Edinburgh: Traverse Theatre, Thurs l3—Sun 23 Mar; then touring.
It could never happen to you, right? Yet the Zero Tolerance campaign to highlight domestic violence showed . that people - and specifically, women - were being knocked about at home a whole lot more than was generally thought. Remarkably, this most basic level of abuse is still swept under the moral shag-pile for fear of upsetting the neighbours.
It seems more appropriate than ever, then, to give the problem a public outing onstage. Plays tackling such sensitive areas can all too often be filed under worthy- but-dull. Yet Gerda Stevenson, who is directing Janet Paisley's play Refuge, asserts that this world premiere 'goes much further than just being a worthy or issue-based play.’
Paisley's first full-length play presents a dark but comedic insight into life inside a women’s refuge, and last year won her the prestigious Peggy Ramsay Award, the accolade bestowed by the legendary literary agent.
'People assume that domestic violence is a working- class disease,’ says Stevenson, better known as an actress, who won a BAFTA award for her role in the film Blue Black Permanent. ’But that’s absolute rubbish and we’ve attempted to redress that misconception.’
Presented by Stellar Quines, the Scottish, women-led theatre company, Refuge features four women from very different social and emotional backgrounds, forced to live together in a reclusive and stifling environment. The group’s equilibrium is constantly shifting from camaraderie to conflict, as each woman is forced to deal with personal crisis in a highly public fashion.
’What’s astonishing about the piece is that it deals with such a bleak subject using this huge humour,’ says Stevenson. ’It’s just like in everyday life, where we use humour as a survival technique in times of upheaval or tragedy.’ Perhaps not surprisingly, the poet’s ear for
Gerda Stevenson: refuge from violence is a state of mind
rhythm is evident: Paisley provides a jagged emotional rollercoaster, in which the tension is continually punctured by humour.
’T he title is more about a state of mind than the place where the action takes place,’ claims Stevenson. Dealing with class conflict, the fear of what’s outside and enforced communal living with polar opposites, the women discard much emotional debris as each is forced to go through a painful psychological journey.
'T he play is relevant to men and women everywhere,’ says Stevenson. ’It’s about the double standards of society in relation to this particular phenomenon. But it’s also about survival which, while it provides food for a great deal of thought, is actually very Iife-affirming.’ (Claire Prentice)
I Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 9—Sat 79 Apr; Paisley Arts Centre, Mon 21 Apr, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, Fri 25/Sat 26 Apr.
DRAMA Crimes Of The Heart
Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Fri 7—Sat 29 Mar.
Southern home-cooking just like momma used to make isn’t your standard lunchtime snack for hungry thesps. But for Alison Peebles, director of Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes Of The Heart, it was an ideal way of relaxing the cast on a fraught first day of rehearsals — when ordinarily they’d be minding their manners. It was also an introduction to the time- warped culture of the Deep South, where manners maketh man. And woman — for matriarchal Southern belles steeped in politeness are no stranger to the stage.
The three dotty-as-a-fruitcake sisters who grace Henley’s play are no descendants of either Tennessee Williams or Scarlett O'Hara — two of
Goin' south: Alison Peebles
one of Scotland's leading actresses, who first discovered the play when she appeared in it several years ago at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. ’Southerners have a way of speaking which goes round the garden path to get to the point,’ she says. 'It comes from a tradition of storytelling, but it also means they're never direct, and there’s this whole veneer of formality to get through. Home, family and church are still regarded as sacred there, while Northerners are regarded as too vulgar and in-your-face.’
Henley mines the comic potential of this prissy-assed community to the finger-Iickin' max but, despite the laughs, Peebles maintains the play is no watered-down Southern comfort. 'Once you find out the very particular reasons why the sisters behave the way they do, it becomes more than just a frothy, surreal story full of quirks and characters,’ she claims. 'There’s a huge
the yardsticks by which drama of the Deep South is measured. Neither are they as self-consciously quirky as the film version (starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek)
84 THE "81' 7-20 Mar 1997
suggested. Okay, so one of them offs her loving husband with a shotgun, but like the liquor advert says, in the South, they do things differently.
'It’s not just eccentricity,’ says Peebles,
underlying heart to things. I think the sisters are quite damaged people, so if we attain that kind of truth, then the comedy can sit on it quite nicely rather than becoming irritating.’ (Neil Cooper)
Glasgow: Citizens' Circle Studio, Thurs l3 Mar—Sat 5 Apr.
According to cliche, behind every great man is an even greater woman. But what happens when she becomes a more public and indeed shapelier figure than her dull dictator hubby? Argentina’s terminally ambitious first lady Eva Perch was a maverick mix of stateswoman and starlet. Even though she popped her stilettos 45 years ago, she's still famous the world over. Of course, she's been nudged further into the spotlight by a certain blockbuster movie starring the most famous woman on the planet, which was based on a certain massively successful stage musical.
Though Lord Lloyd-Webber and co weren’t exactly pipped at the post, Argentinian surrealist Copi did get there first, and offers an altogether different take on the legend. A fictionalised account of the days leading up to Eva's death aged 33, his play blurs her life story with a study of her relationship with her mother. Kenny Miller — who is directing and designing Eva Perdn for the Citizens' Circle Studio — suggests it 'brings a new insight into the no-man's-land between dream and reality.’
The timing of the production is
accidental, though Miller’s more than glad of any attention the film of Evita might bring. 'Copi said Eva was only interested in being a Hollywood star,’ he says, 'and he presented her as a failed screen goddess.‘ Like Miller, Copi was better known as a designer, and he spent 25 of his 49 years among the French arty set, dying in Paris in 1988. 'He became really well known, because his plays were so eccentric and outrageous,’ says Miller. 'All his plays were performed by an all- male cast.’ Real-life grande dames often appeared. The Homosexual for instance, brought the untouchable Greta Garbo onstage.
The temptation to turn such pin-ups of gay iconography into a high-kicking drag act is one Miller eschewed in favour of a more three-dimensional approach. 'I presume it was the masculinity of those two characters that appealed to Copi in that way, but I wanted a woman to play Eva and to get away from any notion of camp,’ he explains. 'As long as it remains a surreal adventure though, I don't think it matters.’ (Neil Cooper)
I Free preview, Wed 12 Mar. .l t . .
Woman of the people: Eva Perbn’s funeral in Buenos Aires