Lavochkin — 5
Glasgow: Tron Theatre, until Sat 24 May * it
Most people would agree that art can achieve nothing without experimentation and risk. Stepping into the shoes of Michael Boyd - whose directorship at the Tron was a carefully judged balancing act between populism and artistic innovation - Irina Brown has made an audacious but decidedly difficult choice for her debut production at the theatre.
Set in 1988, in a Russia stuggling to accommodate its second major upheaval in 70 years, Alexei Shipenko's play centres on an ageing, eau de cologne-swigging flying ace and his ancient, bed- ridden mother. A vision of grotesque squalor and decrepitude that irresistibly suggests Beckett (particularly Endgame, Boyd's last new show for the Tron), they engage in a weary banter which returns repeatedly to an infantile obsession with bodily functions and crude language.
These worn-out representatives of (respectively) the Communist and Tsarist eras are idly observed by a silent, white-clad woman, who seems to stand for the unseized opportunities of a future free from both yokes. When the older generations finally perish, they are dismissively swept away
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Mother Russia: Miriam Karlin as the decaying spirit of Tsarism in Lavochkin - 5
by a clutch of wasters and cynics - evidence that no bright future can be realised without effort and vision.
It's an intriguing theme, but the play takes well over two hours to communicate very little. New information and events dribble out from time to time, but for the most part dramatic development is conspicuously absent. The script is authentically gritty and laced with humour, but its pearls of meaning are obscured by layers of drivel.
Brown's production is flawless (aside from some pointlessly blurred film projections). In the central roles, David Hargreaves and Miriam Karlin are magnificent, acquitting themselves with supreme energy and conviction through the gruellingly lengthy, trivial and repetitive duologue that makes up most of the play - a powerful counterpoint to the impotence of
their characters. Jennifer Black's woman in white is an embodiment of flighty insouciance; while among the supporting cast, Robert Paterson makes the best mileage from his three walk-on roles. Bunny Christie’s set is a triumph too: all dodgy wiring, ragged upholstery and nasty stains, lit starkly and unpredictany by Stewart Steel.
Brown clearly understands the material well — she collaborated closely with lain Heggie on the translation - and she directs with flair and an immaculate sense of rhythm. No doubt she is able to read the symbolic subtext with perfect clarity, but then she is of Russian origin. In the end, whatever the virtues of this production, any piece of art that does not communicate with its audience is of dubious value. (Andrew Burnet)
COMEDY Daily Tele raph Open Mic Awar 5
Edinburgh: Pleasance Theatre, Mon 12 May.
What makes you laugh? For the eminent judges on the Edinburgh semi-final of the Daily Telegraph Open Mic Awards, it was the evening’s sole character comic, T.J. Murphy — think John Shuttleworth without the cheesy organ, clad in an Eric Morecambe mac and hat. While his act was admirably intelligent and well-constructed, the laughs were just too few. There was a joke about jelly babies and Spinal columns which caused a coniption or two but little else to recommend it. There were no official runners-up among the other seven comedians who subjected themselves to five
60 rucusr 16—29 May i997
minutes in the spotlight, but surely Matt Thorne’s self-deprecatory humour — centring around the ups and downs of onanism and necrophilia, to say nothing of his obsession with Elws, should have had the panel deliberating on their choice for more than a minute. And how about Drumchapel's Ian Foy, who personified Scotland — ’small and shit at football' — while his material c0u|d be best summed up as, erm, well-observed. If you ever get a chance to see him, hold on for his disposable razor/tampon analysis.
Of the rest, all male and all white, Graeme Casey went through British Rail's Livewire magazme, dissecting it in a generally unfunny manner, while Gary Gifford raised more than a bundle of chuckles with some rabid drivel about American Geordies and breast cheese and was the only act to make
anything of the red light flashing at him warning him to Wind it up. David Fletcher, a balding Paisleyite, had some good material but stagefright held it back, while Alan McQueen had few gags — WittiCisms about running for the bus, for crying out loud — but balls by the dozen,‘
The main problem was that there was no real stand-out stand-up. That's if you don't count the host, Fringe veteran Boothby Graffoe, who kept the audience in chuckle mode. Clearly this is intended to make it easier for the would-be gigglemeisters when they bound on stage With a hot crowd still smiling. Yet it's strange how qwckly a warmed-up assemblage can muster a collective frown. (Brian Donaldson)
I The final will take place at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. See also Stage Whispers, page 58.
FAIRY TALE Peter Pan
Glasgow: Tramway until Sat 17 May. Edinburgh: International Children's Festival, Mon l9—Sun 25 May iii
Classics like JM. Barrie's Peter Pan bring with them a certain amount of dramatic baggage, making new interpretations difficult. But in TAG Theatre Company’s new version, director Tony Graham has opted for imagination and make-believe rather than bulging harnesses and groaning wires to make the production take off. There is still magic in this story, and by using dance and a healthy dose of visual humour, TAG manage to capture some of it.
Setting the scene is necessary but cumbersome — Darling father and mother grate slightly on the nerves, and their offspring at first seem too obviously adult, their imitation of children unconvincing. This may be because we know more exciting things are afoot — we’re impatient for Pan to fly through the window, so the adventure can begin.
Neverland is more representative of what TAG’s nine-strong cast can do. The Lost Boys introduce a tumbling, bouncing sense of life that fills the stage. Graham McTavish's Captain Hook, making a regal entrance on a shopping trolley, hits an impressive balance between cowardice and mincing menace. Smee (Thane Bettany) is a suitably comic sidekick in knotted hankie and Union Jack. Susan Nisbet warms to the title role, achieving the swagger Pan needs to be a credible leader of his pack.
There are a few weaknesses. Hints of flirtation between Wendy and Pan never really develop, and flashes of vulnerability in all the children disappear quickly into the next romp. Costume changes between Lost Boys and pirates are not always clear, which creates confusion in some scenes.
However, inspired choreography and a heavy sprinkling of pure slapstick have children in the audience crowing delightedly along With Pan.
The set is sparse but effective, changing mood with light and sound rather than complicated props. Paul Joseph, Douglas lrvme and Tom Freeman are the stars of the piece, bounding over the set and blowing raspberries as Lost Boys, cackling and cowering as pirates; slinking ominously as a three-man crocodile. But does this production pass the ultimate test? Do we believe in fairies? Enough to save the pOisoned Tinkerbell? There’s no hesitation from the junior audience. The fairy lives. Phewl (Kate Smith)
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Make believe: Gail Watson and Susan Nesbit in Peter Pan