nearer— Les I Miserables
Stephen Chester goes i 3
among the cheery faces of ;
Les Miserables. . .
Faced with the prospect of ‘The world's ? most successful musical’, Les Miserables, the majority of the ' audience seemed irrationally compelled ? to dress up in rather lovely frocks. As appropriate a response as any to a 19th century tale of political revolution and poverty fashioned into a universally acceptable commercial product.
‘World success equals bland triumph,‘ might be a cynical equation, but one of the most striking features ofthis musical is its lack of angularity — lyrically, morally or politically. Revolutionaries are just mixed up. tragic kids, and the forces of repression and reaction have good, humanistic reasons for doing what they so brutally do. Not that this brutality is actually seen — love is too busy transcending things for that — and in the true tradition
‘ Les Miserables: beyond criticism : of the RSC we‘re presented with a play Q
about poverty which at no point actually displays any dirt.
Les Miserables is like watching a right-wing Disney re-working of The
Communist Manifesto, and ifyou don’t
object to the dubious alchemy of transforming underclass crap into expensive ditties for the upper classes then the result is . . . sorry comrade, but
, it has to be said . . . very enjoyable.
People don’t just walk down the street in this show, they walk on a revolve
that allows them to remain stationary while crowds of stooping, crouching beggars are carried past them in a stunning synthesis of design, choreography and direction. Take a photograph at any point and not only will every person be perfectly lit, they'll also be arranged in a perfectly expressive and aesthetically pleasing compositional order. And this goes on for three hours solid: we‘re talking Big Time. Big Budget West End Spectacle and the mega bucks have certainly been i well spent.
; We’re talking Big Time, Big
Budget West End Spectacle
g and the mega bucks have certainly been well spent.
Unfortunately the same superlatives can't be heaped on the songs — maybe show-stopping clap-along numbers wouldn’t be quite right, but when lyrics plunge into the mundane morass of ‘is that you convict number 24601?’ it‘s 5 time to cringe. Like God, big musicals 3 are beyond criticism. Non-believers end up pondering the gullibility ofthe audience while half-understanding their faith.
Les Miserables. The Playhouse. Edinburgh. until Sat 8 Jan.
THE STRAW CHAIR
lletherbow Arts Centre, Edinburgh, until Sat 23 Oct.
As a company, Edinburgh’s Fifth Estate L
seems to generate an unusual degree of emotional investment from the critical establishment. When it succeeds, it’s as if the future of Scottish theatre is secure; when it fails, it’s a cause for national despair. This is, of course, a tremendous and unnecessary weight to carry for such a small, largely unfunded group of performers and they have in the past been victim (not entirely innocent) of the build-’em-up-knock-‘em-down school of journalistic hype.
I suspect that the longer the company goes on, the less it will be susceptible to this kind of pressure, but for the record, I have to say that, yes, Fifth Estate is back on form with its revival of Sue Glover’s historical tale of exile on St Kllda. This may not mean that global peace and inter racial harmony is now only round the comer, but it does emphasise that the company’s role in reviving otherwise neglected plays is a highly worthwhile and commendable one. low that Bondagers has been such a hit (and is
earlier Glover play.
Based on a real historical incident, The Straw Chair is about Lady Rachel Erskine oi Grange who was banished to remote St ltilda in 1738 for threatening to reveal her husband’s
Jacobite leanings. it’s the sort of story
that these days would have Amnesty International sending out the petitions, but in harsher times the mentally unstable Lady Rachel received little sympathy. Glover's character is brilliantly realised by Anne Lacey whose unhlnged performance is never so loopy that it
denies Rachel’s story some credibility. ller larger-than-llfe performance is initially at odds with the rather duller Isabel and her minister husband Aneas (Pauline Lockhart and Allan Sharpe) whose early lines seem cumbersome and uncomfortable. Happily, as the play progresses, so the characters develop (though the minister remains the least interesting) and by the second half we see a fascinating mixture of culture and class - the degraded Lady Rachel, the naive city- dweller lsobel, and llonalda Samuel’s
cautious, sturdy islander Dona.
