Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh’s first play is a devised piece about 20th century urban decay, while the Traverse’s Europe uses a railway metaphor to explore the cancer of fascism. Ronan O’Donnell makes the uncomfortable journey.
David Greig’s Europe is more a state of mind than a place. It‘s a condition that director Philip Howard, in this Traverse premiere. illuminates with an excellent production, which moves front the unhinged humour of Fret. the code- constipated station master, to the closing images of fascist flames and an ethereal escape in the toilet of an express train.
The play is set in a defunct railway station near the border of a disintegrating country. The carriages that thunder through seem like 19th
Europe: If it doesn’t hurt. it isn’t history century ghost trains en route to the grand capitals ofthe Hapsburgs. St Petersburg or Odessa — an image suggesting history inexorably repeating itself.
Adele is the dreaming porter who
watches out for trains crossing the border, which she describes as ‘a diamond necklace of lights heading for Amsterdam’. She comes to see her jobless boyfriend, who is tumbling into fascism. as a corpse, and attaches herself sexually to Katia, a tired refugee fleeing with her father. This relationship is different to those of the other characters which represent an older order. It is in Adele and Katia that the social catastrophe lives out its meaning.
Their symbiotic affair counters the argument of Katia’s father that silence is the most dignified response to violence. They board the train of history as it hurtles around Europe’s glamorous capitals, only to find themselves toilet stowaways with nothing but sex between them. An analogy from a different source would be Peter Howson’s Bosnian rape painting, though in this play the image is developed and is endlessly transported around the rail network of Europe. Greig explores social disorder and suggests that if it doesn’t hurt it isn’t history.
In Boilerhouse’s lleadstate, interior disorder is eviscerated in a devised promenade piece which writer Irvine Welsh and director Paul Pinson push towards a vision that is both anti- aesthetic and ecstatic.
‘How did you get here?’ yells a bare- torsoed nutter, hanging from scaffolding, as a techno beat drums
home the message that you’re entering a killing zone of images.
We watch four characters as they ﬂip through their connections with each
- other. Martin is a scheme entrepreneur,
the HIV-positive inheritor of his dad's butcher shop. Meat and profit are the reasons for his existence, and both are located in Tina, a love therapist, for whom he aims to pimp.
Disfiguration and self-abuse are central traits in these characters; they bear the scars of a seductive power which uses sex but obliterates desire. Thus Tina, who personifies sex, oscillates between corpse and angel. This sex without secretions represents the cul de sac of false dreams which these characters inhabit. The play reaches its depths when Martin wants to preserve Tina’s dead body to sell to perverts, and John wants to eat her to digest her goodness. A letter from the environmental health office, complaining of the smell coming from Martin’s abandoned butcher’s shop, signals the death of the ‘social’ world beyond.
In both plays characters are cheated by desire in a ﬁn de sieele promotional capitalism. In one play the unpresentabie is hidden and in the other it’s the method of the expose. ‘No exit’ is the bottom line of both.
Europe, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Sun 13 Nov. Headstate, seen at Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh; on tour until 11 Nov.
mam:- DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 5 Nov.
In an un-named Latin American state, clearly re-constructed Chile, a woman recognises the voice of a man, Miranda, who tortured and raped her fifteen years previously. Invited into her home by her husband, a lawyer about to join a Presidential Committee investigating the former dictatorship’s atrocities, Miranda has the tables turned on him, tied up by the woman and forced into confessing his crime.
Disguised as a domestic thriller, this is actually a highly accessible revenge play which, put into its political context, raises questions beyond personal suffering, with Alison Peebles’ edgy Paulina, a woman who’s spent fifteen years in a pain-sealed vacuum, representative too of a violated nation.
Director Hamish Glen’s understated rendering of this awkwardly-shaped piece is effective enough, though only an eerily amplified confession behind a gauze partition displays the true horror of what Paulina has suffered.
