Don’t miss it. (George Byatt)
MERLIN - THE SEARCH FOR THE GRAIL
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sat 17 Apr.
Artistic Director ian Wooidridge says goodbye to the lioyal Lyceum by pulling out more theatrical tricks in one three-hour span than he can possibly have done in nine fruitful years at the theatre. Fire, water, wind and earth; music, dance and song. Actors in the gantry, actors in the boxes, actors in car-wrecks, actors in the air. Snow, petals and paper money falling from above, against the kind of pastiche surrealist set that’d break a Benson and Hedges budget.
The story is more clearly told than in last year’s first instalment of Tankred Dorst’s off-beat retelling of the Knights of the Round Table epic, but i couldn’t honestly say that if you hated it then, you won’t hate it now. But for me it’s a marvellous display of accomplished theatricaiity, a tribute to the company’s entire creative and administrative forces and one that sets a healthy and formidable challenge to the incoming artistic team. (Mark Fisher)
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Until Sun 18 Apr.
Stateside naturalism isn’t the usual domain of the Traverse, but when it goes for it, it goes for it in earnest. in The Swan, even the electric points are two-pin authentic.
Such attention to detail is all for the good, because Elizabeth Egloff’s play requires us to accept that magic can nestle comfortany amid the everyday; that a splendid bird can fly in through the window, turn into a man, seduce the owner and leave again as quickly as he came. Les Waters’s production might make this chain of events amusing, but the skill of this company is to make it eminently believable as well.
Amelda Brown as Dora, the carefree home-owner, teetering on the brink of a madness that doesn’t seem so far from our own sense of sanity, and Garry Cooper’s Kevin, her square-
I ‘ i V . o ' 5 ' -’ 3
The Pitchfork Disney in contrast. has more in common with the surreal nature of the recent spate of graphic novels and comics than harsh reality. Written by Philip Ridley and set in what seems to be the near future. the production looks at the paranoia induced by the insecurity of the modern world.
Presley and Haley Stray live in a dingy flat. eat copious amounts of chocolate and watch TV like two ancient children. Their lives are coloured by the idyllic memories of their shared childhood. but their stability is shattered when Cosmo Disney. a spiv in the Billy Idol mould who makes a living exploiting the freak—show mentality of the public, arrives on the scene.
In this. his first play, Ridley examines the gulf between emotional and financial security. and the claustrophobia of fear. Yet it is a frustratingly inconclusive script. Although the acting is admirable, especially from the two leads, the last twenty minutes is silly instead of sublime and has less of the uncompromising impact of the other two productions.
What the Butler Saw. until Sat 25 Apr;
I’repararlise Sorry Now and The
Pitch/(Wk Disney. until Sun 18 Apr; all ‘ 'itizens' Theatre. Glasgow
Kern Falcolner as Merlin at the Royal Lyceum
jawed milkman lover, create a stage relationship that is rich in human contradictions; tenderness turning to jealousy, his simply-felt love set against her complex medley of desires. And between them Simon Donald as Bill, the swan, gives a mesmerising perfomtance, all remedial questioning stares, jerking neck movements and a disjointed speech-pattern rather like the backwards bits in min Pks.
it’s a strong production that risks sagging only when naturalism claims ground from the supematurai, soon restored as the magnificent soundtrack (strangely uncredited) breezes in again to set everything on edge. As an allegory of desire and the search for a liberating love, it is a tad unfocused, the poetry befuddling rather than enlightening, but sooner that than having some pat psychological explanation trotted out. And if the various elements don’t quite add up to the rush of emotion they should, well they’re damn fine elements all the same. (Mark Fisher)
42 The List 9-22 April 1993