Daily Archives: September 26, 2015

To Begin.. The National Theatre Of Scotland In Forres And Wigtown

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on TO BEGIN – THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF SCOTLAND IN FORRES AND WIGTOWN for Scotsman Magazine, 26.9.15.
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IT WON’T BE the most high-profile National Theatre of Scotland premier of the season, when the cast and audience of To Begin assemble this afternoon at the Royal British Legion in Forres; for that, you’d have to look to a show like the current NTS smash hit Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, scheduled for three final triumphant Scottish performances in Musselburgh this weekend.

Yet like many other community-based projects masterminded by NTS Learn director Simon Sharkey – from last year’s huge Tin Forest project across Glasgow, back to the Elgin Macbeth in 2007 – To Begin seems set to delve deep into the underlying texture of Scottish life, and to reveal some rich and unexpected patterns there. Set in two communities at opposite corners of Scotland – Forres on Findhorn Bay in Moray, and Wigtown in Dumfries & Galloway – the project represents a first-ever collaboration between the NTS and the Scottish Book Trust, and is inspired by the Book Trust’s Journeys initaitive, which invites people across Scotland to write a short story about a journey – literal or metaphorical – that they have made in their lives.

“The job of the organisations involved in the book trust is to collect stories and publish them , whereas ours is to collect stories and turn them into theatre,” says Simon Sharkey. “So this project seemed like a perfect fit. We’re producing a book based on the stories in the shows, and we’re really pleased that our performances in Wigtown will form part of this year’s Wigtown Book Festival.”

The business of finding stories for a project like To Begin is always a complex one, though, not least because the best stories often take a while to emerge. The NTS team have been working in both communities since April, and although local schools in Forres and Wigtown will be involved – the Wigtown Primary School choir is part of next weekend’s Wigtown performances – Sharkey observes that many of the best stories have emerged from older people’s groups like The Smiddy in Wigtown and the Blue Room in Forres, a meeting-place for older men often with a forces background, as Forres lies very close to the former air base at RAF Kinloss, as well as to the new age Findhorn Foundation on Findhorn Bay.

“Both communities contain these huge contrasts,” says Sharkey. “And we’ve been struck by how many of the people we talk to begin by saying that they’re not native Forresians or Wigtonians, even if they only come from a few miles away. To be honest, I’ve been absolutely humbled, and often very moved, by the epic quality of some of the stories we’ve heard, and by the peace and acceptance people often seem to have found in these relatively small communities.

“We’re only sorry that we can feature so few of the stories in the show; but we have a wonderful set by Claire Halleran inspired by the lovely green town square in the middle of Wigtown, terrific sound and music by Daniel Krass, and four great professional actors as our main storytellers – so we hope it will be a really well-made show, based on the classic six stages of a “hero jourmey”.

“And then at the end – and at some other moments too – the people whose stories we’re telling will also be on stage, with the actors, emphasising the fact that the people who lived these stories are right with us in the room. I was struck, too, by something that was said about Forres by one of the Blue Room members. ‘This is a good place,’ he said, “for a traveller to end his journey.’ And I hope that’s not because there are no more journeys to come, but because in these two places, we can make a space to sit down, hear people’s stories, and learn from them, before we move on.”

To Begin… has two performances at the Royal British Legion, Forres, today, and four at the Parish Church Hall, Wigtown, 2-3 October.

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Tribes

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on TRIBES at Cumbernauld Theatre, for The Scotsman, 26.9.15.
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4 stars ****

IN AN AGE OF restricted budgets, it’s a thrill to walk into the auditorium for this touring production of Nina Raine’s Tribes, and find the stage set for a full-scale, two-act family drama featuring a cast of six. First seen at the Royal Court in 2010, and now given its Scottish premiere by Solar Bear, the Glasgow-based company specialising in work for deaf and hearing audiences, this beautifully crafted play describes a crisis in the life of Billy, the grown-up deaf son of a bohemian middle-class hearing family.

Billy’s parents, Christopher and Beth, have never been in any doubt that they are doing the right thing in encouraging Billy to lip-read, to speak, and to integrate with hearing society; but when he falls in love with Sylvia, who uses sign language, Billy begins to rebel against his family’s attitudes, setting up ripples of reaction that almost destroy his fragile brother Daniel, who has mental health problems.

All of this is perfectly captured by Gerry Ramage’s powerful cast, led by Richard Addison and Jeanette Foggo as the parents and an excellent Alex Nowak as Billy, with Ben Clifford, Stephanie McGregor and Kirsty McDuff. Jessica Brettle’s domestic set is luminous, shifting and flexible, making plenty of space for projected surtitles. And if the play swerves abruptly away from what seems like a potentially tragic ending, it still strikes straight to the heart of the politics of 21st century deafness and disability, and fleshes out those issues with a humanity that makes Billy’s struggle for autonomy both unforgettable, and completely absorbing.

At Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline tonight, and on tour until 22 October, including Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 3 October.

