Edinburgh: Traverse Theatre, Tue 25 Mar—Sun 6 Apr first fir

Dangerous game, hype. Especially if it involves lauding a new play on high before it's even begun rehearsals. Even if it’s by Ariel Dorfman, author of Death And The Maiden, the world’s most performed 20th century play. Dorfman is the Argentinian/Chilean thinker silenced into exile by Pinochet's dictatorship, who came out fighting and writing to prick the world’s conscience, touching hearts and reaching parts Amnesty International could never reach.

For that reason alone, he deserves every column inch he’s been given of late to speak out about his play Widows, brought kicking into life by Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre company after a twenty-year pregnancy. Seen on tour in England prior to coming home to roost, Widows is a lengthy compendium of all Dorfman’s rage and preoccupations. Whether it's a dramatic one, though, is debatable.

The play is set on a riverbank in an unnamed country under military rule, whose men have 'disappeared’. The women left behind deal with it in different ways: denial, tacit acceptance, and collaboration of an old- fashioned kind all keep them in their place. But when a body is washed ashore, old flames are rekindled and the women pull together to give their loved ones the dignity of a face, a name, a voice and a grave. And so the defiance begins. Thrustingly macho martial rulers adopt a divide-and-rule damage-limitation strategy, but by then everyone wants their loved ones' corpses back, and only extreme measures will do.

There are flashes of brilliance in lan Brown’s fine~tuned production, performed magnificently by a fourteen- strong ensemble, but for a play so resolutely concerned with liberty, the characters seem stifled and suppressed

In it together: Bridget McCann, Libby McArthur and Anne Downie in Refuge

Liberty-seeker: Ann-Louise Ross in Widows

by their author's guiding voice, which never lets its creations off the leash. Hemmed in by ideas however noble, however worthy - wise old Sofia and the rest are rarely allowed breathing space to express a personality of their own.

This is made manifest via the narrator, who seems to have stepped straight out of Dorfman’s diaries. While rooted in a Latino tradition, it is a conceit that intrudes on the epic choral form and detracts from the play’s message. This is delivered clear as running water at the end of Act One, when the women find the unity and strength to rise up against the forces of oppression. Act Two reinforces things, but it fails to go further, and where it should inspire and amaze, it merely dribbles limply to an easy symbolic tableau. The well-heeled liberal bourgeoisie will love it, but preaching to the converted is never enough.

(Neil Cooper)

the women yearn for the mundane things in life, yet a knock at the door is enough to provoke terror, Carefully constructed coping strategies come into play and the women are held together by Sadie, whose sharp tongue could perform Bobbitt-style surgery in an instant. But like the meek, uptight accountant Carolann and Beth, wife of a tyrannical doctor, Sadie too has put up With years of being used as a mute punchbag.

Paisley prowdes an emotional Journey, using humour to puncture the pain, and there are indeed some highly emotive and uplifting moments. But the performances are patchy and the characters verge on stereotypes


DRAMA Refuge

On tour 'k *

It's about time Our moral guardians risked upsetting the neighbours and acknowledged that domestic Violence does go on Indeed, With the current debate over access rights for abusive fathers and the Council’s Zero Tolerance campaign against domestic Violence it seems timely to give this age-old problem a public airing on stage Better known as a poet, Janet

Paisley uses dark humour to get her pornt across in her award-Winning and first full-length play Refuge, performed by women's theatre company Stellar Qtiines

Set in a women’s refuge (as the title suggests) this world premiere sees f0ur women thrown together because of a shared experience they'd rather forget, and forced to bare their emotional scars in a highly public enViroriment. The polar opposites proVide comfort and conflict as they try to get through each liarr'eri :Jay Prisoners of their past,

perhaps inevitably as Paisley attempts to show this can happen to anyone, regardless of class or creed.

Gerda Stevenson's production is unevenly paced, only really getting geing in the second act; and the piece fails to capture the highly charged despair of the victims or the claustrophobia of their imprisonment. Paisley doesn't naively attempt to proffer a solution, but neither does she look beyond and ask the reasons why. (Claire Prentice)

I For tour dates, see page 62.

review THEATRE

DRAMA Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre (Main House), until Sat 5 Apr * t 'k

Set on the 65th birthday of Big Daddy Pollitt, the multi—millionaire patriarch of a Mississippi family, this is among Tennessee Williams's most potent plays At its heart is the damage inflicted by those lies that uphold the genteel facade of Southern society —- represented by small-minded Big Mama

Following his mother’s example is sprightly Gooper who ~ With his Wife Mae has attended to bedroom duties to the tune. of six offspring, and expects a major inl‘ieritance. By contrast, sports hero Brick has a leg in plaster -- a vrsual echo of his inner anUFYI his friend Skippers suicrde, which was caused by sexual undercurrents in their relationship.

While a steady flow of Jack Daniels propels Brick towards ‘the click i get in my head that makes me peaceful’, his wife Maggie prowls a hot tin roof of frustrations: the class barrier that excludes her from family approval, and the gurlt that keeps Brick from the marital bed. Meanwhile, Big Daddy is about to face the ultimate in painful truths . .

Designed and directed by Philip Prowse, this production is certainly well cast. Mark Bazeley makes a hand— somely Surly Brick, allowing the audience glimpses of his inner fire of integrity; while Robert DaVid MacDonald is perfectly cast as Big Daddy, his dwindling authority outlined in red-rimmed eyes. Casting a black woman as Maggie (in a play which includes casual use of the word ’nigger’) is an audacious step that underlines her isolatior: from the family fold, but Julie Saunders positively sizzles With senSiiality and indignation.

Yet it fails to gel, partly because tension is weakened by dlSlTllSSiVE treatment of the less admirable characters. Ellen Sheean is cast as a lightweight, star‘spangled Big Mama, while Henry Ian Cusick and Siobhan Stanley (Gooper and Maei are severely undermined by one-Joke costumes. The chintzy set is plush Without beauty; While the sticky climate, on which Southern drama depends for atmOSphere, is seldom suggested.

Though some intensity builds in the main characters' bitter, two-handed exchanges, at times this seems more a mild critique of poor aesthetic taste than the agonising evrsceration of mendacity that Williams intended. (Andrew Burnet)

Feeling the heat: Julie Saunders as Maggie the cat



21 Mar—3 Apr l997 THE “ST 57