Unhappy hour: Karl Pittom and Astrid Azurdla in Skunk Hour
NEW DRAMA Skunk Hour
Glasgow: James Arnott Theatre, Fri 1 Oct.
While the theatre can't always match such entertainments as the cinema for grandeur and sheer Spectacle, there are few better dramatic situations for an audience than to be given a seat close to a few actors, who enact an intimate dilemma in a close-up space. Young playwright Robert Fraser seems to be keenly aware of the potential of the theatre to present such situations powerfully.
The essential human situation of this play is one with which our society is becoming alarmingly familiar. After the incarceration of a child for unspecified acts of violence, his middle-class parents consult a psychiatrist, seeking explanations for his behaviour. As the meeting goes on, a succession of questions arise about both the
professional and his distressed consultees.
’I did a lot of research into cases like the Jamie Bulger incident in preparation for the play,’ comments Fraser. 'I‘m shocked by violence in children, as we all are, but we tend to look for explanations that may not be available. Both the parents and the psychiatrist are looking for a single simple explanation to the child's behaviour, as we all do, but are we just really looking for some kind of comfort?’
The play attempts to both humanise the drama, and examine the way in which the media can turn it into an event, treating the articulate, middle- class parent differently from less educated people who suffer the same sense of tragedy. Presented on this occasion as a rehearsed reading, this piece promises to emerge as a strong piece of studio theatre in the near future. (Steve Cramer)
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Hamlet: First Cut
Motherwell Theatre, Thu 23 Sep, then touring but
The problem of how fresh audiences can be encouraged to spend an evening having their bottoms numbed in the company of Shakespeare's procrastinating prince, far from the comforting thrills of Corrie and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, is one which torments theatre practitioners. ‘To produce the First Folio Edition or the Second Quarto - that is the question,’ they cry anxiously. The answer may lie in Red Shift's radical new version of the play, whose fast- paced, chic intelligence is already proving broadly appealing.
Red Shift take pride in an innovative approach to all areas of production, and their Hamlet is undeniably stylish. Of course, sticking the Dane in a pair of combats, adding a bottle of prozac as a prop and cranking up the techno
64 THE usr 23 Sep—7 0a 1999
Away Danes: Red Shift's touring Hamlet
soundtrack doesn’t necessarily render the play any less baffling, but most aspects of First Cut’s direction and design effectively contribute to the piece's narrative thrust.
Neil lrish’s ingenious, multi-purpose set consists of stark, steel fragments, evoking the rot at the heart of Elsinore, while also doubling as a surface for live percussion playing. The costumes (by Red Or Dead) are true to the characters rather than an excuse for a fashion parade. Various musical styles, from the raucous to the melodic, are also employed to heighten the play’s paranoia and pathos. The dynamic eight-strong cast more than get to grips with the notoriously difficult characters, often managing to pull off that minor miracle in making the speeches sound un-literary.
Ultimately, Jonathan Holloway’s production is bound to enrage purists, but it's enjoyable, imaginative and amazingly accessible. (Allan Radcliffe)
CLASSIC REVIVAL Pygmalion
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until Sat 9 Oct iii
Currently packing the Citizens' studio space, Irvine Welsh’s Filth is a reminder that nowadays you don't have to pronounce proper to prosper - well not in literature at any rate. However, Philip Prowse’s main-stage production of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion recalls an era when social boundaries were sharply demarcated linguistically.
On the surface the well-known tale of Henry Higgins (Simon Dutton) and his attempt to pass off East London 'guttersnipe' Eliza Doolittle (Lise Stevenson) as a duchess appears to explore issues of class and language. But Shaw is clearly less interested in vowel pronunciation than in the manners of his characters. Thus, the behaviour and morality of the bourgeois protagonists are as closely scrutinised as their proletarian counterparts.
In this production the audience is denied any obvious sexual chemistry between Higgins and Eliza, which makes Shaw's suspect denouement slightly more acceptable. However, the frosty relationship developed between the haughty phonemicist and the feisty flower girl produces a number of memorable moments.
The acting throughout the nine-strong cast is of the usual high standard. And, as always at the Citz, the set is exquisite - but if that's what lies behind the additional interval, it's a luxury we could perhaps do without. Nevertheless, a thoroughly entertaining affair. (Davie Archibald)
Tugging his cockney: Simon button and Lise Stevenson
FANTASY ADAPTATION Books Of Blood
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until 9 Oct **
There's plenty of ghoulish spectacle in the two Clive Barker morality tales adapted for this performance, but there’s also a slight lack of coherence at the centre. In the first of the tales presented, Lorna MacDevitt plays Jacqueline S, a woman who finds herself gifted with telekinetic power after a suicide attempt. She precedes to avenge herself on the male world for its undoubted iniquities. There is, she tells a lover, ’a balance between men and women that needs to be redressed', a fair enough point, though her slaughter of husband, analyst, and lover in quick succession seems to overcompensate.
The child-like simplicity of the narrative, which contains such medieval vice figures in modern clothes as a millionaire who remarks, 'the richer I get, the meaner I get’ is at variance with the violent adult content. This is no doubt deliberate, but given the complex nature of the ideas, which examine gender politics and violence, this style fails to fully convey its intellectual burden. The cheesy, highly mannered dialogue - at one point MacDevitt feels something ’deep in the nature of my water’ (.7) - begins to grate in this context. A second tale, which details the rebellion of first one man’s hands against his body, then the same affliction sweeping the country, is at times quite comical, but ultimately pretty slight. (Steve Cramer)
CONTEMPORARY ADAPTATION Filth
Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre, until Sat 9
Oct ***** Tarn Dean Burn’s creation of a complex
character, on the face of it repulsive, at times peculiarly empathetic, stands at the centre of this astonishing piece of theatre. Adapted from Irvine Welsh's novel, this story of the complete mental collapse of a corrupt police detective, turns the screws upon its audience through a gradual process of focus. We’re drawn inevitably into the world of this twisted man, until we finally focus on the singular question of how such an apparently stable, but actually profoundly fragmented identity comes to be constructed. Details of personal history slowly emerge, and the ambivalences of sexual and social selfhood are highlighted by a succession of sensationally performed revelation scenes.
Burn's character asserts that he is stronger than those around him, and demonstrates this by the manipulation of both the police procedure system, and his colleagues' personal insecurities. This barrack room voyeur also does a nice line in masturbation to pornographic videos, drug abuse and alcoholism. We’re treated to some revolting spectacle here, with the author's nihilistic intelligence trademarked throughout, but the central performance is what makes the play. Burn shows energy and commitment, as he throws himself into both the central role, and a checklist of other grotesques, each demonstrating that flawed systems create a rainbow alliance of flawed people. (Steve Cramer)
. . . but the boots give it away: Tam Dean Born in Filth