Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum, Fri 29 Oct-Sat 20 Nov.
Has the Scottish Play, like King Duncan. been done to death in old age? Have audiences seen enough of it. given its long record of revival over the past few decades? The answer ls a resounding negative according to the latest incumbent to this much sought-after role, Tom McGovern — as affable a man as you're ever likely to find in the role of a bloodthirsty tyrant.
’If the theatre's full, there's your answer', he remarks flatly, pointing to the play’s consistent popularity over the years. ’The inevitability of it, after all . . . everyone knows what happens in the play, so that's not the point. Even though I’ve performed it before, as Malcolm, I didn’t look at it and say “Oh, I’ve done that”. You find new stuff every day in this play. You can't do it enough because you learn so much as an actor.’
McGovern’s take on his character, often stigmatised as the epitome of evil and naked ambition, promises a different angle from the usual. In Kenny Ireland’s production, there's an emphasis on the everyday nature of the wicked Thane of Cawdor and Lady Macbeth, played here by Jenny Black. ’I don’t think that he's evil,’ McGovern says of his character, ’but he’s besotted with Lady Macbeth. There's stuff between them that goes back before the play, promises made about how one day they'd be
really great and powerful, as they deserve. And what he
really wants is the best for her.’
So it’s a kind of love story? ’Yes, she feels the same about him. So there’s these two people: one’s willing to go so far, and the other keeps pushing it further, and between the two . . . It's a bit like Fred and Rosemary West. They’re two ordinary, suburban people, and all these awful things they do just come out of nowhere.
You just think, how did that happen?‘
So not a conventional approach to the role, but what about the setting? Are we up for the usual Machose and Macdoublet? ’lt'll have a sort of Elizabethan feel, but it's
More ordinary Thane thou: Tom McGovern in Macbeth
nowhere, really, just a blasted heath. I don’t think it’s
even Scotland. it’s just a society. You get people saying,
"How did he get from Forres to Inverness?‘ It’s a long way — I’ve done the journey - but it doesn't matter, just enjoy it, because it’s not about that.’
Having put literal interpretations of the play firmly in their place, has this obviously rational man any of the usual actor’s superstitions about the play. Will the actor
playing Macduff here (in this case, the eminently
employable Eric Barlow) ever work again? McGovern chuckles: ‘In my last production. he was played by Peter Mullan.’ Ever heard of him? (Steve Cramer)
The old main drag: Grant Smeaton in Torch Song Trilogy
CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC Torch Song Trilogy
Glasgow: Paisley Arts Centre, Tue 26-Sat 30 Oct, then touring.
It's the wide choice of themes within Harvey Fierstein’s play Torch Song Trilogy that has made it popular with both straight and gay audiences over the decades. ’It is a play of its time, written pre-AIDS,’ explains Grant Smeaton, director of a new touring production. 'The impact of AIDS did change the nature of gay writing for theatre. Torch Song Trilogy has a feelgood quality. Through Arnold [its drag queen main character], the play deals with bisexuality, adopting a son, and "alternative families”. Also, coming to terms with telling your family you’re gay and how they cope with it.’
Smeaton, who also takes the lead role, gives an insight into his aims and the attractions of the piece. ’I like a bit of campery on stage,‘ he admits. ’There are some great one-liners from
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Arnold, and that makes for great entertainment. There are colourful torch songs, high drama, melodrama and music which is retro 705. The late 703 and early 805 were punctuated by early disco, and the scene in the back room of a New York club is indicative of the pre-AIDS time. This kind of thing died out with the onset of AIDS.’
It’s perhaps surprising that this award-winning Broadway smash is only now being given its first professional Scottish production, particiJlarly as Smeaton is keen to emphasise its universal appeal. ’Straight society looks at gay culture in terms of how people look at relationships, rather than seeing it as something specifically gay,’ he says. It’s one of the enduring strengths of Torch Song Trio/ogy that it provides non-gays with the capacity to look at the gay community not as something strange or different, but simply as people in relationships not unlike their own. (Laura McGrath)
Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
Glasgow: Citizens’ Theatre, Thu 21 Oct-Sat 13 Nov.
When George and Martha’s internecine familial conflict was immortalised on screen by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? became the most well-known of Edward Albee's plays. But what's behind its continued appeal? ’It's always been extraordinarily popular,’ explains Citizens’ Theatre director Giles Havergal. ’It’s both populist and high brow at the same time. It cuts through any sort of barrier. Anybody can enjoy this play. Partly that's because within the horrors of what happens it is extremely funny.’
Over the course of an evening George and Martha "entertain" a young couple. But the nightmarish realities of their relationship surface. ’It appears to be a marriage from hell,’ argues Havergal, ’but in fact the marriage has extraordinary depths of tenderness and togetherness. It is two people who can only express what they feel for each other by appearing to destroy each other, but they couldn’t possibly be separated.’
While the film represented a more naturalistic version, Havergal suggests that this production will be faithful to the different levels of the play. ’It starts reasonably realistic and it moves into fairly surreal areas,’ explains Havergal. ’What I’m hoping is that the production will honour both those. You won’t think these are completely mad people who’ve never belonged in any society, but equally you won’t think this is all taking place in a little room and we're expected to believe that people actually behaved specifically like this.’
Having directed a production in the late 60$, Havergal points to differences three decades later. 'The play has stayed the same,‘ he states, ’but our perception of it has changed. When it first came out everybody reeled back in shock, at this amazing spectacle of these two people slagging each other off. We could hardly believe it, because we’d never had anything like that on stage. Now we can look beyond that to see what the nature of the relationship is.’
But why spend a night at the theatre listening to people tearing themselves to bits? 'Although it sounds horrific, it is very entertaining,’ insists Havergal. 'It’s a very good story, very funny and also extremely insightful into human relations.’ (Davie Archibald)
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Not afraid of Virginia Woolf: Giles Havergal