Battle in Barrhead
The only Scottish date on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current world tour is in IOO-year-old Barrhead. Gabe Stewart looks forward to some centenary Shakespeare.
The British political landscape is precarioust balanced — the monarchy in disarray; partisan disputes degenerate into personal vendettas; the national interest is overlooked. But that‘s enough about John Major‘s Britain. let‘s talk about the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s production of Henry VI: The Battle for the Throne.
With a population only slightly larger than Hawick. Barrhead has rather stolen the crown from Glasgow and Edinburgh. and landed the RSC's only Scottish dates on its eight-month world tour. The prestigious company’s seven performances at the Barrhead Sports Centre represent the highlight ofthe town’s celebrations commemorating a hundred years of burgh status. and ﬁts snugly between tour dates in Milan and Tokyo. Although incongruous to the eye. the tour schedule accurately reflects the company’s commitment to regional touring. backed up by educational workshops.
The rough and tumble politics of the play are reﬂected somewhat in the rough and tumble set. Certainly it has to be rough enough to survive tumbling from South America to the Far East and the Philippines. But director Katie Mitchell had more than just portability in mind when she swapped pomp
comemporary resonances abound in the RSC’s Henry VI Pt 3 and pageantry for a rudimentary raised dias. carpeted with dead leaves. Tight budgets notwithstanding. Mitchell‘s set is totally in keeping with the sparse. small~scale intimacy of her interpretation. The throne. so meticulously sub-titled. is merely a lump of wood; the crown, a useless metal hat. offering no protection. The butchery of the Wars of the Roses is syrnbolised by animal imagery: cries of wild beasts accompany the off-stage battle scenes; in contrast. poignant bird song echoes a nostalagia for an innocence lost among war-mongering savages. It‘s a production that preys on the senses: clucking hens. buming incense. leaking drains. resonating chants. all
immerse the audience in 15th-century sensuality.
Jonathan Firth (Fred Vincey in BBC‘s Middlemurch). plays the gentle. other-worldly King Henry; John Keegan is the turncoat kingmaker and breaker. Jamie Hinde the gloriously sadistic Clifford. and many a critic has commended the performance of Scots actor Tom Smith as the menacing. skinhead yob, Richard Crookback. The young cast drops poetic oration in favour of prose-like articulation. What is lost in lyricism is doubtless gained in a better understanding of what is going on.
More usually performed with its two brothers. Mitchell's three-and—a-half-hour edition of Henry VI Pt 3 stands alone. She has actually incorporated lines from Richard II. Henry VI l’t / and Corbin/ire. a 16th-century play about a mythical British king. Her tinkering not only serves to further clarify an already reasonably clear narrative. but also to act as a personal response to her recent visit to Bosnia. The play‘s portrait ofcivil strife ofcourse reminds us of the unchanging nature of conflict. whether in a historical or contemporary context. What makes the basic elements of power. greed. fear and jealousy even more brutal in the play is the fact that these atrocities happened in an age of faith. when both sides claimed the same (Catholic) God was on their side, when warring nobles still retained a residual memory of Christian scruples. which they consistently violated. Enter idealistic King Henry. still hoping somehow to keep the English Eden from falling about him.
At the centre is the sweet-souled man whose political weakness wreaks havoc and who isjust too nice to govern effectively. What similarity exists between the British Prime Minister and Henry VI. dissolves as the latter develops from a hen-peeked weed into a figure of invincible dignity. Unfortunately. l'm too ignorant of the 15th century equivalent of shirts and underpants to know if Henry could possibly have tucked one into the other.
Henry VI The Butt/efur the Throne, Burr/rem! Sports Centre, Tue [3—17 Dee.
Insight .S'essinn. l’ri [61)er‘. llam—IZ.3()/)m. £2.50. Paisley University ll’urks/mp, Sal / 7 Dee. /0.30um-/2.3()pm. £2.50.
‘This is a chord. This is another. How form a band.’ So the legend went in punk bible ‘Snlffin Clue’ all those years ago. More recently, the mythology has been heightened by a spate of coffee table paeons to the spirit of 77, though a history of the
Scottish scene has been curiously absent. Until now, that is, with the burst of raw adrenalin that is Two
Harrower and a cast including Tam Dean Burn, devised the piece from
Punk and disorderly: flashback to 77
' unique turbulence, and is the first outing for Damage, an Edinburgh-
specific type of theatre.
Without music though, a play about punk simply wouldn’t be possible, but rather than being there to provide easy reference points and break up the scenes, here it becomes integral to theatrical structure. ‘The thing that inspired me to use music in this way was a line in The Class Menagerie - “In memory everything is scored to music” - and to express punk’s energy we needed to use methods not suited to normal playwriting.’
Damage’s next project is already planned, while a company benefit features both Sativa DJs alongside a reunion of the legendary Fire Engines. ‘This play is a celebration of a time
‘1977 was the beginning of what was to be a profound change in British society,’ says director John Paul McCroarty, who along with actor Mabel Aitken, playwright David
scratch. ‘In Scotland in particular the punk explosion was one of the few spontaneous moments when real alternatives were possible.’
The title comes from a reggae song which predicted the Jubilee year’s
based collective clearly influenced by the legacy of the DIY ethos. They aim to create work in different ways, keeping working methods as fluid as possible in order to liberate themselves from the limitations of one
that should mean something to everyone, and from which we should draw inspiration.’ (Neil Cooper)
Two Sevens Clash, Traverse Theatre, Fri 2-Sun 11 Dec; Damage Benefit, Moray House, Sun 4 Dec, 10pm—4am.
58 The List 2—15 December 1994