COMEDY The Sunshine Boys
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 27 Feb—Sat 3 Mar.
Brian Murphy (right, with Ron Moody) reveals his private side
Ah, the great double acts. Stan and Ollie, Eric and Ernie, George and Mildred. Oh, yes, the double act comes in all shapes and sizes, mutating from music hall to movre to sitcom to soap. Which is why it makes a great deal of sense to cast Brian Murphy as Al Lewrs in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, a wrstful comedy about two retired comedians forced into giving a comeback performance wrth their hated stage partners of 40 years. Murphy it was who played George
CLASSIC Twelfth Night Perth Theatre, Fri 23 Feb—Sat 10 Mar.
'People fall in love with the wrong people': Michael Winter
On the face of it, it’s surprising that Twelfth Night should be so popular. Aside from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is surely the most performed of Shakespeare's comedies for at least a generation. Perhaps audiences know better than us critics, though, for while we've vexed ourselves with the various problems of this odd little comedy, the paying public has simply shown up in droves to enjoy it.
The stOry of the twins Sebastian and Viola’s accidental arrival in a strange, summery land where much transvestite disguise and erotic intrigue follow is undoubtedly amusmg, but does the prevalence of accidental same-sex infatuation indicate a gay subtext? The
Roper opposrte Yootha Joyce’s Mildred, first in Man About The House (1973-76) then in the spin-off George And Mildred (1976—79). They were a sitcom incarnation of the old mu5ic- hall henpecked husband and nagging Wife, and the experience lS paying off for Murphy all these years later.
'Back in the 505 we probably would have been a variety double act,’ says Murphy, looking exactly the same as he did in his sitcom heyday and claiming, remarkably, still to be in his early-60s ’It’s useful to have done George And Mildred because you realise the importance of your partner. The rapport and chemistry that we had is what made it work.’
He’s playing opposite Ron Moody (Fagin in Oliver), in a version that makes the leap to contemporary London from Simon's Jewrsh New York of the 705. ’We worked together back in 1966 in a film called San Ferry Ann,’ says Murphy. ’He took me under his wrng at the time, but we’ve never worked together to this extent. We are trying to recreate an act that had known each other for 40 years and you need a rapport over and above the usual requirement.‘
And does he recognise the truth in Simon’s observation that funny men on stage can be at each other’s throats in private? 'Yes, the audience never usually sees the private side. But the ordinary mundane things that people get up to, actor’s are no different, they’re probably worse. They expect more and they're exposed to more.’ (Mark Fisher)
recent generation of queer theorists thinks so, but Michael Winter, director of the latest production at Perth, sees it as very much simpler. What of the Countess Olivia’s sudden passion for Viola, and Antonio's closeness to Sebastian? 'People fall in love with the wrong people,’ he says. ’They meet people they think they should be with, but they’re wrong. It’s more about people getting it wrong. Antonio doesn't have a homosexual love for Sebastian, he has a kind of truly generous, unselfish love. It’s about friendship.’
What of the cruel treatment meted out to Malvolio, Olivia’s interfering steward, who becomes the victim of imprisonment after a cruel prank by the comic wastrel Sir Toby Belch and friends? Critics have often complained that his sudden punishment doesn’t fit his crime. But Winter sees our late sympathy for the interfering old fool as a quality of Shakespeare's genius. ’It’s not the detail or the plotting that makes the writing so great,’ he says, ’it's his capacity to suddenly show characters we’ve seen from the outside on the inside. We suddenly get Malvolio’s point of view, so he changes’
Maybe it’s a play to be enjoyed, rather than debated. Shakespeare’s alternative title, What You Willis precisely what critics have made of the play, and perhaps Winter's approach, seeing the essential sunniness of the play, and its themes of love, is the formula for its enjoyment.
The Thirty-Nine Steps
King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 20—Fri 24 Feb.
Reading The Thirty Nine Steps you might be surprised to find yourself reminded of episodes of 8/99/95, when a man was a man and the BBC was the ’British Broadcasting Corporation'. But Buchan’s novel continued to inspire directors throughout the 20th century. Most famously, Hitchcock’s 1935 screen adaptation took the novel’s central theme of an innocent man unjustly pursued by the forces of both good and eVil and ran With it, ran so far in fact that it made its way into dozens of his subsequent movres.
This latest incarnation, a comic adaptation for the stage, began life tOuring Scotland from the batk of a tan Actor Simon Williams describes seeing the original produttion as 'a blissful evening’ and jumped at the chance to play the hero Richard Harinav in the latest ’lavish "Wide SCreen” version for the larger stage’
He seems undaunted by the story’s impresswe Cinematic past ’it doesn't compete With the movre,’ he says. ’It makes the audiente do some work wrth their imagination. We give a feeling of a 1930s thriller and Iarnpoon it With great affection and accuracy.’
For Williams, the energy and dynamism of the production has 0hvrously taken its toll. ’I’ve never known sweat like it,’ he says. Perhaps being handtuffed to Catherine Rabett for half the play might explain it. (Robert Evansl
One Flea Spare Ramshorn Theatre, Glasgow, Mon 19—Sat 24 Feb.
Quarantine is, when you think about it, a metaphor fraught With theatrical possibilities. It’s surprising, then, that it hasn’t often been used in the theatre Naomi Wallace, whose Trestle At Pope Lick Creek (see main prevrew, p611) set about to correct the balance in this essay in physrcal entrapment
Set during the great plague of London in 1665, the play opens at the latter stages of a Quarantine period for an affluent, middle-aged couple whose house has been touched by the plague. The unexpected intrusion of a sailor, who believes the house uninhabited, and a child means that the quarantine period recommences in full and the four characters are forced to sit it out in an atmosphere of cultural, class and generational conflict.
The problem with period pieces, Wallace maintains, is getting the language right. ’I’d done a lot of reading,’ she says, ’but I didn't want to recreate the period language completely. But it acknowledges the time, which I think lS important.’ Does this mean ’poetry’? ’No,’ she replies, ’when I hear the term "poetic language" in the theatre, I generally run the other way' And who could blame her? (Steve Cramer)
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 21—Sat 24 Feb.
King Arthur’s turned out pretty well for his age. At over 1000 years old, the legend has endured numerous incarnations: as a classic novel, movie and sub-standard Disney remake. He's even been subjected to the dubious honour of a right royal Python piss- take. Now the National Youth Music Theatre are bringing the Arthur saga to Edinburgh, but it looks as if the identity of the real King Arthur will stay lost in the Mists of Avalon.
’There were hundreds of Arthurs,’ says Pendragon director James Taylor- Thomson. ’Wales, Glastonbury, Cornwall; he comes from everywhere.
Was Arthur really like this?
' Arthur was a force that occurred in
about the sixth century. There are legends all over the place, but we know something good happened and there must have been a moment of great peace.’
Transporting sword and sorcery to the stage, Pendragon uses physical theatre, puppetry and special effects to tell the tale of Arthur as a boy who would be king and his adventures with Merlin the wizard. ’It’s not Arthur the Pantomime,’ insists Taylor-Thomson, 'lt’s tremendously exciting, but it’s also qurte brutal. There are savage battles and even a pretty nasty dragon. We’ve created a whole world from scratch, and that was an amazing experience.’ (Olly Lassman)
15 Feb—1 Mar 2001 THE LIST 67