mm- The Soldiers
Mark Fisher catches the Citizens’ contribution to the Edinburgh Festival before its return to Glasgow.
The Soldiers by Jakob Lenz is not a play you would see without the Edinburgh Festival. it’s not so much that the Citizens' Theatre is averse to staging the work of a neglected 18th century European playwright. on the contrary. it's what it does best. it’s more that however adventurous it was feeling. it could never stage a play with a cast of twenty without considerable financial support. Apparently the theatre has been itching to produce the work of Lenz for some time and it's good to see the Festival enabling it to do so. thus feeding directly into the
Scottish theatre scene. . That said. Philip Prowse‘s production
of this 1776 drama is only as lavish as regular Citz-gocrs have come to expect. True enough. the bulky cenotaph set that greets us when we ﬁrst go in is hoisted out of the way even before the play has begun. but from there on. Prowse gives us a simple. aesthetically- balanced. pale blue. brick-based sloping wall that simultaneously suggests domestic interior. beer cellar and prison cell. and that does for all scenes. With Lenz this has to be the case because of the way his writing.
remarkably for a playwright of his era. switches so swiftly frotn scene to scene. building up the play like a collage. Prowse emphasises this quality by dove-tailing scenes so neatly that you almost don‘t notice where one stops and the next one starts. Actors seem continually to be coming through the four doors at the back or marching off into the wings. in a production that has poise and grace but never stays still.
Perhaps a bit of stillness would help to focus the themes of the play which. in this production. tells an unnecessarily complicated tale about a naive young woman (a splendid performance by Helen Baxendale) whose reputation is tarnished by a courting soldier and who loses all social standing as a series of suitors take advantage of her until she
The Soldiers: Poise and grace but never stays still
is forced onto the streets. Lem. argues that such outrages were brought about by soldiers avoiding the army‘s policy of celibacy and suggests. ironically. that a horribly logical solution would be in-bred military brothels. Prowse plays this heavy-handedly. dressing up a couple of the soldiers in quasi-Nazi uniforms to point out the foundations of the fascism that followed a couple of centuries later. This is all very well. but it is too slight an idea on which to base a whole play and it makes it hard to appreciate what Lem. himself was driving at — the abuse of power and exploitation of women. The effect is to produce a good-looking. absorbing production that fails to make its purpose clear.
The .S'aldiers. Citizens' Theatre. Glasgow. I’ri l()—Sat 25 Sept.
Seen at Paisley Arts Centre. flow on tour.
Marisa Zanotti has created a piece in which three women display detailed cameos of neurotic habits. They perform with a polished remoteness and vulnerability, moving as if receiving a series of small electric shocks, running up and down dispiritedly and presenting a facile selection of facial expressions.
The performers sometimes seem like society hostesses - twirling their wrists, shimmylng their hips and smiling teasineg over their seductive shoulders. At other times they appear as desperate students at an intensive, bizarre finishing school. The women go through the motions, quietly regurgitating their prepared topics of ’ conversations - mechanical telecommunications, civilizations and baptism. They practise a variety of social skills including attention- seeking smiles and looks. In either guise they reinvent themselves continually in a calculated range of fragmented modes of behaviour. Tire dancers veer from wilful brittle sophistication to girlie gaucheness.
The movements - thrashing and falling, slow, back-testing arcs, soft turns and eccentric dislocations are beautifully danced by Liz Lauren, Jane llowie and Ruth Mills. The precision of their execution reinforces the abnormal sensibility of the arid, aimless, random patterns, and the glazed self-centredness of their characters.
The live scratched score is composed and played by Philip .leck. Its idiosyncratic overlay of chirping, buzzing, crackling and popping noises conjures up the sound of cicadas, old black and white movies and the endlessly grating needle of a played out 78.
The rest of the music is soundbites giving a sense of deja vu mirroring the structure of the piece. The design is arresting but fathomless - arcs, verticals and horizontals of coloured chalk delineating a black dancer form which is hemmed in at the front by a row of obtrusive lidded silver boxes. (Rosina Bonsu)
“EEK- rnur wrsr
Against the aural backdrop of the rasping of crickets and the moaning of coyotes, Sam Shepard’s modern day Prodigal Son story, is set in the jungle of Hollywood. llere, the producer is daddy, doling out advances, offering encouragement and bolstering the ego of the humble screenwriter.
Deep in suburbia, Austin toils on his pedestrian script while keeping house for his absent mother. An Ivy league
professional artist, he’s been nowhere and is heading the same way. When Lee, his obnoxious, dishonest and manipulative brother strolls in from the Mojave desert with a real story, Austin doesn’t take him seriously. Only when his producer instantly takes out an option on Lee’s unlikely modern Western does Austin let the glazed smile slip.
Winged llorse has staged True West in a kitchen-cum-jungle. Grass sprouts from the fridge and fronds of green adorn the units. Yet Shepard’s script is sharp but ultimately inconclusive. llis characterisation lacks depth and leaves the actors floundering in a sea of cliched actions, searching for a personality.
Mark Coleman is shiny and smug as Austin. Robert Paterson plays Lee in a performance which is as wired up and as aggressive as a pit bull terrier. More Mayor of Casterbridge than James Dean, his character could do with a touch more subtlety. The script calls for taut psychological turmoil rather than action but it’s something the performers rarely deliver convincingly. This may be due to the direction by Eve Jamieson. Too much of the underlying themes, like the swapping of roles, or the deterioration of Austin’s mental state, are visually overstated.
True West, however, needs to move along at a fair pace and the company performs with unflagging energy. An enjoyable, if clumsy, achievement. (Beatrice Colin)
True West seen at The Tron Theatre, Glasgow. flow on tour.
The Uglv Man is a free adaptation of Thomas Middleton‘s Jacobean revenge tragedy. The Changeling. At the hands of hip young Canadian playwright. Brad Fraser. the adaptation is so free that it often seems more like a revenge comedy. But Fraser‘s tremendous skill is to retain th: original play‘s grim horror. all the while tempering it with a typically modern irreverence.
And Blake Brooker‘s production for Calgary‘s ()ne Yellow Rabbit is very much in tune with this contemporary taste for irony. The seven-strong cast plus guitarist is forever striking melodramatic poses lest we should think it‘s taking itself too seriously. but such self-consciousness is dealt out judiciously. just enough to be funny. never enough to hamper the truthful forward-drive of the characters‘ actions.
We‘re out in some remote North Atnerican farm where a 19-year-old virgin is due to be married to her wealthy but boring neighbour. Her only way to switch allegiance to a hunky newcomer is to have her fiance bumped off by an enigmatic new farmhand. the ugly man of the title. Blackmail quickly follows sexual intrigue in an all-too- believable spiral of murder and deceit.
Jacobean decadence and corruption make ideal bed-fellows (hell. who needs beds?) for Fraser whose work was last seen here in the Traverse‘s sexually playful Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature aflxn'e. He ﬂirts between anything-goes libertarianism and a more | cautious awareness of the l excesses of sado- |
masochism. touch in the same way that Jacobean tragedy could be both titillating and morally ; high-handed. By retaining } this tension. the company 3 manages to produce a
pacey show that is funny. instructive. unsettling and well worth seeing. (Mark Fisher)
The Uglv Man. seen at Traverse now at Tran , Theatre. Glasgow; until i
Sun I 2 Sept. |
The List ire—23’sepiember' 1—933 49