THEATRE new shows
The Pleasure Man
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until Sat 26 Feb * it *
Mae West may have been many things, but she was no playwright. Which is a pity, for so many features of the Citizens’ Theatre’s ambitious main stage production of her 1928 play, The Pleasure Man, deserve acclaim.
Set mainly in the backstage of an American vaudeville theatre, the plot revolves around Terrill (Jason Merrells), the performing pleasure man of the title, who ploughs his way through an array of women. The drama flows from the outcome of one such liaison and from his affair with stage star Dolores (Michelle Gomez).
However, the threadbare plot is clumsily crafted and, although the lack of dramatic impetus is partially overcome by humour, for a modern audience the comic elements are simply not strong enough to compensate.
Working with a cast of over twenty, and bringing out some excellent central performances, Stuart Laing’s direction takes the action out of the proscenium arch and into the auditorium, turning the building itself into the performance space. His design is also adventurous, opening with a seemingly bare stage, but skilfully transforming the space as the play progresses.
Dangerous liaisons: The Pleasure Man
The size of the background cast, which includes an assortment of camp male dancers, acrobats and Showgirls, ensures that the audience’s attention is constantly held. But it also contributes to the diffuse nature of the narrative.
This is the first production of The Pleasure Man in over seven decades. It would be too obvious a point to say that you can see why. But sometimes the obvious needs saying. (Davie Archibald)
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MODERN CLASSIC Endgame
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until Sat 26 Feb *kirk
There is little left to be said about Beckett’s mysterious, miserable classic as a text; but what of its performance? Simon Dutton’s Hamm, a grim, moribund master to Clov (Brendan Hooper), a servant who occasionally substitutes as an adopted child, dishes out the existential gloom with skill and not a little humour.
Hooper, covered in white plaster powder, and hobbling about with the straight-legged gait of his character who can't sit down, snipes back throughout the play's entropic winding-down process. It’s all done with a deft ear for the dialogue and its attendant dry wit.
Robert David MacDonald’s production pays much attention to the idea of this play as meta-theatre, with the endless theatrical references contained within the text emphasised by the rhythms of their delivery. When Hooper demands why they continue the ’farce’, we’re made aware of the nods and winks of Beckett's text - as one supposes we
58 THE UST I7 Feb-2 Mar 2000
Bin down so long: Endgame
should be — in a play that can play only as play.
Ida Schuster and Owen Gorman are solid as Nagg and Nell, the ostensible parents of Hamm, screwed into ashcans (not dustbins, by the way) and occasionally brought above the rims for conversations of a relatively one-sided nature by their tyrannical, chair-bound son. A nice touch in this production is Hooper’s head-in-the-bin conversation with them, for which he affects a comical sub-Goon Show voice.
Generally it's all well-played, but can there be a problem with the drama itself? Beckett’s position as the leading playwright in the canon of the last century remains completely unchallenged among thinkers, readers and theatre-goers alike and there is, unquestionably, a riveting quality to the play's poetic idiom.
But can we sustain a despairing existential void at the centre of the culture? Don’t we need something more affirming to be conveyed by our theatre than bleak, farcical meanderings, the same old postmodernist schtick? Apparently not. (Steve Cramer)
Glasgow: Citizens' Theatre, until Sat 26 Feb *t'k‘k
There’s some real power in Julie Saunders’ performance as the much put-upon woman at the centre of this adaptation of a lean Rhys short story. She plays Selina Davis, a young half- caste coloured woman, whose experience of a hostile London after emigration in mid-century rings with authenticity. This is the story of her travels through impoverished bedsit land, finally winding up in a dodgy squat as the guest of a probable pimp where an alcohol-fuelled confrontation with racist neighbours has legal consequences.
Saunders plays with sure pace, bringing both the vulnerability and inner strength the character needs to the part. In an intimate, cleverly lit studio space, the sense of oppression attendant upon poverty is well evoked nahilo the monologue, stream-of-consciousness format allows for real insight int" Lit»: nnnd of the character. The script successfully marries the play’s emotional and social context, reminding us that the personal is political, without seeming to badger its audience. (Steve Cramer)
Blues in the night: Jazz
HISTORICAL PREVIEW Margaret
Edinburgh: Gateway, Fri 18 Feb, then tounng.
This new version of Ian Brown’s acclaimed reflection upon the life of Queen Margaret seems timely, given the current climate of political change in Scotland. A narrative that deals with the Hungarian aristocrat’s marriage to Malcolm, King of Scots, and subsequent attempts to convert Scotland’s Celtic church to European Catholicism, has parallels to our own time. ’You’re instantly looking at the whole issue of European links, Europeanism or anti-Europeanism in Scotland,’ insists Brown.
But the play is not simply a political piece. ’The other thing is that it’s a love story about marriage,’ he notes. ’There are many plays about adultery, but this is a marriage that stays together. When two people are very busy, as these two are, it’s often hard to keep the relationship as it was, but nevertheless, this relationship remains very rich.’
Bringing in both an emotional context and political themes which address Scotland's vision of its past and future, this promises to be intriguing theatre. (Steve Cramer)
Queen Margaret's drive: Ian Brown
NEW DANCE Maximum Machine
Edinburgh: Traverse Theatre, Thu 24
Feb, then touring. Maybe it was the striking visual
aspects of her work that attracted Stanley Kubrick to British dance- theatre artist Yolande Snaith. Snaith was responsible for the movement in the late director’s film Eyes Wide Shut. ’l was an instrument through which Stanley achieved what he wanted,’ she states, summing up the experience. ’He could be very difficult at times.’ Still, retrospectively, she admires Kubrick’s ’uncompromising perseverance’.
Her latest production, Maximum Machine, is dominated by Barnaby Stone's huge set. ’It was inspired by an actual 18th century machine,’ she explains. ’It was a scaffold structure with ladders and a weights-and-pulley system that supposedly measured the amount of work a man did.’
Snaith regards this new show as audience-friendly. ’There are images and ideas you can hook into immediately, references to science and working the body. We live in such a body-obsessed culture. The piece plays on that, at times very humorously.’ (Donald Hutera)
Moving pictures: Maximum machine