By Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson. A Royal Lyceum theatre review.
IT has been a while since the stage has had much truck with genre fiction. Not since the days of weekly rep, when Agatha Christie was reigning queen of the whodunit, has there been much space in the theatre for plot-driven mysteries and thrillers. Those forms have proved better suited to novel and screen. That's why the theatrical debut of Ian Rankin, with a play co-written by artistic director Mark Thomson, is at once familiar and strange; the genre is everywhere, but we rarely see it on stage.
19 February 2013 The Guardian
WE'RE in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest territory – but instead of Jack Nicholson finding method in the madness, here we have Eddie, a hospital radio DJ, discovering the insanity of the psychiatric system. Donna Franceschild's bittersweet comedy, based on her own 1994 TV series, stands as a metaphor for authoritarian oppression. When the self-styled Ready Eddie: the Soul Survivor starts playing his treasured collection of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke originals at St Jude's psychiatric hospital, he realises the main obstacle in his path is not anyone's bipolar disorder, OCD or schizophrenia, but the psychopathic control of the institution.
By Shelagh Delaney. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
THERE is much that is extraordinary about Shelagh Delaney's debut play: that it was written by an 18-year-old after watching something by Terence Rattigan and thinking she could do better; that instead of making an issue of single motherhood, interracial sex, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality, it presents them as part of life's tapestry; that, in its unsentimental representation of a working-class Salford experience, it became year zero for everything from Coronation Street to the Smiths.
By Johnny McKnight. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
IT'S impressive enough that Johnny McKnight is writing, directing and starring in Aganeza Scrooge at Glasgow's Tron this season, but somehow he has also managed to field two Cinderellas. At the MacRobert in Stirling, there's an updated revival of his 2007 panto, while here in Edinburgh, he has turned in a musical version set – for reasons best known to himself – in modern-day Paris.
By William Shakespeare. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
TOWARDS the start of Shakespeare's comedy, the fairy queen Titania tells her lover Oberon how their quarrel has turned nature upside down. "The seasons alter," she says, and the "mazed world ... knows not which is which." Much later, as the play nears its conclusion, would-be husband Demetrius confesses that his love for Hermia is now "melted as the snow".
26 September 2012 The Guardian
CANADIAN playwright Michel Tremblay's Les Belles Soeurs, translated here as The Guid Sisters, is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, remarkable on many levels. Fifteen women are on stage, all cramming into the working-class Montreal kitchen of Germaine Lauzon, who has won a million Green Shield stamps in a competition – and needs help sticking them in to the books. Tremblay shows great skill in orchestrating such a number, keeping their characters distinct, their banter hilarious, and their private tragedies true.
PLAYWRIGHT DC Jackson staked his claim to office romcom territory with My Romantic History, a gag-filled romp that exposed the passions simmering behind the filing cabinets of an everyday workplace. In this Marriage of Figaro, he proves there's more mileage still in using the conventions of the office to stifle the primal urges of his key characters. Relocating the Pierre Beaumarchais comedy to a post-banking-crisis world of high finance, he finds a match for the social decorum of old in the codes of behaviour of a modern corporation.
In the theatre is a stage. On the stage is a panelled room. In the panelled room is a wardrobe. In the wardrobe is a music box. Like Russian dolls, these boxes within boxes promise revelations, but provide only further layers of obfuscation. Just as the music box dulls the sound of domestic violence coming from a neighbouring room, so the bigger boxes divert us from the truth about life and death.
MAUREEEN Beattie enters with her hair dripping wet. It's not a conventional way for an actor to come on, still less so when playing a would-be mother superior. As she sets off for a daily swim in the icy waters beyond the convent's brutalist concrete walls, Sister Ursula Mary is not your stereotypical stage nun: someone calls her the "rock star of the ecclesiastical world".
WHAT sets Liz Lochhead's 1987 play apart is the way past and present rub up against each other, setting off sparks of recognition as text-book history clashes with modern-day topicality. You hear it in the language: "cauldron o' lye" one line, Princes Street the next. You see it in the dressing-up box costumes, the frocks as much 1950s prom as 16th-century regal. And you understand it in a story that makes the link between contemporary Scottish sectarianism and the power politics of the French Catholic Mary and the English Protestant Elizabeth, the virgin queen.
20 May 2011 The Guardian
THE battle appears to be won. Some kind of peace is taking hold. But the war has thrown up unforeseen problems. The word goes out: "Tell the men we'll be in Scotland a little longer than expected. And suddenly we are not only in 11th-century Perthshire, where the English army is seeking to impose order after the death of Macbeth, but also in a modern-day Iraq or Afghanistan.
