Burke And Hare

Edinburgh: Cafe Graffiti, until Sat 28 Jun 1H:

In a city for which the tourist-friendly ’steeped in history’ might have been coined, few stories have gathered so much hokum. The two henchmen who supplied Dr Robert Knox with cadavers for his anatomy classes have been portrayed as everything from psychopathic sadists to downtrodden victims.

The truth, of course, is more complicated. Patrick Evans’s play revived as the debut production for Cafe Graffiti’s new resident company Telling Tales tries to tell the full story. Based on Owen Dudley Edwards’s academic biography, the play traces the two murderers from their impoverished roots in Ireland, via their first meeting in Edinburgh, to Burke's demise on the gallows after Hare turned King’s Evidence.

The most obvious problem with this approach is that a story spanning several years, two countries and the high seas requires a large number of characters. In marked contrast to James Bridie’s classic parlour piece The Anatomist, Evans does not attempt much condensation, and with a cast of six, each man in his time plays many parts. Even rudimentary changes of costume might help, but in Evans’s own production, the audience is continually losing track as we skate from scene to scene with only a change of accent or lighting to indicate who, what and where.

Cafe Graffiti's stone-walled basement has plenty of potential for atmosphere, but it’s not a conventional theatre space, and Evans's semi-promenade approach conspires with the play’s sprawling structure to Create a shortage of focus.

Casket case: Telling Tales in Burke And Hare

During longer scenes notably Dr Knox’s lectures, in which Allan Sharpe attempts to enlist audience members as his students Evans’s linguistic flair is the seedbed for some growth of atmosphere and tension. There are also some attempts to compare and contrast the relatively honourable Burke (Andrew Stanson) With the more ruthless Hare (Richard Callan) via their relationships with their women, and to explore the contradictions in the moralistic yet pragmatic Knox.

But despite neat staging here and there, most of the writing is perfunctory and the show lacks shape. The five central characters are given little space for development, and even Burke’s innocent wife (Gillian Forshaw) does not win much sympathy in this harsh tale. The cast works hard, and isn't short of talent, but although the script offers unfamiliar information, the drama is predictable. (Andrew Burnet)


BBC New Comedy Awards 1997

Glasgow: Tron Theatre, Sun 25 May.

Stars in their eyes, or just a penchant for ritual torture? The Scottish semi- final of the BBC New Comedy Awards decided which of nine wannabe comics Will get the chance to bypass endless support slots in clubs, and go straight to prime time TV (the national finals will be shown on the BBC's Stand Up Show; last year’s winner Jenny Ross went on to do The Sunday Show).

The Tron is a scary venue: bare set, stark lighting and steeply raked seating. Open spots are often cringe- making, and competition does nothing to help this. The audience are caught between sympathy and derision, and everyone is painfully aware of the judges. Compere Fred MacAulay made it look easy; bantering with the audience, unconcerned about breaks in the laughter. Despite refusing to do any material, MacAulay held the night together; his relaxed, conversational style providing some relief after the sharp exits of less accomplished acts. ’Be generous with your applause,’ he instructed.

Neil Shackleton drew the short straw

With the first slot, and didn’t pull it off. His Mrs O’Grady character, a pensioner with Tourette's Syndrome and a gun in her handbag, was neither shocking nor well-observed, and met With lukewarm (generous) laughter.

Obnoxious and outrageous didn’t work for Graham Elder; he lacked the confidence or the timing to make it work, and practically ran off when the flashing light Signalled his release.

Alan McQueen, Mark Bratchpiece and Ian Moore showed asSurance and ease on stage beyond their experience, but the set-up Is unnatural The audience never really had a chance to warm up, and the truncated performances prevented the atmosphere from deveio, :ng as it would With a full bill.

Runrig, the Highland Games and ginger meant no one had problems relating to winner Craig Crookston’s material, but it was a rant about too much Gaelic on teleVision that clinched it. Crookston still has some of the nerves of a beginner, but responded to the audience, and achieved some momentum in his five minutes. Whether he can translate his material for an English audience remains to be seen. (Kate Smith)

I The final will take place at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

STAND-UP COMEDY Billy Connolly

King’s Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 31 May. *****

Coloured lights play slowly across a backdrop festooned With the names of numerous Big Yin routines of old: 'Grey Pubic Hair'; ’Alcoholic Going To Doctor’; ’Scrotum-Design Fault’ and, of course, ’Welly Boots'. And then on marches their creator, his long, greying hair and current tonsorial arrangement lending him just the right look for a Louis XIV costume drama (as if We didn't already know about his rapier wit).

But this is no greatest hits show, thank goodness. For a solid two-and- a-half hours, Connolly treats his audience to a consummate display of comedic brilliance, rambling from thought to thought, treating every Single line as a possible bouncing-off point for further anecdotes (anything set in a Glasgow pub is usually a good bet), observations (indeed, Billy, the bodhran is 'the bongos for the 90s’) and occasional polemic (mainly directed against the anti—smoking lobby). He doesn't always get back to the places he left off the show would be five hours long if he tried to do that -- but in the tumble of words it’s hard to remember exactly what you wanted him to get back to. This is a pro at work, his stamina is truly astonishing.

He threatens to come unstuck only once in the proceedings, launching into a bizarre cruise-liner non-seQUitur

for no apparent reason But »— probably as a defiant reply to (rlllCS who Suggest that hanging out in

Australia and Amerzca and hob- nobbing With Royals has cut him off from his roots this is indisputably a Scottish show. Drinking ll‘. the Scotia and the Clutha With old mates, punching a Sunday Mai/ photographer (’I really liked myself after that,’ he declares, to loud cheers from the faithful), being raVished by a large, horny woman in a Midlothian

cemetery. His accent is also far broader than in gigs taped outside Scotland.

’Scotland's different now r- like fuckl' he shouts. And, judging from his reception, he's havmg the last laugh. (Alastair Mabbott)

Billy Connolly: big yin, big yang, funny man

reviews THEATRE


ARTS CENTRE Dick Gaughan

a “voice made from girders”

Sat 31 May Bruce Mathiske

awardwinning solo guitarist Fri 6 June

Inner Sens

ragga, rio samba & samba reggae Sat 21 June

All shows @ 7.30pm £2l£6

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30 May—12 Jun 1997 THE LIST”