mam— A Mongrel’s Heart
Imagine a list that included Dario Fo‘s anarchist. Brecht's soldier Schweik and Rab C. Nesbitt. Now add to it Bill Paterson's Pooch and the litany of picaresque heroes is brought up to date. Half-man. half-mongrel, Paterson bounds on stage after a pioneering eugenics experiment has given him the body of a human being and the manners of a dog. Vodka is there to be guzzled. plates to be licked. oxters to be sniffed and breasts to be groped. A dream job is as a cat-catcher. and possessions are most usefully turned into money for drink.
Pooch is the untamed centre of a wild storm. raising remarkably timely questions about medical ethics. as well
as the issues of communism. capitalism and corruption that were of pressing importance when Mikhail Bulgakov I wrote the original book. The Heart ()fu Dug. in 1925. It’s a refreshingly vulgar show to see at the Royal Lyceum, in both language and theme — I don‘t expect to see two sets of testicles on the one stage for some time to come, and if I do. I doubt they‘ll be detached from their owners. It’s also a more stylish production than is standard at the Royal Lyceum. closer to what goes on at the Citizens‘. with extras trotting by in the middle-distance behind screens and curtains; quirky details that are very much the director Mark Wing-Davey’s own. i wonder whether some of these might have worked better in a studio theatre where it is easier to direct the audience‘s attention, because there are plenty of good funny ideas here that don’t actually make you laugh.
The other limitation is that while Paterson plays the anti-hero in fully
flamboyant farce style. the play itself lacks the mechanics of farce. It is the
detail of the direction and the energy of
the acting that keep the comedy going rather than the substance of the thing
itself. But it’s good fun; irreverent. brash and satisfying. (Mark Fisher) xl Mnngm/ '3' Heart. Royal I._\‘(.'("llm Theatre. lz'tli'nlnuyli. until Sal 30 Apr:
' ,,;‘¢“”'§%~s‘~... a r '* it" 3.x; g ?9’§£§3§Q\l‘¢e
Seen at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh. On tour.
Interesting that this debut production by Stella Duines should coincide with the appearance of Peter Brook’s The Man Who . . . at Glasgow’s Tramway. Where the latter presents a series of case-book examples of brain dysfunctions without trying to put the sufferers in a wider social context, Susan Yankowitz’s play picks just one such dysfunction - aphasia or the loss of language skills - and explores it through the domestic trauma it causes. Anna is a gifted astronomer with a teenage daughter and a loyal lover, who suddenly loses her ability to communicate and, after hospitalisation, has to learn to speak again from scratch. Workmates, family and friends, meanwhile, learn to live with a woman who is the same but
So far, so promising, and there’s a neat running analogy made between the brain and the cosmos, but the problem is that the form Yankowitz chooses for the play is so theatrically dull. It’s the kind of play that the little-lamented American Connexion used to specialise in: solidly constructed but ever-so straight- forward, where every scene seems to involve people sitting down talking to each other when you long for them to stand up and live a little. This is fine for television, but for the stage no amount of inspired direction - and this is a tight production - can break the naturalistic strangle-hold that the playwright imposes.
Such plays do tend to be strong on emotion, however, and the perseverence of cast and audience pays off as the characters and their dilemmas become more familiar. Gerda Stevenson in the lead role produces some marvellously affecting scenes, not least as she struggles to express inner feelings with only the most clumsy and inadequate language at her disposal. But when the play itself aspires to being little more than a ‘human interest’ story, there’s only so far the production can go. lthink it goes as far as it can - and the audience was held throughout — but I’m looking forward to seeing this promising company with more challenging material. (Mark Fisher)
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 30 April. Aficionados of Mr Oscar Fingal Wilde
expecting a rum old treatment of one of the playwright’s later and more salubrious productions are probably still recovering in their local hospital’s casualty department given the theatrical Electric Shock Treatment that the classic is receiving at the hands of the Citizens’.
The rejuvenating touch of director/designer Jon Pope has hauled this culturally eclectic production into a shadowland setting that flits between film noir (see Bladerunner for menacing, dark, futuristic undertones) and camp lloel Coward in terms of dialogue and characterisation.
Pope’s is a puzzling and modern adaptation of the tale of Sodom and Comorrah’s daughter wreaking her spurned love’s vengeance on the head of John the Baptist. With a Gestapo- looking Herod slowly comprehending that despite his theory that ‘in order for humanity to be pure it must pass
through the phases of killing, murder and bloodshed’, his conscience (triggered by the dishevelled presence of prophet and prisoner Baptist) is steadily realising that repercussions by a greater Leader will inevitably destroy him.
Conspiracy, temptation, incest and lust are rewarded with blood, death and gore, all of which are symbolised in the electric scene between a sexually salivating Herod and his step- daughter Salome. A scene that owes more than a passing shudder to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
Strong performances by James Duke as the essentially weak and writhing Herod and Anna Savva’s understated chain-smoking Herodias on-the-edge do go some way in overcoming the lack of flesh on a production whose strength lies in its design rather than meaning. (Ann Donald)
The List 22 April-5 May 199-157