ON its debut three years ago, Liz Lochhead's reworking of Molire's L'Ecole des Femmes came across as cheeky, witty and linguistically playful. Theatre Babel's staging, by contrast, seemed laboured; you left the theatre suspecting the play was better than the production. And so it proves in Tony Cownie's vigorous revival, Lochhead's first mainstage outing since being appointed Scotland's makar, or national poet, earlier this year. Educating Agnes is, as we suspected, a daft, boisterous, big-hearted comedy that merrily weaves references to Kinsey and Cosmo on to Molire's 17th-century frame.
2 March 2011 The Guardian
"PEROXIDE – that's all it is," says a long-suffering hairdresser working for Marilyn Monroe as she takes up residence in the Beverly Hills Hotel while shooting Let's Make Love. In an adjoining room, her husband, Arthur Miller, is typing out the screenplay for The Misfits; over the corridor, that other big-screen blonde, Simone Signoret, is accompanying her husband, and Monroe's co-star, Yves Montand.
26 February 2011 The Guardian
CANADIAN playwright Linda Griffiths doesn't so much adapt George Gissing's The Odd Women as explode it. She takes the genteel 1890s setting of this novel about a philanthropic women's secretarial college and gives it a vigorous modern voice. Like Janet Bird's costumes, which filter the stiff formality of the Victorian bustle through a 21st-century lens, she allows the passion to poke through the prim surface of respectability. The result, in Muriel Romanes's fluid production, is funny, dynamic and politically fascinating.
THE standard view of the Victorians is they were all buttoned up. They lived in a world of social niceties where a woman could take offence at a man simply if he were a little too eager, and society could ostracise a woman just for stepping out with a male companion without a proper introduction. It is this kind of primness playwright Linda Griffiths has fun with in Age of Arousal. For although on the outside, her characters show the genteel restraint of their era, on the inside, they burst with a lusty passion that seems entirely 21st century.
By Arthur Miller. A Royal Lyceum Theatre reivew.
WHEN John Dove staged Death of a Salesman for the Royal Lyceum in 2004, it was the start of a five-play Arthur Miller odyssey that reaches its triumphant, soul-shaking end in A View from the Bridge. No one would call Dove a flashy director; no intrusive concepts or clever deconstructions for him. Instead, what he has shown– whether in the watertight tragedy of All My Sons or the novice experiment of The Man Who Had All the Luck – is a clear-headed gift for letting Miller's plays sing.
THEATREGOERS in Scotland used to have a simple choice at this time of year. Either they went to a traditional pantomime or to one of Stuart Paterson's Christmas shows: big-hearted fables that preferred psychological realism to slapstick and narrative complexity to stock plots. About five years ago, for no obvious reason and despite their popularity, Paterson's plays all but disappeared.
By Oscar Wilde. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review
T'S not every day you get to see a new Oscar Wilde comedy. You will be familiar, of course, with The Importance of Being Earnest– handbags, epigrams and all – but not quite as it is seen here in Mark Thomson's polished production. I'm referring not only to the lines that seem as if they could have been written this week: when Jack Worthing says he is a Liberal Unionist and Lady Bracknell replies, "Oh, they count as Tories," it gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening. But more than that, I'm referring to Thomson's decision to return to the four-act versionof the play Wilde wrote before actor-manager George Alexander requested the three-act version we know today. Three months after the first night, Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality and never revised his original. Thomson has done the job for him and merged the two versions.
By Anton Chekhov, translated by John Byrne. A Royal Lyceum theatre review.
THE story of Margaret Thatcher's premiership is usually told in terms of a right-left struggle between establishment and workers. But as John Byrne sees it in this invigorating and very funny retelling of the Chekhov classic, it was also a conflict between old money and the self-made man.
IN the past five years, the author of Every One has lost a wife to a brain tumour, undergone a heart operation, embraced Christianity and become a woman: John Clifford is now Jo Clifford. This upheaval has found expression in her writing, from a translation of Faust to the bereavement-based Leave to Remain. But it is in Every One, an astonishing response to the medieval Everyman, that she processes the trauma of death most profoundly.
By Martin McDonagh. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
WHAT you notice about the audience for The Beauty Queen of Leenane is how vocal it is. No surprise that people laugh at the jokes, of course. Martin McDonagh's writing sparkles with deadpan irony as he tells the tale of Maureen Folan, a 40-year-old woman trapped by her cantankerous old mother, Mag, into a life of barren inertia. The dialogue is as funny as the situation is bleak.
