Cili:ens' 'I'lteu/rc. Glasgow until Sat 28 October:

Daydream believer: Lalor lloddy as Donal Oavoren

It would be missing the subtlety and breadth of Sean O‘Casey‘s first masterpiece to view it solely through the lens of contemporary lrish politics. Set in l92() Dublin during a period of great civil unrest and running battles between the IRA and the notorious Black and Tans. its ostensible subject is misguided hero~worship by working- class Republicans. but despite the underlying moral that ‘it's always the civilians who sul‘t’er‘. the playwright's humanism and scepticism yields even more bitter fruit. albeit sweetened by some rich comic dialogue.

In a grubby. grey room Donal l)avoren struggles to complete a poem. while his host Seamas Shields. penniless travelling salesman and penitent idler. slumbers through late morning. From the ominous Mahlerian chords which herald the action. it‘s clear that the terror stalking the city will soon pass through this backstreet

tenement. Mistaking l)avorcn fora gunman on the run. neighbours flock to pay homage and when pretty Minnie Powell shows her approval. the shadow-poet encourages her love by cultivating the masquerade. Alter all. he figures. ‘What harm can there be in being the shadow of. a gunman." A gentle rain darkens the sky and confirms the answer.

As in Synge's 'I'lu' Play/in)“ oft/iv Western lliirltl. there is much irony to be wrought from the equation of murder and heroism. In reality. however. such an identification is the prelude to tragedy. and it is this counterpoint of situation comedy and terrible realism that gives 'li/u' Slim/ow n/ (l (iii/11mm its great power. The central performances in Jon l’ope‘s

production for the (‘iti/ens‘ are equal to

both styles: Lalor Roddy as the craven versilier who sees himself as Shelley‘s heir and John O'Toole as the

philosophical blusterer Shields bring their squalid squabbles convincingly to life. while Frank Gallagher and Anna Healey add farcical relief as verbose admirers.

In the haunting crepuscular glow sui‘fusing the second act the tone is more balet‘ul. Davenon‘s pretence is put in sobering perspective after a genuine bomber leaves a case of grenades in the tiat and Minnie sacrifices herself out of misguided loyalty. Alone among the characters. Shields recognises the folly and l‘utility of all this dangerous idealism. He too is a Republican and can quote poetry as well as his friend. but he seeks glory t'roni neither the pen nor the sword. ()‘C‘asey's play does i offer the obvious messages about war and heroism; but more than this. it affirms that there is no cause greater 5 than life and that even the mere shadow ol‘ violence can mortally wound the soul. (David Harris)


Seen at Cafe Royal, Edinburgh. On tour.

Chekhov wrote some heavyweight plays, but it’s in the short story form that his bent for an almost phantasmagoric irony best displays itself.

Adapted by John Shedden from Chekhov’s fiction, Prime Productions’ Splinters is set in 1910, when the writer’s actor friends Nikolai and Crlgory (excellently played by Shedden and Finlay McLean), concoct an ‘entertainment’ in his memory - he, we are told, has-recently died. They stitch together satires from Chekhov’s populist magazine pieces, depicting the lives of henpecked husbands, drunken professors and lascivious abbots.

The show exhibits the melodrama of Victorian theatre, with the actors portraying deluded characters, pastiching the technique of music hall maestros who knew how to milk an exit line to death. The double-take becomes an art-form; Laurel and Hardy meet Freud.

It seems that Chekhov, in writing pulp fiction for a lower-class readership, could let himself go and get straight to that schizophrenia that was the funny bone of his time. Part of the tenderness that underlines these grotesques is the ability to recognise a common fate in the weirdness of others. In this homage to a great man, Shedden and McLean manage to conjure up the other side of Chekhov, the side wearing a red nose and popping a champagne cork. (Bonan O’Donnell)


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 21 October.

