Edinburgh: Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, until Sat 20 Sep * * a:
In many ways, David Mark Thomson's debut production as artistic director of the Brunton Theatre is highly promising. It begins with the striking image of a man rotating spotlit in a seat suspended several feet above the stage, and is full to the brim with simple but effective theatricality. Throughout, Thomson keeps his seven-strong cast working hard to create a moody, gothic ambience on Gordon Davidson's uniformly black set of building-block coffins.
This new adaptation by Patrick Prior of Bram Stoker's 100-year-old novel has almost everything: a cinematic use of short or silent scenes to supplement the dialogue, a soundscape of whispers and growls, a sumptuous wardrobe of Victoriana, a panting sense of repressed sexuality, an awesome figure of gloom in Graham
McTavish's tall, overbearing Dracula, and a mischievous spirit of fun that lurks grotesquely in the wings, relieving everyone of the burden of taking the
melodrama too seriously.
What this version lacks almost completely is narrative drive. Characters and relationships are never firmly established, chronology is so blurred as to become redundant, and dramatic tension suffers severely as a result. This must either be because Prior and the company have become too close to the material to take an objective view of its structure; or because they assume the audience’s prior knowledge of the plot and are more interested in delivering a post-modernist take on the story's essence. Whatever the reason, it results in a show that champions the conjuring of mood and the
Blood wedding: Julie McCahill gives in to Graham McTavish's charms in Dracula
exploration of theme over the telling of a story which, told straight, carries a raft of social and psychological
This is not to deny the script’s effectiveness. There are
Touring hHi Young, Glasgow-based theatre babel has a straightforward and admirable remit. its mission to convert the MTV and Tarantino-weaned masses to a love of Shakespeare and other classical writers, using modern dress, energetic staging and liberally applied blue pencn
Short, intense and bloody, Macbeth lends itself to this approach. Sharp suits, Tarot cards, neon, sneakers and intravenous drugs all contribute to a self-conSCIOusly hip atrnoSphei‘e, Sleek- looking hanguns, sexrer than swords, spring from holsters to do dirty deeds,
82 THELIST 29 Aug—ll Sep 199/
Sharp suits and shooters: John Kazek as Macbeth
\‘Jilllt‘ ugly printh~ups replace the genteel crossing of foils. DJ Pentlowe's purriping soundtrack and Mark Deriis's lights underpin tension and emotional development ’Superfluous' characters are reriiorselessly dispatched - even the Porter, who normally supplies guestronably humorous relief after Duncan's murder.
But does it all conspire to produce a pacier, more gripping and more accessible than average Macbeth? Well yes, but not Without drawbacks v— the main one being that Shakc-ispeare's rich and complex language does not lend itself to flip delivery. Peter McAllister’s production keeps the story rnovrng
moments of fine poetry, such as Dracula’s cold dissertation to Van Helsing on the sacrifices of power, in which he describes his senses as ‘cauterised’. All the acting is well judged and subtle, with Julie McCahill and Aran Ronicle particularly bewitching as the beautiful young women Dracula draws into his sphere of influence. But what makes Stoker’s tale so popular is its rip-roaring yarn of good versus evil (even if we read it as convention versus instinct), and by underplaying that the Brunton company will leave much of its audience feeling cheated. (Andrew Burnet)
briskly, but IS at its strongest when it lets the actors take their time. John Kazek is an actor of tremendOus presence, and has no difficulty dominating most scenes, nor in making Macbeth’s long Journey from fearful hesuancy through ruthless pragmatism to deranged megalomania But overwrought delivery occasionally swamps both meaning and metre
The strrppc—rd-down approach can also leave the actors embarrassingly naked at times. The shocked grief on discovery of Duncan's body could surer draw more effectively from recent events, Banguo’s murder and Fleance's escape are fudged; while the haunted banciuet would benefit from the presence of more than one guest.
As in earlier babel shows, it's the older, more experienced actors (Peter D'Souza and, in this case, Stewart Preston) who bring most relaxati0n and vrgour into the mix, though Rosaleen Pelan also draws blood as Lady Macbeth, especially in the run-up to her demise.
The young audience who've disCovered Shakespeare through Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet could be pleasantly surprised, but those already familiar may appreciate the greater subtlety of a more traditional approach. (Andrew Burnet)
Only An Excuse? Touring ***
Like Hardy without Laurel, a Morecambe-less Wise or Bernie Winters sans Schnorbitz, Jonathan Watson is minus his trusty collaborator Tony Roper — now far too busy heckling at Celtic AGMs. Yet it has been deemed that the show should go on. With a minimal set — a pulpit and a backdrop of the Premier League primary colours — Watson has little to draw on except the bank of ’characters’ which Scottish football has had little problem in throwrng up.
The audience has its own favourites — the fidgety, faith-driven Tommy Burns — to whom Watson bears an uncanny resemblance, even without the TV make-up team on hand — and the tongue-happy Paulo Di Canio; while newer targets like Charlie Nicholas and lock Brown also go down well. Yet talk of conspiracy can cease here. Those sharing Watson's own persuaSion —- he's a Hun, right -- are far from let off the hook. Walter ’Particularly’ Smith and the smirking, srnarmy, smartarse that is Jim White both come a cropper.
Possibly the biggest surprise of the night is the srzeable proportion of female representation in the audience — or as Roper's Frank MacAvennie would have put it, ’thur’s burdz a' o'er ra shoap.’ That and the quasi-panto atmosphere in the theatre Is it really necessary to boo and hiss at the very mention of anybody in possession of an English heritage, and cheer uproariously at a passing reference to Scotland’s 3—2 Wembley Victory in l967 over the recently-crowned World Champions?
Gripping aside, there is no denying that Jonathan Watson is a fine mimic With a sharp eye for mannerisms, which makes his impressions larger- than-Iife. However, writer Philip Differ needs to have a long, hard look at the material. The gags are as telegraphed as any pass coming from the present Aberdeen mldflC‘ld. There are some laughs to be had but, my dear Watson, yeti may soon be running out of excuses. (Brian DonaIdSOn)
I A performance at the King ’5 Theatre, Glasgow scheduled for Sat 6 Sep has been moved to Sat 73 Sep
STAR RATINGS ii i t it it Unmissable 1: t t it Very good * * it Worth a shot i x Below average it You’ve been warned