Seen at Paisley Arts Centre; on tour until Sat 10 April om

You can guess which song kicks off the play, can’t you? But it’s not just Ian Dury and the Blackheads who grace the soundtrack of Stuart Davids’ lively production for 7:84 - it’s a well-chosen mix of everything from the Jam to Patsy Cline.

That’s one of the new dimensions that Mark Steel’s political memoir picks up on the way to the stage. The SWP-supporting comedian, columnist and activist is also a big music fan (he likes his music the same as his politics: raw and intense) and, where his book merely namechecks his favourite tracks, the theatre provides them full on.

political action, takes on other, less expected dimensions as well. Playwright Martin McCardie holds onto Steel's title, his perspective, a few of his gags and a couple of his more significant speeches, but otherwise junks the lot to create a three-person drama with a life and a shape of its own.

The leap is a brave one to take, but a necessary one for the life of the drama. Although the play has a slightly awkward shape as McCardie



Dundee Rep Wed 10-Sat 13 Mar, then touring.

My last regular partner was in the habit of dragging the duvet off me and wrapping herself heavily in it. After sleeping peacefully for an hour or two, with me freezing away sleepless and exposed to the elements. the last shred of duvet clutched desperately between my teeth. she would wake up suddenly and complain bitterly that she was too hot. No doubt other males could complain of similar ill manners. but what if you got married? Love and marriage are like banks and money: you put it in and take it out for years, then somewhere over the piece. you realise you’ve lost interest.

At least that‘s what's happened to Andy Gray's character in The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband. He takes the path of an affair with a younger woman (Shonagh Price). and for a while deceives his wife (Elaine C Smith), reasoning, no doubt. that what she doesn't know won't hurt him. But the affair is discovered and divorces and marriages later, a lot turns on his first wife‘s cooking.

From all this. you'll have surmised that Debbie lssit's 1991 comedy is old-fashioned. popular fare, albeit with some dark, surreal touches. But the skilled direction of Tony Cownie, who tells me that there'll be a minimum of props to maximise its actors. will no doubt add plenty of panache to the proceedings. And with two troupers as theatrical as Gray and Smith in the leads. you might expect to get your money's worth. (Steve Cramer)

Andy Gray and Elaine C Smith 70 THE LIST 4,.18 Mar 2004

Labour. The third, played by a quick-

Politics of middle age

tries to cram in as much lefty ideology witted Neil McKinven, saves his But the book, a history of 25 years of he can, the transition from page to stage generally works.

So forget about the commentary of a wisecracking stand-up from Kent and imagine instead you’re in a Glasgow high-rise where three old flatmates meet for a 43rd birthday party. One, played by an excellent Frank Gallagher, has never given up the political activism of his youth. Another, played by a feisty Maureen

politics for his on-stage rants as a stand-up comedian, but otherwise lives a comfortable bourgeois life. Excusing the contrivance of the situation, it’s a solid basis for a debate about principles and compromise that is as engaging as it is topical. Its success owes a lot to the novelty of hearing something as unfashionable as socialism discussed in public, but it works also because of

Carr, has opted for the pragmatism of the jokes, the energetic performances party politics and is now standing for and the sense of affirmation it gives a partisan audience. (Mark Fisher)

Ladies and gentile men

CLASSIC SHAKESPEARE THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Citizens, Theatre, Glasgow, Tues 9-Sat 13 March

There can be few plays that have been so transformed by history as The Merchant of Venice. What should have become a curious picture of Elizabethan prejudice has been rendered a troublingly ambiguous image of ongoing anti- Semitism. It is hardly the Bard's fault that 19th and 20th century Europeans behaved as they did. but the shadow of Auschwitz is undoubtedly cast across every modern production of the play.

Who better to deal with this most socially charged play than the much admired Halifax-based company Northern Broadsides? Famed for the robustness of its performance style. the Yorkshire ensemble promises to get to grips with the contemporary implications of the drama. This means not only that respected actor Barrie Rutter will be giving strong voice to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. but that the production will be playing on the other. political and commercial, resonances of the Bard '8 work. The Merchant of Venice is driven forward by more than racial chauvinism; it ultimately comes down. as NOrthem Broadsides says, to ‘money. always money’. So. if this presentation is one in the eye for xenophobes of all stripes. expect it to be equally scathing of the avaricious captains of latter day industry. Performed with its own specially commissioned music. this promises to be a bold and exciting take on a classic story. (Mark Brown)


Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 11-Sat 13 Mar

Initiated last year, the Activate! Youth theatre festival, which is run by Collusion Theatre Company, aims not only to give young people experience of live performance. but also to use theatre to give voice to their experiences. Backed by the Scottish Executive and East Ayrshire. East Renfrewshire and Angus councils. the festival could be considered a model of social responsiveness in the arts.

Seasons to be jolly

This year’s event presents a cycle of three plays entitled The Seasons. No fewer than 50 young actors will perform in a production that will give youngsters with special needs a platform within a fully integrated company. With the direction and guidance of professional theatre practitioners. the teenagers aim to give artistic expression to the complexities of life behind the one- dimensional headlines of ‘neds' and “troubled adolescents.

Incorporating stOrytelling, physical movement and visual imagery. the piece is the culmination of a long- term project. Honing and shaping their diverse stories through a series of workshops. the young actors discovered that the changes in the seasons provided the most relevant visual metaphor for the shifting nature of their life experiences. How do they get four seasons into three plays? You‘ll have to go to Tramway to find out. (Mark Brown)