The Merchant of Venice
Glasgow: Tron Theatre, Tue 25—Sat 29 Mar;
Stirling: MacRobert Arts Centre, Tue 27—Thurs 29 May.
For someone just recovering from a stomach bug, Neil Sissons sounds remarkably chipper. But then he‘s got a lot to feel good about. Since he founded Sheffield-based Compass Theatre Company sixteen years ago, it has gone on to become one of Britain’s better-known touring names. As artistic director, Sissons has built his reputation on a repertoire of classily staged ’classics’.
The Merchant Of Venice, his current production, is a case in point. In many ways it represents a return to ground already covered, since the company performed the play seven years ago. But Compass
is a versatile company which mounted a Beckett festival last year and regularly performs works by other giants of the modern stage such as Ibsen, BUchner and Strindberg. What links all these playwrights, says
Sissons, is their sense of scale.
’There's a direct line from Shakespeare to Beckett,’ he says, ’in the epic dimension of their vision of humanity, despite obvious differences of technique.’
But why return to The Merchant Of Venice? Is it the familiar story of established money-spinners supporting the more modern and experimental material that
companies really want to do?
’Yes, in a sense that's true,’ Sissons counters sanguinely. ’We all know what the state of funding is in this country, but there has to be more to it than that. The last time we did the play our resources were limited: now we can return to give it the full treatment in terms of production. Essentially the play represents a bitterly fought confrontation between two cultures and
Paternal dialogue: David Bowen as Shylock and Carolyn Bazer as Jessica
two ways of thinking. We’ve chosen to set it in the 19305 with the onset of the Depression, heightening the economic pressures explored in the drama. So both the set and the costumes act in counterpoint with what’s
happening on the stage.’
And what about the more controversial aspects of the play — its perceived anti-Semitism, for example?
’lt’s a vital aspect to tackle,’ Sissons concedes. ’Too many productions of The Merchant lapse into stereotype, but what we’re aiming to do is to keep the audience's loyalty shifting through the play. As far as
Shylock goes, we’re emphasising the part his daughter
water emptied over her head
Let Her Body Become A Livmg Letter Glasgow: Tramway, Wed 2—Sat SApr.
For Glasgow-based Victoria Beattie and (ompany it's Crush by name and crush by nature Last seen carrying out attatks on an innocent watermelon in 8/oodbirds at Tramway, the (veryi physical theatre specialists are now back With a new piece that promises more reckless abandon.
Our photograph features a female performer (the watermelon assassin) leaping skyward With several gallons of Looks like those spicy Crush girls have been behavrng badly again.
The torrent Crush lineup consists of low women, and the piece they're working on is a Tramway Dark Lights commission called Let Her Body Become A Living letter Like B/oodbirds it slams movement, text, song anything the girls can pull off baSically — into one mix for optimum impact.
Wet and wild: Pamela Drynan in Let Her Body Become A Living Letter
Th.s time Beattie is also working with a computer art'st and a filmmaker ’That’s what interests me about people's perfr.;-ii::anre,’ the work is devised indiVidual performers involved ‘
sl‘e says All
Jessica plays in his thinking and trying to underscore connections through the doubling-up of characters. David Bowen plays both Shylock and Lorenzo, for instance, which is quite interesting. The ultimate point, though, is not to mitigate or condemn, but simply that compromise is necessary for civilisation.’
lf Beattie likes to use her perforrneis' every skill, she also likes to tap into their every thought Not for Crush the luxury of leavrng problems in the For Erotic/birds each [IT‘H’NTTIPT was required to dredge up .liiirlhoorl memories and hang-ups, and spit them IIIIO a pressure cooker of controlled emotion on stage It rert'iinly gives an edge to the performance.
With Let Her Body Becorrie A Livrng Letter (bit of a long title there, girls) Ciush are once again looking to the past, but this time Wllll the emphasis ()". loss 'Foi this particular group loss is i major player,’ explains Beattie, 'and they still can't a<cept that it's like their l‘.’)Sl£il()l&1 is killing them '
Could tlzis all be getting a wee bitty ir‘terise7 'lt becomes funny,’ laughs Beattie like someone who’s never seen the downside of life. ’lt's like when somebody falls down in the street and 't's funny and also pitiful It's extremely embarrassing and rid:culous but on the other side it's the human being in an epic struggle ' (Ellie Carri
preview THEATRE Stage Whispers
More scenes from behind the scene dock.
SPECULATION CONTINUES over a management merger between the King's and the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh’s two main council-owned theatres. Both venues currently compete with the privately-owned Playhouse to receive large-scale touring shows and attract audiences. It’s been rumoured for some time that a combined effort might improve their efficiency. Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s new general manager, Stephen Barry — who formerly ran two Sheffield theatres in tandem -- will announce plans on Tuesday 25 March; but although the amalgamation has been 'agreed in principle’, the theatre is staying officially mum until then.
ANOTHER NEW APPOINTEE this fortnight is Tony Graham, artistic director of Glasgow's TAG Theatre Company since 1992, who leaves Scotland shortly to become artistic director of Unicorn Theatre, 3 young people's company based in London. Graham’s productions for TAG include A Clockwork Orange, A Scots Quair and Lanark. His parting gift to TAG will be a production of J.M.Barrie's Peter Pan, which opens at Tramway as part of Mayfest, then tours to Edinburgh and Dundee.
ALSO TAKING HIS TALENTS SOUTH is Edinburgh-based actor Tony Cownie, who's been cast (quite against type) as the fool, Pompey, in Nottingham Playhouse’s prestigious production of Shakespeare ’5 Measure For Measure. The production will tour to Dublin, Rome and probably Paris this year; and be revived next Spring at London’s Barbican Centre, followed by a tour which (it’s hoped) will cover Tokyo, Berlin, Antwerp, Tel Aviv and unspecified cities in the USA. Before that, though, Cownie is coming home: the show is expected to feature in the Edinburgh International Festival’s theatre
programme, to be announced today.
l l l l l l i l
Playing the fool again: Tony Cownie
Two errors appeared in our review of the Tangerine Productions/ Paisley Arts Centre show last issue. The director was Grant Smeaton; not, as stated, Ross Stenhouse. And Mike Leigh's play was originally presented on stage; not, as stated, in the television version, screened a few months later. Apo!ogies to all concerned.
2i Mar—3 Apr 1997THEU3T55