If it is not as good as Bondagers, it’s because of the continual feeling that something akin to that play might be happening off-stage somewhere. There’s surely a whole play, for example, in the iortnight’s puffin- killing holiday that the women go on, only reported here - and ultimately it is impossible to conjure up that same sense of broader community with only four characters. But within these limitations, it is a thoroughly absorbing play, performed with energy and conviction. (Mark Fisher)
i millili- v H STEAMIE M
to be revived by the Traverse later this 3 year), we can take a second look at an i
It’s fast, sometimes farcical, always j fun and manages to create a lot of l stean without actually going
j anywhere. The clock on the wash- i house wall’s the give away - two , hours after the show opens and it still
hasn’t moved a minute. It starts with a group of women arriving at a Glasgow steamie to do their washing and ends,
not surprisingly, when they’ve finished
their washing and gone home. There’s
no plot to link these two points, just a
series of gags and songs, and a dip . into the programme confirms one’s
suspicions; this was a show originally commissioned by Wildcat. Since that first production in 1987
The Stearnie has earnt the sort of ‘ cultural icon status associated with
Rikki Fulton and Stripping The Willow. 2 flow it’s a set text for Higher English
and STV llogmanay schedules, with
the cumulative result that it’s difficult
to separate the knee jerk audience
acclamation from the intrinsic quality oi the play. As it was, the capacity audience of nostalgia seekers was happy to shriek and howl at every on- stage twitch. At several points the woman behind me went so far as to give pre-emptive line readings - she may have had a role in the production,
l’m not sure, but i was left with the
uncomfortable sensation of watching
videos of The Great Escape down at ; the Day Centre.
Even if The Steamie had an appalling script then the production values invested in this show would turn it into theatrical gold. The accomplished set is replete with occasional squirts of steam and running water, and the cast is composed of some of Scotland’s finest actresses giving some of Scotland’s finest performances. The play might not be the seminal statement of low tech cameraderle, but its characters’ entanglement in great twists of llloglcallty remains hauntingly hilarious. (Stephen Chester)
The Steamle, Brenton Theatre, Musselburgh. Until 16 Oct.
unam— The Sunshine Boys
The Sunshine Boys trod the boards of vaudeville for 43 years with a comedy double act so tight that Willie Clark and Al Lewis seemed as inseparable as pepper and salt. But twelve years ago the dissolution of their act was more acrimonious than any divorce. Now practically senile, Willie lives alone in a decrepit New York hotel, waiting for his nephew and agent, Ben, to arrive every Wednesday with Variety and the ever decreasing hope ofajob. When the work does come along, it is a TV tribute which forces the duo back together again to perform their famous ‘Doctor' sketch for one last time. ~ Jimmy Logan is excellent as the crepuscular Willie, unable to face the darkness of retirement after a lifetime in the limelight. Horriny cantankerous, he assaults Howard Samuels's sharply observed Ben with cynical, bitter-sweet one-liners, more suited to his music hall partner than a loving nephew. Their ﬁrst-act scenes glitter against Michael Holt's splendidly jaded set. Maureen Liprnan, in her directorial
debut, has captured the New York Jewish humour of Neil Simon's comedy and given it enough of a twist for it to stand ﬁrm on any stage. Even the slapstick of the sketch-within-the- play manages to transcend its uncomfortable sexism which finds Valerie Edmond as the nurse pushed into a preposteroust skimpy and up- lifting uniform. However, the whole merely glitters where it should shine boldly. This is in part down to Bob Canland as Al, the straight man ofthe
’ duo, who has caught the fading glow of the setting sun rather too perfectly. The sparkling bright Doctor sketch apart. his performance, precise though it is, dulls rather than illuminates the comic pace. The sun may be out at the Lyceum. but not all the sky is blue. (Thom Dibdin)
The Sunshine Boys. Royal Lyceum. Edinburgh, until Sat 16 Oct.
The List 8—21 October 1993 49