Menace in Venice

.~ 1.95» Bard times: Tom McGovern as last year’s Hamlet

Before THE BIG QUESTION has even fortned on my lips. Kenny lreland. director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company‘s new production of The Merchant 0f Venice. has pre-empted the thorny issue of staging Shakespeare‘s contentious work in a post-Holocaust society. ‘I just don‘t believe Shakespeare was a racist.‘ is his response to claims that the text is unacceptably anti-Semitic. ‘I really think the play has been overshadowed by recent historical events. Shakespeare doesn‘t come down on any one side he puts up different versions.‘

Ireland. immersed in rehearsals. is well aware that it‘s not an easy play. ‘lt‘s probably Shakespeare‘s most difficult work. but the one that‘s most satisfying to direct ifyou get it right.‘ Neither is he insensitive to its contemporary political resonances. ‘We brought a Rabbi into rehearsals last week when we realised that none of the cast were Jewish.‘ he explains. ‘And we‘re very conscious of what‘s happening in Palestine at the moment. Shakespeare depicts racism and holds it up to be despised. If you avoid the issue and don‘t recognise that prejudice does exist. then events like the Holocaust are more likely to happen.‘

These are fine sentiments. especially given the predominantly youthful audience for Shakespeare at the Lyceum. ‘This could be the first experience of theatre for many of them.‘ Ireland attests. ‘It has to be clear. and exciting. But then The Merchant 0f Venice is a cliff-hanger will Antonio die or not? It‘s a bit like [Tim Robbins‘ recent film] Dead Man Walking.‘

The casting of thinysomething actor Tom McGovern (the Lyceum‘s I995 Hamlet) as a youngish Shylock might also. I suggest. add to the immediacy. ‘I wasn‘t convinced at first.‘ admits Ireland. ‘but Tom persuaded me that a younger Shylock would be fascinating. He‘s still hungry. still wanting to make money. and he‘s of similar age to Bassanio and his friends. Doing the play with young performers makes their racism seem more casual more to do with inexperience and ignorance than fear and prejudice.‘

While combatting ignorance may not be Ireland‘s chief concern, his complex and even-handed approach to the play could prove a lesson worth heeding. (Minty Donald)

The Merchant 0f Venice. Royal Lyceum Theatre. Edinburgh. Fri 8-Sat 30 NW. 7.45pm.

Infamy for The Devils

The bad habits that lurk behind a clergyman’s collar have long been a source of fascination to the layman. Recent tabloid exposures have led a mythology of double standards and sleaze, though it’s pure holy coincidence that the Arches Theatre Company’s new production of The Devils has arisen at such a sensitive time. Based on Aldous lluxley’s novel The Devils 0! louden, John Whiting’s controversial play was first presented in 1961 by the lloyal Shakespeare

Plenty at stake: Andy Arnol directs The Devils at the Arches

Company, and caused quite a stir with its extreme material.

Set in 17th century France, where a corrupt priest is accused by nuns of Satanism, the play’s probably best known in Ken Russell’s notorious film version, which saw nuns whipping their skirts in the air while Olly ileed struggled to keep his cassock intact.

‘Putting witchcraft into the Arches is very appealing,’ says director Andy Arnold in mischievoust demonic tones clearly acquired during his hugely successful production of The Crucible. ‘Where The crucible is a deadly serious piece, this has a very dark humour, and almost borders on farce, with this figure of the zealous, exorcising priest. Here we see a man burnt at the stake fully aware he’s lived a salacious life, but totally innocent of this crime.’

