Daily Archives: August 22, 2012

Dream Plays 4,5,ands 6 – Rachel’s House, My Loneliness Is Killing Me, Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll

THEATRE
Dream Plays – Rachel’s House
4 stars ****
Dream Plays – My Loneliness Is Killing Me
3 stars ***
Dream Plays – Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll
4 stars ****

ROUND TWO of the Traverse’s breakfast-time dream plays, complete with coffee and bacon roll; and the cast of writers and actors involved grows more impressive by the day. The last of these three plays, for example, was written by Janice Galloway, who just picked up the Scottish Book Of the Year Award for her anti-memoir of her teenage years, All Made Up.

In Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll, directed for Dream Plays by David Greig, she takes us into the numbed yet fantastically dramatic world of a west of Scotland mental hospital, where a cast of half a dozen women – all brilliantly played by Pamela Reid, Louise Ludgate and Lynne Kennedy, under the supervision of Iain Robertson’s male nurse, Victor – fight their inner demons with varying degrees of determination of despair. The title comes not directly from the Ian Dury song, but from a reflection on the wild life of the 1960’s Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, about whom one of the women is reading; if women are self-destructive and troubled, Galloway seems to be arguing, then giving up their addiction to men like Trocchi – or men who would like to be like Trocchi – would be an important first step to recovery.

Alan Wilkins’s My Loneliness Is Killing Me is a memorably weird and patchy account of solitary existence in a society where increasing numbers live alone. Inspired by the Britney Spears song of the same name, Wilkins creates a 40-minute chorale of satire, meditation, running commentary, self-criticism and occasional bursts of song for a cast of three characters, played here by Gabriel Quigley, Ashley Smith and Steven McNicoll, all on blazing form.

The show is probably at its best when reflecting on the early-onset eccentricity of the long-term single, meditating on the quiet squalor of lives that involve opening solitary tins of canned ravioli in front of the telly, and linking that solitude to the deeper unease of a society that revolves around vacuous consumption, rather than any serious sense of fulfilment or convivialty. Some of the direct political satire, by contrast, falls a little flat; it hits a bulls-eye though, with the key phrase of the morning, from Stevie McNicoll’s irascible character. “We can’t possibly be lonely, can we,” he asks, “when we’re all in this together?”

Despite its much more tentative air, though, it’s Nicola McCartney beautiful piece Rachel’s House that really haunts the mind, from this trio of plays. A brief 35-minute piece based on McCartney’s own verbatim interviews with women in a rehabilitation facility in the United States – part of the prison system, but experimenting with a new approach – the play merges voices and reshapes stories to create three powerful composite characters, magnificently played in Orla O’Loughlin’s scratch script-in-hand production by Anne Lacey, Audra Onashile and Kirstin Murray.

Each woman’s life-story is rivetting in itself; Murray’s Native American woman lost in the justice system, Onashile’s victim of domestic violence. In the end, though, it’s Lacey – as the older woman, the ex-con now in charge of the house, the 60-year-old still searching for a world where justice and morality mean something to women like her – that hauls this brand-new verbatim text into a whole new dimension of intensity and passion; just a few minutes long, and barely rehearsed, her fierce illumination of McCartney’s closing words is set to stay in my mind, as one of the key performances of this year’s Festival.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 274

ENDS ENDS

Monkey Bars

THEATRE
Monkey Bars
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

ON A FRINGE FULL of young adults compulsively celebrating their own “childlsh” behaviour – refusing responsibility, clinging to their cuddly toys, and drinking untl they vomit all over their friends – Chris Goode’s exquisite new show Monkey Bars come as a cool, sobering and quietly passionate reality check.

Based on conversations with young children recorded at a school in Kingston-upon-Thames, Monkey Bars uses the simple but devastatingly original technique of having adults play children as if they were serious people, to lead us ever deeper into the real lives of children in Britain today, full of happiness and interest in most cases, but also of a touching, gentle awareness of the pain, tension and anxiety of the adults in their lives, which also makes them anxious for themselves.

Co-produced by Goode’s own company with the Unicorn Theatre, this 80-minute show uses the simplest of theatrical means to tell its story. Naomi Dawson’s design consists of a set of beautiful, glowing luminous white bricks big enough to sit on – part nursery furniture, part smart adult design; and around them, the actors sit and chat, alone or in pairs, or in larger groups, but always aware of the one actor who – at any one time – in playing the listening adult, the man with the headphones and recording machine.