The acting, however, is flawless. Alison Peebles has the strength to appear fraught without slipping into
hysterics, while Michael Mackenzie’s '
super smooth Ioucheness lends an ambiguous respectability to the captive Miranda. Robert McIntosh as the husband demonstrates perfectly how yesterday’s radicals evolve into today’s liberals, in turn becoming tomorrow’s Establishment.
llow reconciliation is a by-word the world over, it’s important such complex issues are tackled, and the
closing image of the piece seems to be a warning. As Schubert plays in the concert hall, Paulina free at last to enjoy it, Miranda lurks in the background, the polite shadow of a civilised police state, the cleverest, most dangerous of all. (lleil Cooper)
SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh. Until 5 Nov.
Family holidays have been statistically proven to be one of the biggest causes of marital breakdowns. Nothing so remotely explosive as this happens in John Godber’s gentle two- hander set in Blackpool, but it is a touching portrait of the foibles and fancies of an elderly Yorkshire couple and their love affair with a place where memories and dreams go hand in hand.
Stretched to full length, this series of well constructed set-pieces becomes tiresome and its lack of ambition reflects the characters’ equally limited aspirations.
Martin Heller’s Jack is the bluff, call-a-spade-a-spade epitome of the unreconstructed working class, while Vivienne Brown as Liz, all shrill, nervous excitability, is the perfect foil for his disregard, an indifference only intimacy can bring.
Godber has long been a champion of populist, slice-of-life drama that strikes a chord with its unstuffy audience. What this can mean in practice though, is that things are reduced to the lowest common denominator, which at best makes for
inconsequential but entertaining sentimentalism and at worst,
patronising twaddle, re-inforcing stereotypes . This production falls somewhere between the two. (lleil Cooper)
THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow. llntil12 llov.
It’s a sure fire bet that if a play contains an abstruse theme that lends itself to subverting sexual mores, the Citizens’ will latch onto and incorporate it into its own original reading. In this case Tennessee Williams’s lesser known play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop llere Anymore has been given the once-over with ambiguous results.
Rupert Everett’s Flora Coforth - less a draggy lluentin Crisp than a cantankerous Dame Edna on-the-verge — is prone to hysterical outbursts as she refuses to acknowledge her impending death on a secluded Italian island. Surrounded by an entourage who couldn’t give a damn whether the faded star lives or dies, Goforth fends off decline under the pretence of a publisher’s deadline for her memoirs. Only with the arrival of ‘the angel of death’ in a gold-digging traveller is she forced to confront the future.
The production succeeds to an extent because Everett’s angry and beautiful portrayal of a dying human being blurs any specific sexual identity, a theme that is supported by the cross-dressed Simonetta and the silent lesbian relationship between llr Renguccl and secretary Blackle. However, Williams’s already
convoluted script tends to suffer from the high camp element injected into the production, which may raise the virulent humour but also highlights the essentially dissatisfylng aspects of the play. (Ann Donald)
HERET- THE comm! ORCHARD
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until 5 Nov. Transferring to Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 14-19 llov.
Old friends gather, indulge in some serious navel contemplation, party, fall in and out of love or else never make a move, then finally depart for uncertain futures. llo slackpack saga from some Johnny-come-lately auteur this: Chekhov understood the sad, ridiculous absurdity of things like no other, creating characters who construct elaborate frameworks and personal quirks to bring some meaning to their lives.
This is a less reverential affair than one might expect from British production, probably due to the guiding hand of Misha Mokelev, late of Moscow Arts Theatre, allowing Michael Frayn’s buoyant translation to be performed with mannered froth on a sumptuous-looking set full of ghosts and hope.
Susannah York and Kenneth Ralgh are sensitive as the frivolous landowners, making you aware of a brother and sister’s shared emotional baggage, while the pivotal figure of Lopakhln is played by John Mlchle as an overly demonstrative wlde boy made good. Somehow though, the whole thing never really flares into life. But then, with Chekhov, maybe that's the point. (lleil Cooper)
The List 4—17 Nnvemhpr lQQA R1