CLASSIC A DOLL’S HOUSE King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Tue 17-Sat 21 Feb

’lt’s possibly quite positive for her, epiphanic in some ways.’ Tara Fitzgerald‘s use of this quite concise word about the moment of Nora’s departure from her ostensibly happy bourgeois household at the finale of lbsen‘s classic of marital strife, corruption and female emancipation tells us much about Bryony Lavery's new script. But it also speaks clearly about this much acclaimed actress. You’ll be familiar with her better known screen personas, such as the repressive wife of Hugh Grant in Sirens or the girlyish lassie opposite Ewan McGregor in Brassed Off, but these roles, along with all her work, fall within specific criteria. ‘I know this is a cliché, but it really is true that I’ll only do things that I think are right. They have to really interest me, it’s not about money’, she says.

This classically trained actress demonstrates formidable intelligence in conversation, with a deep, strong voice conveying a restless, rigorous but questioning mind and an impressive articulacy. This, combined with her engaging manner, gives me the confidence to ask what seems to be the question of the week in Scottish theatre: how relevant is a text regarded as a feminist classic to contemporary women?

Her answer is very persuasive. ‘Well, women are still affected by the break up of marriages, and are still often seriously financially disadvantaged. Also, if a man leaves his children, it’s not seen as in any way as bad as a women doing it, and that still holds. But there’s something more important about emotion here, which goes beyond gender. Some things are implicit between men and women, however modern we are and however many self help books we read. And a lot of it is very modern in other senses. Christmas is a commercial proposition in the play, just as it is today, there isn’t the religious significance you’d expect. And the tensions in the relationship come

from maintaining appearances, saving face, keeping up with the Joneses; it’s all still relevant.’ I think of the journey from professional career woman to simpering girly girl taken by Fitzgerald’s character in Brassed Off, and it occurs to me that Nora moves in precisely the opposite direction in Ibsen's classic. And there are positive possibilities


Tara Fitzgerald: The thinking man’s cheesecake

for her. ‘What we can say is that she’s moved significantly toward self discovery, and if it’s frightening, and a very bold move for her to get rid of the clichés of the status quo, she needs to do it.’ It seems a genuinely alternative view of the classic, and Fitzgerald looks the woman for the part. (Steve Cramer)



King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 10—Sat 14 Feb

Penelope Keith in Priestley robes

It's nearly 30 years since The Good Life first entertained a nation With its cosy vision of two suburban radicals living next door to a couple of social cliiiwbers. What's interesting in retrospect is that all fOur central characters were played not by cemediaiis but by seasoned stage actors. Richard Briers would go on to play the title role in King Lear: Felicity Kendall has recently starred in San‘uel Beckett's Happy Days: the late Paul Eddington was always drawn back to the stage deSpite his success in Yes Minister: and Penelope Keith has done

everything from weekly rep to the RSC.

'Our generation of actors were trained to be in the theatre.' says Keith. ‘One of the rare things about the four of us is that we had all been in the classical theatre and it was the first situation comedy for me. Felicity and Paul.‘

Keith is on stage again iii JB Priestley's Time and the Conways in a touring production directed by Richard Baron. who cut his teeth at the Royal LyCOllll‘. Perth. Pitlochry and Dundee Rep before movmg south. Followuig the misfortunes of the middle-class Conway famin between the wars. it's one of a series of three plays that Priestley wrote in the 1930s the other two are / Have Been Here Before and Dangerous Corner that explored his rad:cal ideas about the nature of time. His later play. An Inspector Cal/s. toyed With Slll‘llr'lr themes.

Keith. who stars as the matriarchal Mrs Conway. says what makes it more than a period piece is its emotional range. 'Priestley certainly S()(}ll‘.f; very pertment.‘ she says. 'Most people have been very moved by it. A friend said it was tarotiderfui to laugh one ii‘ornent and then. cry which really what life's like. He handles that veiy well.‘ rMark Fisheri



Just what is it abOut clubs and societies that people are attracted to? Book groups. Elvis appreciation clubs and. in the case of Terry Johnson's play Dead Funny. a society founded on collective worship of deceased comedians such as Benny Hill and Morecambe and Wise. they all have one thing in common - a collective togetherness. Could this be the appeal: an oppOrtunity to re-channel emotion into something that others identify with? A sun/ival mechanism against the harsher realities of life?

‘For the peeple in the play. certainly.’ says director Brian Pettifer. ‘But the real reason they pin is just that they really like these dead comics. They praise them a little more than normal people. who might just sit and watch. and laugh. These characters don't laugh. Instead they tend to point out the cleverness and brilliance of the gags. All people that are fanatical about things. whether it's cars or films or anything else. tend to be a bit like that. It's kind of trainspotter-ish . . . but perhaps worse'

In a play that uses the Dead Funny Society as a vehicle to explore the relationships and breakdown of communication amongst a group of middle-aged folk, it appears the much performed plawvright is himself a bit of a comic anorak. 'Johnson's famous for writing plays about comedians: Peter Cook. Dudley Moore and the Carry On films. He's a real fan of that comedy and those types of people. l-le's written a lot of the comedy into this. his first famous play and arguably his best.‘ says Pettifer.

So whether or not the old time comic greats are y0ur cup of tea. Pettifer insists the play is much mOre about the characters than the comedians they admire. And on the infamous nudity. he doesn't beat around the bush. ‘You can't do without it. It's written in. it's part of the play. It's not a big part of it. but I suppose it's big for the actor who's doing it! In the words of Frankie Howard. ooh. I say. (Meg Watson)

Oh yes, madam

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