A Scots Quair
Mark Fisher welcomes the completion of TAG’s Lewis Grassic Gibbon adaptation.
; The most premature press release 1 have ever received arrived two years ago after TAG had presented its ﬁrst version of Sunset Song, a reworking of Lewis Grassic Gibbon‘s novel of pre- war rural Aberdeenshire life. In a rush of enthusiasm, the company announced that by the end of 1993 it would stage the remaining two parts of the Scots Quair trilogy and would run all three parts together in a marathon performance. It all seemed a very long way away and it‘s a credit to the company and indeed to Festival director Brian McMaster that the initial enthusiasm has been maintained to produce the major achievement that is A Scots Quair at the Assembly Hall in the International Festival.
Exposure to Eastern European drama has taught us that theatre of vision is rarely produced overnight. In the past we have known this to be true, but only now are Scottish companies managing to negotiate ways to win more rehearsal and development time and to give longer life to productions once they‘re up and running. Communicado has shown that such a policy pays off on stage; the Traverse, too, has
demonstrated that even one or two extra weeks’ rehearsal can reap
signiﬁcant rewards; and now TAG proves that the kind of long-term co- ordination that allows full and fruitful contributions from musician, choreographer, designer, director and actor alike, can pave the way for theatre that stands proudly on Edinburgh’s international stage.
Sunset Song remains the jewel in the crown of this achievement. It’s the third time I have seen the show, and on each occasion it has seemed to grow n'cher. Performed with the audience on three sides in the Assembly Hall (as opposed to the head-on relationship of the Citizens‘, Glasgow, where it will return in November), the production loses some of its sense of space — the rolling hills, the open countryside - but gains a greater sense of communal story- telling. The ﬂuidity of Tony Graham‘s direction has always been a joy — the swift merging from speech to song to dance, the unbroken cross-fades from scene to scene - but with the audience gathered on three sides, there is a stronger feeling of our partaking in the imaginative flow of the story. Not only does this make the sad bits sadder, but also it seems to release a strand of ironic humour that I‘d hardly noticed before.
There‘s an economy both in Alastair Cording‘s translation and in Tony Graham‘s staging that means that nothing is laboured or over-stated in any of the three plays; a single line of ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ is sufﬁcient to
Sunset Song: the jewel in the crown of
A Scots Ouair suggest Hogmanay, an angular. constructivist dance tells us we’re in a steel factory. a cool look from Pauline Knowles as Chris Guthrie tells us all we need to know of her dislike or indifference. But emotionally, on the stage as on the page, the ﬁrst novel is the most captivating of the three. Chris Guthrie‘s transition into adulthood. her youthful aspirations set against social constraints, her ﬁrst romance and her ﬁrst rebuff, the loss of the mother she loved and of the father she hated, all set against the sharply drawn social backdrop of Mearns life, adds up to the most engaging and focused part of the trilogy. In contrast, Cloud Howe and Grey Granite are appendages. They are performed with the same grace and style, but lack both the narrative drive and the sense of balance between individual and society that makes Sunset Song so satisfying.
Still, what really comes into focus across all three plays, unifying them as it does, is the magniﬁcence of Pauline Knowles in the central role. Her full- moon of a face reflects the audience‘s emotions as much as it projects her own in a gloriously understated performance that captures the combination of innocence, naively. ambition and inner strength of Chris Guthrie. There‘s nothing patronising about her interpretation, nothing showy about her style; she stands at the centre ofthe entire production, a truthful source of modest power. Her performance works because of how well it ﬁts in with the production as a whole, because even when she is the point of central interest. she is a part of the life and community about her. And when she sings, she sings beautifully.
Strong performances throughout and continually inventive and well- integrated choreography from Andy Howitt ensure that even if Cloud Howe and Grey Granite never capture the sublime beauty of Sunset Song (historically interesting as they are). the Scots Quair trilogy makes for a ﬁne day out at the theatre.
I A Scots (tualr (Festival) TAG Theatre Company, Assembly Hall, 225 5756, until 4 Sept, 7.30pm, £5—£l2. Complete trilogy shown on Saturdays from lpm.
V COMEDY SOLO AND
Sine. Blldt: the naked truth
Remember Weebles, the things that wobbled, but didn’t fall down? Then you‘re probably ready for Simon Bligh‘s monologue. It‘s the story of his life really. full of self-deprecating insights into the usual stand-up standards: sex, drinking, showers at Catholic boys school and more sex, this time with his girlfriend at her parents’ house.
