JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE FIRST COSMONAUT at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, FAST CUTS AND SNAPSHOTS at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and DUTY FREE at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 7.6.14.
First Cosmonaut 4 stars ****
Fast Cuts And Snapshots 3 stars ***
Duty Free 2 stars **
THERE’S A MOMENT, just at the beginning of Blue Raincoat’s beautiful new show, when the heart misses a beat. This brilliant Sligo-based company of four come on stage in the characters of a community theatre troupe from Smolensk, in the home region of their hero Yuri Gagarin; and just for a second, it seems as though they might be about to send up the whole idea of Russian-ness, and of the deeply serious communist culture that produced the world’s first space traveller.
What happpens, though, in this new play by Jocelyn Clarke, is almost the exact reverse, as the bred-in-the-bone political piety of the imaginary company gradually draws us in to a world where the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would bend all of its mighty collective muscle to send one of its sons, born on an ordinary collective farm, into orbit around the earth. Ciaran Macaulay gives a delightful performance as Gagarin, humble yet supremely confident, full of the internationalist dreams of his Soviet generation; the rest of the cast morph brilliantly through a range of roles. And the use of sound, visual imagery, and simple props is stunning, in a show that compels us to reflect on the fragile world that Yuri Gagarin was the first to see hanging alone in space, a long half-century ago.
At Oran Mor this week, meanwhile, in a production by Fuel of London, the brilliant monologuist Inua Ellams tries his hand at something like a serious situation comedy, with a new 55-minute play set in a London barbers’ shop where black men come – whether they are Jamaican, Nigerian, or from Zimbabwe – to share thoughts about being a man in a more complicated world than Yuri Gagarin could have imagined. The play has an odd jump-cut rhythm to it, as if it represented a sketch for something much longer. Yet it already contains at least four powerful central characters, and offers a poignant sense of the need for a male meeting-place, in a society where people no longer go to the church or mosque, but still feel a need to affirm their cultural identity, and to be with other men who will understand their griefs, even when they are unable to speak of them.
If it’s an old-fashioned British sitcom you’re after, though, then you should head for the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, whch offers two final performances today of a thirty-years-on stage version of Eric Chappell and Jean Warr’s successful 1980’s series Duty Free. To be blunt, this version of Duty Free is pretty dire, a tired succession of cliches about randy old men and voracious older women. Yet espite some clapped-out material, it’s remarkable to see Keith Barron and Gwen Taylor still offering a masterclass in comic timing, as Barron enters his eighties; although those who remember him in that long-ago Labour Party drama Vote Vote Vote For Nigel Barton, will know that he is capable of much, much better things.
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