Arnold makes much of his theatre’s spooky and somewhat whiffy dungeon- like interiors, and is setting The Devils in a hitherto unused nook. ‘To be honest, I don’t think the play suits a proscenium-arch stage,’ Arnold asserts. ‘It’s one of the most unusual stagings we’ve ever had, which allows us to play up the play’s more gruesome elements hangings, open sewers and that.’ llrgh! ‘There’s lots of beauty in it too, with the Gregorian chants we’ve used. 0n the whole, though, and the reason it’s so controversial and doesn’t get done much, is anyone of a religious zeal is shown in a totally bad light.’ (lleil Cooper)

The Devils, Arches Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 8-63! 23 llov.

mamm- Funny business

How could anyone have the cheek to believe they’re so funny they can entertain a roomful of people? You could ask any of the comedians who litter up stages more and more these days. You could also ask David Stirling, whose new play for the Tron Theatre looks at the life, work and death of a comedy double act, both halves of which happen to be called Dave. As the play flits between past and present, we see what is basically a marriage, as one partner dominates the other along the road to sit-com heaven.

‘lt’s about the psychology of people who want to be famous,’ according to Peter Mackie Burn, who was invited to direct the play by the Tron’s outgoing artistic director Michael Boyd. Boyd’s tenureship was notable for its emphasis on the populist, and, being chock full of darkly elliptical humour, Dave's last laugh could be viewed as a distant relation of David Kane’s Dumbsfruck. So why is theatre fascinated by light entertainment of the unreconstructed kind?

‘There’s a fascination for people wanting to get behind the scenes and behind the public smile,’ is Mackie Burn’s theory. ‘Secretly, everyone thinks they’re funny, but making that leap from living-room funny to

Cruelty behind the smiles: Dave’s last laugh

professionally funny is quite a leap. People who make that leap, you can see a change in the psychological make-up. You can see them developing routines, collecting up scraps from their lives and honing them.’

Mackie Burn compares the play’s quirky structure to The tarry Sanders Show. ‘The way it jumps from stage life to real life, you’re never entirely sure if it’s part of the act or the real thing. It’s like a marriage, and the level of brutality they mete out to each other is genuinely shocking. It’s very funny too,’ he adds. Funnin enough.

(lleil Cooper)

Dave’s Last Laugh, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Sal 9-Saf 30 Nov (pre views Thurs 7/Fri 8 llov).

Panto neurotioo

g. | '1 " * .97 .. Forced Entertalnment: dazed and short-fused When it comes to theatre. adults speaking adult words in a childlike setting is well dodgy. When it‘s good like the young mother-of-threc changing a nappy while performing phone sex in Robert Altman‘s Short Cuts it‘s top sausage. When it‘s bad. it‘s a load ofgrown men running around babbling like Josie Lawrence. More cringe than Fringe.

A sigh of relief. then. that the company taking the plunge with .S'hmrtime a ‘dcnsc. provocative and comical‘ new theatre piece is forged- in-Sheffteld outfit Forced Entertainment. With twelve years and a couple of Barclays‘ New Stages awards behind them. their latest caper comes with a distinctively sizzling aroma.

The work grew from writer/director Tim Etchells‘ observations of his role as a working parent. ‘You know‘ he urges. ‘being an adult surrounded by toys. driving home from a show late at night singing along to one of my son‘s nursery-rhyme tapes.‘ Showtime has the air of a pantocsque gig by some talentless indie hopefuls the talking trees are sullen. a man tears about with a bomb strapped to his chest. and there‘s a handful of bungling thugs. Uh-huh. So for the pantophobes of this world. does it get better"?

You bet. Etchells knows the value of black humour: a sense of urgency and mortality infuses the fumbling. One wounded thug tries to bring a sense of occasion‘to his demise ‘he‘s so grandiose. too big for his boots.‘ says Etchells while another character imagines her exit with the deadpan attention to detail of a shopping list. If you‘ve ever plotted your last gasp in enough detail to include cancelling the milk. you‘ve probably worked it out so you‘ll still get your life insurance.

Showtime is proof that you are not alone. Better pray the man from the Pru isn't in the audience. (Catriona Smith) Showtime. F oreed Entertaimttent. Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh. Thurs 7—Sat 9 Nov.

32The List l-l4 Nov I996