JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE WALL (Borderline/Tron at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow), SHOUT! at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, and DOUGH at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for Scotsman Review, 7.3.08
The Wall 4 stars ****
Shout! 4 stars ****
Dough 3 stars ***
IT’S SUMMER TIME, it’s Stewarton, and the kids are hanging around the wall that is – well – their favourite hangout. Tall, skinny Barry is waiting for the results from his second try at Highers. His wee sister Norma has nicked some of their Dad’s hash, and has had it stolen in turn by Barry’s wide-boy friend Rab. And lovely goth-styled Michelle has one eye on Barry, and the other on her Mum’s relationship with live-in “Auntie”Alice, about which she’s beginning to realise a few things.
It’s a simple set-up, in other words, for this first full-length play by emerging Scottish playwright D.C. Jackson. But right from the opening moments, in Gregory Thompson’s immaculate production for Borderline and the Tron, The Wall roars out of the starting-blocks on a surge of fierce comic and dramatic energy that never lets up, through two hours of solid-gold banter and perfectly-structured narrative development. In terms of content, the play draws its energy from a gorgeous, continuing dissonance between the small-town parochialism of the community Jackson describes, and the growing fragmentation and New Age weirdness of the world in which it sits; this is a place where the local “neds” (a term to which Rab takes grave exception) can be found in the health food shop, nicking some Rescue Remedy.
And in terms of style, Jackson’s play combines the force and vocabulary of a post-90’s “in-yer-face” playwright with the genial popular-comedy tone always embraced by Borderline. The result is a rite-of-passage comedy of the highest quality, beautifully delivered by one of those superb four-strong casts – Scott Hoatson, Kirstin McLean, Finn Den Hertog, and a magnificent Sally Reid as wee Norma – that make the audience feel as if they’ve watched a whole generation pass by; and touched with the kind of deceptive lightness and simplicity that is only achieved by real masters of the playwright’s craft.
When it comes to teenage nostalgia, though, there’s now no generation that can compete with the one that was young in the early 1960’s; and if you want to see thousands of sixtysomethings partying as if it was 1964, the the place to be this week is the Edinburgh Playhouse, where the Sixties tribute musical Shout! is packing them in, and raising the roof. It’s not possible to make any great case for Shout! as a piece of theatrical or musical art. Its plot – about the adventures of three girls who arrive in London in 1960, fresh off the train from the north – is perfunctory enough to make Mamma Mia! look like Shakespeare; and its view of the Sixties music scene is heavily skewed towards bouncy English girl-pop, all Tony Hatch and Burt Bacharach, with no Beatles, Stones or Motown in sight.
But even that narrow sweep across the Sixties spectrum includes some of the best pure pop ever written, from Petula Clark’s Downtown to Shout! itself. Bill Deamer’s seven-strong cast – led by Claire Sweeney, Donna Steele, Shona White and an amazing Su Pollard – give the show a huge charge of showbiz energy; and with the help of some vivid Sixties sets by Morgan Large, they just succeed in making this modest mid-scale show look big, sassy and joyful enough for the Playhouse auditorium.
There’s a nostalgic smell of baking bread, too, about this week’s Play, Pie and Pint show at Oran Mor in Glasgow. Dough is set in Albie’s old and struggling Jewish baker’s shop in inner-city Glasgow. The Jewish community has moved away, the remaining customers are dying one by one; and Albie’s wife Iza knows as well as Rasheed – the son of their Asian neighbour-turned-landlord – that the time has come to move on. For Albie’s old friend Ivor, though, it’s all too much, and a ferocious racism surfaces as David Ian Neville’s short play evolves.
Dough is not a perfect piece of work; it pulls its punches in making confused old Ivor the only racist on the block, and it ends with a melodramatic cliff-hanger that doesn’t quite work. But it tackles a tough subject with great vividness; and it adds a welcome voice to the tiny body of work about Glasgow’s Jewish community, which has been at the heart of the city’s theatre life for so long, but has often hesitated to tell its own story, in its own words.
The Wall at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until tomorrow, and on tour until 12 April. Shout! at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, and Dough at Oran Mor, Glasgow, both until tomorrow.