Safe. vaguely rude, non- confrontatioaal stand-up for thirtysomethings. You‘ll get a good laugh in, I mean, the guy does one hell-of-a sweaty dick impression, but don’t heckle as you‘ll throw him off his stride. (Thom Dibdin)
m Soto And ltakett (Fringe) Simon Bligh. Gilded Balloon (Venue 38) 226 2151. until 4 Sept, 7pm, £5 (£4).
V THEATRE :
‘I love my wife, my country and my car.‘ Two years after his return from Vietnam. Roy discovers his wife has been unfaithful; his backwater Texan community still
isolates him: and his I959 :
pink Thunderbird convertible. which represents all he holds precious in his past. is wrecked.
At ﬁrstjudged as warm, but forgettable 48 hours later, I ﬁnd James McLure’s script still holds a peculiarly insidious grip.
Honours go to Roger Linton for well-judged comic timing as Roy‘s supposedly dim-witted younger brother Ray. Ricky Callan’s baby-soft, pink-fleshed Cletis personiﬁed wide-eyed cowardice. Richard Mullen perhaps tries a little too hard as Roy, but the overall effect of this self-directed, Edinburgh- based company is both accomplished and well- observed. (Gabe Stewart)
I Lone Star (Fringe) Thud and Blunder. La Belle Angele (Venue 42) 225 2774. until 4 Sept. 7.30pm; 30 Aug—4 Sept. 3pm. £4 (£3).
V COMEDY OPEN THE BOX
The Draylon Underground
are young(ish). Better get that straight from the start because it makes for one of the Fringe‘s more interesting eonundrums. If they‘re young, why is their act so ﬁrmly rooted in 1950s revue?
This latest show is
meant to be an exploration
of television through a
cappella song. The quality .
of singing is high and some of the material is witty but what. exactly. is the contemporary relevance of Michael Miles and Simon Dee‘.’ Discuss over the course of several beers as you try to work out why you‘ve just seen what you’ve just seen. (Philip Parr)
I Open the Box (Fringe) The Draylon Underground. The
Pleasance (Venue 33)556 i . 6550. until4Sept (not
31), 6pm, £5.50/£6
I V COMEDY
What you see is most definitely not what you get with Harry Hill. This self-styled speccy inadequate is simultaneously innocent and knowing. as he obliges the audience to agree with the curious sanity of his world. How can you understand his inventive absurdity? It takes Harry to tell us that corned beef always beats moussaka in a game of Menucards. Likeable and rewarding, his humour is random and gentle, but his non sequiturs are artfully timed. This is an hour crammed with peerless originality. Mr Harry Hill: naive nutter, brilliant scientist, consummate showman. (Grace Hodge) I Eggs (Fringe) Harry
Hill. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 4 Sept. 7.45pm. £6.50 (£5.50).
. V COMEDY THE KAREN CARPENTER BAR AND DRILL
Who would have thought how influential an anorexic woman with a penchant for dodgy songs could be. but K. C. is the inspiration and whipping- boy/girl behind this slightly hysterically-toned show. Andre, aka Norton. is the guardian of K. C.'s i secret. Being the chefat the icon's own tawdry
caterie. he gives us the
t low-down on Karen‘s last
movements on earth before she was whisked away by a Fray Bentos tin
' to space. Oscillating between razor-sharp off- the-cuff asides and a few wilting scenes. Norton comes up trumps with a
: conveyer belt of
3 impersonations and
7 anorexic (thin as a party
I The Karen Carpenter
Bar and Eli“ (Fringe)
! Pleasance Upstairs (Venue 33) 556 6550. until 4 Sept, 6.30pm, £6/£5.50
l v THEATRE
5 AT THE
l CRIMSON noun THEY MET
, Two women, ten years and two continents apart.
: One contemplates suicide.
l while the other is tortured
! and threatened with
l execution for her belief in
Bahai religion. Over time
' each becomes aware of
i the other’s spiritual
; communicate this. NUR
; has employed that over-
: used and abused
E technique of multi-media.
1 yet this production
manages to weave theatre.
l video and dance (and politics) into a wieldy and
emotionally potent force. It is intense, moving and visually very strong. despite the simple staging using only sand and water. It only borders on the uncomfortable with the ﬁnal rather twee video clip which undermines the serious and admirable concept behind the show — that of the ten women of Shiraz who were hanged in Iran in 1983 for their Bahai faith. (Ann Donald) I At The Ctlmson ﬂour They Met (Fringe) NUR. Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41) 226 6522, until 4 Sept (not 31), 6.30pm, £5.50
34 The List 27 August-9 September I993