Royal Lyceum. Edinburgh. until Sat 5 August.
The final play in this summer’s comedy season at the Lyceum has a surprising amount in common with the previous two. Like'l'lte Importance aflieing Earnest and Loot, Noel Coward‘s Private Lives employs a flimsy plot of outrageous improbability (in this case. the chance encounter of divorced couple Elyot and Amanda while both on honeymoon with their second spouses) like a gossamer trampoline. on which the playwright‘s proliﬁc wit can disport itself in exquisitely turned verbal gymnastics.
Private Lives is no less amoral than Joe Onon‘s much grubbier 1.00! (at no point. for example, are we encouraged to sympathise with either Elyot‘s pathetic wife Sybil or Amanda‘s stuffed-shirt husband Victor). But while it is every bit as elegant as lfarrtest, it has a much more serious core. Anyone who has ever experienced a destructive yet loving relationship will recognise that Coward knew the territory well. In
there, among the crackling exchange of physical and verbal hostilities. there’s a genuine attempt to find the succour — even the rapture — in a marriage as imperfect as the world which surrounds it. Elyot may dismiss his extensive travels as ‘very entertaining'. just as Amanda dismisses Norfolk as ‘very ﬂat'. but these are real characters with a great deal more depth than Wilde‘s grandly embellished cardboard cutouts.
In his approach. artistic director Kenny Ireland has quite rightly allowed style to lead the way. From the Art Deco curtain painting. to the aptly symmetrical set for the opening scene, to the magnificent flamboyance of the Parisian apartment where the play reaches its climax, Russell Craig‘s design captures the flippant decadence of Coward‘s world.
The effect is greatly augmented by the melodies of Cole Porter and his contemporaries. which are played live -— largely by llarley Loudon, who also appears as the slovenly French maid Louise. in the context of Thirties society. songs like ‘The Way You Look Tonight‘ or ‘l‘ve Got You Under My Skin' create an irresistible ambience of wrenching romance. and it is here. with
‘Suave and sparkling‘: David Robb as Elyot and Katy Brittain as Sibyl in Private Lives
its little unexpected pinpricks of emotion. that this production scores so highly.
There are moments of over-contrived slapstick. and the repartee was not always timed to perfection on the opening night. but the four main
characters are well cast \\ llll llay id Robb particularly convincing as the world-weary yet some and sparkling Elyot — and the production ney er tramples on the play. \\ hose \\ isdom and humour still shine as though they had just been minted. (Andrew liurnet)
DEAR JANET ROSENBERG, DEAR MR KOONING
Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Plays Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh, Mon 14-Sat 26 August
Meridian’s revival of Stanley Eveling’s 1969 Traverse hit is really a prologue to the premiere of his latest work, The Alhright Fellow, due to be seen later this year. As such, this production seems full of ironies. Indeed given Eveling’s prolonged creative silence the show can be read as an anthem to a knackered muse.
Obscure, middle-aged writer Alec Kooning receives a fan letter from 19- year-old Janet Rosenberg, who quickly becomes his inspiration and his last chance. The conflict arises in the meeting of these two, whose lives are always presented in the past tense. The exchange of letters, which is the show’s main device, creates a weird world of characters running to catch up with things already written. The irony is that when they finally meet, and Alec in his frustration almost rapes Janet, there’s a realisation that writing is to do with fictions and that that’s essentially what they are to each other. Eveling shows the misery that can result in writers pretending, trying too hard to turn life into art and vice versa.
The problem for some watching this play may be the implicit connection between sexuality and lnSpiration. When Janet’s mum propositions Alec, he turns it down as ‘geriatric sex’, failing to see that he’s looking into a mirror. When Janet, now a successful author, starts to write Alec out of her life, another side to the play reveals itself: a slightly sinister psychic drama of an author’s muse killing him through trivialising his wrecked body and work.