By Arthur Miller. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
FRED Goodwin, the poster boy for the banking crisis, has just landed a high-flying job with an Edinburgh architectural firm. Not everyone is as fortunate as the former RBS chief executive. Some, like the dead father whose memory hangs heavy over Arthur Miller's The Price, lost millions in the Wall Street crash and, in the face of the Great Depression, never recovered. The question Miller poses is how to respond to such a calamity: should we fight egotistically for our own success or should we retrench to the old values of love, trust and selflessness?
By JM Barrie. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
PETER Pan is the only play where the pre-show announcement about switching off watch alarms applies as much to the characters as it does the audience. One too many ticking clocks and the time-sensitive Captain Hook will be forced to leap overboard.
Adapted by Mark Thomson. A Royal Lyceum Theatre review.
THE premise is worthy of Hollywood. A man believes that his place in heaven is secure, and that nothing – not even murder – will change that. Nearly 200 years before FlashForward, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner considered how our behaviour might be affected by knowing our own fate.
YOU have a great idea. You imagine John Gay's 18th-century satire could be set in some cyberpunk future, where the highwayman Macheath is now a "super-thief" at large in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It would be an oversexed society in which the outlaw's girlfriends, with their nostalgic obsession for early 21st-century designer gear, would be motivated by lust, while the older generation would care only for money. At the age of 121, Madonna would be the last surviving celebrity from the time of the global floods, and the world would have descended into dog-eat-dog violence.
By Michael Frayn. Royal Lyceum theatre review.
FORGET the physics. The greatest experiment in Michael Frayn's three-hander is in the dramatic form itself. It isn't merely that Copenhagen chooses the most unlikely subject for a hit show – the meeting in 1941 between Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his German protégé Werner Heisenberg – nor is it merely that it treats this encounter less as fact than as a series of speculations to be played out and tested as if the stage itself were a laboratory.
By Sam Shepard. Royal Lyceum review.
THE fridge sits centre stage. In any other American play, it would be packed with produce, a domestic symbol of the land of plenty. But in Sam Shepard's alternative vision of the postwar boom years, the cupboard is bare. His family of hard-bitten misfits out in the "boonies" of California repeatedly open the fridge in the hope of finding it full. The best it brings forth is a bag of artichokes.
By Charles Ludlam. Royal Lyceum review
THE biggest mystery of Irma Vep is why such an ephemeral piece has been revived in the first place. The show's producers would have been bolstered, perhaps, by the oft-extended run of Charles Ludlam's horror send-up when it was staged in New York by the author's Ridiculous Theatre Company in 1984. They also must have been delighted to have found a showcase for the comic talents of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll. But none of this explains how they summoned up the energy to read to the end of the script, let alone pool the resources of the Royal Lyceum and Perth Theatre to put it on.
By Arthur Miller. Royal Lyceum review.
IT'S the Arthur Miller play that slipped through the net. Having lasted three days on Broadway in 1944, The Man Who Had All the Luck took nearly 50 years to cross the Atlantic and is even now a Miller rarity. There are reasons for its neglect. Some passages are underwritten, such as the oddly cool reaction to the death of the neighbourhood patriarch in a car accident, and the play as a whole never quite settles on the tragic trajectory it promises. Yet it is more than just a curiosity for Miller fans, much as they will appreciate the themes of aspiration, social responsibility and the American dream that would define his later work.
By CS Lewis. Royal Lyceum review.
THERE'S something of the Jennifer Saunders about Meg Fraser's White Witch. Her combination of haughtiness and vulnerability recalls the Absolutely Fabulous star at her most rattled. Arriving on a towering sledge, with her underworld menials slavering at her feet, she is formidable, yet not quite in control.Although this brings a comic edge to the antihero of CS Lewis's Narnia adventure, the overall effect is to make her more scary still: she's not just evil, she's erratic.
By William Shakespeare. Royal Lyceum review.
LIAM Brennan is alone on the stage when, as Macbeth, he first mentions the idea of "assassination". The very word catches him unawares; he breaks off mid-sentence, looks nervously around in case he has been overheard, then continues sotto voce. It is the key to an interpretation that shows the aspiring king of Scotland not as a merciless warlord, but as an introspective thinker with little appetite for bumping off his enemies.
By Dario Fo. Royal Lyceum review.
DARIO Fo believes productions of his plays should move with the times. It is mo important that an audience today should understand the political point of Trumpets and Raspberries than that they should know the story behind it. We might not get our heads around the kidnapping of Italian politician Aldo Moro in 1978, but we can laugh, as we do here, at the idea of Sir Menzies Campbell suffering a similar fate while David Cameron sits in Downing Street.
