Edinburgh: Traverse Theatre, until Sat 7 Jun. * 'k ‘k
A front-page story in The Observer recently alleged that Dounreay nuclear plant had been established for use in a disaster-control experiment. Such abominations gain an even more chilling aspect in the light of Catherine Czerkawska's new play about Chernobyl, which is altogether too informative for comfort.
Set in the commuter town of Pripyat, built to house Chernobyl plant workers, the play centres on a small group of characters who are affected by the accident. The action is seen in flashback, recalled by Natalia, a scientist on an official visit to the site ten years later. Provoked by an enigmatic stranger called Artemis, she reveals the story of her fiance, sister, brother-in-law and nephew, whose tragedy was to remain in Pripyat for economic reasons, despite their reluctant acknowledgement (or half-baked denial) of the dangers.
Czerkawska's stated intention is to expose the catastrophe's inevitability, and the fallacy that nothing similar could happen here. With grim irony, she reveals that the disaster arose from an experiment designed to improve safety. As it turns out, the accident was caused by a lethally ordinary combination of human complacency and bad luck; one which could have had — and may yet have - devastating impact on the entire planet; one which can occur in any workplace, however rigorous its safety procedures; one which will always be declared unique and unrepeatable by official cover—ups.
This gloomy message is inherently powerful, and Czerkawska should be congratulated for the ruthless clarity with which she drives it home; the frequent reminders that, yes, this actually happened. But her chosen vehicle is drama, and artistic brilliance has eluded her, swamped as the piece is by its polemic
What The Butler Saw: whose normality is it, anyway?
Blowing the lid off Chernobyl: Anne Marie Timoney and Liam Brennan in Wormwood
content. The play tries hard to be about people and relationships, and at times it succeeds: there is, for example, a lovingly observed scene in which Natalia squabbles with big sister Tanya over her decision to leave Pripyat.
Citations are introduced from the Book of Revelation, whose prophesies of global destruction refer to wormwood (which worryingly translates into Russian as chernobyl). But Artemis’s portentous words are hard to take seriously, particularly when delivered with melodramatic camp by the usually excellent Forbes Masson.
At times, a lyrical beauty creeps into the writing - for example in descriptions of the explosion’s flame. But this 'dragon’ - understandably — overshadows everything else. Characters are underdeveloped, the plot is thin and predictable, and despite the imaginative efforts of director Philip Howard, designer Angela Davies and a strong cast (with Meg Fraser and Liam Brennan particularly good) it's an insubstantial edifice around an explosive core. Much like Dounreay, really. (Andrew Burnet)
up Carry On films. Not so with Graeae, who manage to bring out the very real rage at the heart of this play. As disabled people, they can engage totally wrth Orton's savage critique on the arrogance of institutionalised ideas of normality.
They bring out brilliantly the subversive anti-establishment slant that lurks beneath the bawdy surface of homoerotic innuendo and knob Jokes.
But that’s not to say there's anything wrong wrth a bit of ’Oo-er, misSLis" The first act especially is a dazzling display of verbal fencing Of course, it's hard to go wrong With an Orton script, but the gags are delivered With gusto, and those dealing with the body take on extra resonance.
FARCE What The Butler Saw
There can be few productions where
you learn the British Sign Language for ’nyrriphomaniac', 'anti-Christ' and 'Winston Churchill’ This is one of them Graeae are Europe's leading theatre company of disabled people Their take on .'oe Orton’s Freudian farce ts frantic, ‘urious and physical
Set entirely in the surgery of a lecherous psychoanalyst, What The
64 THE usr 30May—12lun l997
But/er Saw is a biting but hilarious satire which reveals the madness and hypocrisy of authority When Dr Prentice tricks Geraldine Barclay into undressing while IllleVlGVVlng her for a job as his secretary, he sets in motion a plot of blackmail, white lies, shakedowns and cover-ups which has more twists than a Chubby Checker convention
Maybe it's because of Orton‘s friendship weth c‘jilriprrieister Kenneth Williams, but too- many performances of his works come across like souped-
in the sec‘Ond act, however, the cast let themselves be strait-Jacketed by the script As questions about who really is normal become increasingly explicit, the lines seem declairned rather than Spoken, rust in case the audience misses the point
Nonetheless, this is still a great production A cerebral sex comedy is unusual enough in itself, but when it's played with such verve, skill and bravado it becomes pretty Special. You'd be mad to miss it iPeter Ressl
I For tour dates see page 69
Edinburgh: Playhouse Theatre, Wed 4—Sat 7 Jun at
As the millennium approaches, the flotsam and jetsam of recent popular culture struggle to scramble onto a safety raft. The cultural Titanic began sinking long ago and there isn’t much time. So it is that Home Truths is a veritable who’s who of drowning, tarnished icons. We have Nurse Gladys Emanuel from Open A// Hours, Dr Watson from that 805 Holmes series, one of Dr Who's former assistants, Dynastys C hristOpher C azenove and — to the delight of editors all over the c0untry - ’Nicole' from the Renault ads, who — to the delight of box-office managers all over the country — gets her kit off.
it's Christmas. A family gathers, they have a laugh, a beautiful stranger turns up, freaks them out by telling some home truths. She comes from an island called Seil ('lies’ backwards — geddit?). Then they shout at each other and someone dies, but it’s kind of cathartic for everyone. There’s a gun on the wall, and there are three sisters but it ain’t Chekhov; there’s an enigmatic, innocent, life-enhancing woman, but it ain’t Ibsen; there‘s a family gathering, but it ain’t even Ayckbourn. It's more like your local dramatic society struggling with a script that the
chairman has written.
Old pros Edward Hardwicke and Lynda Baron try hard to make something of it but there isn’t a single memorable line. The piece has no rhythm, is under-rehearsed, tediously directed and embarrassingly scripted ('when I went into Belsen, it was awful, you know. . .'). Every melodramatic cliche is used — the expected phone call with possibly fatal medical news, the impotence of a seemingly happy couple — and all the familiar stock characters show up.
And all of this is supposedly based on the Prometheus/Pandora legend. My God, the arrogance of some writers! Novelist-ttimed-playwright Rosemary Friedman needs to get out more, rather than inflict this vacuous, pretentious drivel on decent actors and audiences.
Nicole did get to say 'Papa’ though. Twrce. (Grant Gordon)
Christopher Cazenove: all aboard the Iiferaft
STAR RATINGS * 4* fr it at Outstanding a, * ‘k at Recommended if t it Worth a try ; if * SO-SO l * Poor