The sense of discipline with which the six-strong company avoid any hint of cliched child-acting is formidable. And the intensity of the process of listening that has shaped this show is both humbling and deeply moving, as Goode quietly dismantles our comforting myths about what “goes over children’s heads”, and reminds us that our stereotyped images of childhood tell us far more about ourselves, than about the real children who live among us, feeing our pain, and wondering – for their own sake and ours – whether we can cope.

Joyce McMillan
Until 26 August
p. 300

Alan Bissett: The Red Hourglass

THEATRE
Alan Bissett: The Red Hourglass
3 stars ***
National Library of Scotland (Venue 147)

ON A SMALL stage at the National Library of Scotland, a man in a hoodie is crouched on stage, pretending to be a spider. The man is novelist, dramatist and short-story-writer Alan Bissett, one of Scotland’s brightest literary stars. And the show is The Red Hourglass, in which, over a swift and entertaining hour, Bissett morphs from an ordinary Scottish working-class house spider into a home-loving Booklyn recluse spider, a fierce, flamenco-influenced tarantula, a ferociously passive-aggressive management wasp, a lethal black widow, and finally the arrogant St. Andrews scientist who keeps all the spiders in a giant glass jar, but suffers a lethal come-uppance.

As fans of his great Moira Monologues will know, Bissett is a terrific performer, funny, flexible, and capable of terrifying high-speed transitions from baby-faced comedy to the most steely macho thuggery. In this show, though, it’s difficult to feel that much is being said, beyond the obvious post-human riff about humanity getting above itself, and underestimating the strength and resilience of the spider kingdom. And in that sense, the title says it all; this is a show which is partly about The Red Hourglass, but just as much about Alan Bissett, his wit, his sharp political intelligence, and his formidable ability to entertain a growing army of fans.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 254

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The Blind, Planet Lem

THEATRE
The Blind
4 stars ****
Planet Lem
4 stars ****
Old College Quad (Venue 311)

IN THE DARK and handsome square of Old College Quad, elegant couples are dancing, dressed in clothes that recall the 1950’s, or maybe the early 60’s. Their dance has hardly begun, though, when something happens; to a wailing crescendo of sound, as a roaring wind of change blows sparkling fragments through their lives, they begin to gasp and grope, as they realise that their whole city – perhaps their whole world – has been struck by blindness.

This is the opening sequence of The Blind, by Theatre KTO of Krakow, based on the 1995 novel by Nobel prize-winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago; and it is spectacular enough in itself. What follows, though, in Jerzy Zon’s production, is even more breathtaking, as the blinded citizens find themselves herded together in something like a giant hospital ward, where they use the wheeled beds to form aisles and barricades, ramparts and towers, battering-rams and creaking via dolorosas, along which – in one of many tremendous visual tableaux – they process in a desperate parody of faith.

There are ferocious conflicts and quiet efforts at cleansing and healing, battles, rapes and more frenzied dancing, before the blindness suddenly vanishes as swiftly as it came. And there are also echoes of other great literary images of blindness, from the blind seer Tiresias of Greek tragedy, to Maeterlinck’s Les Aveugles, with its group of blind people on a troubled pilgrimage; in this powerful and beautifully-acted visual drama about a society’s instinctive response to a crisis that kills no-one, but changes everything, and reveals many disturbing truths.

If KTO’s show transforms the Quad into a city ravaged by blindness, then Planet Lem – the latest show from the legendary Teatr Biuro Podrozy of Poznan – makes it represent a whole troubled planet, and some of the intergalactic space surrounding it. Based on the stories and novels of the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem – the author of Solaris – Planet Lem combines extreme spectacle with a strong, simple adventure narrative, as our hero travels from earth to challenge the totalitarian ruling power on a distant planet. There, a class of helpess, infantilised workers – like big, fleshy babies – toil endlessly to supply their rulers with energy, while being doped with narcotics to keep them sleepy and compliant.

So there’s a huge, ascending space-ship surrounded by glowing pods, that also morphs into the electronic fortress of the planet’s ruling power, reflected in giant filmic images. There are gleaming metallic cradles for the doped workers to sleep in, prowling metal platforms, and – Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s trademark – immense stilt-walking robots who act as the workers’ nursemaids and, in one visually stunning dance-sequence, their entertainers. In the end, the show offers more technology than humanity; the subtlety of Lem’s thought about the replacement of “natural reality” with “manipulated perception” is mentioned, rather than fully dramatised, in a show that sometimes looks like a teenage video-game. For one of the most exciting street-theatre companies in the world, though, Planet Lem represents a long stride forward into new thematic territory; theatre on stilts in every sense, as intelligent as it is bold, shiny and loud.

Joyce McMillan
Until 27, 26 August
pp. 261, 309

ENDS ENDS