By Declan Donnellan and Thackeray. Royal Lyceum review.
THE wave of novel adaptations that hit the stage 25 years ago did not happen by accident. Like David Edgar with Nicholas Nickleby in 1980, Declan Donnellan in 1983 found something in Vanity Fair that rubbed up against the avaricious mood of the early Thatcher years. As well as the politics, he had aesthetic reasons. By turning to existing literary texts, companies such as Cheek By Jowl shifted the balance of power away from the playwright and towards the actor and director, reviving a style of theatre that made up in collective spirit and visual imagination what it lacked in a singular world view.
By Luigi Pirandello, translated David Harrower. Royal Lyceum review.
IT strikes us as being the most modern - indeed, postmodern - of plays, yet Six Characters in Search of an Author is also very much of its time. On the one hand, Luigi Pirandello came up with an idea that continues to feed into the culture in forms as diverse as Acorn Antiques and Being John Malkovich. On the other, the theatre world he turned inside-out in 1921 was one of leading ladies, proscenium arches and melodramatic pot-boilers.
By Tennessee Williams. Royal Lyceum review.
IF Jessica Brettle had included just one broken window in her set, she would have symbolised the fracturing relationships of Tennessee Williams's family drama with some subtlety. But not only does the designer use half a dozen shattered panes, she sends lightning cracks across the walls and pulls bricks from the exterior of the St Louis apartment.
By William Shakespeare. Royal Lyceum review.
RECONCILIATION is this year's hot topic in the theatre. Raman Mundair, in her 7:84 show The Algebra of Freedom, takes a Muslim with fundamentalist sympathies and a policeman involved in a Jean Charles de Menezes-style killing and shows them squaring up to the guilt of their past. Recent plays have looked at the legacy of American slavery, South African apartheid and war in the Middle East, each time asking if forgiveness and a peaceful future are possible.
By Dale Wasserman/Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion. Royal Lyceum review.
THERE can be few more bleak moments in a musical than in the second act of Dale Wasserman's Man of La Mancha, when the battered and bruised Aldonza confronts Don Quixote with the reality of her life. Venomously singing about the "cruel bastards" who have beaten her up, she tells him it's an even crueller act for him to treat her as a lady: "I am no one, I'm nothing, I'm only Aldonza the whore."
YOU couldn't accuse Des Dillon of lack of ambition. Monks, a reworking of his novel The Big Q, tries to make sense of sectarianism, mental illness, compulsive behaviour, faith healing, miracles and absolution. All with a generous helping of dry, working-class humour, and set on top of a mountain in Italy.
By George Bernard Shaw. Royal Lyceum review.
IT really is astonishing how much of George Bernard Shaw's century-old play remains pertinent. Take out the Victorian class structure and there's little in his argument about poverty, prostitution and the profit motive that would be out of place in a Guardian opinion piece today.
By Arthur Miller. Royal Lyceum review.
THE cynics like to point out the weaknesses of Arthur Miller's 1947 tragedy. They talk about the gauche symbolism of the fallen tree planted for Larry, the son missing in action. They question the stagey way that Larry's old girlfriend Ann holds on to an incriminating letter until the final act. And they sneer at Miller's slavish debt to Ibsen.
By Mark Thomson. Royal Lyceum review.
HI-DIDDLY-DEE, an actor's life for me. One minute you're playing the keyboard player in a Joy Division biopic, the next you are flopping around the stage as a boy-puppet. We'll have to wait until next year to see how James Anthony Pearson shapes up in Anton Corbijn's Control, but if he's half as good as he is as Pinocchio, it'll be a fine film indeed.
By Christopher Hampton. Royal Lyceum review.
LES Liaisons Dangereuses was the Lady Chatterley’s Lover of its day. Published in 1782, the novel by the French army general Pierre Choderlos de Laclos was the racy book everyone wanted to read — even as they were swift to condemn the morals of the two protagonists and their quest for easy sex.
THE Scottish capital's main rep theater is known for sturdy productions of the classics. It just did Moliere's "Tartuffe," with Christopher Hampton's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" up next. In this context, it's all the more extraordinary to find such a demanding, expansive and ambitious staging of Goethe's notoriously unwieldy soul-selling, two-part poetic drama "Faust." This is helmer Mark Thomson's company operating at its inventive and imaginative best.
7 March 2006 The Guardian
By John Clifford (after Goethe). Royal Lyceum review.
SIXTY years in the writing, Goethe's dramatic poem fills two volumes, features over 100 characters - including baboons, lemurs and a dog - and squares up to the great philosophical questions. It would be crazy to put it on stage. Which is why it's so exciting when someone does.
