MODERN TRAGEDY King Of The Fields
Edinburgh: Traverse Theatre, Fri 3—Sun 12 Dec.
The problem facing tragedy in our century is the lack of great figures whose fall we can empathise with. In an era where the passing of time often reveals the high and mighty to be low and sleazy, we find it hard to identify with the traditional elevated tragic hero. The solution. which is difficult to pull off, is to find tragic figures who are ordinary folk, but who can carry, with authenticity, the dignity we associate with the great. Simple narratives, with close focus on a small number of people, seem to work best in this respect.
Stuart Paterson's play King Of The Fields, a rewritten version of his 1986 effort Mr Government. attempts to negotiate this theatrical minefield through its uncomplicated plot. The story of a man. returning to his Ayrshire home and reuniting with his younger brother after a war and an eighteen-year disappearance, seems to have the strong elements required. ’There‘s a kind of classic format here,‘ comments Paterson, ‘coming back to find your younger brother has everything you never had. It's a kind of Arthur Miller template, a very basic story.‘
Paterson is interested in exploring the dynamics of power through his story. There is guilt and insecurity in the younger of his central
The long road home: King Of The Fields
characters, of the kind that frequently manifests itself in the lower class achiever. ‘It‘s a love story, and a story of what a good man can do in the world,’ the playwright explains. ‘You can claim you're a socialist, but in the end we all try to get on - and what's the cost of that. especially for people with low self-esteem? The question of when a compromise becomes a sell-out (or when the modest aims of reformism collapse and become New Labour) are relevant to the life of the newly better-off younger brother. ‘But in the end,‘ Paterson remarks. ‘perhaps the best we can be is honest hypocrites.‘
The play sets out to create a naturalistic representation of the Ayrshire dialect through its language. but
Paterson is at pains to stress that his aim is not pure naturalism. ’If we treat these characters purely naturalistically, we’re dead in the water, so there’s a kind of expressionistic slant, too. But the language is still very important. I'm from this region, and my father and his family spoke this dialect. I was brought up away from it. but it’s a very beautiful, poetic language, and the story comes from it.’
There‘s another personal element: the tragedy at the centre is based on the experience of Paterson’s own father, whose elder brother returned from World War I many years after its completion, to die, a sick and broken man, with his family. (Steve Cramer)
Whatalesthem'lz‘lhecastofbisoo Relax 58 TIIEIJSI’ 2-16 Dec 1999
PHYSICAL THEATRE Disco Relax
Glasgow: CCA at McLellan Galleries, Fri iO—Sun 12 Dec.
Everyone’s familiar with the debilitating symptoms of one-pint-too-many syndrome - the characteristic pub shamble, that ominous feeling of nausea which soon gives way to a full- scale toilet bowl breakfast reunion, and, of course, the inevitable alcohol- induced drivelling. 'It’s fascinating, drunkenness - what happens to language, how it kind of decays, gets scrambled,’ enthuses Tim Etchells, director of Forced Entertainment's laidback take on the traditional night at the boozer. ’You get people finishing each other’s sentences, making jokes on the. back of what the last person said, jumpy people talking across a pub at each other. The whole dynamic of that was what interested me.’
Using a largely improvised script, rough-cut video footage and a slowed-
down disco soundtrack, Forced Entertainment recreates the delirious atmosphere of an evening at the local. ’If you imagine this drunken evening with the two women in the play — Cathy and Sue - it’s as if we’d initially taken it, smashed it to pieces then put everything back together in a different order,’ explains Etchells. 'We’re not trying to be sleek or sophisticated. We like stuff to feel rough and ready, like it’s just happening now and it’s not a big deal - of course, it’s really very carefully put together.’
In finest method acting tradition, a fair bit of drinking takes place on stage, and we’re not talking lemonade. ’We’ve used bottles of . . . well, not exactly champagne, but stuff like it,’ admits Etchells. ’It’s about 5% proof and those bottles have become essential to the performance. It’s certainly true that Cathy and Sue were fuelled by that in some of their improvisations.’ (Olly Lassman)
CLASSIC REVIVAL Cavalcade
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre until Sat 18 Dec *ir'lnk‘k
Noel Coward’s sweeping examination of the first three decades of our receding century is an essay in classism. Its working-class characters are treated as stooges and reified objects; they act only as ciphers to further a plotline, or distended metaphors which exaggerate the vices of their ’betters'. For all that, however, there’s an energising power to this text which sweeps you away. Seeing this tremendous production is like watching Zulu for the umpteenth time, since, for all the disquieting evidence of bigotry beneath the text, you still find it inspiring.
Coward’s narrative centres on the upper-class Marryot family. Their history mirrors the strife of its times, suffering the trauma of war, the sinking of the Titanic and various other world-historic inconveniences. Family patriarch Robert (Stephen McDonald) declares early on that he’s ’set in the habit of loving’ his spouse Jane (Jennifer Hilary) and, by the curtain, the audience shares the emotion, for this is a splendid performance. Hilary maintains a stillness at the centre of all the sound and fury of the play which brings authenticity to her character.
And sound and fury there is, the play fairly skipping through the years with rapid scene-shifting which puts one in mind of Oh What A Love/y War, only told from the other side of the class divide. Philip Prowse allows the text to camp his style - and rightly, for campness allows the audience enough detachment to accommodate the hectic transitions of place and time. There are some wilfully grotesque renderings of World War I songs to add to the sense of bloodthirsty waste, and a generally electrifying use of sound and movement, conveying the cacophonous confusion of the era.
Brendan Hooper’s drag act as the redoubtable granny, Mrs Snapper, and Michelle Gomez as the love interest, Fanny, bring humour and intensity, respectively, to the story, before each is forgotten in favour of posher characters.
A play which would make one proud to be not British, but a production which makes one delighted to be in Glasgow on the night. (Steve Cramer)
Women in uniform: Catherine Burford in Cavalcade