Daily Archives: October 3, 2015

140 Million Miles


JOYCE MCMILLAN on 140 MILLION MILES at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 3.10.15.

4 stars ****

WITH A POWERFUL stage version of Brave New World playing at the King’s in Edinburgh this weekend, Adam Peck’s new Play, Pie And Pint drama – created at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, and set to arrive at the Traverse on Tuesday – might almost have been conceived as companion piece to Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision of a future in which humanity and compassion count for little, or perhaps for nothing at all.

Peck’s two characters, Dawn and Neil, are a down-on-their-luck youngworking-class couple from Bristol whose attention is caught by an advert seeking volunteers to become the first couple on Mars, part of a great experiment which will help shape the future of the human race. Denied most of the elements of a decent life on earth – including steady work, a home of their own, or a child, which they’ve been unable to have – Dawn and Neil are still full of the can-do, let’s-get-famous rhetoric of our time; and so, under a fierce glare of media attention, they come through the selection system, and set out on their nine-month journey to the Red Planet, accompanied all the way by the soothing voice of mission control, superbly played by Vincenzo Pellegrino.

All does not go according to plan, though; and Rosie Mason and Darren Seed turn in a pair of increasingly magnificent and poignant performances, as the gung-ho, childlike positivity forced on them by the media culture of their home planet gives way to a mature recognition that they have been used, and abused, and are now facing almost inevitable oblivion. “We were never able to do anything about anything, were we?” says Dawn; as the spare, resonant strength of Peck’s writing transforms the couple’s lost spaceship into a powerful metaphor for the place in which most ordinary citizens now find themselves, beguiled by the transient prospect of possible media fame into accepting the most profound kind of powerlessness, when it comes to building a sustainable future either for ourselves, or for humanity as a whole.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, final performance today, and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 6-10 October.



Brave New World


JOYCE MCMILLAN on BRAVE NEW WORLD at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 3.10.15.

4 stars ****

IN THE LONDON HATCHERY, warm red light glows over the rows of glass jars that contain the embryos of the next carefully-graded generation of citizens.  The year is 2540, the place is the affluent, peaceful and tightly-controlled World State which  has replaced the warring nations of the earth; a place where the passions of parenthood and reproduction have been ruled out of order, where sex is ubiquitous and pain-free, and where the answer to any negative emotion is to pop a quick dose of “soma”, the World State’s universal feel-good drug.

It’s a paradox, about Aldous Huxley’s great 1931 novel Brave New World, that that central image of the London Hatchery is the one that has both happened, and not happened.  We can now grow and manipulate embryos in jars; but instead of turning away from physical parenthood in revulsion, we increasingly tend to idealise it, as the main meaning of life.

In every other way, though, Huxley’s novel is frighteningly prescient, predicting the culture of screen-driven mood and mind control in which we now live, the meaninglessness of purely recreational sex, the growing rigid inequality between classes; and all of this is captured with great energy and some passion in the Touring Consortium’s new stage version, created at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton by writer Dawn King, director James Dacre, and a talented cast of ten.  

As theatre experiences go, this Brave New World has a slightly filmic quality; with a powerful ambient score by English band These New Puritans, and spectacular design and lighting by Naomi Dawson and Colin Grenfell, it tends to display the story to the audience, rather than telling it to them directly. 

If the style of the production limits the range of the acting, though, there’s still some fine, elegant work from Sophie Ward, as the “western controller”, and from Olivia Morgan as Lenina, the story’s compliant but increasingly troubled heroine.  And William Postlethwaite provides a memorably tormented, erotic and disruptive presence as John The Savage: the man from a primitive place beyond the pale who still believes in sin and death, and whose bursts of Shakespearean poetry, learned from an old book, reminds us not only of the spiritual poverty of a civilisation that has “traded high art for world peace”, but of  the kind of language that forces theatre to turn out towards the audience, rather than simply presenting its own brave new world, largely impervious to our presence.

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today.  

ENDS ENDS                     

Dublin Theatre Festival 2015


JOYCE MCMILLAN on DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL 2015 for the Scotsman Magazine 3.10.15. __________________________________________________

IT’S A glorious September Sunday afternoon in the old port of Dun Laoghaire, just outside Dublin; and in the street, crowds of Dubliners surge past, in search of a glimpse of the sea and a last ice-cream of summer, before the nights start drawing in.

Inside the Pavilion Theatre, though, the mood is both more subdued and more thoughtful, as the audience gathers for a matinee performance of a new play by Colin Murphy, presented by the acclaimed Irish company Fishamble. Delivered straight to the audience in 90 minutes without an interval, by five actors working script-in-hand, Bailed Out is a piece of semi-documentary drama – mainly verbatim, but with some imagined scenes – about the crisis that engulfed the Irish government in 2010, when the state, having promised to stand by its bankrupt banks, literally ran out of money.

The story could hardly be more topical, as it reflects on a proud and hard-won national sovereignty lost to the global financai markets and international institutions. And it’s reflected, to some extent, in the recent history of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Europe’s oldest single-art-form festival, which is set to celebrate its 60th birthday in 2017.

The festival’s director, Willie White, is pleased with the progress now being made by a festival that saw its overall budget collapse from 4 million to 2 million euros between 2008 and 2011. He is clear, though, about the fact that the pressures of the last decade have forced changes in the festival’s programming. The number of international shows has fallen – although this year’s programme includes the wonderful Belgian company STAN with their recent version of The Cherry Orchard, as well as work from Portugal, France, the UK, Denmark and the Natherlands; and the number of Irish productions included in the Festival has risen from six a decade ago, to 18 this year.

Yet as I tour round the festival venues, there’s a sense of a festival now finding a strong equilibrium between small-scale and mainstage work, and between the need to attract and delight Dublin audiences, and to provide am international forum for theatre-makers. At the Abbey – where Neil Murray and Graham McLaren of the National Theatre of Scotland are set to take over as directors next year – there’s a warm, genteel buzz of excitement around Wayne Jordan‘s stark and absorbing new modern-dress version of Oedipus, superbly performed by a 19-strong company of magnificent singer-actors. And in the tiny studio theatre at Smock Alley – as we gather to watch Pan Pan’s truly unnerving 85-minute family nightmare Newcastlewest – I spot several familiar theatre faces in the crowd, as the profession gathers to try to spot trends, and identify new talent.

According to Willie White, the Dublin Theatre Festival could never do as Edinburgh has just done, and try to create more excitement by making the Dublin Fringe – which currently takes place separately, earlier in September – run concurrently with he main Festival; the competition for theatre space would simply be impossible, with both festivals presenting a large proportion of black-box studio work.

For those who are willing to respect its relatively stately rhythm, though, as it unfolds over two and a half weeks, the Dublin Festival offers a rich showcase of Irish and international work. Next week, the festival stages the premier of Rough Magic’s The Train, another hugely topical show, about the social revolution that has swept Ireland since 1971, when contraception was still illegal in the Republic; next year, the festival is planning special shows to mark the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising, both during the festival, and in Easter Week itself. And so long as the Dublin Theatre Festival remains so closely and creatively bound up with the drama of Ireland itself – its history, and its recent experience of change both exhilarating and traumatic – then it’s likely to remain an essential and fascinating feature of the international theatre landscape.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2015 continues until 11 October, at venues across the city.