Daily Archives: August 23, 2007

American Poodle

THEATRE
American Poodle
3 stars ***
Assembly @ George Street  (Venue 3)

REMEMBER THE CURATE’S EGG, the one that was good in parts?
American Poodle, presented by Guy Masterson and TTI, is a two-part show that suffers from a chronic imbalance – in brilliance, originality and poetry – between one half and the other.  In the first 30 minutes, Masterson himself offers a brisk, spirited but unremarkable humorous account of relations between Britain and the USA around the time when the transatlantic colonies struck out for independence.  It’s a fascinating piece of history, full of British imperial bluster and absurdity, and Masterson tells it well; but it remains stranded somewhere between a stage show and a good O-Grade history lesson.

The second half, though, is much more wild and strange, as the inspired American actor David Calvitto takes the stage in a short monologue by New York satirist Brian Parks.  Splayfoot is a brief stream of consciousness about a contemporary American businessman visiting London, his head full of absurd mediaeval imagery about castles and monarchs and pale-faced urchins.  The joke is that nothing he sees in modern London really does much to shift his naive preconceptions; the language is superb, visionary, fantastical, and Calvitto gives a splendidly surreal performance, as a man so full of the world-making bullshit of a dominant culture that he simply can’t see what’s staring him in the face.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p. 171

ENDS ENDS

This Piece Of Earth

THEATRE
This Piece Of Earth
3 stars ***
Underbelly (Venue 61)

A COUPLE OF years ago, Ransom Productions of Belfast scored a huge Fringe hit  with a storming tribute to snooker ace Hurricane Higgins, starring Richard Dormer in an award-winning performance.  Now, Dormer himself has written a play, inspired by recent commemorations of the great Irish famine of the 1840’s, and by the poignant discovery – in a bog near one of Ireland’s emigration ports – of the bodies of a couple, embracing in death.  For a heartbreaking 50 minutes, Dormer’s play leads us through an imagined last conversation between this couple, whom he casts as a bookish middle-aged country schoolteacher and his beautiful young wife, pregnant with their first child; and it’s certainly a dark, unrelenting experience for anyone expecting the theatrical thrills, fireworks, and bursts of comedy that made Hurricane such a success.

For connoisseurs of heartlfelt writing and fine acting, though, This Piece Of Earth is a rich experience, full of a fresh, raw sense of the absurdity of death.  This couple are in the middle of their lives, full of dreams and hopes and humour and their own uniqueness; it seems absurd that a mere avoiidable shortage of food could be about to bring it all to an end.  Lalor Roddy and Claire Lamont give two memorable and moving performances, in Rachel O’Riordan’s finely-paced production; and although Ireland is no longer stalked by famine, it’s worth remembering that this terrible scene of human potential needlessly snuffed out is re-enacted for real, every day, somewhere on our troubled planet.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 230

ENDS ENDS

Best Western

THEATRE
Best Western
3 stars ***
Assembly @ George Street (Venue 3)

IF AMBITION WERE all it took to create a great playwright, then the stand-up comedian Rich Hall would already be up there with the stars.  Last year, he launched his play-writing career with a crazy but bold show called Levelland; this year, he tries again with Best Western, a big play for seven characters that strains against the limitations of an 80-minute Fringe slot.

Once again, Hall sets up a situation full of potential; the scene is a run-down Montana motel about to be bulldozed for a new highway, the atmosphere a cross betwen Sam Shepard and Joe Orton.  The cast of characters involves the grizzled female motel-owner Delvita, her heavily pregnant teenage daughter Ryvita, the transport agency bureaucrat, Ed, who is strangely drawn to Ryvita, and a mysterious old geezer holed up in one of the bedrooms, who keeps shooting his  television dead.

The plot advances intriguingly for a while, but then stutters to a halt, as if Hall, like the rest of us, had no time to work out what to make of it all.  But there are some strong performances, notably from a fabulously laconic Dagmar Doring as Ryvita.  And if Rich Hall can keep this up for another couple of years, I suspect he may finally crack the playwriting business; and produce a big, absurdist critique of American society today that will make the whole theatre world sit up and take notice.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27 August
p.189

ENDS ENDS