The relationship between a mother and her son has always been a special one. For Betty Derbyshlre, a 52-year- old Leeds housewife, the prospect of her only child getting married is too much to bear. Unfortunately, she only realises this on her son Mark’s wedding day, and in a fit of maternal pique seeks refuge in the left, where

she busies herself cleaning. The odds and ends she finds there trigger a variety of memories and, as she reminisces - much of it in effective, amusing monologue to the audience - Betty casts her mind back to early in her marriage, when she had an ill- fated love affair with slimy charmer Craze Crazinofsky, who lived downstairs. As she lost Craze, so she feels she is losing her son.

It is a simple and understandable premise, and Kay Mellor’s script is cleverly constructed, full of acute observations that strike chords with paiticular members of the audience at different times. This aspect is proved by the pockets of laughter around the theatre as specific recollections ring true.

Gwen Taylor as Betty is feisty yet vulnerable, loving yet fearful of not being loved, sympathetic yet stubborn, and she realistically conveys these conflicting emotions. Her presence dominates the stage just as Betty dominates the household. flow that her only child is leaving her home, she feels he is leaving her world. It is up to her to move on and fill her life with better things. (Jonathan Hart)

E31135- A sum: AT TWILIGHT

Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 28 October.

Productions of lloel Coward have always been dogged with cliches, but Giles Havergal’s production of his last full-length play doesn’t try to ignore the stereotypes. Rather, it delights in them. Half expecting dressing gowns, slippers and vodka, I was amazed when all these things appeared. The whole studio theatre is even decorated in the lurid blue furnishings of a Swiss hotel room, within which the audience sits like flies on a wall, watching emotional betrayals and listening to the sprung rhythms of Coward’s comic dialogue.

A Song at Twilight is as self- consciously witty as all Coward’s plays. Yet since its first production in 1966 it has been hidden behind the more popular Coward classics like Private lives and Blithe Spirit. The play is self-consciously autobiographical. Written when


Coward was wallowing in old age, it is about Sir Hugo Latymer, a writer wallowing in old age. Latymer, played convincingly by Hebert David MacDonald, is an antique who seasons even his laughter with barks of contempt. Yet his cosy life is upset when an old flame seems to want to revive their ‘dead and forgotten love duel’. Eventually, it turns out that her true motive is to threaten to give some of his homosexual love letters to a biographer.

Publishers and the public love post- mortem scandal. With A Song at Twilight, Coward comes clean in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the scandal-scavengers. In the play, Latymer seeks to preserve his reputation by denying his homosexuality. By writing (and, in 1966, starring in) A Song at Twilight, Coward is coming out with abandon. (James Blake)


Seen at Contact Theatre, Manchester. At Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 24-Sat 28 October.

Two Liverpool brothers, Shaun and Marti find themselves together in Shaun’s London flat. Marti, all foul- mouthed aggression and abuse, like Alexei Sayle without the double chin, sells cushion covers by day, and is as

1 camp as a row of tents. Shaun, a

mobile hairdresser, is pining because his girlfriend is away, and his stupid

i yuppie neighbour is forever coming

i round with bottles of wine and

i sympathy.

{ Added to this odd pair is a decidedly

i nutty and deluded simpleton, Clarine, 1 who doesn’t know who she is, where

I she is, or even what she is. Shaun is

I being battered by all sides, and when

l Marti picks up an outrageous

i transvestite while out cruising one

i night, his latent homophobia and

l general short-tempered demeanour

threatens the brothers’ new-found friendship.

Jonathan Harvey’s play, presented by English Touring Theatre, is a wildly funny tragi-comedy, chock-full of witty and acerbic one-liners, neatly drawn characterisations and up-to- the-minute cultural references. The current darling of the London theatre scene, Harvey draws on a variety of influences, notably the more off-the- wall types in television sitcoms. But such is the daring in his script and his brazenly in-yer-face style, there’s no way he could get this particular lot onto British small screens.

Although the end is disappointingly in need of a rewrite, and the jokes derived from Clarine’s mental instability are an unwelcome theatrical development, strong performances, notably from Tom Higgins as Marti, do more than enough

to win you over. (Mike Barnett)


Odd pair: Tom ngglns and Scot Wllllams ln Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club

54 The List 20 Oct-2 Nov l995