Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum Theatre, until Sat 26 Apr * it t at
The adage that ‘knowledge is power' is debunked in Brian Friel's intelligent tragi-comedy, set in County Donegal in 1833. British troops are clumsily attempting to re-map north-west Ireland, rendering those hard-to-pronounce Gaelic names into simplistic English. In the village of Balie Beag (shortly to become Ballybeg), the Gaelic- speaking community is sustained by an illegal ’hedge school'. Here, an academically impeccable grounding in the classics is provided by the eccentric and egotistical Hugh, assisted by his son Manus, who - as a symbol, perhaps, of education’s inability to preserve its people from cultural domination — was lamed in an accident caused by Hugh’s love for the poteen.
At the school, the village people gather, a spirited community whose sexually charged language suggests
an easy fecundity. Then the British interlopers arrive with their charts and place-names, and Hugh's other son Owen in tow as interpreter. Misunderstandings and mockery arise from the language barrier, and Friel derives much comedy from the simple device of having both factions understood by the audience, but incomprehensible to each other. The final outcome, though, is disastrous for all concerned. Perhaps the play's universal message is about the insidious damage that muddy-minded innocents can inflict when harnessed by an oppressive power. 'What's happening?’ asks Owen at one point. ’l’m not sure,’ replies the idealistic British dreamer Yolland, ’. .
Translations is a bitty play, whose several strands of thought are linked more by theme than by narrative, and it's most engaging in its intimate set-pieces: the profoundly tender opening scene, in which Stephen
Dangerous liaison: (left to right) Nicholas Rowe, Stephen Kennedy and
. something is
Alec Newman in Translations
Kennedy's likeable Manus draws speech from his devoted mute pupil Sarah (played with aching passion by Veronica Leer), or the linguistically barren wooing of Brigid Duffy’s Maire by Yolland (an amiably gauche performance from Nicholas Rowe). Tom Watson’s animated Hugh is as inspiring to the audience as the dominie is to his pupils — bumbling but sly; charismatic yet ultimately pragmatic, and once again it is in the booze-sodden two-handers with classics-loving fantasist Jimmy (Finlay Welsh in particularly fine fettle) that his performance catches fire.
Director Mark Lambert creates an authentic environment in Geoff Rose’s earthly naturalistic set,
allowing the words to carry the play's ideas - as befits a
work which places language at the heart of culture, collective identity and personal experience — though at times, the play's snatches of Latin are as comprehensible as the actors’ dense Irish accents. (Andrew Burnet)
DRAMA A Doll's House
On tour bur
Served up regularly over the years, Ibsen’s play blends over-statement and bang-on characterisation to create a tasty dish flavoured by the chattering classes, Glasgow-based Theatre Babel’s version — an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s version, no less — is strong with good performances throughout. If there’s a reservation, it regards the text But more On that later.
In the living room of Torvald and Nora Helmer — a nightmare stage where
58 THE “81’ I8 Apr—I May I997
Norwegians would: Rebecca Rodgers and John Kazek
in rehearsals for A Doll’s House
bourgeois hypocrisy is exposed — we witness a husband’s wafer-thin allegiance to his doting Wife, the dolly of the title. Oozing smug conceit, John Kazek's Torvald is the summation of everything bad about male-dominated society. He patronises his flighty Wife Nora (Rebecca Rodgers) to a squirmineg awful degree. Unbeknown to Torvald, however, Nora saved his bacon, borrovving money by forging her father’s signature. In fact, Torvald's rise to the post of bank manager is underpinned by this fraudulent act There are three Significant sub-plots: Nora's widowed childhood friend,
Kristina Linde (Vicki Masson) returns to ask a favour, Nils Krogstad (Graham McLaren), a money-lender ostraCised from sooety for forgery, starts making threats; and Dr Rank (Peter D'Souza), dying from an un-named disease, tells Nora he loves her.
It may sound unlikely, but well handled delivery makes this complex scenario entirely believable. Sharp insights and several pinches of humour make the play clear but never heavy- handed. Although Kristina and Rank seem underwritten, the play remains a pure statement about forces shaping people day-to-day.
Sadly, the closing scene dates the work. Nora's final monologue is a party political broadcast for the Suffragettes. This play may once have been radical, but today's ear receives the message wrth substantially less awe. Ibsen advocated female emancipation, but he’s most effective when employing Crystal clear observation.
One nice touch by director Peter McAIIister is to keep the cast sitting at the back of the stage during others’ scenes. Ghostlike, they mirror the phantoms stalking the stage — loneliness, death, prestige, need. Worth watching for Ibsen’s craft alone, never mind some good acting from Babel, (Paul Welsh)
I For tour dates see page 64.
A Wholly Healthy Glasgow On tour * **
First things first. Swearing is good for you. There is nothing finer than a well- modulated ’fuck' or ’cunt' spouting from the mouth — both funny and effective and oddly more so when enunciated in a West Coast accent. Iain Heggie's play is riddled with the little four-lettered buggers and at no point does it get dull or - gasp! — offensive. Take them out and you take away the play’s natural rhythm and charm - as was found in the sanitised 1988 television version. However, this may not have been clear to a couple of audience-members, whose mouths went from open to wide, to wider, to positively agape, as the curses flowed and the insults grew cruder.
The play is set in the shoddily-run Spartan Health Club, which has change threatened upon it when naive idealist Murdo (John Kielty) joins the team, a day early and in all innocence His role eventually flourishes in an attempt to undermine the corrupt work ethics of Charley Hood (Vincent Friell) and Donald Dick (Stewart Preston) both of whom toil under the hand of the mysterious and equally reprehensible Bobby Byebugger. Murdo seeks to re-invigorate the body and soul of the Glasgow population with a new fitness regime, yet is destined to fail once he has been inculcated in the Spartan’s modus operandi.
The cast are fine, with Friell on his customary good form; while Kielty’s stuffily edgy performance is enhanced by his odd ability to contort his frame as he tries to force upon himself an understanding of the barriers he is up against. Stewart Preston’s portrayal of the camp-as-a-window Donald holds it all together.
While A Wholly Healthy Glasgow is never dull and not short of a few laughs, it is the Carry On elements which hold it back from being a superior work. But then, what do you expect when the characters have names like Donald Dick and Byebugger? (Brian Donaldson)
Camp scamps: Vincent Friell (left) and Stewart Preston in A Wholly Healthy Glasgow