Which side are you on?
He's not William Wallace. he‘s not Rob Roy. So what is it about 17th century Scottish general James Graham that makes him an apt subject for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company‘s new commission‘.’ Alan Morrison examines the ambiguities of M()IIir().se.
Launching a new play into the turbulent waters of contemporary Scottish theatre is always a delicate affair. lt‘s tottgh enough filling the seats year round without the added complication of offering audiences an unfamiliar entity. particularly if you‘re a large repertory company that doesn‘t have a reputation for presenting new work on a regular basis. However. given the current fervour for historical Scottish heroes in the Brave/rear! mould. the Royal Lyceum Theatre (‘ompany might haye been given a helping hand for its latest commission. Robert l-‘orrest's Mrmii’use.
James Graham, Marquis
Roy epic of us-and-them (the spirited Scots vs the efl'etc linglish) rivalries. ()ne of four noblcmen who drew up the National Covenant in l(337. James (iraham. Marquis of Montt‘osc fought against the armies olt'harles l. but later joined the supporters of the liuglish King against his own former allies.
‘lle was one of those figures in Scottish history about whom the view s are extremely contradictory.‘ says playwright Robert l’orrest. ‘Whilc he was alive. some people considered him a hero and some considered him a murderng villain. He was a focus for the conflicts of the time in Scotland. which you could say were between the puritan strain and the more romantic. idealistic strain. Montrose contained both those sides of the Scottish character.‘
Forrest was determined that his play wouldn‘t
I become a history lesson. so some of the details of
political and religious turmoil have been simplified. In this way. the issues of the past are more likely to
concerns the difficulties of making your ideals a physical or political reality. and how high a price might be paid for following those ideals unllinchingly.’ he says. "l'he questions raised by the story and personality of Montrose are questions that we‘re facing now.‘
Kenny lreland. artistic director at the Lyceum and director of Mun/ruse. first came across Forrest through Fifth Estate‘s production of lair-m some years back. He approached the Scottish Arts Council for money to commission new work and .W()IIII'().\‘(' was one of several ideas that came out of discussions with the writer.
"l‘he difference between plays that do or don‘t work in the mainstream is to do with the language.‘ Ireland reckons. ‘lf the writer has a feeling for language. then that will work on a main stage. It doesn't matter where it‘s set. it‘s not to do with having huge epic scenes; it's the language that fills the space. Robeit has that ability to use language.‘
Ireland believes it is vital for the future of Scottish theatre fora company the size of the Lyceum to play its part in keeping the Scottish repertoire fresh with new work. ‘When I arrived here. I expected there to be a huge pile of plays that hadn‘t been done for one reason or another. but that wasn't the case.’ he says. ‘So I had to start commissioning them. but unfortunately it takes about two years to get a workable script that you can actually put on stage.
‘We should be doing enough new work to guarantee an audience for all new work. I’d like to be doing three new plays every year so that the audience was excited by the idea of that. Then there would be a trickle down effect to. say. the Traverse or anybody else who was doing new plays. There should be a connection. with everybody building an audience for new work and new writers.‘
Mun/rose. Royal Lyceum 'I'IIeurre. lir/iit/Hti'g/I. I’ri
Not that the story of the real Montrose can be ‘ conveniently packaged as a William \\'allace/Roh
touch audiences today. ‘( )ne of the themes of the play
S Sul 23 Mai:
lingering the lodger
Sticky buns: Grant Smeaton and Linda McLaughlin entertain Rab Christie
Way back in 1964, when Joe Orton first penned his now classic farce of sexual manners Entertaining Mr Sloane, the sexual revolution was all set to swing. Orton’s diaries exposed him as something oi a libertine himself, both in his personal predilection for pulling in public lavvies, and perhaps more importantly in the way he revelled in the outrage his plays provoked amongst stift- upper-lipped, genteel suburbanites. These were, after all, the very types who peopled his plays — furtive, repressed, petit bourgeois hypocrites who tut-tutted their way through The News 0! The Screws while hiding their hard-ons. And when they did give in to their shady desires, they no doubt did it in the dark with the curtains tightly closed.
This is basically what transpires when the murderous Mr Sloane takes up his tenancy at the home of frustrated spinster Kath and her businessman brother Ed. Sloane’s virile amorality sets both their hearts a-flutter, and the sexual stalking of this prettiest of psychopaths is as loaded with verbal kinks as you could get at the time, as Sloane uses his
' position as chauffeur-cum-concubine
to manipulate his way into the driver’s seat and on top. At the time, Orton was stretching the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship laws to the limit.
‘Part of the comedy in the play comes out of the way no-one in it talks about sex outright, but they speak in a kind of code instead,’ says Ross Stenhouse, who’s directing Mr Sloane tor Glasgow’s Tangerine Productions, which he co-founded. The company burst onto the scene last year with a rather special production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. Special in that it countered the popular tendency to play hostess- from-hell Beverly as a poor imitation of Alison Steadman (who created the role in Leigh’s original television version) by having fellow Tangerine founder Grant Smeaton don a party frock to play the role himself.
The parallels between the two plays - both are domestic black comedies popular enough to have ingrained themselves into a nation’s psyche - are obvious; but all the gender- bending in Mr Sloane comes straight from the script. ‘To impose a style would do the play a disservice,’ says
Future plans for Tangerine include a stage adaptation of the Bette Davis movie classic All About Eve, which should make even more plain the oeuvre they’re working with. They’re also keen to develop a new writing initiative, possibly developed via improvisation in much the same way Mike Leigh first worked on Abigail’s Party, again in a suitably dry vein. ‘I know they say irony’s dead,’ says Stenhouse, ‘but I don’t believe it is.’
For now, though, it’s Sloane who’ll be doing the entertaining in a play which, despite the bump ’n’ grind of sexual attitudes over the last 30 years, remains as pertinent as ever. ‘5th like that’s still going on out in the suburbs,’ insists Smeaton. ‘At the time it was written, things were just going into that fairly hedonistic period - pleasure at any cost — and that’s happening now. What’s more, there are still guys like Ed around who can’t face up to their sexuality. Now that’s really sad.’ (Neil Cooper)
Entertaining Mr Sloane, Tangerine Productions, Arches Theatre, Glasgow, Mon 11 -Sat 23 Mar.
The List 8-21 Mar 1996 57