CLASSIC COMEDY The Hypochondriak
Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Wed 13 Sep—Sat 7 Oct.
All of us are guilty of a degree of self-delusion about the people we love, turning them into what we want them to be, rather than seeing what they are. But the effect of this phenomenon is more profound when the lover is already deluded. This is the central theme of Moliere’s classic comedy in which Argan, an ageing husband, displays delusions about the state of his health (perfectly good) and marriage (not so good), while his rapacious second wife, Beline, eyes his money.
But, according to director Tony Cownie, there are also social and political metaphors under this relationship. ‘Obsession blinds Argan to what's really going on,’ he says. ‘Any delusion affects relationships, but he’s also talking about other things. He’s having a go at stubborn beliefs, religions and ideologies of all kinds. Argan tries to rationalise what we can’t rationalise, and that blinds him to life. At the time of the play’s production, there was a lot of concentration on rationality and numbers. He talks of having fifteen
A spoonful of medicine: Sylvester McCoy in The Hypochondriak
enemas and twelve injections that week, when he had fifteen injections last week, so he must feel worse. Everything becomes a kind of religion.’
Aside, though, from giving us an insight into the Enlightenment mentality which is as much part of our lives as it was of Moliere’s in the late 17th century, the play reprises a fine tradition of Scots adaptations of Moliére. This one, by Hector Macmillan, was first produced at the Lyceum thirteen years ago and will feature former Dr Who Sylvester McCoy as Argan. Cownie sees the relationship between Moliere’s humour and Scotland’s native wit as the key to this success: ‘Moliere works so well in Scots. It’s part of our culture; we like cheeky servants who undermine people in
authority, and that’s here, in the character of Toinette, the maid. The women also know best, they really run the home, like in a lot of Scottish families. My house was like that. That’s why the McMoliere’s have done so well.’
Perhaps, as well, it’s the radical spirit of Moliere that appeals. Cownie recounts the story of the satirist’s imprisonment after the first production of Tartuffe: ’The only reason why he got away was that the King really liked him, he thought Moliere was funny. So he went on taunting the gentry and lords, but only just. Perhaps that's another reason we like him. He spent a lot of time attacking shallowness and pretension, but still managed to provide tremendous entertainment.’ (Steve Cramer)
TRAVELLING TALES Open Roads 2000
Glasgow: Tron Theatre, Mon ll—Sun 17 Sep.
Often maligned as malingerers, Travelling people have endured everything from the snooty sneers of passers-by to the horrors of the holocaust. Their struggle against increased modernisation has gone side-by-side with the struggle against ignorance and intolerance. But now they’re reaching out to non-travellers as artistic representatives of the
50 THE UST 7-21 Sep 2000
Travel narrative: Open Roads 2000
Romany and Travellers communities take centre stage at the Tron for a week-long celebration of their culture. A showcase of music and dance is combined with a series of storytelling sessions in a valiant attempt to keep a dying tradition alive.
Sheila Stewart, the doyenne of Scottish Travellers, has been on the scene since 1954 spreading their culture all over the world through her ballad singing and story telling; she’s even thrown in the odd lecture at Harvard to academics intrigued by all things Celtic. ’It's very important to
keep the Travelling culture alive,’ says Stewart, ’and to bring it to the non- Traveller. To let them know that, although we’ve been persecuted and ridiculed all our lives, we do have something to offer Scottish culture. People should come along and get their eyes opened.’
Taking the stage in a extra slot approaching the witching hour, storyteller Stanley Robertson will be specialising in the supernatural, which goes by the name of magic realism in other cultures. ’People should expect an old art,’ explains Robertson. ’They're going to use parts of their brain that they’ve never used before. On television everything’s done for you, but when you’re in the company of a live storyteller, that part of your brain becomes refreshed. You colour and you produce and you direct all within your own mind.’
The event winds up with a series of workshops aimed at passing on the tricks of the trade to a new generation of potential storytellers. ’We’re only preservers of folklore,’ says Robertson. ’But it belongs to the people and we’re trying to get it back into the people.’ (Davie Archibald)
A Passionate Woman Perth: Perth Rep, Fri 8—Sat 23 Sep
Remember Shirley Valentine? Educating Rita? Even good old EastEnders and the perennially frustrated Irene? They’re all sterling examples of an instantly familiar and distinctly post-feminist cynicism about the nuclear ideal of the ’happy housewife’. Taking the unsurprising anti-Shake 'n’ Vac stance that (contrary to the Oxo ads) a lifetime as a servile hybrid of gourmet chef, incubator and cleaning woman might not actually be a universally appealing career prospect, A Passionate Woman explores the truth behind that Kiss The Cook apron.
’As a character, Betty focuses on the play's main themes; loss, regret, missed opportunity, wasted life,’ says Ken Alexander, moonlighting at Perth while his own theatre, the Byre, is rebuilt. ’Even though it’s primarily about a mother, I think there’s something there that everyone should identify with; sons, fathers and daughters. The play wears its heart on its sleeve. It can turn from riotous laughter to floods of tears at the drop of a hat.’
The story follows the bittersweet tale of Betty, a middle-aged single mum who, during her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her soon-to- be—married son is set to join the infamous ranks of ’men who’ve abandoned her’, is forced to re- examine the unappreciated fruits of 30 years as a home maker. Penned by Kay Mellor, whose previous successes include the TV drama Band of Go/d, as well as Coronation Street and Brookside, A Passionate Woman promises to be just as gritty and insightful as any of her previous small- screen scribblings. 'I love the emotional truths in the play,’ says Alexander. ’It’s a blend of very good comedy alongside heartfelt emotion. The text is beautifully crafted. Kay Mellor really does hit family relationships on the head, she understands the complexity of things that are never said, never spoken within the family.’ (Olly Lassman)
Ken Alexander directs a tale of suburban angst