CLASSIC COMEDY The Misanthrope
Touring it * *
A lone spirit stands on shaky ground against the prevailing wind of syc0phancy, hypocrisy and narcissism. We are in the bitchy world of showbiz and the media where how well you network is of more worth to your career than the work you produce - back-stabbing, manipulation, sleaze, lies and deception appear to be the standard tools of this trade rather than ability and the unflinching desire to create.
Borderline‘s update of Moliere's virulent assault on the 17th century French aristocracy sees Alceste (Kern Falconer) - think Hugh Mcllvanney in the guise of mad professor on an energising narcotic - as the somewhat highly-strung playwright whose frustration leads him to throw himself to the canvas on occasion; while his resistance to conformity brings him into conflict with absolutely everyone. There is
He can't cope with the soft-soap:
Kern Falconer with Saul Cambridge in The Misanthrope
Jennifer (Justine Mitchell) the actress with whom he is besotted and who straddles the divide between art and pornography in a Valley Girl kind of way, her assortment of hangers-on who massage her ego in front of her while preparing to stick a knife in the back of her, and the yellow-bow-tied critic turned useless romantic writer.
Alceste becomes buried under the mass of neuroses, ambitions and jealousy and his isolation is completed when, during the Barry Lyndon-esque final third, he steadfastly refuses to put on a silly wig and play his role in their charade. Will his logic and reason conquer or will he be confined to the fringes he seems destined to prowl?
The work's many distinguishing features include a set which incorporates a passage-way shaped like Woody Allen's Orgasmatron, the ’prism of post-modernism'
with references to the Fatwa, Vogue magazine, Damien Hirst and the semiotician Roland Barthes — there's even a joke about deconstruction. Making it as relevant and up-to-date as possible seems to be the adaptor's intention and you may even be reminded of a certain famous corpse when Jennifer insists, ’the media’s fascination with me is not my fault . . .’ Most notable and frequently cunning, though at times rather irritating, is the constantly rhyming couplet dialogue which marries the likes of ‘celebration' with 'cynical manipulation.’
While the acting is fine and the comedy divine, the play's contrived language is at times asinine. Yet, you will leave with a smile which may last for a while, till you ponder on the complexities and ideas — they ultimately fail to reconcile. (Brian Donaldson)
I For tour dates, see page 64.
Breadmakers Touring * * ‘k *
Feeling the knead: Brian Reilly and Jo Menzer in Breadmakers
60 THE llST 26 Sep~9 ()ct 1997
This new production of Breadmakers opened at the Pearce Institute -- fitting, as it deals With the struggles of life and love in 20s Govan. John Binnie's play is an adaptation of Margaret Thomson DaVis’s first novel, telling the interwoven tales of a group inextricably bound together by love, dislike and trouble.
Catriona Macphie's production is a credit to Theatre Works. Constantly changing narrators weave storylines together seamlessly All life is here, from the wailing, aching despair of the childless Sarah (J0 Menzer) to the arched-eyebrow leering and cruelty of Bill Allan’s MeIVin.
The plot follows Catriona Munro from teenage naivete through to the disappomtment of a loveless marriage to Melvrn. As she learns, her character grows: what she saw as escape brings with it the strife of an unfair world Trish Mullin is as conViiiCing playing the shawl-wearing Widow as she is in the role of malevolent, fur-clad Lil ~ both are extreme but recognisable aspects of mother-love.
The actors slip between introsiiection and questioning of the audience, and it is the fluidity of the piece, the constancy of the cycle of life (and
breadmaking) that makes it credible. The set is simple, but used to the full — the bakery’s table becomes a bed, a horse and cart, the Caledonia ferry.
This is not feel-good theatre. Life is hard for all of these people, including the truculent child Fergus and the eminently unsympathetic MeIVIn. But there is relief in this bleak landscape, humour in Melvin's obsession with physical jerks, and Catriona’s attempts to fend off his advances on their wedding night.
A fragile thread of hope runs through the whole piece -- Sarah is broken, but there are flashes of romance and love, even in her last moments. Catriona loses her innocence and her lover, but manages to end up looking forward. Life goes on. (Kate Smith)
I For tour dates, see page 64. After- show discussion with Margaret
Thomson Davis, John Binnie and Catriona Macphie, Cottier Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 26 Sep.
STAR RATINGS 'k t a it * Unmissable * t r i: Very ood * ii it Wort a shot a * Below average it You've been warned
AMERICAN DRAMA A Delicate Balance
Edinburgh: King's Theatre, until Sat 27 %p****
The notion which strikes one on seeing Edward Albee's 1966 Pulitzer Prize- winning play is its quintessentially American flavour - something one does not necessarily gather on reading the text. Anthony Page’s touring production captures a world reminiscent of the upper-class suburban angst of John Cheever’s short stories. The bonds created by love, family and friendship are explored by a group of characters who overcrowd each other in terms of both physical space and history.
Maggie Smith's Claire is an alcoholic outsider, a non-conformist who, living with her sister Agnes (Eileen Atkins) and her long-suffering husband Tobias (John Standing), adds insightful and often comical commentary to her hosts' relationship. To this already uncomfortable situation add Julia (Sian Thomas), Agnes's serial-divorcee daughter, returning from yet another marital breakdown, plus Harry (James Laurenson) and Edna (Annette Crosbie), life-long friends of our host couple - who simply become 'frightened', as they put it, of the eXistential vacuity of their affluent marriage — and one has all the ingredients of Albee’s typical domestic rancour scenario.
Smith's part is perhaps the fattest, and she makes the most of it. Her acidic observations create havoc, but also manage, by nuance, to remind us that spite is also part of love. Standing's restrained forbearance as Tobias - leading to a final outburst ('I don’t want you here, but you have the right’) at Harry, which might equally be directed at any of his guests — borrows cleverly from James Stewart.
Indeed, all of this strong cast perform well in Carl Toms's lounge—room set, which reflects the affluent ennui of the characters' universe, a milieu which fears most of all the ’plague’, as Agnes puts it, of recognition of the void beneath such a lifestyle.
The occasional lapse of American pronunciation which occurs in the performances of Smith and Standing should not distract too much from what amounts to a strong and challenging night's entertainment. (Steve Cramer)
Affluent ennui: James laurenson in A Delicate Balance