THEATRE | Previews

MUSICAL PREVIEW ROCK OF AGES Edinburgh Playhouse, Mon 19–Sat 24 May

SOVIET HISTORY PREVIEW FIRST COSMONAUT Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 5–Sat 7 Jun SOCIAL DRAMA PREVIEW PESTS Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 22–Sat 24 May

Rock of Ages might have been made into a Hollywood film, but the stage version, according to star Ben Richards, is a more playful proposition. ‘The film is . . . not brilliant,’ he reluctantly admits. ‘I don’t think they quite got the irony, the comedy element. The audience are in hysterics, which is why we get the reaction we do, which we are very lucky to get!’

For Richards, playing a 1980s rock god is a trip down memory lane. ‘I kind of grew up with the music: we used to listen to big rock tunes,’ he remembers. ‘And it is amazing how many massive hits are in the show.’

With massive hits and massive hair, Rock of Ages takes a sideways glance at the excesses of the 80s, but rolls out the familiar tunes that made rock dominate the radio in the era of Thatcher and Reagan.

The show also promises old-fashioned

decadence. ‘I am right in the middle of it! I am playing an 80s rock star,’ he laughs. ‘So you can imagine what I get up to!’ However, Richards won’t be drawn on whether this reflects his off-stage life. ‘Everything I say may be used in evidence against me, so best if I don’t answer that question . . . (Gareth K Vile)

It wasn’t quite Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’, but it still made history. In April 1961, in a little Vostok spacecraft, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space. However, for director Niall Henry of Sligo-based Blue Raincoat theatre company, the most interesting thing about Gagarin’s journey is what he saw when he looked back. ‘When I did some research, I realised he was the very first person to see the Earth,’ he says. ‘Since we fell out of the trees in sub-Saharan Africa, he was the first to look back and see us, and it had a big impact on him.’ Blue Raincoat is one of Ireland’s better-known ensemble companies, with a style that combines an interest in modernist drama and new writing with a background in movement and mime. In recent years they have been popular visitors to Scotland with adaptations of Flann O’Brien and plays by Brecht and Ionesco.

‘It is a depressing but very true story that needs to be told,’ says Pests director Lucy Morrison. ‘For the writer, Vivienne Franzmann, it came out of a place of outrage and anger that we are still treating people like this in a so-called civilised society.’

Having made a powerful impact in London, Clean Break’s production of Pests heads north with a story ripped from the London underground. As Morrison explains, it reveals ‘the story of two heroin addicts trapped in a life with no choices a story I am familiar with having worked with Clean Break for seven years.’

The company’s mission has been to bring the

stories of imprisoned women to wider attention, but Morrison is determined that Pests avoids simplifying the issues. ‘I wanted something that didn’t have a sheen of hope,’ she adds. Instead, the script explores the horror of two sisters’ situation without flinching.

In Jocelyn Clarke’s play, the company is Morrison, however, believes that the poetic use

transformed into poor travelling players from the Soviet Bloc. Henry says: ‘They have a cart, a ladder, things you would have on a collective farm, but they assemble and build a rocket out of bits and pieces, which is a beautiful metaphor for what humanity did.’ (Susan Mansfield) of London dialect lifts the play beyond simply being a litany of misery. ‘The language is extraordinarily inventive, playful and exciting: it lifts the piece. What Franzmann has done is to express the truth in an idiom which is very familiar if you have ever sat on a bus in Hackney!’ (Gareth K Vile)

WAR DRAMA REVIEW PRESSURE Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 24 May ●●●●●

Taking a look at one of WWII’s lesser known heroes, David Haig’s new play examines the role of meteorology in warfare through the experience of Dr James Stagg. Faced with the responsibility of predicting the weather in the run-up to D-Day, Stagg is presented as a stubborn, compassionate man who combined scientific brilliance with an intuitive sense of the British climate’s mercurial humours.

Haig, playing Stagg, lends his hero a taciturn dignity, passionate about family, forecasting and the soldiers whom he could be sending to their deaths. His battles with his American rival Krik (played with necessary smarm by Tim Beckmann) and chief of staff Eisenhower (a charismatic Malcolm Sinclair) drive the action, although subplots (Stagg’s wife about to give birth, Eisenhower having an affair with his driver) blur the focus. As if not trusting war against the Nazis to provide excitement, the second act is cluttered and slowed by these intimate dilemmas.

Yet Haig’s script uncovers the fascinating detail of Stagg’s meteorology, conjuring a palpable conflict from symbols on a map and a series of weather reports. Sinclair and Haig are impressive, and John Dove’s direction is dynamic, capturing the shifts of power between the men and the urgency of their discussions. The strength of Pressure, however, is in the first act’s clever

depiction of the anxiety of the Allied command: the austere Stagg clashing with Eisenhower’s amiable lover and assistant, Krik’s brash confidence and Eisenhower’s great sense of doubt. While the performance never quite manages to capture the immensity of the decisions being made, it takes an unlikely hero and subject, and makes weather forecasting appear both scientifically exciting and theatrically engaging. (Gareth K Vile)

100 THE LIST 15 May–12 Jun 2014