Eveling’s nifty footwork avoids the critic’s endgame of allotting meaning and is an appropriate authorial aside
in a play which is essentially about words, writers and the supposedly evergreen sources of their inspiration. Alec, played superbly by Sandy lleilson, rails against a bastard posterity that sneers at his work. On the strength of this theatrical morsel posterity may not be such a bastard to Stanley Eveling. (Ronan O’Donnell)
mam— moscow STATE cmcus
Seen at Murrayiield Ice Rink, Edinburgh. Plays aueen’s Park, Glasgow, Tue 1-Sun 6 August.
The temperature outside is hiking up into the 705, but in the shadows of the big top the girls of Moscow State Circus are dressed to the max. Spiders for eyelashes, super-shiny tan tights up to the armpits, sequins up to the elbows, enough panstick to ice a wedding cake. And that’s just the ushers. Inside at the ringside, rows of kids peer out from behind giant puffs of candy floss and attendant adults dutifully clutch programmes, clown masks, silvery flags and boxes of
You know - for kidskis: Elena lniakina and her remarkable hips
circus popcorn. Merchandising is big in post-communist Russia.
At 2pm on the dot, Ringmaster Chris Barltrop sashays into the ring, gives a quick flash of his pearly-whites, and makes his first announcement. ‘Ladies aa-nd gentlemen,’ he booms in tones
[Elim— QUELQUES FLEURS
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat
somewhere between Barry White and a iii-"ill ll“
cheesy chat show host, ‘welcome to the Moscow State Circus 1995.’ The band strikes up a James-Last- Orchestra-does-twenty-Cossack- favourites number and on struts the parade. More flesh than Baywatch, more sequins than Strictly Ballroom and more fishnet than a North Sea trawler. But what, no animals? Yip. Without the aid of a single ailing anaconda or hard-done-by elephant, this troupe, drawn from the absolute cream of Russia’s circus families, entertain armed with nought but human skill and daring.
And let’s face it - who needs a bunch of duty animals when you’ve got performers like these? Coussein and Gasan Khamdoulaev skim the surface of the high wire, Elena Ledovskikh and Alexandre Brousnikine hurl bullet-like from swing to trapeze, death-defying daredevils spin off 30-foot perch poles. Elena lniakina the hula disco queen orbits a never-ending supply of shiny hoops round her voluptuous frame, and still finds time to whoop with delight and whisper ‘cha cha chas’ along with the band. This circus holds the skill of world-class gymnasts, the teamwork of a world- class footie squad, and the ability to ham up that gasp! gosh! drumroll! performance style so big it never comes down. The acts get showered in showbiz razzmatazz, but it’s done with a relaxed shrug and an element of tongue-in-cheek that makes that circus magic all the more infectious. If - as rumoured — the arts funding crisis in the former Soviet Union really is bringing the final curtain down on the circus tradition, you’ll be well advised to catch this lot while you can. (Ellie Carr)
‘Agnes (husband calls her Aggsy y’know) prefers to use her middle name Verena, probably ’cos she thinks it sounds sophisticated, like? Well, that really tells you all you need to know aboot the wumman, doesn’t it? Can’t tell her tack from her sophisticated. Thinks it’s chic to decorate her silver Christmas tree with cherubs. The sunbed sort, so she is. Underwear parties and that. Book clubs. Likes to occupy herself while her man’s on the rigs. He’s one 0’ they divers. Two weeks on, two weeks off. Ah do pity her, mind. Can’t have kids. She hides the hurt well enough, gets involved in the community and stuff. But not as much as her sister Joy, right enough. She’s aye campaigning about housing rights, but who wouldn’t when they live in Easterhoose?
Anyways, behind this facade there’s a bit of a domestic tragedy scenario lurking. Ah’m no gonny tell you what it is in case Ah spoil it for you, but Ah expect this irritating exaggerated Scots brogue is doin’ your head in by now anyway . . . which is pretty much how I felt after listening to 80 minutes of Carolyn Bonnyman as one half of Liz Lochhead’s two-hander about the difficulties of long-distance half- hearted relationships. Good wee yarn, though.’ (Fiona Shepherd)
The List 28 Jul-10 Aug 1995 55