reviews -

DEVISED SHOW Carnivali Tounng

It’s hardly a coincidence that Benchtours once staged an

adaptation of Cervantes' epic novel Don Quixote. This French-trained, Edinburgh-based company has spent its eight-year career tilting recklessly at the fruits of outlandish imagination, in wilful denial of harsh practicalities. Sometimes, this admirably romantic determination pays off: Peepshow, for example, the company’s last project with guest director Pete Brooks, was a triumph of audaciously inventive staging.

Reunited with Brooks in a co- production with his company Insomniac - Benchtours has created a new show which fell well short of its potential on the opening night in Dundee; though it has already been substantially reworked.

Centring on four American gangsters holed up in a downbeat Mexican hotel to await the sinister kingpin Smiley, it certainly begins promisingly. Laura Hopkins’ beautiful, sepia-toned design, framed in red and nodding to the exaggerated perspectives of expressionism, is a perfect setting for this exploration of destiny, which knowingly parodies the conventions of film noir. Steve Kettley's sultry, sax- led soundtrack and the sassy, simile-laced voice-over that kicks off Michael Duke’s script set the stage for a dark journey into an existential underworld.

The show's central strategy is to keep the performers switching between lip-synched, pre-recorded dialogue and live spoken word - this is intended to indicate the characters’ acceptance or rejection of a fixed future. There are some ingenious sometimes electric - set pieces, as the gangsters find themselves entangled in repetitive loops, witness chilling premonitions of the final reel, and begin to wonder whether they can escape the celluloid certainties.

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Reel time: Pete Clerke glimpses the future in Carnivali

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But on opening night, the tension that should build up the two alternative realities was not well enough signposted. Too much of the action was confusing or clumsily staged: too little was exposed of the characters, their goals and relationships. Comprehension was not aided by swathes of throaty Spanish commentary from the smug Mexican innkeepers, though this problem has now been addressed with some translated passages.

Like all Benchtours shows, Carnivali is continually developing. It will almost certainly improve as it makes its way through a long tour of Ireland and Scotland; but on this evidence the company needs to work harder to show the audience what it’s getting at. The final line of the script refers to ’a moment of clarity', but there were far too few of these. With luck, the limp cold fish that floundered in Dundee may become the taut, sweaty nightmare Carnvali should be. (Andrew Burnet)

a For tour dates, see page 54.


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Bar-room blts: John Stahl takes a telllng from Sandra McNuley

structure together. With just a short dialogue or monologue to tell their story before drinking up time, each character is barely sketched out before the next appears, ar unsatisfying practice which leads the play into easy laughs and stereotypes.

But underneath all the comic business, which goes down well with the audience, there's a sense of cruelty that hints at more depth. Through each story, the main theme is the various ways peOple can torture each other within their relationships, with the only happy couple an old half-daft pair who have given up all expectations of life and so have nothing to be disappointed about.

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Touring * w-x

In the era of the superpub, the idea of the friendly local, with regular customers confiding all their problems to an ever-sympathetic bartender, is rather dated. But in Jim Cartwright's comedy drama, the place where everybody knows your name is still thriving, ready for an assorted bunch

N THE UST 10-24 Sep 1998

to come in for a pint and spill their life stories to the audience.

The play is an actor‘s dream, allowing John Stahl and Sandra McNeeley to show off their range, darling, by playing seven characters in turn, from an old man to a wee boy, from bossy wife to battered victim, from would-be Lothario to elderly Elvis obsesswes The two actors, who do a creditable job of differentiating between the characters, certainly give it their all, and their fine performances hold this rather shaky

At the centre of it all are the landlord and landlady, whose incessant bickering between scenes turns out, of course, to have a heavin signposted explanation and a convenient resolution. Devoting more attention to their story alone might have been more convincing than wrapping up their tragic secret in ten minutes of talk and broken glasses, but in the pub there‘s always someone calling time.

(Andrea Mullaney) 3 For tour dates, see page 54.


“.3? 9r fir'k Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until Sat 12 Sep; then touring

TAG's production is very much a game of two halves. The first period belongs almost entirely to Ross Dunsmore’s Iago, who encompasses the entire spectrum of villainy, from playful mischief to psychotic evil. Dunsmore’s performance is so perfectly judged, drawing the audience into his web of intrigue with such skill as to make us eager accomplices in his crimes, that there is a danger of the rest of the cast being reduced to supporting player Status. Thankfully after the interval, when Iago’s devious machinations begin to bear poisonous fruit, the other principals are given their chance to shine.

Although there is a lack of chemistry in the early scenes between Othello and Desdemona, the sparks do begin to fly once the green-eyed monster has raised its ugly head. Veronica Leer gives one of Shakespeare’s more underwritten women an air of moral defiance in the face of her accuser, and Ade Sapara does a terrific slow burn as the Moor.

The scene in which Iago plants the seed of doubt in Othello’s all-too-fertile mind is perhaps the best in the play, with acting of such subtle power that one can practically see the characters' thought-processes at work. The rest of Sapara's performance is equally well judged and creates a genuinely tragic figure, eliciting both the audience’s sympathy and our anger at his rash rush to judgement.

Director James Brining has coaxed excellent performances from his actors and brought dynamic clarity to the text (the three hours fly by), but does less well in terms of staging. An impressive set seems somewhat underused, some of the violence is clumsily handled and Brining’s decision to use contemporary original music was a bold gamble which doesn’t pay off. That said, these flaws are far from fatal and this is a powerful production. (Rob Fraser)

3 For tour dates, see page54.


Spectrum of vlllelny: Ross Dunsmore as Iago

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