JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE MISANTHROPE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, and ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 21.6.14.
The Misanthrope 4 stars ****
Annie Get Your Gun 3 stars ***
All Creatures Great And Small 2 stars **
IT WAS always the late, great, David MacLennan’s wish that the show should go on at A Play, A Pie And A Pint, no matter what; and that’s what’s happening at Oran Mor this week, with Frances Poet’s dazzlingly witty 50-minute lunchtime Classic Cut of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. The play, of course, is set among a group of smart, talented people who know each other too well, fight, fall out, and then smooth over their differences in a way that disgusts the play’s outpoken hero; so Poet has had the brilliant idea of setting the play inside Oran Mor itself, with the characters acting out their traumas as they pick up their pies and pints, and settle down to watch the show.
And despite the dangers of in-joke self-obsession that stalk any project like this, Poet makes the device work brilliantly, using Play, Pie And Pint detail as background, but focussing relentlessly on the eternal triangle between the arrogant hero Al, his flirtatious girlfriend Selina (Helen Mackay, in fine form), and a range of other characters, all superbly brought to life by Ros Sydney. The key to the show’s success is the sheer, sharp-edged wit of Poet’s rhyming text, which pays perfect homage to the original, while diving boldly into the new world of fall-outs and friendships conducted on social media. It also benefits, though, from a terrific, tightly focussed central performance from Andy Clark as Al; and from an audience which understands that this timely tribute to the Play, Pie and Pint phenomenon also reaches far beyond that, into the world beyond the theatre.
Poor Annie Oakley, the heroine of the rip-roaring 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun, rivals the hero of The Misanthrope in her habit of speaking unpalatable truths; not least about how she is the finest sharpshooter in America, well able to beat the man she adores – the handsome sharpshooting star Frank Butler – at his own game. The Ambassadors Theatre Group’s new version of the show – at the Playhouse until tonight – features a fine, well-sung leading performance from Casualty’s Emma Williams as Annie, with Jason Donovan in handsome support as Frank Butler, and fairly raises the roof with some sharply-choreographed set-piece numbers, including the iconic You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun. If the show ends in a bit of a proto-feminist stand-off, though, the rest of its style is traditional and light-hearted to a fault; musicals are meant to be fun, but even fun is funnier when it actually connects at some point with the tensions and dilemmas of real life.
Annie Get Your Gun seems like a riot of political relevance, though, compared with the astonishingly anodyne stage version of television vet drama All Creatures Great And Small that graces the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh this week. Set in the Yorkshire Dales in some hazy version of the 1930’s, Simon Stallworthy’s adaptation follows our charming young vet James Heriot through his first year in the Dales, from his arrval as newly-qualified assistant to eccentric senior vet Siegfried, to his marriage to the lovely Helen, daughter of a local farmer. Since James’s veterinary career seems charmed from the outset, the only dramatic tension surrounds the comic failure of his first couple of dates with Helen. Apart from that – well, if you fancy a quiet snooze, while bathed in the gentle light of warm nostalgic fantasy, then this charming but utterly aimless show might be just the ticket, on a summer Saturday afternoon, or evening.