Coasting along: Alison Peebles and Siobhan Flynn in Sea Urchins
Glasgow: Tron Theatre, until Sat ll Jul the
Family holidays were designed to be a torturous experience. Be it the enforced annual get together round the Christmas tree in adulthood or two weeks at some poxy seaside resort with nothing but donkey rides, 99 cones and your bucket and spade for comfort. lt’s parents that are the problem, see. Taking this truth a step further, it's no picnic when two branches of the Williams family meet up in a 19605 Welsh coast resort in Sharman Macdonald's Sea Urchins.
As if getting breasts and full-on emotions weren't bad enough, eleven-year-old Rena has to bare the brunt of her dysfunctional family, with only an imaginary friend and new playmate to turn to. Her dad, John, is playing away from home, her mum, Ailsa, is fast becoming a bitter, twisted old cow and her cousin Noel knows exactly how to get her where it hurts. They don't believe in family secrets, either, preferring to air their dirty laundry in public at every opportunity. Only one
home truth is too great to confront - a bit of long-term, inter-familial partner swapping - until this summer, when they can bury their heads in the sand no longer.
In her dissection of the family and the far from painless blossoming of womanhood, Macdonald has created an engaging yarn. Yet it's surprisingly sentimental, considering the pessimistic view that only the young and spineless can attain true purity, while those around them opt for callous self-fulfilment or lash out when life deals them a bum hand.
Macdonald has taken a risk in relying on child actors, but it pays off as, far from cashing-in on the aah-factor, Judith McCartney makes for a wonderful spiky and flirtatious Rena. Alison Peebles is suitably catty and irritating as the put-upon Ailsa, while Gilly Gilchrist as John is an irresistible charmer. But the other characters aren't allowed to develop making the increasingly complicated domestic shenanigans unconvincing, and attempts at an up-beat ending are a cop-out.
ADAPTATION The Aspern Papers
Touring sir sis “ﬁt 9'3:
Playing a blinder: The Aspern Papers
’You have a taste for decay,’ Julianna Bordereau (Sally Mortemore) tells Henry James (Graeme Rose) in a crucial early meeting of the two characters in Jonathan Holloway‘s adaptation of James' classic novella. Holloway, who also directs, reveals the decadence in a subtle and admirably understated manner in this Red Shift production. Instead of the usual and rather too easy Hieronymous Bosch/Derek Jarman images of outright degeneracy, the rottenness at the core of Rose's central character is displayed through his smooth manners and easy movement through the plays dilapidated Venetian locale. ’How wonderfully ciVil — it almost kills me’, as Julianna remarks later of James’ behaviour.
The play tells the story of James' quest for access to the missing papers of the long-dead poet of the title. These are held by his elderly former lover Julianna, who has spent many decades guarding them from critics such as the author. In order to access this scholarly Holy Grail, James talks his way into
rooms at Julianna’s house, in return for an extortionate rent, to be paid in gold. The scholar's tactics become increasmgly cynical, as he emotionally exploits Tita (Beatrice Comins), Julianna’s niece and companion, a woman wholly unfamiliar With the ways of the world. Choric commentary is added by James' friend Madelaine, whose cautionary words are ignored by James, much to his eventual cost.
The fact that Julianna is ISO years old, the idea of rent paid in gold and temporal tricks in the narrative indicate Holloway’s mythic, fairy tale take on the story, something which may not please literary purists, but makes for very tense theatre. Although the early part of the play may require some editing, there is a great deal to be admired in four strong performances, a spare but eloquent design and an emotionally charged climax.
I Reviewed at Brunton Theatre, Musse/burgh. For tour dates, see page 64.
i’.'(.>;‘=.r‘;lil>‘i’ The Exhibiti nists Touring at»
This debacle from Derry-based company Ridiculusmus is intended as an ever-evolvmg surreal rumination on the things museum attendants do to relieve the unremitting boredom of staring at the same abstruse installation day after day. In reality, it is a tedious, nay, excruciating example of lame physical theatre which is almost exclusively chuckle-free and drags along for a seemingly interminable 70 minutes.
An eaSIIy amused audience find the first segment, ’four minutes of silence’, somehow utter-worthy, as three attendants sit po-faced waiting for a museum punter to show up and provide light relief. This is followed by some baSlC face-pulling behind said punter’s back and predictably outlandish directions to get to the toilets because the poor lad’s bursting. Some people actually seem to find this funny
Not to worry — it gets more SOphisticated. An attendant imitates the sound of a fly and then produces one for swatting. Another dies of boredom (fortuitously for him) and is disposed of in a large cardboard box. The Faw/ty Towers ‘dead body' episode it is not.
From here, things go off on ridiculous tangents. This would be very welcome if there was a scrap of humour, or indeed a point, to any of it. The attendants fiddle with their footwear and their unfeasibly large pants and role-play irrelevant domestic scenes. A barber shop trio makes an appearance, as does a two-headed alien. Toilet bloke pees himself and showers the audience. Reviewer ponders the utter futility of the entire performance, including The Full Monty pastiche which at least raises a flicker of a smile, being based on someone else’s funny idea.
If Ridiculusmus are sending up the art gallery experience as vapid, boring and ludicrous, they’ve succeeded in one capacity — art imitating art. (Fiona Shepherd)
. Reviewed at C Other Theatre, Glasgow For tour dates, see page 64. You've been framed: The Exhibitionists
STAR RATINGS * t t k * Unmissable ii * it it Very ood * air * Wort a shot it * Below average * You've been warned
25 Jun-9 Jul 1998 TIIE UST 81