Gerda Stevenson in her
award-winning role in Blue Black Permanent ‘Star Women' is the rather cheeky translation of Stellar Quines. the name of one of Scotland‘s newest theatre companies. The brainwave of Scottish Bafta award-winner and one of the company's predominantly female founders Gerda Stevenson. the name was inspired by their ﬁrst production. Night Sign This mind-expanding work deals. according to Stevenson, with ‘communication between men and women. inner and outer space, a medical condition and the human mind.‘
Obviously not a company to shy away from life's larger issues. Stellar Quines has evolved an outlook compared to the agit-prop feminist theatre groups of the 70s. ‘Though we don‘t want to be exclusively female or male-bashing,’ says Stevenson. ‘it was women who initiated the group and we do want women in the driving-seat as regards decision-making.‘
in keeping with the intention of concentrating on plays by or about women. Stevenson‘s former Monstrous Regiment buddy, New York playwright Susan Yankowitz has furnished the company with a script that centres on the extraordinary medical condition of aphasia, which in layperson‘s terms translates as the loss of ability to speak.
For her challenging role as the astronomer Anna suffering from aphasia. Stevenson did her research by spending weeks observing speech- therapists at Queen Margaret College working with patients trying to reconnect that broken link between the brain and mouth -— an experience she describes as ‘mind-blowing‘. This in turn gave her an invaluable insight into Yankowitz‘s interpretation of the language of someone with aphasia where nouns dominate prepositions and conjunctions. thus giving rise to what Stevenson describes as. ‘a strange, concrete, very poetic language that challenges our prejudices about construction.‘
But just in case you have visions of Noam Chomsky stepping out in the interval to give a brief lecture on semiotics Stevenson assures me that, ‘essentially it‘s a very funny and uplifting play that tells an extraordinary story.‘ (Ann Donald)
Night Sky, Theatre Workshop.
Edinburgh, Tue lZ—Sat I 6 Apr; Arches
Theatre. Glasgow, Wed 20—Sat 23 Apr.
As a genre, sci-ti plays have never really gained a great deal of popularity but in 1978, when Tom McGrath first penned The Android Circuit, he claims they were ‘almost scared to mention science fiction in the publicity in case it put people off.’
Times and audiences change - it’s possible to buy Philip it. Dick without a brown paper bag for instance - and now a revival of McGrath’s replicant life drama is out of the closet and on the touring circuit, courtesy of Winged Horse.
So why, despite the success of the original production - which transfered to the lCA to form part of a fantasy theatre season with Ken Campbell’s science fiction work - did sci-ii not gain some form of theatrical credibility?
‘Dsually in science fiction you’re
' setting up an entire world,’ explains McGrath, ‘and you don’t have much stage playing time to do that. it’s not as if you can take a science fiction city of the future and just show it. It’s also because the nature of theatre audiences has tended to be old- lashioned in a lot of ways. At the time I wrote the play there was a definite division between the popular genre of science fiction and literary theatre.’
McGrath’s postulated world is populated by Astro and his
Short circuits with Winged Horse
Wodehousian butler Sylvester, whose absurd space ship routine is disrupted by the arrival of the android Huby. The problem in creating such dramatis personae was that some of them weren’t personae. ‘I had to get to the point where I believed that the android was real before I could get her to work dramatically,’ explains McGrath. ‘Having characters with super-powers on the stage is difficult. Even the Greeks left them until to the very end because drama is best when it’s just about ordinary humanity.’
And what exactly is the android circuit?
‘l’m not exactly sure. You’d have to ask the androids about that.’ (Stephen Chester)
The Android Circuit, on tour, Tue 19 Apr-Sat 14 May.
. Sian Phillips ‘A fictional and irreverant account of the Christmas from Hell - the worst family Christmas that anyone could possibly have.’ This is how actress and epitome of charm Sian Phillips laughineg summarises The Lion in Winter, in which she takes the lead role of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
last seen gracing the silver screen in the enviable role of the mother of Daniel Day-lewis in The Age Of Innocence, Phillips is currently touring with the first stage version of the acclaimed Oscar-winning film based on the tumultuous relationship between Henry II of England (step forward Invisible Man David MacCallum) and his estranged wife Eleanor.
Billed as a powerful yet witty and poignant drama, The lion In Winter centres on the squabbling royal couple and their various conniving,
double-dealing and downright murderous attempts to decide which of their three sons will accede to the throne.
As well as denying any contemporary relevance in light of the current royals’ continuing annus horribilis, Phillips also destroys any illusions we may hold regarding 12th century drama. ‘Though we’re dressed in period clothing, there are all sorts of modem anachronisms: the dialogue is very modern, racy and slangy. In fact,’ she continues with a smile, ‘it’s like a modern domestic sitcom except it’s historical and what we’re quarrelling about is the future of England.’
As Phillips explains, the drama has not only taken a circuitous route to the professional stage, but has shadowed her own career. ‘As a teenager i had a play called ‘Siwan’ written for me which was the biography of the girl raised by Eleanor. Then in the 60s I was asked to appear alongside Trevor Howard in a proposed West End version, but turned it down as l was too young at the time.’ The play then did the rounds and when no one would touch it, Phillips mentioned the idea to her then husband Peter O’Toole who promptly made it into a film.
low at a more mature stage in her career, Phillips obviously relishes the elusive role. ‘I love the fact that Eleanor is a woman out of legend. A strategist who keeps on being slapped down but takes it on the chin and rises up again.’ (Ann Donald)
The lion in Winter, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 11-16 Apr; King’s Theare, Edinburgh, 18-23 Apr.
v new PLAY LADDEHMAH STEPS our
Remember that line about liking the razor blade so much that you buy the company? Well, the theatrical equivalent happened to designer Graham Johnston when he came across the script for Michel Tremblay's
Forever Yours Marie-Lou. ‘I saw a rather flat Canadian translation, but
the play has such a
strange and amazing structure that it survived intact,‘ recalls the designer. whose sets have included Good and Crow for the Tron and The
A Prime of Miss Jean
Brodie for the Royal
Lyceum. ‘The four
characters are so strong that they came through in spite of the translation.’ Calling on the inimitable services of Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman. the transatlantic translating team who brought us The Guid Sisters, The Real War/(1?, Hosanna and The House Among the Stars, Johnston reasoned that the only way to get the show on was to set up his own company and direct the thing himself. Hence LadderMan and hence a week-long run at the Tron
5 followed by a transfer to : the Old Red Lion in
London. where the work of the Quebecois playwright has yet to be
' embraced with the
enthusiasm of Central
Scotland. ‘1 haven’t been champing at the bit
wanting to be a director,‘
admits Johnston. ‘it was
i reallyjust that it was
The play takes place on two nights ten years apart: the first is the last night Marie-Lou and Leopold spend alive together; the second is the reunion of their two daughters forced to face the awful truth of their parents’ death. ‘Tremblay’s work transposes so completely into Scots,’ says Johnston. ‘lt‘s another one of his angry, self-destructive families. And the Scots translation gave it a whole new dimension that the North American translation hadn’t had.
f The rhythm of the
language and the humour came out very strongly - it was a great moment when we all read through it.’ (Mark Fisher) Forever Yours Marie-Lou, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 8-Sun 17Apr.
44 The List 8—2! April 1994 I