Glasgow: Tramway, until Sun 3 May. ****
Puberty is never easy. In Benchtours' touring show — the second they have created with writer/director Peter Brooks — it becomes as terrifying and as darkly funny as anyone could imagine. Set in the cosin conventional 505, in an unsettling, off-kilter house whose rooms surround the limited-capacity audience on four sides, the show centres on four children’s attempts to understand and enact grown-up behaviour. Gradually, their playtime is infiltrated and adulterated by the intrusive force of sexuality. For these innocents, sex becomes an enticingly dangerous plaything outwith the 'safe’ boundaries of home, and adulthood beckons. Even the boy who resists the new discoveries thrust upon him - implicitly representing men’s failure to shake off the naive gender roles of the SOs - is irrevocably changed.
It’s not an original theme, but what makes Peepshow an outstanding piece of theatre is its inventive and multi-faceted execution. Reference points include French farce, David Lynch, Brief Encounter, Dennis Potter, cave paintings and Sigmund Freud; but it is in the ingenious combination of these influences, and the technical brilliance with which they are assembled — illuminating the theme with shocking clarity — that this series of witty and grotesque sketches finds its absorbing and potent unity.
The ensemble company of six (in which Chris Craig makes a lively replacement for regular member John Cobb) performs with an assuredness and discipline born of their six years working together; but Pete Livingstone's eerie soundscape - which includes buzzing insects, rainfall and 505 news bulletins as well as music - Laura Hopkins's primary-coloured yet sinister design, and Camilla O'Neill’s spot-on technical stage
Climbing the wooden hill to adulthood: Rebecca Robinson in Peepshow
management all make indispensible contributions. Bold lighting by Nigel Edwards and videos by B. Evans-Tusch add further facets to a production that traverses several media without betraying any self-consciousness about it.
There are weaknesses: the dialogue — notable for its absence in most scenes - is occasionally ropey, with references to 'the secret door’ and the need to 'confront what lies beyond'. And although all four male actors give strong, idiosyncratic performances, there is sometimes little delineation between their boy- gentleman characters.
But without question this a fine and accessible example of that genre of show - multi-media/physical theatre/visual theatre/call it what you will - in which this country's performing arts have been weakened by their neglect of European influences. The French-trained Benchtours company is here to show us how it should be done. (Andrew Burnet)
Tennent’s sumptuous design and Stewart Steel’s vibrant lighting, which combine stunningly to create the rich colours and earthy atmosphere of anCient Araby, once again using the minimum of gimmicks to maximum effect.
Mulgrew’s adaptation is exuberant and poetic (perhaps overly so in the rhyming narration), full of silly puns and extravagant exaggerations; the performances are all beautifully pOised — there’s no shortage of physical energy and acrobatics, comedy accents and on-the-button timing.
The only problem With the show is its
FAMlLY SHOW Tales Of The Arabian Nights
Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre, Tue 6—Sat 10 May. 1* air * *
Any doubt that a show for children could appeal equally to adults is dispelled in this magnificent revrval by Edinburgh-based Communicado Theatre Company of a show first performed in 1988.
The key word is 'organic'. With scant resources (a cast of six, a harnperload of props and musical instruments, a plentiful Supply of silk sheets),
66 THE lIST 2—15 May 1997
Communicado COHJLJTGS the magic, adventure, humour and moral content
of the famOus fables But more fundamental resOurces -— talent and imagination are on hand in
abundance. A sheet becomes a boat, an arm becomes a snake, the resolution for one story becomes a set- up for the next, actors become musiCians, the musician (ever-reliable Steve Kettley) becomes an actor, and the playwright, Gerard Mulgrew, not only acts and plays music, but also directs With as skilled a hand as you’re likely to see on any Scottish stage. 'Organic' also describes Karen
structure. While every effort is made to link each story seamlessly to the next, eight stories placed end-to-end ineVitably become episodic. The second half is noticeably less engaging than the first, and the ending — while no one could call it a whimper — is far from exploswe.
But for the most part this is outstandingly good, no-nonsense theatre, which can only improve Communicado's already glowing reputation. The bottom line is, you can't beat a good fart gag, and the one in Arabian Nights blows all the rest away. (Andrew Burnet)
MONOLOGUE Mark's Gospel
Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre, Fri 2/Sat 3 May. * *ir
It sounds an unappealing prospect. A one-man biblical recital, told in couthy broad Scots. And with a running time of 110 minutes (including interval), new company Speirheid — which is to specialise in Scots monologues - should not expect an excess of bums on seats.
But there is much to admire about this marathon, not least the material itself. It's seldom acknowledged these days, but the biography of Jesus of Nazareth, as told in the four Gospels, is probably the most influential story in Western civilisation; and Mark tells it more directly and dramatically than Matthew, Luke or John. If you can forget the pinched, killjoy ClelfllSm of John Knox and the middle-class decorum which seems to dominate Christianity in modern Britain, the legend emerges as one of revolution and exhilaration, mystery and tragedy.
Derived from R.L. Lorimer's New Testament /n Scots (written 1957—67) the script is not always readily understood by the unaccustomed ear, but its language is rich and earthy, filled with linguistic vigour, solemn poetry and Vivid imagery (and closer than any English translation to the vernacular Aramaic spoken by Jesus, according to David Daiches's programme note).
To this, solo performer Sandy Neilson and director Paul Ambrose Wright add touches of humour and a setting which uses carpentry (the hero's occupation, you Will remember) to stress the low-key, workmanlike quality of Lorimer’s translation. Neilson -~ who performed the same piece in a different version at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 1984 »- assumes the persona of an artisan, assembling a wooden structure, interrupting his matter-of-fact narration of miracle healings and rabble-rousing to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette or munch on an apple. The workshop offers symbolic dimensions, too — for example in the broom stand whose three brushes represent the crosses of Calvary, or the handsome painting by Stexen Hood that dominates the set.
It's a weighty chore for an actor, and the strain of rectal coupled Willi manual creatiVity (and unsturdy toolsi showed in Neilson’s first-night delivery Nonetheless, Mark '5 Gospel is a considerably more absorbing and lively performance than appearances suggest. (Andrew Burnet)
Telling the greatest story ever told: Sandy Neilson in Mark's Gospel