By Liz Lochhead/Molière. Royal Lyceum review.
WE'RE in the 1920s and things are getting out of hand in Monsieur Orgon's Charles Rennie Mackintosh-style home. The gullible master of the house, played by an ebullient Steven McNicoll in silly plus-fours and sillier moustache, has been taken in by Tartuffe, the religious hypocrite and conman played by a sinister Kenneth Bryans, who takes the grimmest of pleasure in his deception. The family aren't happy.
BETTER judgment tells you that Tom McGrath's 1976 play is just a load of old Stan and Ollie routines thrown together with some biographical scraps. It tells you that not even the most gifted impersonators could convey the elusive genius of cinema's greatest double act. And it tells you that comedy cannot survive the leap from screen to stage, let alone the 70-year gap between then and now.
IF you ever wondered what the opposite of in-yer-face theatre was, take a look at this new work by Sharman Macdonald. Even to call it a drama would give too racy an impression. "Elegy" would be a better word for this gentle, humane, rather lovely study of a community struggling to find life after the death of a teenager.
By John Osborne, starring David Tennant. Royal Lyceum review.
PART of me would like to write off Look Back in Anger as a historical blip. I’d like to argue that the iconic status of John Osborne’s play has less to do with its intrinsic merits than with what it came to symbolise for the "angry" young post-war generation. First performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1956, it seemed to end a chapter that was all about Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, JB Priestley and polite, drawing-room drama, and to begin a new one featuring Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker, John Arden and the gritty, kitchen-sink realists.
19 January 2005 The Guardian
By John Osborne, starring David Tennant. Royal Lyceum review.
RECEIVED wisdom tells us that Look Back in Anger defined the mood of a generation in 1956. Hindsight suggests it was Waiting for Godot, first seen in English a year earlier, that was the truly radical drama of that decade. Both Osborne and Beckett were concerned with people who, in Jimmy Porter's words, "want to escape from the pain of being alive". But where Beckett's play has an abstract quality that allows it to talk to all generations, Look Back in Anger has trouble struggling free of the specifics of its era.
EVERYONE wants to get into Margarita's bed. First there's her pet bear who cuddles up like a giant teddy, then there's the ugly frog who hops intrusively into her dreams and, finally, there's Corin, the witch's boy-turned-prince who's a better match than she can realise.
By William Shakespeare. Royal Lyceum review.
WHEN a seasoned gambler wins at the tables, not a flicker of pleasure crosses his face. His addiction turns the game into a joyless routine. He continues simply because he must continue. This is what Liam Brennan's Iago is like. In his plot to undermine Othello, the boss he professes to hate, he has luck on his side. The stakes are lethally high, but even when scoring jackpot after jackpot, he never cracks a smile. For him, the action has become more important than the motivation: he's doing it because he's doing it.
By Mark Thomson. Royal Lyceum review.
RETURNING to a play you adored five years ago is like meeting up with an old lover. Will you recognise each other? Will sparks still fly? Will new circumstances change everything? When Mark Thomson's hostage drama played at Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre in 1999, it was seen by so few people that my enthusiasm for it felt like a delusion. Now, revived at the Lyceum to open Thomson's second season as artistic director, A Madman Sings to the Moon proves to be so much more than a heat- of-the-moment thing.
By John Byrne. Starring Brian Cox. Royal Lyceum review.
ANTON Chekhov’s reputation goes before him. His great turn-of-the-century dramas, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, established an image of Russia as a nation of neurotic impotents with suicidal tendencies. So strong was this impression that by the 1930s, Russian drama had become popular shorthand for gloominess. "With love to lead the way/ I’ve found more clouds of grey/ than any Russian play could guarantee," wrote Ira Gershwin in ‘Not for Me’. Yet Chekhov, a man who started his career writing one-act farces, described The Seagull as "a comedy in four acts" and Uncle Vanya as nothing more ominous than "scenes from country life". At the very least, he’s a far richer playwright than the dour tag would imply. It would be wrong to think of him as some kind of misunderstood Ray Cooney, but equally wrong to regard him as a master of melancholy. He is a genius playwright and all life, happy and sad, is here.
SOME special chemistry happens when large casts of Scottish women take to the stage. We saw it when Michael Boyd directed Michel Tremblay's The Guid Sisters in 1989 and again when Ian Brown staged Sue Glover's Bondagers in 1991. And it's happening right now, to gloriously comic effect, in Mark Thomson's production of Des Dillon's Six Black Candles.
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