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Kontomble

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on KONTOMBLE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 26.9.15.
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4 stars ****

SUBTITLED  “the shaman and the boy”, this powerful new three-handed drama for the Play, Pie And Pint autumn season is not Nalini Chetty’s first play; there have been short pieces before, at the Citizens’ studio, Summerhall and the Arches.  Kontomble does, though, mark Chetty’s Oran Mor debut; and it’s a strikingly confident and well-crafted one, as she explores the consequences of a chance meeting between a Ray, a troubled 15-year-old Glasgow boy being brought up by his young aunt after his mother’s early death, and Ezra (or is it Eric?), a tall, commanding west African whom he meets at a Glasgow bus stop.

To Ray, Ezra seems to offer the spiritual mentoring, the male guidance, the rites of passage into manhood, that our society notoriously fails to provide for boys like him.  His aunt Ruth, though, is less impressed, suspicious of Ezra’s motives, and convinced that he is not quite what he seems; and in Guy Hollands’s deftly-directed production, the play rapidly develops into a tense struggle between Ruth and Ezra over Ray’s future, and the treatment of his severe mental problems. 

In the end, Chetty’s young hero finds a new peace within himself, in a way that seems slightly improbable, given the stresses he endures; but not before Keiran Gallagher, Beth Marshall and Miles Yekinni have acted up a memorable storm of tension over the sheer alienation of modern urban life, in one of the most impressive first plays seen at Oran Mor for a while.                

Final performance today.

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Waiting For Godot

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on WAITING FOR GODOT at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 23.9.15.-26.9.16.
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4 stars ****

VLADIMIR AND ESTRAGON, Didi and Gogo. The two old tramps who take the stage in Samuel Beckett’s ground-breaking minimalist masterpiece – first seen in Paris in 1953 – are perhaps the most significant characters in the whole of 20th century drama, the ones who, in the words of the play’s first British director Peter Hall, “challenged and defeated a century of literal naturalism, and returned theatre to its metaphorical roots”.

Yet in all the productions I have seen and loved, over the years, I have never experienced one that lavishes so much care and genius on the development of the characters of Didi and Gogo – their different energies, and their contrasting responses to the situation in wihch they find themselves – as this 50th anniversary staging by Mark Thomson of the Lyceum, featuring the magnificent pairing of Brian Cox and Bill Paterson as Vladimir and Estragon.

That these two actors are no longer young is no secret; Cox actually appeared, aged 19, in the very first production of the Lyceum Theatre Company, 50 years ago this month. Yet what’s extraordinary about their combined performance – as they wait and survive beside their shrivelled tree, in that empty landscape that soon comes to seem like a metaphor for human life itself – is how clearly we can see the little lads they once were, beneath the battered hats and thinning hair. Cox’s Didi is mercurial, restless, funny, always performing, the very image of the lively, energetic one who can never quite believe that there is now nothing more to be done; Paterson’s Gogo is much quieter and more poetic, more confused and defeated by their situation, yet also closer to a recognition of its reality.

In this infinitely rich evocation of character – absolutely Scottish, yet completely universal – the detailed quality of the acting is sometimes breathtaking, Cox’s body-language and facial expressiveness a tragi-comic revelation, Paterson’s presence more subdued, but perfectly-pitched. I’ve seen productions that gave the two central characters more support, towards the play’s long-drawn-out end; that were more sharply paced, or that made more of this double-act’s music-hall or fairground roots.

Yet given world-class support from John Bett as rich class-enemy Pozzo and Benny Young as his desperately ill-treated servant Lucky, and an exquisitely empty, luminous set by designer Michael Taylor and lighting man Mark Doubleday, Mark Thomson’s anniversary production offers a unique, austere, yet immensely rich insight into what may be the greatest play of the last century; and gives absolute primacy to two great creative actors, not young, but – enthrallingly and obviously – still in their prime.

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 10 October.

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What Goes Around

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on WHAT GOES AROUND at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 21.9.15.
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3 stars ***

IT STARTS IN fine style, this new take on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 Viennese masterpiece La Ronde by Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead; for in this version, the first pairing – in Schnitzler’s famous “daisy-chain” of licit and illicit sexual encounters – is between two Scottish actors rehearsing a two-handed version of Schnitzler’s original play, under the direction of a truly annoying Russian woman director. Along with all the other characters in the play, the two are brilliantly played by Keith Fleming and Nicola Roy; and in no time, their initial thespian fling has spun off into a merry-go-round of clever social observation, from unfaithful husband to vengeful wife to kitchen-building carpenter to harassed single mum to prissy online dater Steven, and back again to the original actress.

The problem, though – in Tony Cownie’s otherwise sharp production – is that this circle takes just under an hour to complete; after which the play wanders off for another 25 minutes into a strangely static series of incidents surrounding the final rehearsal of the Schnitzler production, featuring a Michael Marra-like music man, the Russian lady director, and a now-possibly-pregnant young ingenue. The show ends abruptly as she falls to the floor in a dead faint, and rehearsals are suspended for the day. And if Lochhead’s point, in extending the play, is that even the neatest of sexual daisy-chains can have messy human consequences, it’s made in an oddly diffuse way, with far too many theatrical in-jokes; slightly reducing the impact of this otherwise clever and timely take on Schnitzler’s enduring classic.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 25-26 September, and on tour around Scotland until 8 October.

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